An Outdoorsy Weekend in Cashiers: Waterfalls, Hiking, and Mountain Town Charm

A kayaker attacks a set of rapids on the Ocoee
A kayaker attacks a set of rapids on the Ocoee Angela Greenwell
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Surrounded by some of the most stunning parks in the southeastern U.S. and tucked among beautiful waterfalls, the mountain town of Cashiers is a mecca of outdoor recreation. There’s enough adventurous action to more than fill a weekend’s worth of excursions, from excellent hiking to world-class paddling. And when you’re taking a break from all those pursuits, Cashiers is full of quaint shops and restaurants. Need more incentive to visit? It’s an easy, three-hour drive from Charlotte. Here, some inspiration for an outdoorsy weekend in Cashiers.

Hiking

Views from the historic fire tower perched on the precipice of Yellow Mountain stretch into Georgia.
    Rob Glover
Views from the historic fire tower perched on the precipice of Yellow Mountain stretch into Georgia. Rob Glover

A quick look at the map surrounding Cashiers makes it clear why the town is a perfect launch pad for a thousand hiking adventures. To the south, Oconee State Park is a wonderland of waterfalls. The southern edge of the most visited national park in the country, Smoky Mountains National Park, is an hour north. And just a few minutes to the east, the twisting trails and stunning overlooks of Panthertown Valley beg for exploration. But you don’t need to travel even that far from the center of town to snag some amazing views.

The trailhead to one of the more strenuous and rewarding hikes in this area, the top of Yellow Mountain, is just 10 miles from the town center. The route is five miles each way, but the undulating nature of the trail makes for a seemingly endless series of climbs and descents. Once you’ve reached the top, however, the payoff is well worth the investment. A historic fire tower perched at the precipice provides a platform for 360-degree views of the valleys below.

Keep a sharp eye on the drive out. A wide spot on Bucks Creek Road about 2.3 miles from its intersection with Highway 64 serves as parking lot for the hike and is the only other indication of a trailhead other than the Forest Service sign tucked partially in the woods.

A shorter diversion, the quick hike up and around the iconic Whiteside Mountain is equally stunning. The sheer cliffs of this pluton—a volcanic rock structure that has been exposed by erosion—shine against the densely forested hills and valleys that surround them. The whole loop is about 2.5 miles, and the trailhead is conveniently located on the way back to Cashiers from the Yellow Mountain Hike.

Chasing Waterfalls

The uber-popular Cashiers Sliding Rock is just four miles from the center of town, making for a quick escape from summer heat.
    Rob Glover
The uber-popular Cashiers Sliding Rock is just four miles from the center of town, making for a quick escape from summer heat. Rob Glover

The swift loss of elevation along the Blue Ridge Escarpment coupled with plentiful rainfall creates an incubator for waterfalls. In fact, the largest falls east of the Rocky Mountains is just 20 minutes from Cashiers. At over 800 feet, the broad cascade of Whitewater Falls is a must-do excursion during a weekend in Cashiers. Hikes to the top and bottom of the falls allow for multiple angles of appreciation.

Dozens more waterfalls are within a short drive from downtown, including some with large natural swimming holes. As its name suggests, Cashiers Sliding Rock is a natural rock water slide with a tranquil pool that is perfect for a post-hike cool off. A very short trail leads to the falls, where a small “beach” area offers a much more comfortable option than rocks for sore feet. Access the Cashiers Sliding Rock from a natural surface parking area along Whiteside Cove Road, 2.8 miles from its intersection with NC 107.

Just a couple miles from Cashiers Sliding Rock, Silver Run Falls is a picturesque and often less crowded locale to cool off after a tough hike.
    Rob Glover
Just a couple miles from Cashiers Sliding Rock, Silver Run Falls is a picturesque and often less crowded locale to cool off after a tough hike. Rob Glover

Another easy-to-find gem of a waterfall sits just 2.4 miles farther south from the slide. Silver Run Falls is a gorgeous 25-foot cascade terminating in a wide, tree lined pool. A shallow area is prime for getting feet wet; for a whole body soak, there’s a deeper section too. The short trail to the falls can be accessed from a gravel lot on the left side of southbound US 107.

Prime Paddling

A kayaker attacks a set of rapids on the Ocoee.
A kayaker attacks a set of rapids on the Ocoee. Angela Greenwell

The same hills and precipitation that create all those falls are also the driving force behind amazing paddling in this area. For the experienced whitewater kayaker, the regular dam releases of the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River are can’t-miss events. Rafting on either the Ocoee or Nantahala rivers offers plenty of exhilarating action; newbies can also get in on the fun with a guide service, which doesn’t require paddling experience.

For flatwater paddlers, Lake Glenville is a sublime choice. Steep, green banks surround part of the lake, creating a cozy experience while the rest is wide open and full of huge, Carolina blue skies. Three falls pool their waters into Lake Glenville; each is a couple miles of easy paddling from Signal Ridge Marina (which is a great place to rent a boat or SUP if you don’t have one).

Post-Adventure Food

While the Cashiers Farmers Market does offer fresh, local produce, it is really more of a local shop. Huge, homemade pies, meat and seafood selections, and wine and beer shelves  round out the shop’s eclectic offerings.
    Rob Glover
While the Cashiers Farmers Market does offer fresh, local produce, it is really more of a local shop. Huge, homemade pies, meat and seafood selections, and wine and beer shelves round out the shop’s eclectic offerings. Rob Glover

When you’re not enjoying the outdoors around Cashiers, the town itself offers plenty of options for relaxing. Quaint cottages and rustic buildings line the streets, each looking as though it would be at home in a Norman Rockwell painting. Many house small antique and specialty shops, while others are home to cozy restaurants.

The screened in barn seating and checkered shirts and jeans of the wait staff at Cornucopia belies its upscale menu. Full of dishes like ginormous filets and sweet-as-butter diver scallops, large plates are right at home with housemade cornbread and creative cocktails. For an even more decadent dining experience, The Orchard’s offerings are anchored by flamed lamb chops, bacon-wrapped filet, and wild mushroom-stuffed ravioli.

To get the day started right, Bucks Coffee Cafe has the atmosphere of a true mountain town coffeehouse, where sounds of the wide, wood-planked floors mingles with locals’ conversation.  gathered in small groups to talk town business. The Farmers Market, meanwhile, has all the fixin’s to do a picnic lunch right, including fresh made breads and pies and artisan meats and cheeses; you can also grab one of the huge sandwiches at the adjacent bar-b-que shop. The pork Cuban is absolutely enormous and is paired with a fantastic version of typical sides like mac ‘n cheese and Brunswick stew.

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