Big Falls - Thompson River Gorge
A lot of the Jocassee Gorge region lies in Transylvania County, North Carolina and the area is rich with waterfalls. The area includes the Toxaway, Horsepasture, Thompson, and Whitewater rivers and numerous creeks as they flow into Lake Jocassee in North and South Carolina. Click here to see a map of the general area. There is so much to tell about this region - I'm going to give you a brief overview, then break this section down further. Kevin Adam's waterfall book and Bill Thomas' NC Sierra Club's Guide to the Jocassee Gorges both have great info on this area and I highly recommend them. The Thomas guide book has a USGS map with more detail drawn in, and info on the Bearwallow Creek, Toxaway and Horsepasture River area and is a 'must have' if you plan to do a lot of hiking here. Some of the area in the Thomas guide lies in North Carolina's Gorges State Park - and I'll be providing more info about the development of this park as it becomes available.
The Appalachian Mountains were formed by the collision of the African and North American plates about 300 million years ago. They were once as high as the Himalayan Mountains, but have eroded quite a bit since. The abundance of waterfalls in the Jocassee Gorge region can be attributed to several factors including the hardness of the rock in the area. Some of it is a granite like rock referred to as Toxaway or Carolina Gneiss which was formed during the mountains' birth as the rock's component materials separated into black and white bands. This rock dates back 1.3 billion years according to the guide. You can see a good example of the rock in the photo on the right from Thompson River. Another factor is the presence of a plateau area in between the highest part of the mountain range and the rapid decrease in elevation - the Blue Ridge Escarpment - around the South Carolina border. The plateau area allows the rivers to gain volume from the numerous creeks and streams that feed into them. This brings us to another factor, the unusually high rainfall in the area - 80 inches per year - which feeds the creeks and streams which feed the rivers and so on and so forth.
This area is also known for it's abundance of rare plants and animals. There are over 80 rare plants listed and animals such as the endangered green salamander and Swainson's warbler inhabit the area. After the mountains were formed and plants first appeared, they were never covered by water or glaciers and plant life has been evolving and adapting uninterrupted ever since. The spray areas around the falls provide ideal conditions for some of these 'tropical' plants to survive, so please be extra careful not to trample vegetation when exploring the falls.
I've been to a few falls in this area that you can see in the next sections below, but there's tons more stuff that I haven't seen yet.
Horsepasture River Falls - This section combines photos and ramblings about the falls on the wild and scenic Horsepasture - Drift, Turtleback, Rainbow, Stairway, Sidepocket, and Windy Falls - and shots of the river in between.
The Thompson River has several falls along it's path. Twin Falls is the first, followed by White Owl, High Falls another nice falls that we stumbled upon on our 1st attempt to find Big Falls in '99. I finally made it to Big Falls (Thompson Falls) in 2000, and it is truly a site to behold. Tumblin' Fun, John's Jump, and Slippery Witch falls are also in the area and in this same section.
Whitewater Falls - Just down the road a few miles is the 411' Whitewater Falls.
Gorges State Park - Most of the waterfalls inside the Park boundaries require moderate to strenuous hikes from Hwys 281 and 64 or Frozen Creek Rd. Photos include Upper and Lower Bearwallow Falls, Paw Paw Falls, Chub Line Falls, Wintergreen Falls, Chub Line, Step Around, and some shots of the Toxaway River.
Bearcamp Falls doesn't really fall into any of the above catagories, so it gets a page of it's own.
There are several waterfalls in both North and South Carolina that spill into Lake Jocassee. The only way to see these is by boat - you can check the Lake Jocassee gallery in my PBase site for pictures of a few of them.