Elk River Falls

Pisgah Game Lands, North Carolina, USA

About Elk River Falls

Hiking Distance: 1/4-mile round trip
Suggested Time: 10-20 minutes

Date first visited: 2012-10-19
Date last visited: 2012-10-19

Waterfall Latitude: 36.1989
Waterfall Longitude: -81.96946

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Elk River Falls was a moderate-volume 40ft waterfall that we ended up going a little bit out-of-the-way to visit, especially considering that we had based ourselves mostly in Asheville and in Brevard.

That was because this waterfall was very close to North Carolina’s border with the far northeastern tip of Tennessee.

Elk_River_Falls_013_20121019 - Elk River Falls
Elk River Falls

Much of the terrain around its very wide plunge pool was smooth rock.

Given how frigidly cold it was the Autumn morning that we showed up (it was 37F), we really didn’t do a whole lot more than take photos of it while keeping our faces and hands from going numb.

I’m not sure if this place would be a popular place to go swimming on a hot Summer’s day, but I could easily imagine such a scene.

As for timing our visit, the Elk River Falls and its basin was almost entirely in the morning shadow.

Elk_River_Falls_004_20121019 - Julie on the huge rock protrusion into the middle of the Elk River to get a direct look at the Elk River Falls
Julie on the huge rock protrusion into the middle of the Elk River to get a direct look at the Elk River Falls

I’d imagine that had we showed up later, we might have been looking against the sun, which would’ve made photography difficult at best.

There was a long rock that protruded out into the large plunge pool, and it was from here that we took our photos while being careful not to fall into the plunge pool (thanks to the rock sloping on both its sides).

The walk from the parking area was merely 10 minutes or so long.

It started off by rejoining some road before quickly branching downhill towards the right leading to the Elk River (i.e. don’t go left).

Elk_River_Falls_003_20121019 - Looking over the brink of the Elk River Falls towards its huge plunge pool
Looking over the brink of the Elk River Falls towards its huge plunge pool

There was access to the top of the falls, but the trail continued to descend towards that elongated rock where we could walk all the way to its end to look right at the falls (as you see pictured at the top of this page).

By the way, Elk River Falls also goes by the name Big Falls or Elk Falls.


Elk River Falls resides in the Pisgah Game Lands near Banner Elk in Avery County, North Carolina. It is administered by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Elk_River_Falls_023_20121019 - Make sure you go on the trail to the right and not on the road on the left to get to the Elk River Falls
Elk_River_Falls_002_20121019 - Julie on the short trail to the Elk River Falls
Elk_River_Falls_021_20121019 - About to walk onto the long protruding rock jutting out into the Elk River for a direct view of the Elk River Falls
Elk_River_Falls_015_20121019 - Focused look at the Elk River Falls from the rock protrusion onto the middle of the Elk River
Elk_River_Falls_018_20121019 - Broad look at the Elk River Falls in a long morning shadow so we could try to take long exposure shots of it
Elk_River_Falls_022_20121019 - Julie heading back uphill to the parked car after having had her fill of the Elk River Falls

We came up to Elk River Falls from Asheville via the I-40 east and then going north on the Hwy 221.

The Hwy 221 turnoff was about 33 miles east of where the Hwy 74-Alt and the I-40 junctioned.

The Blue Ridge Parkway crossed the Hwy 221 at about 28 miles north of its exit with the I-40.

Continuing north on the Hwy 221 for about 6.3 miles, we then veered to the left to get onto the Hwy 194.

We continued north on Hwy 194 for another 16 miles as it split with US 19E.

Elk_River_Falls_001_20121019 - Context of where we stopped the car and started the short hike to experience Elk River Falls
Context of where we stopped the car and started the short hike to experience Elk River Falls

At this split, we went left to get onto the US 19E near the town of Elk Park.

Then, we drove just under a mile before turning right onto Old Mill Rd (which descended rather sharply from the main road).

We drove on Old Mill Rd for about 0.4 miles, then we turned right onto Elk River Rd.

We took Elk River Rd for about 4.5 miles to its end (trying not to hit some dogs that comfortably sat in the middle of the road without any fear of passing vehicles), where there was trailhead parking for Elk River Falls.

Even though distance-wise, we didn’t take the shortest route to go from Asheville to Elk River Falls, it was certainly much faster than going the Blue Ridge Parkway route then turning north onto Hwy 221.

It took us about 2 hours to do this drive with some minor delays from following slow moving trucks on curvy mountain roads.

As for some geographical context, Asheville was 35 miles (under an hour drive) north of Brevard, 63 miles (about 90 minutes drive) north of Greenville, South Carolina, and 130 miles (over 2 hours drive) west of Charlotte, and 247 miles (4 hours drive) west of Raleigh.

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Right to left sweep from the top of the falls ending at the large plunge pool beneath

Fixated on the falls

Left to right sweep showing the downstream view before ending at the falls itself

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Tagged with: elk river, avery county, pisgah game lands, tennessee border, north carolina, waterfall, big falls, blue ridge

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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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