Lower Whitewater Falls
11-26-17 Lower Whitewater Falls is about 2 miles down river from North Carolina's 411' Whitewater Falls. Starting at Whitewater Falls, you could hike to both via the Foothills Trail and spur trails, but that's not the easiest way to see Lower Whitewater Falls. Most people begin at the Bad Creek pumped storage facility in SC which makes the hike about 2 miles one way. The hike is moderate in difficulty, but those not in decent shape might consider it difficult due to the distance and elevation change. The hike ends at a platform with an excellent view of this 200' beauty shown in the picture above. You are a lot closer to the falls than this picture indicates. When the leaves are off the trees, you can see the remains of a small plane that crashed near the falls back in 1972. The USGS topo map designates these as just 'Lower Falls' and 'Upper Falls' and you might see these indicated as such in other references.
Directions: From the intersection of SC11 and SC130, drive 10 miles north on SC130 and turn right into the Bad Creek pumped storage facility. There's a gate, but it stays open and there's no need to stop. If you are coming from the Lake Toxaway, NC area, from the intersection of US64 and NC281 south, drive 8.6 miles south on NC281 to the NC/SC border then continue another 0.3 miles to the Bad Creek facility on the left. You will have passed Gorges State Park and the parking for Whitewater Falls in NC along the way. FYI - NC281 and SC130 are the same road. From the gate, continue another 2 miles and turn left at the sign indicating the parking for the Foothills Trail. The large paved parking area is ahead and the trail begins at the kiosks at the end of the parking area on the left. Just before you get to the parking area, look on the right for the gravel Musterground Rd. The road is open to vehicles during hunting seasons. Read the rules before you drive down! You are not allowed to park along this road for any reason until you get to a certain point on the road. It is well marked and there are security cameras. You can hike this road at any time, even when the green gate is closed.
There's a lot of good info with maps at the kiosks, so be sure to check them out before you begin the hike. The blue blazed trail begins by heading slightly uphill. At 0.1 miles, bear left at a trail post. The trail then meanders through the woods as it heads down towards Whitewater River. At 0.7 miles from the parking, come to the river and cross on the 2 metal bridges. After crossing the river, come to a trail split and another info kiosk. Head straight (NE) towards Lower Whitewater Falls. You will now be following the Foothills Trail for a short distance and the trail will be blazed blue and white. At just under 1/2 mile from the last kiosk, the trail splits again. Take the blue blazed trail to the right towards Lower Whitewater Falls. In another 0.2 miles, come out on the gravel Musterground Rd at a parking area for vehicles carrying ATV's. Head to the left on Musterground Rd and look for the blue blazes painted on the sign posts. Follow the road for 0.1 miles and look for the blue blazed path heading off to the right. Follow this trail for 0.6 miles to where it ends at the viewing platform. The last part of the trail is a little steeper and drops about 300' in elevation.
Lower Whitewater Falls
It's very hard to see in the above photo but in the middle on the far left is a bit of white that's the remains of a small airplane that crashed into the mountain years ago. You can get a closer look of the wreck and actually get to the bottom of the waterfall if you don't mind some seriously steep bushwhacking. You'll have to walk up Musterground Rd to do it, though. Do not attempt to climb down from the viewing platform! Musterground Rd crosses Whitewater River at the top of the waterfall about 1/2 mile from the parking area for the Foothills Trail. Remember - you can walk the road even if the gate is closed, but if the gate is open and you drive in, you can not park along this section of the road for any reason. To get to the base of the falls, be on the right side of the river looking down river from the concrete bridge across the river. This is the side closest to the parking lot. Coming from the parking lot, there's a cable guard rail on the right side of the road before you get to the bridge. Walk on the inside of the guard rail and head towards the river. When you get to the end, look for a very steep trail that heads down towards the top of the waterfall. As you can see in the picture above, the upper part of the falls is a series of cascades and that is shown in the first picture below. You can then head down a little farther and get out on the rock above the main drop as seen in the 2nd photo below. Do not attempt this if the rocks are wet! One slip here and you will plunge to your death. To get to the base from here, head back into the woods away from the waterfall. The land is really steep here and you'll have to go far enough to where you can safely start heading down, then back towards the waterfall once you are down far enough. When you head back into the woods, pay attention and you should spot what's left of the airplane. It will be easier to spot if you go when the leaves are off the trees. The 3rd picture below shows Harry and I at the base of the falls. I was very surprised to see that the bottom section isn't as steep as it looks from the overlook!
Whitewater River eventually empties into Lake Jocassee more than 1/4 mile below the base of Lower Whitewater Falls. There's at least one more waterfall in that section of river - Moondance Falls. I haven't tried to access this waterfall from the base of Lower Whitewater Falls, but plan to eventually. On my only visit to this waterfall, I came in from Lake Jocassee. If you have a boat, put in at Devil's Fork State Park in SC and head to the Whitewater River finger of the lake. Tie off there and rock hop the short distance up to the waterfall. The next 2 shots are from that visit in 2008.
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