Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elk River Falls, Pisgah National Forest

Elk River Falls

Located in the far Western part of North Carolina, Elk Park is almost in Tennessee, to the Northwest of Grandfather Mountain. This is a popular destination for not only the locals in the area, but also for the college kids at the various colleges in the Western part of the state. The waterfall is very easy to find as it is located pretty close to main roads. The directions that I had all seemed to start from the intersection of NC 194 and US 19E, which seemed easy enough, but I had no idea where that was. I'll start my directions in Boone, NC which is a standard location for this part of the state.

From the town of Boone, you need to take Hwy 105 South toward Blowing Rock. You can access this road from either US 421 or US 321. It is a nice little drive through Foscoe and Seven Devils. You will turn right on US 221 which will change into NC 181 going toward Newland. Right before you get to Newland, you will take a right on NC 194 and go North. The junction with US 19E is a little confusing because your inclination will be to turn left, but you need to continue straight as this road actually becomes US 19E going to Elk Park. There will be a very short street to the right leading to Elk Park that is right before you get to the fire station. You need to turn right, and take an immediate left onto Old Mill Road. You will stay on this road for about four miles when it dead ends in a gravel loop in the Pisgah National Forest.

Since writing this entry some 10 years ago, the advent of GPS is a wonderful thing.  I have found that most GPS systems will take you right to the waterfall from wherever you are starting out.  On my most recent trip here, I came from Blowing Rock and the route was very simple via GPS after entering "Elk River Falls."
Elk Lean
The trail is very simple, and goes straight from the parking area to the waterfall.  It is about a tenth of a mile and very simple to traverse. There are access points at the top of the falls which is seen in the photograph above.  This is a very dangerous area so please exercise due caution, and resist the urge to jump from the top.  On my first visit here, I didn't really do much with the top of the falls, but on this subsequent visit, I found that there was a lot of character up there and well worth the time to break out the camera.
With a Quickness
For those interested in photographing this waterfall, you will find that it has some unique challenges. The first one is trying to compose with the sky not in the frame. This can only be done from the right side, since as you move to the left there is nothing to block the sky from your field of view. There is a nice long rocky barrier in place that can be walked across with relative ease. There are boulders and some cascades between yet another barrier wall. If you are willing to get wet, there will likely be some interesting compositions using the rocks.  To be completely and brutally honest, on my first trip here the photography was terrible.  I had a very hard time working on a composition that made sense and didn't include a blown out sky.  It left a bad taste in my mouth from this waterfall.

Without a Ripple
When I returned in 2018, I brought with me a new bag of tricks and embraced the sky which had caused me so much heartburn earlier.  With a partially cloudy sky, you can actually get a little bit of drama in the sky which adds to the photograph.  It is advisable to use a graduated neutral density filter when incorporating the sky in your compositions to keep the exposures to a tolerable level. Early morning is said to be a good time to photograph this waterfall, and I can attest to that.  The morning sun will illuminate the woodline to the right and puts a little front light on the waterfall itself. Having the sun covered by clouds is the best case though.

This is a nice waterfall, and for shear size, it is great bang for your buck. However, be warned that if you go during the warmer months you will have a hard time finding any quiet or privacy from those swimming and sunning themselves. Judging by the bare trees near the cascades, I would imagine that fall would be a good season to visit. Whenever you go, just remember to be careful and watch your step.