Let’s Hike: A double cascade plus Cathedral Falls is just as grand as it sounds
This location is a such a hidden gem, I hate to give the secret away!
These three waterfalls are a really unique combination on an easy walk, and it’s just a short day trip from Greenville. Plus, few people seem to know about this great spot, located in Balsam Grove, North Carolina. An added bonus is a quaint historic mill adjacent to the falls.
The first feature is a double cascade just a few steps from the parking lot, where two rivers intersect next to the historic mill. These falls are Mill Shoals and French Broad Falls. Then, a short, flat (but at times narrow!) trail leads to Cathedral Falls, which has two tiers. The lower tier has a huge granite outcrop overhang, which gives the falls its name.
The site is located just off of North Carolina Highway 215. Park on the side of the road at Living Waters Camp. The warning signage — “Private Property, Enter at Your Own Risk” — may give the impression that visitors aren’t welcome, but Kevin Adam’s “North Carolina Waterfalls” states that the camp allows visitors. If you are a waterfall junkie like me, Adam’s book is a must-have.
Note: his specialty is finding waterfalls and photographing them, but he has a peculiar way of writing directions. I use his maps to find a place to explore, read his summary about the trail distance and difficulty to decide if the hike suits my family, and then search online for directions.
Park on the side of the road by Living Waters, and you’ll immediately see the red-painted mill. Walk down to the mill, and you’ll see dual cascades. The French Broad River and Shoal Creek join at a fork here, and the setting is so grand and expansive, your camera can’t do it justice. While the two falls aren’t tall, they are so wide, it’s an incredible spot. If you’re lucky, you might snag the boulder with the prime viewing location. If not, hopping along the rocks and boulders still provides plenty of enjoyment.
From the twin cascades, it’s a short, but unpaved walk to Cathedral Falls. Parents of very young children will want to watch out in some spots where the trail becomes narrow, but my youngest was three on our first visit, and we had no injuries.
A cool little stone look-out is a fun, unique feature, and a spot my kids enjoy.
At Cathedral Falls, visitors can enjoy both tiers. The top tier has a huge granite outcrop, which is a nice for sunning or picnics. However, parents should exercise common sense and caution on the top tier; children should learn to stay far away from the edges of the tall rocks. As always, the safest spot to view any waterfall is at the base, which will not disappoint if you wish to avoid spending much time at the top tier.
Like many woodsy locations, this hike shares the downside that it isn’t paved. Someone who has mobility issues could have trouble, but I’d consider it fine for preschoolers. I visited the location with a 3-year-old without any trouble. The trail becomes narrow in some places, and it required me to be extra vigilant about my kids falling, but we were careful and had no difficulties. My kids are experienced hikers. If yours aren’t, you should talk to them about safety in advance. In fact, we constantly talk about trail safety with my kids, and I suggest all parents do the same. Our biggest rule is that the group stays together; no child ever walks out of an adult’s site.
The trail is very short here, so you won’t feel like you got much of a work-out. That’s not a bad thing! You can plan a really great day trip around this site. Along the way, you will pass the turn off for Twin Falls in Sunset, South Carolina, featured in a previous column. Or continue on 215 to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah for endless more possibilities!