Waterfall Byway - Mountain Scenic Drives
Follow the winding Waterfall Byway west along U.S. 64 beginning at the intersection with N.C. 215, north of Rosman in Transylvania County. This byway earns its name from the 200 waterfalls that surround the route. In fact, the county, in which the route begins, is known as the ‘Land of Waterfalls’ for the many waterfalls and trout streams in the area.
Cross the French Broad River, whose Cherokee name means “racing waters,” near Rosman at the beginning of the route. It is about seven miles to the curve where U.S. 64 crosses the Toxaway River at Toxaway Falls (pictured here) on the left and Lake Toxaway to the right. Do not park on the shoulder of the road; it is unsafe for both motorists and pedestrians. Local merchants have provided some parking so that you may view the falls. From Toxaway it is about three miles into the Sapphire Valley resort area. Pass by Lakes Fairfield and Sapphire, both privately owned, before crossing the Horse Pasture River, located about 1.5 miles east of Cashiers.
The town of Cashiers, located at the intersection with N.C. 107, is about 10 miles from Toxaway Falls. Cashiers (pronounced “Cash-ers” by locals) is one of the oldest resort communities settled by Low Country South Carolinians who wanted to get away from the coastal summer heat and humidity. South Carolina Governor and Confederate General Wade Hampton’s summer home, “High Hampton,” was located south of Cashiers and is still a favored resort area. The headwaters of the Chatooga River are within the town’s limits to the west.
From Cashiers it is four miles to Cowee Gap. From the gap, at the head waters of the Cullasaja River, it is eight winding miles to the town of Highlands, the highest incorporated community on the east coast. Follow U.S. 64 through this old resort town.
Founded in 1875, Highlands was located here because it lies at the intersection of lines formed from Chicago to Savannah and from Baltimore to New Orleans. Highlands was designed by Charles Hutchins and Samuel T. Kelsey of Kansas, who also designed the resort community of Linville.
Cross Lake Sequayah on the outskirts of Highlands. Two miles west of Highlands pass by the 120-foot drop of Bridal Veil Falls. The water from this fall flows into the Cullasaja River to the south. Use the provided parking area (just west of the falls) to enjoy its beauty from either side or underneath where the old highway ran.
Dry Falls, located about one mile west of Bridal Veil, is on the left. This fall, on the Cullasaja River, is so named because you can walk underneath the roaring water and not get wet. The U.S. Forest Service has developed a parking area for visitors to explore and enjoy this waterfall.
Enter the Cullasaja Gorge six miles west of Dry Falls. The gorge is formed by the Cullasaja River as it flows west into the Little Tennessee River. Note that the United States Forest Service has designated a portion of this route as the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. About four miles from Dry Falls are the Cullasaja Falls. Located on the left heading west, this impressive cascade drops 310 feet in one-half mile. The drop may be difficult to see, so look carefully behind the trees far below. While in the Cullasaja Gorge you will be able to catch glimpses of the Cullasaja River below as it winds its way west. Also, enjoy the views of the Smoky Mountains and the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests while looking for falcons in the trees along the gorge’s cliffs. From the Cullasaja Falls, it is another two miles to the community of Gneiss, named for the metamorphic rock that abounds in this area.
From Gneiss it is about five miles to the community of Cullasaja where the gorge ends. From there it is another 2.5 miles to the U.S. 23/441 interchange with U.S. 64 in Franklin. Franklin is best known for the treaty council held here between Sir Alexander Cuming and the Cherokee Indians in 1730. In 1761 the Cherokee were defeated by a force of whites, Chickasaws and Creeks. A mound in town marks the site of an early Indian village, Nikwasi.
Follow U.S. 23/441 South and U.S. 64 about 7.5 miles on the divided highway to the community of Cartoogechaye (pronounced “Car-too-gi-chay”). The mountains nearby are part of the Nantahala Mountain range in the Nantahala National Forest. Approximately four miles west, cross Winding Stair Gap, one of the early western passages along the Appalachian Trail. From here it is another two miles to the community of Rainbow Springs. It is 1.7 miles to Black Gap on the Clay and Macon county line.
While driving the 10 miles along the ridge crests of the Chunky Gal Mountains, enjoy the occasional scenic overlooks. Indian lore has it that a chunky maiden from nearby ran away to get married without her father’s permission. The dismayed thinner maidens of her tribe gave her the name ‘Chunky Gal.’
From the community of Shooting Creek it is about 8.5 miles to the town of Hayesville. About four miles east of Hayesville pass by Lake Chatuga, known as the “Crown Jewel” of the Tennessee Valley Authority lakes. The water is part of the Hiawasee River. Now the Clay County seat, Hayesville was named in 1891 for the county’s founder. Located in town is the site of Fort Hembree, one of the gathering places for the Cherokee who were forced to leave this part of the country for Oklahoma on what is known as the “Trail of Tears.”
About seven miles west of Hayesville, turn left onto Settawig Rd. (S.R. 1135) and follow it for 2.5 miles towards Brasstown. While in Brasstown visit the John C. Campbell Folk School, where craftsmen learn trades such as pottery, weaving and blacksmithing. From Settawig Rd. turn right onto Phillips Rd. (S.R. 1100) for one tenth of a mile to Brasstown Rd. (S.R. 1134). Turn left and follow Brasstown Rd. for three-tenths of a mile then turn right onto Cheringhelli Rd. (S.R. 1558). Follow Cheringhelli Rd. for 6.5 miles where the route ends in Murphy at the intersection with US 19/129 Bypass.
Murphy is the site of Fort Butler, a frontier fort in the early 1800s and a temporary stockade for the Cherokee who were on the “Trail of Tears.” Located at the junction of the Hiawasee and Valley Rivers, the town also was an early trading post. It is the southern terminus of the Great Smoky Mountains Railway (GSMR).
Because of winding mountain roads, travel time may be slow along the route. Travel time also may vary with the season.
Other scenic byways near this route are the Nantahala Byway which begins north of Murphy in Marble and the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway which ties in with the beginning of this route.
Length: 98 miles
Driving Time: 3.5 hours
Counties: Cherokee, Clay, Jackson, Macon, Transylvania
courtesy of NC Department of Transportation
added: September 15, 2009
updated: September 25, 2009
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