About a mile from the start of our route is the main entrance to Gorges State Park. As of press time, construction of a new visitor center and office is taking place. Hopefully it will be completed when you make your trip and you can stop for information. An interim office is located on U.S. Highway 64. The park offers superb hiking opportunities, including access to the waterfalls on Toxaway River downstream from Toxaway Falls (see Route 10). But most people use the park’s NC Highway 281 entrance for access to the waterfalls on Horsepasture River in Nantahala National Forest. The steep sliding Drift Falls, with its enormous plunge pool, Turtleback Falls, precisely resembling its namesake, and the tall crashing Rainbow Falls, displaying colorful rainbows during periods of heavy spray, have always counted among the most popular waterfalls in the state.
After you cross the Horsepasture River, the next major river is the Thompson. Like the Toxaway and the Horsepasture, Thompson River tumbles over a series of impressive waterfalls before entering Lake Jocassee in South Carolina. It’s a little smaller than the other major rivers of the Lake Jocassee watershed, having a source closer to the escarpment. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in energy. Though impressive, Thompson’s waterfalls are not for everyone. You’re going to have to invest some boot leather and sore muscles to see them.
Whitewater River, up next, features what many people consider the most spectacular waterfall in the Appalachians: Whitewater Falls. A short, easy paved path leads to an upper overlook. A long series of steps leads from the overlook to a lower viewing deck directly in front of the falls. If you can see only one waterfall in the state, Whitewater is a good choice. At 411 feet, it earns billing from many publications as the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. That claim is debatable, but no one who sees Whitewater Falls argues its beauty.
As at Whitewater, the path to Silver Run Falls is easy and short, although the waterfall can’t compare in size and beauty. It’s unique among western North Carolina waterfalls in that it has a large pool with a sandy beach, perfect for wading and swimming.
The historic Grimshawes Post Office building sits beside the road in Whiteside Cove.
Route 10 goes from Cashiers to Highlands along the heavily traveled U.S. 64, passing west of Whiteside Mountain. This route takes you along the side of the mountain on a true backroad. It features in-your-face views of Whiteside’s sheer rock walls. Binoculars come in handy here. See if you can spot a peregrine falcon soaring overhead. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission began releasing falcon pairs in western North Carolina in the 1980s. The sheer cliffs of Whiteside Mountain inaccessible to humans proved ideal for the birds, which feed mostly by catching other birds on the fly. Peregrines are thought to be the fastest animals on the planet, reaching speeds of over two hundred miles per hour when diving for prey.
Grimshawes Post Office stands in the shadow of Whiteside Mountain. The hut operated in the little mountain community as an official post office from about 1903 to 1953. At one time it had a postmark claiming it to be the smallest post office in the nation. Grimshawes makes a good photo op.
A side trip to Chattooga River gets you even farther off the beaten path. But don’t be surprised if you find the river crowded. Tourists might not know about this secluded spot, but local hikers, trout fishers, and shutterbugs sure do. Everyone can walk out on the old bridge and watch the river cascading through the large potholes. The surefooted can climb down the bank and scurry up the rocks under the bridge for a closeup view. Officially named Bull Pen Bridge, people around here just call it the Iron Bridge. And just in case you had any thoughts about it, you can forget the notion of happening upon any toothless banjo players. Folks here are still fighting the stereotype created in the movie Deliverance back in 1972. Besides, the river scenes in the film were shot downstream in South Carolina and Georgia. That’s where the banjo players live. Potholes characterize the Chattooga River at Bull Pen Bridge in Nantahala National Forest.