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Located near Beech Mountain, Banner Elk and the small town of Elk Park is the impressive Elk River Falls (formerly called Big Falls) in Pisgah National Forest (Appalachian Ranger District). This 50-ft. North Carolina mountain waterfall cascades over a rock cliff and into a picturesque oval pool. The trail to the top of the falls is an easy five-minute walk. You can safely stand on flat rock area and watch the waterfall plummet over the cliff. A short but steep trail takes below the falls.
From the boulders above the waterfall, you will see your next destination in front of the falls. Return to the trail and head downhill. It's a steep but short walk with steps and tree roots for hiking assistance. At the bottom, there's a long flat boulder that is perfect for sitting and picnicking. To the LEFT of the boulders is the safe wading area (see below) downstream. The currents in the pool directly in front of the waterfall are too strong for wading and have been deadly (including deaths in 2018 and severe injuries in 2019).
This beach and swimming area well below the waterfall can be a little crowded on hot summer weekends, but it's often very quiet. It's free to enjoy!
Safety Alert: Almost every year, someone dies here while diving or trying to swim in the swift currents. Remember, do NOT get into the water above the waterfall since currents can take you over the waterfall. Do not dive from the rock cliff - that has been deadly by getting entrapped by unseen boulders and other objects underwater. Also, don't attempt to swim under the falls or climb the rock face. The waterfall creates very strong currents in the very deep pool, pulling even strong swimmers under the water. The safe swimming area is below the bigger pool past some other boulders (photo above). See more Waterfall Safety Tips.
Driving Directions: Coming from Banner Elk, take NC Highway 194. Turn right (north) onto US Highway 19 E and go .7 mile to Old Mill Road on the right (at the small downtown area). Take the immediate left fork (opposite of the downtown strip) and go .4 mile and turn right onto Elk River Road. Go four miles to the end of the road. The road is paved except the last little bit - but in very good condition for all cars. There's a small parking area with a National Forest Service stake that marks the trail (but still says "Big Falls").
What's near Elk Park?
Waterfalls Park in Newland
Nearby (11 miles from Elk River Falls) is a beautiful roadside waterfall in Newland. The Waterfalls Park is maintained by the volunteer fire department. Several cascades total about 50 ft. in height. You can take a trail on the left up by the waterfall for a better view of the upper falls. Read more.