Another good thing about the new trail from Gorges State Park is that it's a shorter way to Stairway Falls than coming in from the old trail. Again, come down the trail from Gorges State Park. Once you leave the park boudaries and enter into the Pisgah National Forest, go a short ways and look for a side trail and brown carsonite stake on the left indicating the way to Stairway Falls. The trail is short, but a little steep, and comes out at a small campsite above the waterfall. If you miss this trail, you can continue on the main trail. Once you get to the river, look for a narrower trail that heads left and down river It's maybe 10 to 15 minutes to the top of Stairway Falls. On my most recent trip in late October 2012, some logs that had previously fallen across the trail had been cleared. The trail leads to the base of the falls and is steep - watch your step! There are rocks at the base of the falls to hang out on and another deep swimming hole. The first image below was taken with the river at high water levels. The second is from 2008 in drought conditions.
From here, you'll notice that the trail kind of continues down river. I haven't been down this way since 2003, but at the time it was mostly a fisherman's trail and was difficult to follow. It may be more obvious now with more people visiting the area, but don't expect much. This trek is not for novices. Sidepocket Falls is maybe 1/2 mile below Stairway Falls. The problem is when you get to the point to where you are parallel to the falls, you are up on a ridge and there's not a good way to descend to the base area of the falls. Keep going and descend to the point in the 3rd picture below - which was actually a nice cascade, then climb up the rocks on the right up to Sidepocket. The waterfall isn't very tall, but the area is beautiful and the swimming hole below the falls is killer. On my last trip down there, instead of going back down to the point where I came down to the river, I waded up above the falls and to the right and came out at a little camp site I hadn't seen on the way down. From there I was able to find my way back up to the 'trail' and back up to Stairway Falls. Avoid this area is high water flow! The falls wouldn't be worth seeing, you wouldn't be able to swim in the river, and search and recovery teams (there wouldn't be a rescue) might not ever find your dead and bloated body.
As I mentioned before, you can continue down river to Windy Falls, but it is not recommended. In April 2000, Harry and I were camping down Augerhole Road about a mile below Windy Falls and decided to try to hike back up towards the falls. You can read all about that by clicking here.
click here to go back up to Rainbow, Turtleback and Drift Falls
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