Height: 411 feet
Trail Type: Asphalt and stairs
Hike Distance: 0.5 miles round trip
Difficulty: 8 if you take the stairs
Whitewater Falls has been given the distinction of being the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, although Crabtree Falls in Virginia and Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee also make the same claim. It really depends on what your definition of a waterfall is. In Whitewater’s case, it’s loosely defined as “a continuous tumble of some sort.”
Whitewater Falls has two very distinct sections with a gradual cascading slope in the middle. The upper section is a huge free fall, probably 150 feet. The lower section is a much larger drop, split in half vertically with a free fall on the left side and a cascade over several mini rock ledges on the right.
There is a small fee to park here, but it’s on the honor system as I’ve never seen any park or forest official here actually collecting money.
From the intersection of US 64 and NC highway 281 in Sapphire, drive south on NC highway 281 for 8.5 miles and turn left into the obvious parking area. You’ll pass the entrance to Gorges State Park along the way.
The entire path is paved and gradually ascends the ridge before coming to a wide viewing area of the falls. This is unfortunately as close as you’ll get to the falls, and you’re almost ¼ mile away. However, the falls are so massive that it’s still a wonderful view. There are a series of over 100 steps that lead down to a lower viewing area as well.