The most popular hike in South Mountains State Park, High Shoals Falls Loop Trail follows the Jacob Fork River up a steep canyon for stunning views of the falls.
Located in Western North Carolina just south of Morganton, South Mountains State Park is one of North Carolina’s most rugged areas. It is a vast mountainous region with over 40 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian trail riders along with numerous drive-to and backcountry campsites. There are also picnic areas and a beautiful visitor center with information and exhibits on the history of the area. Today we are going to showcase the High Shoals Falls Loop Trail which is the most popular trail in the park. It will provide you with beautiful views of the forests and mountains along with a close-up and sometimes misty view of High Shoals Waterfall.
South Mountains State Park is located at 3001 South Mountain Park Avenue in Connelly Springs North Carolina. It is about 30 minutes South of Morganton, 90 minutes South East of Asheville, or 90 minutes North West of Charlotte North Carolina. It is an easy drive through the North Carolina foothills with easily spotted signage to help you along the way. Once you enter the park, consider learning more about the area by stopping at the visitor center. Here at the visitors center you’ll also find a very well maintained restroom facility that you might want to use before heading up to the trail. To reach the trailhead, drive past the visitor center all the way to the top and park at the large Jacob Fork parking area. There are restroom facilities at the trailhead if you didn’t stop at the visitor center.
This 2.7 mile loop hike is correctly rated as strenuous no doubt from the elevation gain as you approach the waterfall. This is a beautiful and exciting hike that we highly recommend but be prepared for a climb.
The trail is very nicely maintained, has plenty of signage, and is nicely marked with round blue blazes to help you follow the trail. It starts out at the far end of the parking lot and follows the Jacob Fork River upstream. As you head up the valley, you will enjoy beautiful views of the forest, river, and maybe even a few people fly fishing in the exceptionally clear and pristine waters of the Jacob Fork River. As the trail crosses over the Jacob Fork River, look up river and you might catch a glimpse of the falls high up on the ridge. After the river crossing, you will start a steep accent up the gorge via several well placed stair sections. There are a lot of them so stop and enjoy the views as necessary. Eventually you will reach the trails namesake, High Shoals Waterfall. There is a large and well maintained viewing platform that takes you right up to the base of the falls. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the view before continuing on up the stairs.
As you leave High Shoals Falls, continue to head up the trail and you will eventually reach the top of the falls. This is a great area to take a break, relax, and enjoy the view from the top of the falls. The area is open, very peaceful, and even has a few picnic tables nicely positioned on the side of the river.
From here the trail will break away from Jacob Fork River taking you through nice sections of the forest by way of an easily navigated and traveled trail. You will continue to ascend for a bit after departing the river before finally reaching the crest of the trail and starting the downhill part of the hike.
As the trail decent ends you will rejoin the Jacob Fork River completing the loop. From here it is a short hike back to the parking lot as you parallel the river once again.