I've always said that my favorite place to just sit is at the top of Rainbow Falls, looking downstream of the Horsepasture River.
After church today, I took the 45 minute drive to Lake Toxaway to see Rainbow Falls. I knew that it would be spectacular because of the heavy rains of the last week. And I was not disappointed. The first picture below is today, the second is what the water flow normally looks like.
Rainbow Falls is located on the Horsepasture River within the Pisgah National Forest. At 4.5 miles long, it is the nation's shortest designated Wild and Scenic River. Rainbow is the third and highest waterfall in a spectacular 1/4 mile section of the river. The other two are Turtleback (below) and Drift (aka Bust yer Butt) Falls.
Today was a new experience. The state has finally gotten around to building permanent facilites at Gorges State Park. The new trail to Rainbow Falls takes you upstream to Rainbow Falls in 30-45 minute hike. You used to walk an old, rutted from HWY 281 which put you on the river right below Drift Falls. From there it was a short walk downstream to Turtleback and Rainbow.
As a matter of fact, the entire experience is new. Rainbow Falls and the Horsepasture is just so accessible. When I first started visiting in the early '90s, Turtleback was a "secret" swimming hole that only the locals knew about. You had to park on the side of HWy 281, jump the rail and in some places bushwack your way to unimproved trails that would take you to the river. But when you got there, there were lots (but never too many) people sliding down Turtleback and sunning on the rocks along the river.
There were so many great trips to the Horsepasture. It was lots of swimming, hiking and laughing with good people. There was that time when a girl (nobody we knew) jumped into the swimming hole beneath Turtleback and mangled her leg on a hidden rock. About 6 of us carried her over a mile, uphill back to the highway where an ambulance could pick her up.
Even though it's a long drive from me, it has always been my favorite place to be in Western North Carolina. Sitting on the rock with the river roaring beside me, the foot of Rainbow Falls 180 feet below me and the magnificent river valley before me always humbles and inspires me. In the winter, the trees below often wear a stunningly layer of frost. It is truly a worthwhile hike. You should go. Call me and there's a chance I'll go with you.