Lake Jocassee, the blue heart of the Jocassee Gorges, is home to some very , and boat only accessible, waterfalls as the four major river ways of Western North Carolina make their final descents and tumble into the man-made lake, located in Upstate South Carolina.
While most of the rivers offer some pretty incredible adventures (like the Thompson, which you can read about the lower portion here), the mighty Whitewater is where Moondance Falls is located – requiring a 7.5 – 9 mile roundtrip paddle (or boat ride) across the lake, then a half mile scramble up and down the boulder choked river canyon that Lower Whitewater Falls is famous for. To get to the view above, most will find this to be difficult and potentially dangerous.
This adventure is accessible by boat only, which will be launched from the Devil’s Fork State Park boat ramp in Salem, SC. Note: there is an $8 fee to enter the state park.
Once Boat is Launched
Moondance is located on the Whitewater River about 3.7 – 4ish miles one way from the boat ramp, depending how well you can straight line it. You’ll want to head northwest and need a compass or GPS tracking to stay on route. When you approach Whitewater River, you’ll know you’re at the right place if you pass a fenced in parking lot and heavy industrialization from Duke Energy on your left just before reaching the river.
I don’t think the initial set of cascades/boulders that you see from the lake have a name, but I have heard it referred to as the Lowest Whitewater Falls. Most people stop here but to visit Moondance, you’ll need to anchor your boat in some way and ascend the river. On river right, I found a small footpath that appeared to start heading up river. I also tied my kayak off here, as it was really the only reasonable spot.
The faint path will quickly dump you right back out onto the boulders in the river. I guess the trail was to only get you above that set of boulders. Once back up on the river, you’ll be just below a pool and an impressive waterfall about 25ft high.
The pool here has potential to be a decent swimming hole but the currents may be too swift depending on water levels. As you can see in the photo above, the gorge starts to deepen with rising cliffs on either side and the next tier looming above. I crossed the river here and went into the boulder pile on river left to scramble my way up.
This drop is stunning. The geology puts a slant on the entire river before emptying into a great swimming hole. You can also begin to glimpse the lower drop of Moondance Falls right above it. This may also be Lowest Whitewater Falls, too. I’m not too sure either way, haha.
Admittedly, I was somewhat stumped on how I wanted to ascend the boulders here without wading the pool. I ended up crossing to river right at the end of the pool, scrambled back to the main drop on the rock wall that wraps it, and then up one of those slanted rock shelves that is more so river right to the main drop of this waterfall. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked from the bottom, but it was slippery!
This is the base of Moondance Falls. From here, you can only see the lower ~60ft drop of it. It sits magnificently inside the canyon and has, what seems to be, impossible walls surrounding it. If you look closely, you can see multiple layers of cliffs hidden by the dense vegetation.
I wanted to see the upper portion of Moondance, but the rock walls here are no joke. I was solo on my visit and debated the safety of attempting this for a solid moment. I can’t really give a play by play for how I did it, but I did it on river right. To be completely honest, it’s not worth it. The scramble is over risky terrain and any wrong move can result in a serious fall. The boulders/cliffs emerge haphazardly and it is very easy to get “cliffed” out. To make it even more so not worth it, there wasn’t even a safe place to get out of the vegetation for a photo. I ended up squatting on a puckering and precarious ledge for a moment to snag a quick phone photo, then got out there.
Once done enjoying this rarely visited gem, backtrack down the way you scrambled up and prepare for a long paddle back! There are several other waterfalls along Lake Jocassee, but I’ll save those for another trip report!