High Shoals Falls seemed like an eminently doable hike when I looked at the map of the trails available at South Mountains State Park in North Carolina. I decided to go early in the morning, skipping breakfast to beat the crowds that typically arrive later in the morning.
I knew I’d walk up the River Trail up to the main parking lot, then hang a left to the Hemlock Trail, which would lead me to the High Shoals Fall Loop, then back down the Hemlock and River Trails. A nice 3.7 mile hike, that was the plan. Reality, however, was just a bit different…
The River Trail has lovely wide paths, and I set out at a good clip, ready to explore more of the park and get to photograph the Falls. I had pulled out both my good hiking boots and my Sony A7 camera, so I was ready for adventure. I turned onto the Hemlock Trail and followed the river till it made a left, my signal to also turn left and start in on the High Shoals Fall Loop. I could hear water but not quite see it until I scrambled over some rocks and climbed a short set of stairs. And then, amazing!
But this wasn’t the actual falls, this was just a teaser for the real thing. I started hiking again, and that’s where the fun really began, as the soft pathways slowly but surely turned into rock scrambles and a seemingly endless series of stairs ascending the side of the gorge.
As if someone could read my mind, the trail-makers inserted flat rocks – and later on, benches – where one could catch one’s breath and contemplate the reasons why it was worth it to continue the relentlessly upward climb. The gorge was a jumble of huge rocks that had been displaced or fractured over time, and it was a bit daunting to think of how much force it took to pile up these huge rocks like this.
Finally, I reached High Shoals Falls, and, yes, it was worth the long, sweaty climb to get there.
I kind of kicked myself that I didn’t bring a wider lens along to capture the full length of the falls, but, oh, well. Next time…
The funniest thing about the hike was that as I got to the top of the loop (which is at the very top of the falls), my phone starting pinging. I finally had signal, three bars of 5G service. In the campground, it was spotty at best and I drove to the visitor center once a day to check messages and mail and send off my own missives. Now, here I was in the middle of a hike in rugged country but, damn, great cell service!
The rest of the loop, mostly downhill along a wide path, was pretty uneventful and not actually that pretty. I was just grateful I didn’t have to climb up more stairs or scramble over more big rocks. By the time I got back to my trailer, I’d done 4 miles in just over 3 hours. Not bad for someone who hadn’t been hiking all that much the last several weeks.
An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
Henry David Thoreau
7 thoughts on “High Shoals Falls, NC”
The hard hike was well worth the reward! The falls (and all of your other photos) are gorgeous!
Have always noticed the signs for High Shoals when I used my secret shortcut to avoid Charlotte on our trips from Pensacola to Meadows of Dan. Had no idea what beauty was nearby. Thought it might be another quirky named town that North Carolina is famous for.
Another beautiful adventure Annie! I read all your posts and continue to enjoy your writings and especially your photos. Thanks for continuing to share. Hope you have a fantastic summer!
Getting to the real falls picture was fun. I kept scrolling and scrolling to see the length of the falls. Made for a great post.
Beautiful photos! Next time you wish you could shoot wider, try doing a panorama. Vertical panoramas work as well as horizontal.
What a fun adventure!
Wow.. beautiful pictures. Thank you Annie for sharing, we’ll definitely plan a hike to High Shoal Falls next time we are nearby.