On my way to work in Highlands, NC, I pass at least three waterfalls. I say “at least” because there are probably a few more out there that I can’t see from the road. True, one is more of a wet weather-dependent waterfall, but with the rain we’ve had lately it is currently a wonderful a sight to see.
Waterfalls are abundant on the Highlands-Cashiers plateau in the western NC mountains. And you don’t have to hike for miles to see them if you don’t want to. The most well-known waterfall you can see from the comfort of your own car is directly on Highway 64 West as you’re leaving Highlands, heading towards Franklin, NC, called Bridal Veil Falls. Highway 64 used to run directly underneath Bridal Veil Falls, making it one of the few waterfalls you could drive your car beneath. However, due to safety concerns, the road has been re-routed to the front of the falls; the old highway that remains serves as a parking area and walk way so you can walk up to and behind the falls. Be careful, though, as rock falls can occur with little to no warning. Bridal Veil Falls is located approximately 2.5 miles west of Highlands. Look for the parking area immediately past the falls on your right.
Dry Falls is a waterfall not to be missed! Ok, so it can’t be seen directly from the road, but there is a parking lot and a handicap-accessible viewing platform just off the highway. It is a spectacular waterfall in any weather with a 75-foot drop from the top into the Cullasaja Gorge below. Dry Falls gets its name from the fact that you can walk behind it without getting wet – at least, not much. You will feel the mist, especially if there’s a breeze. View the Gorge from behind the cascade of water with a short walk to the base of the falls. There is easy access via a paved walk way with some stairs to navigate. This waterfall is extremely photogenic and is very popular as a place for engagement and wedding portraits. Dry Falls is located 1 mile beyond Bridal Veil Falls on Highway 64 West (3.5 miles west of Highlands, NC) on the left.
Further west on Highway 64 beyond Dry Falls is Bust Your Butt Falls. The view of the falls is best when you’re driving east towards Highlands from Franklin, but you can still see it, as well as the Cullasaja River. There’s only a little space on the side of the road in which to pull over if you do decide to stop. At the base of Bust Your Falls there is a swimming hole that is quite popular in the summer. Access to the swimming hole is down a rocky slope and over large rocks, so be very careful. Bust Your Butt Falls is approximately 6 miles west of Highlands, on the left of Highway 64 West.
Keep driving west on Highway 64 and 9 miles out of Highlands you’ll come to the magnificent Cullasaja Falls. This is one of the largest waterfalls on the Cullasaja River with a gradual 250-foot drop. It is also best viewed when you’re driving east so you might want to go beyond it, turn around at a safe place and then drive back east towards Highlands. With little room to pull over, this waterfall is best viewed from your car. If you are lucky enough to find space enough to pull your car over, there is a half-mile trail to the falls, but you need to be an experienced hiker in excellent physical shape in order to be safe on the trail. Cullasaja Falls is on the left side of Highway 64 if you are driving west.
One of my favorite waterfalls is one I pass on my way to work: a small, unnamed waterfall on the side of Highway 64 East if you’re heading from Highlands toward Cashiers, NC. This is the best direction in which to see this pretty little waterfall. There is no place to pull over, but it is easy to spot from the road. Other waterfalls may be more impressive and well known, but it is this type of unexpected little treasure of a waterfall that makes the Highlands-Cashiers plateau so naturally beautiful and such a wonderful place to live. To see this little gem, take Highway 64 East towards Cashiers, NC, for 7.7 miles. Slow down as you follow the curve of the road and you’ll see it on your left immediately before you reach Azalea Lane.
A word of warning about waterfalls: do not climb waterfalls; the rocks around them are extremely slippery. Do not cross or swim in the stream above a waterfall as currents can be unpredictable. Also, certain endangered plants grow in the mist of waterfalls so be careful not to trample any foliage. Please enjoy the waterfalls from a safe vantage point. Remember the old Boy Scout rule: take only photographs and leave only footprints.