Gaea Photography

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Toxaway River Shuttle – Gorges State Park, NC

The Toxaway River is a titan among North Carolina waterways. Not only is it soaked with iconic landmarks such as the first artificial lake of the Appalachians, this richly historic river also hosts a series of some of the most sought after waterfalls in all of Western North Carolina.

The headwaters begin just southwest of Panthertown Valley before emptying into Lake Toxaway. The river then flows out of the lake, through a dam that crosses under US 64, and the bulk of it passes 6 miles through Gorges State Park before finishing at Lake Jocassee, SC. The Toxaway River drops 1800-ft between the dam and lake, in one of the most geologically unique landscapes that WNC can offer.

3 shot Panorama of Upper Wintergreen Falls, deep on the Toxaway River.

What’s a trip report without it laced with a bit of history? I could write a short essay on just the fascinating past of the Toxaway River, but I’ll save that for another article, haha. Here are a few key points that are worth noting:

  • Lake Toxaway is the first man-made lake in the entire Appalachian Chain, covering 640 acres at 3,010-ft elevation. First built in 1902 by E.H. Jennings, Lake Toxaway and the several resorts built upon it, including the Toxaway Inn, became an instant success within the elite and wealthy classes. The inn, which opened in 1903, saw frequent visits from high profile guests like Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, the Vanderbilt Family, and John D. Rockerfeller to name a few.
  • The earthen dam was constructed to create the lake. On August 13, 1916 it broke after severe flooding dumped 24 inches of rain in 24 hours onto the river – causing 5 billion US gallons of water to plummet over Toxaway Falls and shred its way through (what is now) Gorges SP into Lake Jocassee. The tsunami of water ripped the landscape clean of its vegetation, exposing huge granite walls and bedrock – which has yet to recover from the incident. The only reported death was one mule.
  • The loss of Lake Toxaway was the demise of the businesses surrounding it. The area then stayed undeveloped until 1960, when a group of investors started the Lake Toxaway Company. Over the coming years, they bought/rebuilt/restored the lake to its original creation. In 1963 the Lake Toxaway Country Club was formed, which presently maintains the space.

In my experience with this shuttle, it would be nearly impossible if the earthen dam never broke. The Toxaway River is incredibly wild, and that’s an understatement. As it passes through Gorges SP, several sections run between huge cliff lines and most of the river is boulder choked. Without the exposed bedrock to traverse, you’d be forced into gnarly bushwhacks through dense vegetation or be pushed high above the cliff line sections of it – missing the river entirely.

Toxaway Falls and River, taken from the dam during Fall. You can see the exposed bedrock – remnants of when the original earthen dam break in 1916.

Even with the exposure, the terrain is no joke and this trek is extremely difficult for a variety of reasons. The navigation is tricky and on a base-to-base level. What worked for me may not work for you. Many factors influence the length of the hike, but the meat of the good stuff is on the middle of the river – meaning that you are several miles from access/help in either direction. There is little room for error on this one – it demands you to be experienced with intense boulder scrambling, full body river crossings (multiple of them, even in low waters), and you’re looking to spend many miles on the river boulder hopping. It’ll be a 8 – 10 mile hike, depending on what your itinerary is.

Before even considering to attempt this journey, I HIGHLY encourage you to only go when conditions are optimal. I would like to think I am quite capable out there, but I question my own ability to pass several sections if:

  • It’s rained recently – the smooth rock here is especially slippery and masterfully deceptive, more so than most other places. On top of that, a lot of the rocks/walls are super steep. If they are even moist, you can pretty much expect to have ZERO grip. Many sections would be dependent on your ability to navigate these steep, granite walls.
  • Water levels are up – even slightly high waters would make sections impassable. Higher waters could potentially create strong undercurrents that normally aren’t there, and even in low waters you STILL need to get fully wet to cross multiple sections. Basically, you have no business being there in high waters.
  • There is a chance of rain for the day – as I said, you need it to be dry and low waters down there. If you get hit with a storm, you run the risk of flash flooding and being “stuck” in certain sections.

