High Falls

High Falls

A steep slide, with ledges kicking the falling water out into rooster-tails in places, which culminates into a slot behind a jutting, triangular rock. The river then turns 90 degrees and flows through a beautiful, deep plunge pool. There are some great sandy and gravely beaches to hang out on, and the plunge pool makes a great swimming hole.

Lush green surrounds the falls, but the canopy is open, meaning the falls and swimming hole get some good sunlight.


  • Height: 50 ft
  • Elevation: 2700 ft
  • Stream: Thompson River
  • Landowner: Nantahala National Forest
  • GPS: 35.070116, -82.994247

Hike Information

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 3mi
  • Tread Condition: Moderately Rough
  • Climbing: Climbs Moderately (425 ft)
  • Type: Out-and-back


Driving Directions

From the junction of US Hwy. 64 and NC Hwy. 281 west of Lake Toxaway, NC, go south on NC 281 for 3.6 miles (passing the Gorges State Park entrance on the left). An intersection with Brewer Rd (SR 1189) is to the left. Turn left and park in the wide spot on the right side of Brewer Rd. at the intersection.

An old gated logging road/trail leads uphill from the NC 281/Brewer Road intersection (FS 87, Thompson River Road, but it's not signed).

Trail Description

The short description of this hike is as follows: Follow the old Thompson River Rd. (FS 87) to a junction with the old road heading up the Thompson River on the right. Follow that to a point above High Falls. Bear left on the trail to High Falls, reach the river, and cross it to reach the viewing area of the falls. The hike is easy to moderate except for the last few feet, where you have to go down the riverbank, cross the river, and scramble up over some rocks and boulders to view the falls.

Parking area at NC 281 & Brewer Road.

Since none of the trails in this area are signed, a more detailed description is in order. Although you "just" need to stay on the main trail nearly the entire way, the route is not signed nor blazed, so side-paths can cause confusion if you're not paying attention.

Start by hiking up the Thompson River road/trail behind the gate. This climbs for a short distance as an overgrown gravel road with a clear path down the middle, then begins descending toward Reid Branch. You'll hear the waterfall on Reid Branch over to your left, and maybe catch a glimpse of it with no leaves on the trees. After about a mile, past a section of red clay trail, you'll reach a well-worn side trail on the right leading to High Falls. Take that.

Right-hand turn from the Thompson River road/trail to High Falls road/trail.
Right-hand turn from the Thompson River road/trail to High Falls road/trail.

The trail begins a gentle climb some distance above the Thompson River, where you can hear cascading water down below. The trail passes through a laurel-choked clearing, then winds through a couple of coves in the woods. Just under a half mile from the junction, as the old road rounds a ridge, the sound of falling water can again be heard on the left. The worn path down the middle of the road veers left, steeply downhill. (Straight ahead, the old road bed continues but is almost totally overgrown).

The path drops off the side of the road and then moderates, but continues downhill next to a tiny tributary. It veers right in a forest opening choked with doghobble, crosses the tributary, and drops you off at the edge of the Thompson River on a rock ledge. The falls is to the right, but you can't go up the right side of the river due to an overhanging rock. You'll have to cross the river here; if it's medium to low water flow it's easy (although you will get wet). If it's very high water flow, it will be dangerous and impossible.

River crossing just before reaching High Falls
River crossing just before reaching High Falls

On the other side of the river, scramble up over the boulders and logs to reach the open beach area at the far end of the plunge pool from the falls.

Panoramic view of the falls and plunge pool.
Panoramic view of the falls and plunge pool.