Tonight in most of the southeast, we are expecting a major snow storm. But today was a good day to get a hike in; we just had to get back before it started snowing and definitely before the snow started accumulating.

Karen and I decided on Horsepasture River, a 5-mile hike with several waterfalls. It’s #13 of the 100 Favorite Trails Challenge.

The hike started in Gorges State Park, in Sapphire, NC, west of Asheville and east of Cashiers; it’s the western most state park in NC. Could we get home before the storm?

We parked in the Rainbow Falls parking lot and started down to the river. Almost immediately, we left the park and entered Natanhala National Forest. After 1.5 miles, we reached the overlook to Rainbow Falls, a nearly vertical cascade that shoots down 125 feet. It’s called Rainbow Falls because rainbows and even moonbows are visible in the spray. I have seen neither, but it’s still an impressive fall. See the picture above this blog post.

It was still early in the day when we reached Rainbow Falls but there seemed to be more people than usual at about 11 o’clock. Maybe they too were trying to get a hike in before the storm. Most visitors stop here after about 1.5 miles and return.

We continued to Turtleback Falls, which as the name implies, is rounded. Water shoots down and in summer, people shoots down as well, ending up in the river. A rope has been set up for water lovers to climb back up from the river and go down again. The current is very strong and visitors have drowned in the river.

Continuing on the Horsepasture River Trail, we got to Drift Falls, a waterfall on private land. There is no question where the trail ended since there is a large Forest Service sign telling hikers that the trail was closed past the sign. Drift Falls was called Bust your Butt Falls since that’s what people did when they slid down the waterfall. But the present owner, Bill McNeely, enforces the “private property falls”. You can still see Drift Falls from afar.

Then the FH100 (100 Favorite Trails) says to turn around – we had no choice here – and look for Stairstep Falls. Did we or didn’t we find it? Past Rainbow Falls, we found a series of dry rocks where we had lunch. Looking upstream we saw water cascading down on what could be considered a series of steps. Yeah, this could be Stairstep Falls, also called Stairway Falls by Kevin Adams, the waterfall expert.

Stairstep Falls on Horsepasture River Trail

We returned to a full parking lot at about 1:30 pm. Many people, especially with small children and unenthusiastic adults, were just starting out. A few snowflakes were coming down but disappeared as soon as we drove to lower altitudes. Did these hikers know something we didn’t know?

It is now almost 8pm in Asheville and I’m still waiting for the snow. Another Favorite Hike down – many more to go.