Ranger Falls - near Highlands

3-16-08  I first learned of this waterfall when I called over to the Nantahala Ranger District office in Franklin looking for other information. One of the very helpful people over there told me they had been working on a trail from the Cliffside Recreation Area off of Hwy 64 west of Highlands to a new waterfall.

Directions: From the stop light in downtown Highlands where Hwy 64 west turns to the right, drive west on 64 for 4.6 miles and turn right into the Cliffside Recreation Area. You will have passed Bridal Veil and Dry Falls. Just before the turn into Cliffside is a right turn into Van Hook Glade Campground which is also covered in the link above for Cliffside. Turn into Cliffside and drive 1.4 miles to a short paved picnic loop on the left. The loop is one way, so turn into the 2nd paved drive and park. Now here's the downside. There's a $4 per car fee for using this area in season. There's also a lake for fishing and swimming, so a family could spend the day here and the $4 would be a deal. If you are coming just for the waterfall, well that's up to you. Pack your vehicle full of people, tie a couple more on the roof rack, one in the trunk, and everybody chip in 50 cents.

At the time of my visit, the trail had just been completed and there were no signs yet. The trail is maybe a mile and medium in difficulty. Go to the back of the loop and look for the Clifftop Vista Trail head. Don't take it, but look to the right for another trail. There were purple and yellow ribbons marking the trail when I was there and it was fairly obvious. Take this trail for 5-10 minutes uphill, cross a wet weather area, and take the trail to the left that leads downhill. This trail has been freshly cut and follows a ridge line. In about 10 minutes after the turn, arrive at the creek and a nice shoals area. After this the trail got a little mucky (I went after a good rainfall) and picks up an old logging road along the creek. This section of trail is fairly flat and in about another 10 minutes, it begins to head uphill again towards a big fallen log. Shortly after that, the trail bears to the left towards the waterfall. Crossing the creek in front of the waterfall was tricky, but there are plans to put a small bridge in.

The waterfall is nice and about 25-30' high. The sun was just coming up over the top of the falls, so I didn't take many pictures while I was there. From what I understand, the trail was built by volunteers who put a lot of hours in - kudos to them! A lot of brush was cleared from around the waterfall and shoals area and I'm hoping the piles will be moved more out of sight. The trail continues past the waterfall and I understand it comes out at the old Highlands Ranger District office. The Highlands and Wayah Districts were combined into the Nantahala District. I'm not sure at this point whether there will be access to this trail from the old office.


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