High Shoals Falls

High Shoals Falls

A surprisingly high, nearly vertical plunge makes up this waterfall in a part of the state not really known for its falling water. The beautiful pool at the base leads down into a huge jumble of boulders with more cascades, which you'll pass on your way up the trail.


  • Height: 50 ft
  • Elevation: 1650 ft
  • Stream: Jacob Fork
  • Landowner: South Mountains State Park
  • GPS: 35.594522, -81.635515

Hike Information

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Length: 1.8mi
  • Tread Condition: Moderately Rough
  • Climbing: Climbs Moderately (320 ft)
  • Type: Out-and-back


GPS Directions & Map

From Current Location or address:

Driving Directions

From I-40 Exit 105 near Morganton, it's about 22 miles to the parking area. There are signs for the State Park at every turn.

Follow NC Hwy. 18 South for about 10.8 miles. Turn right on Sugar Loaf Road and go 4.2 miles. Turn left on Old NC Hwy. 18 and go 2.7 miles, then turn right onto Wards Gap Road. From here it's about 5 miles to the visitor center/parking area at the end of the road (which becomes South Mountains Park Ave. along the way). Park in the large Jacob Fork parking area.

Trail Description

From the parking area, you can just follow the signs to the falls. You can take either trail leading away from the far end of the parking area near the picnic tables - either the Hemlock nature trail or the H.Q. trail. (I recommend the Hemlock trail, which follows the creek more closely, but both trails join together shortly). The forest to the right of the trail suffered a forest fire in November 2017, but is already recovering nicely.

After the paths re-join, the trail crosses over Shinny Creek on a wood and concrete bridge and splits. It passes through a small clearing at the Shinny Creek hike-in picnic area. You'll reach an intersection at some steps at the far end of the clearing; the High Shoals Falls Loop trail splits here. Go left. You're now on the east side of the loop trail. The trail descends some steps toward the creek, and follows it along a rocky section at creek level. It then climbs to a bridge over the creek at a beautiful cascade in a jumble of boulders with the main falls visible high above. It then climbs some more steps, somewhat steeply, before reaching a final bridge over to the viewing platform for the falls.

High Shoals Falls from a lesser-viewed vantage point.
High Shoals Falls from a lesser-viewed vantage point.

If you continue up the loop, it will cross the creek upstream from the falls and come back down at the aforementioned intersection. It's a steep climb, and I personally think the trail you hiked along the creek is much more scenic, so I recommend skipping the loop if you just want to see the falls. Stay away from the top of the falls - the area is dangerous, and entering it is illegal. People have died here - most recently as of February 2017.