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  • Roger W. Downes

Is Cullasaja Falls Too Dangerous

Just outside of Highlands, North Carolina is a magnificent but dangerous waterfall to visit.

When you start to put together a list of adventures to go on in Western North Carolina, Cullasaja Falls should be on your list. At a towering 200 feet Cullasaja offers both beauty and adventure for thrill seekers. However, she can be a stunning and vicious as a viper in a piper's basket for those who don't weigh on the side of caution while visiting.


The first challenge is parking. The falls which are located along US Highway 64, only offer a short pull off next to a guard rail for parking, which is smaller than a cheap New York apartment. To make matters worse US Highway 64 is a narrow winding mountain road with multiple blind spots making anyone who parks here reconsider their decision. I know I did when I pulled in. I was constantly concerned someone would come around the nearby bend too fast and slam into my truck.


If you decide to risk it make sure to watch for oncoming traffic as exit your vehicle, more than likely your door will swing into passing cars if you aren't careful. Luckily, you can see the falls from the road if you would rather just drive by and snap a quick photo from out your passenger window. Don't feel bad if this is the decision you make, a lot of other visitors opt for this option as well to avoid any accidents.


The second challenge is climbing, yes climbing, down to the falls basin. This is not an easy trail to scale down, where you will be challenged to stand firmly on the slick rocks or loose dirt at the bottom. Many people have been seriously hurt climbing in or out while other have even died. If you are not a skilled hiker, this is not the trail for you.


There are two trails that lead to the falls' basin. The first trail is a water run off brimming with large rocks that starts from the parking area. This trail is the worst of the two and I would not suggest it unless you are up for a challenge. The second trail leads down from the natural overlook east of the guardrail (toward Highlands, NC) and is marked with pink plastic ribbons wrapped around several trees (or at least it was at the time of this blog). This trail is filled with loose rocks, dirt, and slick surfaces as the mist from the falls continues to collect on everything. Again, if you are a beginning hiker or have small children with you, these are probably not the trails for you.



I know I am painting these falls as rather dangerous, but they are dangerous. However, if you are careful at parking, you can easily see and photograph them from the parking area or the natural outlook just east of the guard rail that runs along the pull off. Just keep safety in mind at all times, especially if you have children or pets with you. US Highway 64 is typically rather busy so you may want to keep them in your vehicle if they have a tendency of running about.


You can get directions to visit the falls here...


The good news is, you can still have an amazing waterfall adventure just up the road (toward Highlands, NC) at Dry Falls. Dry Falls shares the Cullasaja River with Cullasaja Falls, which it is named after, and allows you to safely and easily walk behind them. Dry Falls also offers a safe and ample parking area (which requires about five dollars cash to park) concrete stairs and a partially paved path to the gravel trail which leads behind the falls. This maybe a better option for the less experienced hiker or new adventurer.


Let me stress, as exciting as it can be to climb on waterfalls, it is truly a horrible idea. Each year visitors to Western North Carolina go home with serious injuries because they climb high on the falls to get a selfie. Then some of them don't go home at all. So please be careful while you are out there visiting even the smallest of waterfalls. They offer an amazing natural experience but they can be deadly.

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