Trust me, it’s not worth risking your life attempting this if weather and conditions are not on your side. The first time I planned this shuttle, I had to put it off until the next year because weather couldn’t cooperate with me the entire summer I originally intended on doing it.

Two initial hurdles of this shuttle are access and itinerary. If you shuttle from Toxaways Falls on US 64 to Auger Hole Rd and out to Frozen Creek Access, then you’ll potentially pass all of the following waterfalls/chutes: Toxaway Falls, Twin Falls, the Space Mountain slides and chutes, the Minigizer, the Energizer (and everything else in The Narrows section), Big Mank, Feeding Trough chute, Uppermost Wintergreen, Upper Wintergreen Falls, Land Bridge Falls, Wintergreen Falls, 10 Foot Falls, Chub Line Falls, Step Around Falls, Auger Fork Falls, Maple Branch Falls, an unnamed fall upstream Auger Fork, and Double Drop Falls.

And that’s just the stuff that has some form of an accepted name – either officially through Gorges SP, in the local hiking communities, or within the kayaking communities. There are countless other scenic cascades and small falls along the way that will keep any photographer busy for days.

Clearly trying to knock all that off in one day is quite the undertaking. I haven’t even done all that in a single day, but I’ve seen all the falls listed above over the years. There is a way to enter the Toxaway River near Wintergreen Falls and The Narrows from a series of old logging roads/paths – but it skirts private property and isn’t reliable access. Besides, I feel like if you’re going to put in the effort to see the Wintergreens or The Narrows then you might as well just see the whole river and everything else on it – it wouldn’t be much more effort, honestly.

This report, comprised of photos from two separate trips, will describe a shuttle from Toxaway Falls all the way to Step Around Falls and out to Frozen Creek Access. You could reverse this route by going bottom up, but I personally prefer to go top down with this one.


One car needs to be dropped at Frozen Creek Access, Gorges State Park, NC.
Here is a Google Maps pinpoint to Frozen Creek Access that you can use to look up directions to.

The other car needs to be parked on US 64 – either at the dam on the dirt pull off (on the east side) or at an old run down shack, called the Toxaway Falls Stand, just before the dam.
Here is a Google Map pinpoint to the Toxaway Falls Stand for reference and directions. You can decide where you feel comfortable leaving your vehicle.

Once Parked:

Accessing the top half of the Toxaway River and falls is tricky. The river right side of the dam all the way down to about 200-ft upstream of Twin Falls, the next waterfall downstream, is private property. But the river left side is Gorges State Park property.

Once parked at the dam, you’ll want to cross the road and walk on the other side of the guardrail as you head back east on US 64. Very quickly you’ll pick up a spur trail that will take you to the bottom of Toxaway Falls, which as long as you stay in the river (during low waters obviously) or on river left then you’ll stay legal.

Main drop of Toxaway Falls.
Mid section drops of Toxaway Falls.
Upper sections of Toxaway Falls, including the dam and US 64.

However you can’t walk all the way to Twin Falls this way without trespassing. In order to stay on public property, you’ll have to back track up the spur and head to the unofficial trail for Twin Falls, which descends the ridge line on river left. Through coaching gymnastics, I met the property manager of the rent-able condos and was given permission to use their private Toxaway Falls Trail to start our shuttle that way. If you felt so inclined, you can rent a condo on river right and if you do so, you can get permission to approach the river this way!

Rich Stevenson, author of, has a great write up on the directions for the trail to Twin Falls that you can find here.

