E. B. Jeffress Park is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina at milepost 271. There is ample parking for the park, and you will also find an overlook with plenty of picnic tables set up. There is a short self guided trail that winds through the woods to a waterfall, known only as the Cascades. There is not much written about this particular waterfall, and few are really impressed with it. I have now been several times and have enjoyed it each time.
As the trail comes to the falls, you will find an observation deck lined in stone. To their credit, this actually does flow with the surroundings contrary to lots of wooden observation decks that are used. This top deck affords a reasonable view of the top of the waterfall. There is really nothing special about this location. However, if you continue down the stone steps, you will come to another stone lined observation deck. This gives you a splendid view of the main attraction of the falls. From here you can see the water cascading from the upper water slide to the lower one. This is my favorite element by far of this waterfall.
The observation deck is nice, but to really photograph the falls, the photographer needs to move to a different location. There is a worn trail just off the side of the observation deck that leads down the slope of the falls. Even in the best of conditions, this is a dangerous trail and care should be taken. For a completely unimpeded view, there is a downed tree stretching across the lower water slide. It is worn on top, I'm assuming from spectators sitting. It is a great place to take in the beauty, but I just wasn't that brave, or foolish.
For photographing the falls, I would suggest a point about a third of the way down from the observation deck. There is a slight opening in the trees where a great shot awaits. The branches naturally frame the important parts of the falls, and composition is almost a no brainer. Just be very careful of your footing as the rocks are slick, and you won't recover from this fall.
After getting that perfect shot, don't pack all the gear up. There is still a return hike that goes along the stream that feeds the falls. There are some great views along this stream, and something worth taking your time to explore.
Old Mossy Log Photo Copyright © 2006 G. Kiser
After completing my third visit to the Cascades I have a few things to report back about. The first and most important change is that the trail to the lower overlook has seen some repairs. In years past, the railings have been missing, allowing the curious hiker the ability to go off-trail along a well worn path. This path, which led to a very nice viewing point, was quite dangerous as I mentioned above. After the recent death of a child at Chimney Rock State Park, this makeshift trail has been closed off. It is probably for the better as this slope was very steep and the chance of getting hurt was pretty significant.
The other change that I would like to make to the original entry is that the upper overlook is not that bad after all. While not really showing the major part of the waterfall, it does have its merits. Depending on the water flow on the day you visit, you will probably be able to see some very nice small cascades as the water begins its run down the water slide portion.
I have returned to the Cascades after many years away. The lower portion of the trail is still closed off, and has grown over which indicates that most people are following directions. The amount of brush that has developed there would make photography nearly impossible, so it is a good thing that the upper section has some very interesting portions. I have learned that the best pictures of this waterfall do not have to include the entire thing. Actually, that would be rather impossible with how tall the falls are. However, it is so very tempting to try and photograph as much of the waterfall as you can.
As you can see, by filling the frame with a 70-200mm lens, you can get some striking photosof this waterfall. The flow was kind of low this day, but it really made for a much better picture than if the water was just pouring off the ledge. Getting the angle right is the hardest part. As you can see here, you might be better off using a bean bag to support the camera. I ended up just laying one of my tripod legs over the observation wall while supporting the camera on the remaining two legs. This worked out wonderfully, and allowed me to get that perfect sense of motion in the water.
Unfortunately, there are not too many options for compositions, or at least locations for you to shoot. There are two different observations points. and that is really all you have to work with. It is still a well worth it waterfall if for no other reason than it is close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and only a very short and easy hike to get to.