Elk Creek 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.
The trail is very simple, and goes straight from the parking area to the waterfall. There is access points at the top of the falls, but the real sight is a bit lower down. the total trail length is about 0.1 of a mile, and is easy to hike. Do keep in mind that people have died at this waterfall recently, and there are a lot of hazards associated with waterfalls to keep in mind. I am told that one of the pastimes at this waterfall is jumping from the top into the deep pool of water below. This is a tall waterfall at 85 feet (Kevin Adams cites 50 feet) according to most sources so be very careful if you insist on jumping.
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, but I chose to hug the right side of the falls and use the woods as a backdrop to avoid having the sky in my images.Tree Topper
However, this is one of the few waterfalls that does photograph well in the sun. 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, but I'm thinking that late evening might give a little front light for the waterfall.
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.