About Lower Whitewater Falls
Lower Whitewater Falls is a smaller version of its bigger brother the Upper Whitewater Falls further upstream and across the state border.
That said, it was still 200ft tall as the waterfall cascades and plunges in a similar manner to its bigger brother.
Moreover, accessing the Lower Whitewater Falls required a bit of a longer hike as well as getting past some of the uninviting Duke Energy gates and infrastructure.
This probably explained why we noticed a considerably quieter experience compared to its more famous counterpart in the Upper Whitewater Falls.
After all, we were the only ones on the Lower Whitewater Falls Trail the entire time we were on it!
Experiencing the Lower Whitewater Falls
We were able to view this waterfall as you see in the photo above at the end of a quiet 4-mile return hike (2 miles each way; don’t trust the sign at the trailhead saying it’s only 1.7 miles each way).
As you can see, the viewing deck offered a rather distant view of the falls.
From what we could tell, we didn’t see any safe means of finding a different or better view than from this spot.
We happened to show up in the late morning on a sunny day.
Perhaps later in the day (say around midday), the sun would be high enough to eliminate the shadows and thus allow you to be able to take better photos than the ones we offer on this page.
Hiking to the Lower Whitewater Falls – From Trailhead to Trailhead
As for the hike itself, we’ll describe the way you’re supposed to do it before we’ll introduce a seasonal (but not well-advertised) shortcut.
Throughout the hike were blue hashes strategically placed on trees flanking the trail acting as markers to help us find our way.
From the large trailhead parking area (right next to a Duke Pumped Storage facility; see directions below), we hiked up along some gutter before the trail reached a plateau.
It was possible to see Lake Jocassee from this flattened out stretch.
Next, the trail veered left into a shady and forested area.
This part of the trail undulated briefly before making a descent towards a pair of footbridges crossing over the Whitewater River.
A sign here indicated that it was still 1.7 miles to the waterfall overlook, which led me to believe that the sign at the trailhead (also saying it was 1.7 miles) was inaccurate.
Anyways, after the footbridge, there were some signed trail junctions for the Foothills Trail.
Fortunately, the trail was very well-signed so we never veered from the waterfall overlook trail.
The path continued to gradually go uphill before eventually ending up at a clearing that was signposted for ATV parking.
It probably took roughly over 30 minutes to get to this point from the formal trailhead.
Hiking to the Lower Whitewater Falls – Final Stretch
Next, the hike coincided with the fairly rough and unpaved Musterground Road before some more blue hashes indicated where the trail branched off and resumed away from the gravel road.
From here, the trail initially started to climb before flattening out for some distance.
Then, the trail made a rather long and steep final descent to the lookout platform with a distant yet frontal view of Lower Whitewater Falls.
All told, it took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to do the entire out-and-back hike plus time to take pictures.
While the falls was impressive, the long hike to get here felt somewhat like an anticlimax, especially since it followed the Upper Whitewater Falls experience.
The “Cheater’s Shortcut”
Had we known beforehand where to stop the car and resume the hike on the unpaved Musterground Road, we probably would’ve employed this method to save on time and energy.
Oh well. Our loss, your gain. So now we’ll introduce what I’m calling the “cheater’s shortcut”.
This shortcut only works if you happened to be here during the hunting season from around October through December and in April.
That’s because the unpaved Musterground Road is ungated (which was the case when we were there).
We were able to drive this road to the ATV parking area, but we had to keep in mind that the road can get pretty rough so it had the potential to do damage to the rental car without care.
As you’ll recall from the hiking description above, it’s a short walking distance along Musterground Road from the ATV parking area to where the trail branches off and resumes towards the waterfall overlook.
I’d imagine that had we done this, we might have chopped off an entire hour or more of physical exertion and time.
Lower Whitewater Falls resides near Salem in Oconee County, South Carolina. It is in an area that does not appear to have a formal authority overseeing it. However, trailhead access involves passing through roads and infrastructure administered by Bad Creek Hydro (run by Duke Energy). For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you can visit the Foothill Trail Conservancy website or the Duke Energy Bad Creek Outdoor Classroom page.
When we visited Lower Whitewater Falls, we were staying in Brevard, North Carolina so we’ll describe the directions from there.
So from Brevard, we drove about 17 miles southwest on NC64 (Rosman Hwy) then turned left onto Hwy 281.
We then drove south on Hwy 281 for another 9 miles crossing the North Carolina-South Carolina border.
Shortly after crossing into South Carolina, we looked for Bad Creek Rd on the left, which continued behind the rather uninviting gate enclosing the Duke Energy Bad Creek Project.
I believe this gate is open during daylight hours (we happened to cross it shortly after 7am).
Next, we followed the steeply descending Bad Creek Rd for another 2 miles before turning left onto a signposted access road for the Foothills Trail.
Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the signposted and paved car park for both the Foothills Trail and the Lower Whitewater Falls Overlook Trail.
Note that this parking lot is adjacent to a Duke Energy Bad Creek Hydro facility.
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