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High Shoals Falls in North Carolina

The No. 1 attraction in South Mountains State Park

High Shoals Falls
High Shoals Falls
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The High Shoals Falls trail is one of the most scenic hikes in western North Carolina. Nestled in South Mountains State Park, some 64 miles (100 km) northwest of Charlotte, NC, and 72 miles (115 km) east of Asheville, NC. The loop trail to and from High Shoals Falls offers sights along Jacob Fork River and the picturesque rocky gorge.

Best time to visit High Shoals Falls

High Shoals Falls is a popular attraction year-round. Each season has its perks and advantages. Colder months bring more rainfall and see fewer visitors, while warmer months bring longer daylight hours and tourist crowds. Consider different options and pick what's best for you.

Winter

Winter is an exceptional season for visiting High Shoals Falls: there is typically more rainfall from December to March. Temps tend to bring drop below freezing, so the possibility of part of the waterfall freezing is a unique draw for some people. Additionally, trees drop their leaves for the cold season, opening up some sweeping views of the waterfalls. For instance, you can get a view of High Shoals Falls far across the gorge from the Jacob Fork Gorge Overlook on Chestnut Knob Trail. Only in winter can you catch a glimpse of High Shoals from the Raven Rock Trail at one particular opening along the edge of the trail. The park authorities remind visitors to expect more mud and ice on the trails, making the hike quite slippery, so sturdy footwear would come in handy. In January, South Mountains Marathons gather trail running enthusiasts for the strenuous runs. High Shoals Half Marathon, one of the South Mountains Marathons series, challenges the athletes to run the 13.3-mile course with 600 stair steps and 2,800 ft (850 m) elevation gain.

Summer and early fall

Summer months tend to get more crowded: the High Shoals Falls parking lot for a hundred vehicles has no room left. Yet, June and July are some of the best months to hike the High Shoals Falls trail as it's the rhododendron blooming season in South Mountains State Park. Moreover, these months receive lots of rainfall, which makes the roaring falls even more spectacular. Also, longer daylight hours and extended opening hours from May–September (from 7 am to 10 pm) give more time to enjoy the hike and the scenery. Late October brings splendid fall colors to the South Mountains; and mild temperatures are excellent for a pleasant hike.

Getting to High Shoals Falls

The trail to High Shoals Falls starts at the Jacob Fork parking lot. From there, you have two options: a 2-mile (3-km) out-and-back trail or a 2.7-mile (3 km) loop with a short section of steep stairs. The loop trail is a more popular option. The trail crosses the Jacob Fork River and reaches High Shoals Falls about a mile from the parking lot. Then the route continues up the steep steps to an observation deck beside High Shoals Falls. Afterward, the trail runs to the top of the waterfall, meanders across a ridge, passes by backcountry camping areas, and at the last section rejoins the trail along the Jacob River.

Practical info

What is South Mountains State Park?

South Mountains State Park, situated in North Carolina, USA, is widely known for its scenic beauty, hiking trails and other outdoor recreational activities. Encompassing an area of 18,266 acres of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is an idyllic destination to visit. High Shoals Falls, which is located here, is acclaimed as one of the most picturesque hikes in western North Carolina. Show more

What are the different trail options to reach High Shoals Falls?

High Shoals Falls can be reached either by trekking across a loop which covers 2.7 miles (3 km) in distance and includes a short section of steep steps or by taking an out-and-back trail of 2 miles (3 km). The loop trail tends to be more popular among the two options. The trail consists of a crossing of the Jacob Fork River and leads the hikers to High Shoals Falls which is located at a distance of a mile from the parking lot. Furthermore, an observation deck is also built here, which provides panoramic vistas of the waterfall. Show more

What are the unique features of visiting High Shoals Falls in winter?

High Shoals Falls offers some exclusive features during the winter season that cannot be accessed during other times of the year. Due to increased rainfall during winters, certain parts of the waterfall freeze, resulting in a wintery wonderland. In addition, some viewpoints offer sweeping views of the waterfall after the trees shed their leaves during the winter season. The quieter trails during the less crowded months of winter provide an ideal opportunity for a peaceful hike. Visitors must be cautious on the slippery trails due to mud and ice, and they should wear sturdy footwear. Show more

When is the best time to visit High Shoals Falls to see the rhododendron bloom?

The months of June and July are the best time to visit High Shoals Falls to view the rhododendron bloom, which is the peak blooming season in the South Mountains State Park. Visiting during these months provides the opportunity to witness the magnificent view of the colorful floral blooms. As well as this, the weather conditions are favourable during these months with plenty of rainfall making the waterfall even more stunning. Visitors can take advantage of extended opening hours during these months where state parks are open from 7 am to 10 pm or longer daylight hours from May to September. Show more

What is the difficulty level of the High Shoals Half Marathon?

The High Shoals Half Marathon is known for being a challenging run, which is organized during the South Mountains Marathons series. The route covers a distance of 13.3 miles with a heavy elevation gain of 2,800 ft (850 m) and 600 stair steps. Hiking the High Shoals Falls trail is already considered to be a strenuous task, and running this marathon makes the activity even more difficult with rocky and steep trails, uneven terrain, challenging uphill sections, and fast descents making this a unique and adventurous trail running experience. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin