Two Pine Trees Photography | Trip Report - Spending Fall 2016 with the Waterfalls of Highlands NC

Trip Report - Spending Fall 2016 with the Waterfalls of Highlands NC

November 05, 2016  •  1 Comment

After a long and hotter than usual summer, I honestly didn't have high hopes for the fall color season this year.  I love being wrong!  This year we decided on making Franklin, NC our home base to investigate the incredible falls of the region around Franklin, Highlands and Cashiers.  It's more on the west side of things if you're trying to hit other stuff like Eastatoe and Whitewater falls, but it all depends what you're trying to see.  We estimated to visit around the middle of October.  It turned out that the color was a little late this year which worked in our favor.

However, the biggest downside of the trip was seeing how much the drought had affected all the rivers and falls.  This was the lowest I have ever seen many of the falls. 

We actually found a cabin there with a waterfall on the property so I would never get bored, and it was also like 5-7 minutes down the road from Cullasaja Falls which was awesome.  The falls on the property isn't huge (like 20-25ft), and for completeness Kevin mentions it on page 428 of his 3rd edition North Carolina Waterfalls book labeled as "Waterfall on Ledford Branch".  I HIGHLY recommend this book, and a look over his revamped website

We hit the Blue Ridge Parkway on the drive out, including Second Falls at Graveyard Fields. 

Second FallsSecond FallsCanon 5D Mark III, 173mm, 0.6s @ f/13

You're in the 4,000 - 6,000 foot range along this part of the parkway, and the color was still pretty nice.  And of course one of my absolute favorite spots Cowee Mountain Overlook:

Cowee Mountain OverlookCowee Mountain OverlookCanon 5D Mark III, 55mm, 1/30 @ f/9

I will say that the stretch of US-64 between Franklin and Highlands was incredible.  Cullasaja Falls was our first stop since it was so close. What strikes me is that the view is getting more and more blocked by the trees, bushes and vegetation.  Go back to the picture in Kevin's 2nd edition for comparison.  Here's what it is now:

Roadside Cullasaja in FallRoadside Cullasaja in FallCanon 5D Mark III, 50mm, 1/8 @ f/11

I scrambled down to the base, was able to get very close due to the low water.  I explored around, took my time and used my 16-35L lens to get some unusual and different views of the falls.

Cullasaja ProfileCullasaja ProfileCanon 5D Mark III, 16mm, 1s @ f/11

You can get a better sense of how low this was in this self portrait.

Cullasaja SelfieCullasaja SelfieCanon 5D Mark III, 16mm, 0.4s @ f/11

As you drive away from Cullasaja going towards Highlands, there are two small pullouts on the right side of the road that allows access to the Cullasaja river.  I spent many hours here playing around as the possibilities were almost endless.  Get your wide angle, water gear and go crazy! 

Cullasaja RiverCullasaja RiverCanon 5D Mark III, 27mm, 0.4s @ f/11

You have everything from small cascades to potholes and leaf swirls with possibilities for low and wide to telephoto isolations.

Cullasaja River PotholesCullasaja River PotholesCanon 5D Mark III, 16mm, 1/3 @ f/11

We hit Dry Falls multiple times, but targeted early evening.  This has to be one of my favorite shots from the trip.

Fall at Dry FallsFall at Dry FallsCanon 5D Mark III, 20mm, 1.6s @ f/11

Bridal Veil Falls was dry so I didn't even bother.  I decided to give Scandin Falls a try, and I can confirm HEED Kevin's warnings from the book!  It can be very dangerous and steep if you're not very careful.  My phone fell in a puddle, and I didn't get a shot I was happy with.  That's how it goes sometimes!

Quarry Falls was decent, and I played around with a lot of different compositions.  I settled on this one:

Quarry FallsQuarry FallsCanon 5D Mark III, 25mm, 0.6s @ f/11

I've been wanting the iconic "Whitewater" fall color shot, but it wasn't meant to be this year.  We checked a couple times but the color was just not there yet.  But a detour to White Owl Falls was a nice distraction.  I opted for a low angle wide composition, highlighting the fall color reflection from the trees behind the falls.  I was glad to see a lot of the debris and fallen trees have been washed away.

White Owl ReflectionsWhite Owl ReflectionsCanon 5D Mark III, 16mm, 1s @ f/9

We also checked off a new falls off the list - Secret Falls.  As Kevin wrote, we did have this falls pretty much all to ourselves.  And don't expect any cell phone signal!  The sun was setting so that made things not ideal.  There's a little 5ft ledge below the falls, and that made for some interesting compositions.

Secret FallsSecret FallsCanon 5D Mark III, 35mm, 0.4s @ f/11

We found a place called Sunset Rock in Highlands that overlooks the town of Highlands and provides a nice view of the sunset.  I carefully positioned my tripod to cover a large white industrial looking building that would detract from the view. 

Highlands NC from Sunset RockHighlands NC from Sunset RockCanon 5D Mark III, 24mm, 0.6s @ f/18

On the way home, we stopped off at Eastatoe.  The owner must get a lot of folks, as now there are actual visitor parking signs.  Again, this was the lowest I've ever seen this falls but given that, it still didn't disappoint if get creative!  I waded into the pool and got pretty right next to the base to get a different wide angle perspective.  Be courteous and respectful!

Eastatoe FallsEastatoe FallsCanon 5D Mark III, 16mm, 1s @ f/11

Overall it was great trip.  We got to tick off a couple new falls, and I got in some good time working on compositions.  Here's a view of the private waterfall on the cabin property.  The cabin was great and you can find more information on their VRBO site.

Waterfall on Ledford BranchWaterfall on Ledford BranchCanon 5D Mark III, 18mm, 43s @ f/9, 6-stop Lee Little Stopper ND


Michael Shake(non-registered)
These are amazing photos! You hit it at the right time for sure. I love all the fall colors. I'm planning a trip in Mid October this year and hope to have this good of color too. Thanks for sharing!
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