Horsepasture River waterfalls hike

distance varies

Like waterfalls? The Horsepasture River is famous in Cashiers as a place to see glorious—and sometimes huge—waterfalls. Drift, Turtleback and Rainbow Falls are a moderate hike from the parking area and some of Cashiers’ most impressive waterfalls. It is possible to swim in some of the pools on the Horsepasture, but extreme care must be taken, as getting swept away in the current could mean certain death.

You’ll be surrounded by color as you head through the forest and along the river. It might be a little nippy for swimming, but soak up some rays on a nice day, and you’ll be set.

The hike to the river runs through Gorges State Park and Nantahala National Forest. Take the Rainbow Falls trail in Gorges State Park for access to the Horsepasture River.

Keep in mind that Drift Falls runs over private property and can only be viewed from below. The area is well marked to keep visitors off of private property. Authorities are serious about the property boundary, so don’t test them. Drift Falls is a long, 60- to 70-foot slide, well worth the extra footsteps.

Depending on water levels, there may be a lot of exposed rock to lounge on, or you may have to stick to the trail.

Turtleback Falls is relatively short compared to Drift and Rainbow falls. But what it lacks in height, it makes up for in beauty. The river plunges over Turtleback in a wide, thick sheet of water, and it makes a sharp 90-degree turn after the large pool below the falls. This pool is a great place to swim, but be careful as many have been injured here in the past, especially when sliding over the fall.

Just downriver from Turtleback, the trail continues to Rainbow Falls, where exposed rocks make another good lounging spot or a place to picnic. But be very careful—you’re standing atop a 150-foot waterfall!

The valley below widens and lets in plenty of light, making for an amazing vista.

The trail gets a little tricky as you head below Rainbow Falls. Shoes with traction are especially important here. Getting pulled out with a broken ankle would not be the way to end your day.

Just down from Rainbow, Staircase Falls is next. It is much smaller than the previous falls but has its own unique character when the water is running.

Windy Falls is much further along the trail. But if you’re up for it, it is well worth the trek.

Getting there

Enter Gorges State Park at the Grassy Ridge entrance on Hwy. 281.