This year, my friend Travis and I decided to forego backpacking. The thought of carrying 40-pound packs up and down miles in the Smokey Mountains just didn’t set well with our lack of conditioning.
After five years, we opted for glamping, also known as glamour camping, and chose a primitive site at a private campground that we could drive to. From there we could do much easier day hikes.
We were afforded the meager luxuries that a Yeti cooler in an SUV parked next to our tents could provide, such as rib eye steaks, filet mignon, pies, veggies and plenty of coffee. I know that doesn’t sound very luxurious, but we toughed it out for three nights.
We still slept in our tents and cooked over a campfire and camp stove, and the site was central to the waterfalls of Transylvania County near Brevard, North Carolina. As a bonus, it was on a hilltop clearing, a perfect location for stargazing the pitch black night sky.
Story continues below gallery
Brevard is a town of about 9,000 in a county with a population of only 33,000. It’s a beautiful mountain town in the shadow of its elegant neighbor, Ashville. It exudes small-town charm but very upscale buildings and businesses, both chain and local, and is especially strong in the areas of arts and crafts.
If I were a young person who liked to mountain or road bike, kayak, canoe, hike, backpack, hunt, fish, camp, photograph, sightsee, motorcycle, and be just three hours from the ocean, then Brevard would top my list of places to live.
Our goal was a little less enthusiastic, as we were here to visit and photograph some of the many waterfalls Transylvania County is known for. Travis was familiar with the area, so over coffee he hatched a plan to maximize the number of falls in the minimum of time. On day one we were able to see seven waterfalls that required minimal driving and about seven miles of easy hiking.
We first visited Pisgah National Forest, where we observed Looking Glass Falls. Its observation deck and steps to the bottom of the falls make it one of the most photographed.
Moore Cove Falls is an easy one-mile-plus walk to a 50-foot waterfall that you can actually walk behind.
Slick Rock Falls was the third falls we visited in Pisgah and is a long, sloping, 35-foot-tall waterfall that draws kids of all ages to slide down its slick surface and plunge into the pool of cold water below.
Connestee Falls required a short drive but rewarded us with two sets of beautiful, powerful cascades.
Then it was on to DuPont State Forest to see Triple Falls, High Falls and Hooker Falls. Triple Falls is just that, a set of three wide, descending, impressive falls. Spread out over quite a distance, they seem in no hurry to carry the water from top to bottom. A total of 150 steps lead to the bottom of the second falls, and a large flat stone area allows for walking around and photography.
High Falls is just that, high at 100-plus feet. The foamy, white water contrasted with the dark stone and bright fall colors and were impressive as seen from the observation deck.
Hooker Falls was our seventh and final falls of day one, an easy walk to a broad, short falls that was once the sight of a gristmill. Hooker Falls is just one of several falls in the area used in the filming of “The Last of the Mohicans.” In fact, several other falls were used in the filming of “The Hunger Games.”
In all we walked about seven easy miles and saw seven waterfalls.
On day two we planned to check off two more waterfalls, Whitewater Falls and Rainbow Falls, and for this we first drove to the Whitewater Falls Recreation Area. From there it is an easy 200-yard walk to view the 411-foot plunge created by this falls. There are 154 wooden steps to the bottom of the falls for additional viewing.
Rainbow Falls at Gorges State Park is a strenuous three-plus mile hike. In fact as we entered the trail to the falls we saw people in their 50s leaving, mouths open, eyes fixed forward and not talking. But what the heck, it can’t be that hard.
Most of the trail in was downhill, so we knew coming back it was going to be mostly a steep gain in elevation. Undeterred, we hiked on until we came to my favorite, Rainbow Falls. At 211 feet it was more impressive than the others because you could get so close to it.
From the observation deck there was a trail down to the base of the falls. Here you could feel the power and majesty as the wind created by the falls sprayed you as if in a rainstorm.
Our hike out was not as bad as expected, though several stops were needed to catch our breath. Certainly Rainbow Falls had left us breathless for more than one reason. I can only imagine how beautiful these and other falls must also be in the springtime, when the warm fall colors are replaced by lush greens and blooming azaleas, rhododendrons and mountain laurel. Certainly spring rains would add to the volume and impressive power of the falls.