Discovery at Secret Falls

Photo by Charles Johnson

Oh, what to do on a cloudless summer day when restlessness sets in and one has exhausted the wonders of town?  A hike and a swim, of course.

Secret Falls in Horse Cove apparently used to be a secret.  Not so anymore – it’s one of the first places I heard about when I moved to the area.  Due to its well-deserved popularity, you might not find a lot of solitude here in the summer months, but it’s still an enchanting escape from the crowds in town. 

The approximately half-mile trail to the falls begins off of a dirt road smack in the middle of the woods in the Nantahala Forest.  There’s nothing like stepping into the cool, muffled company of trees on a relentlessly bright summer afternoon to soften the edges of your mind and mood.  The relatively easy blue-blazed trail wanders through the outstretched arms of copious mountain laurel as it carries you down to the falls.  You’ll cross over two small streams on your way before the trail veers sharply to the left and down to the pool via some thoughtfully placed wooden stairs. 

The falls itself is a dazzling reward for such a short hike!  It sparkles white with light in the mid-day sun, and the cool water of the large pool below it calls like a siren on a hot summer day.  The last time I was there, a large freshly-fallen tree was blocking the direct path to the pool, but it was a fun obstacle to scramble over.  This is a great place to spend an entire afternoon – swimming, dozing in the sun, exploring the creek further downstream, listening to the water sing. 

As always, be careful on rocks and don’t get too close to ledges!  Always be mindful of what’s downstream of you when you step foot in a creek or river. 

To find Secret Falls, take Horse Cove Road 3.8 miles from downtown Highlands to Walkingstick Road on your right.  Drive another 2.9 miles and take a right onto Forest Service Road 4567, and the parking area for the well-marked trailhead will be a quarter mile on your left.

Don’t forget to smile and say hi to your fellow adventurers, and if you bring something in with you – take it back out!