To quote Rich’s website and directions for using the public land trail:

“From the parking area, cross the road and immediately get on the other side of the guard rail. Do not walk in the road! There’s kind of a path most of the way back to where you begin the hike, but in summer it’s very hard to see in places due to some very high and thick grass. Almost immediately you will notice a steep path down towards Toxaway Falls, but it only goes down to the top section and is not the way to Twin Falls. Do not go down here. Keep going along the guard rail until you get to the wide gravel pull off area with the ‘no parking’ signs and a sign for the rules for Gorges SP. From here, go down hill past the wooden gate and pick up the trail. The trail is very obvious at first, but fades to almost nothing in places. If you have experience following trails like this you should be OK. If you lose the trail, just keep heading down the ridge line. This trail comes down to a flat area at river level at about 0.4 miles. You’ll also be at a small tributary that empties into the Toxaway River very close to the top of Twin Falls. You’ll have to cross the river above the falls to the rock on the other side. Plan on getting your feet wet. To get to the base of the falls, look to the right for a little trail that leads to a steep rock cliff with some ropes tied off. On my most recent trip in early August 2017, someone had tied off a nice new blue and red climbing rope with knots in it to assist in the descent down the 15′ cliff. Don’t count on this rope being there however. This section of cliff usually has seepage water running down it and you are a fool to try getting down without the rope. Once at the base, there’s a bit of room to hang out and enjoy the waterfall. “

Twins Falls on the Toxaway, with me performing a handstand in 2017.
(35* 7.1524’N, 82* 55.6003’W)

Twin Falls on the Toxaway is a top NC waterfall favorite of mine. Despite being only 15-ft tall, this one just always plucks a heart string with me. It also has one of the finest, easily accessible, and virtually always secluded swimming holes around. The large flat rock on river right makes for a great hang out spot as well. I found out on one of my recent trips there that the river left prong of the falls has a small, shallow cave you can slip into if you push behind its veil. It’s pretty incredible back there, just saying.

Capt John, Wilton, Josh, and me at Twin Falls during my first shuttle of the Toxaway.

This is where the trails end and the real fun begins.

Heading downstream from Twin Falls, the river immediately starts to pick up momentum while simultaneously shifting its geology. The next 0.4 miles is a section known as Space Mountain in the kayaking community – which consists of several interesting bedrock slides and chutes. Most of those features are remnants from the earthen dam break, made apparent as you traverse the open bedrock.

I have to say, taking the entire river into consideration, I’ve never seen a waterway change its identity so many times.

Josh standing above the opening series of bedrock slides and chutes known as Space Mountain, to the kayaking community.
Further downstream the Space Mountain section of the Toxaway River.

Make no mistake, this section is INCREDIBLY slippery. On my first shuttle, I slipped and banged my knee pretty badly. I had to honestly access if I can even finish the hike – because after Space Mountain, there really isn’t much of an option of turning back and you’re well beyond the immediate help of people. (After 20 minutes of shaking pain, I decided to push on. But my confidence was shot the rest of the day.)

First significant 15-ft chute waterfall in the Space Mountain section of the Toxaway River.
(35*6.9869′ N, 82*55.6269′ W)
Lower chutes of the Space Mountain section of the Toxaway River.
Lower chutes of the Space Mountain section of the Toxaway River.
The last chute waterfall in the Space Mountain section of the Toxaway River.
(35*6.8006′ N, 82*55.6915′ W)

Basically almost every chute and waterfall has an awesome swimming hole at the base. After this last 15-ft chute in the Space Mountain section, the river drastically flattens out and resembles more of a creek for a brief stretch. The best course of action here was to just wade the ankle-knee deep water.

Josh, Wilton, and Capt taking to the river during a flat stretch.
Capt navigating a flat and calm section of the river.

By this point, we are 0.4 miles downstream from Twin Falls and almost 1 mile on the river from Toxaway Falls.

The flat stretch is short lived and in about 750-ft the river changes its identity once again, as it enters into an area known as The Narrows. This section squeezes the entire river through another series of impressive chutes, but this time bigger and badder than the Space Mountain section.

The Narrows is a particularly precarious part of the Toxaway River. The gorge deepens here, as it becomes encased by 200-ft towering granite walls/cliffs and mind-bending boulders/formations. The first chute is a nice 20-ft slide that Wilton demonstrates how to enjoy a beer properly at.

Wilton knows how to enjoy his beer!

Immediately after this chute, the river enters what the kayaking community calls the Minigizer chute. I’ve also heard this fall called the Land Bridge Chute, due to the boulder that fell across the top of it – creating a beautiful and unique land bridge. Personally, I like the Minigizer name better because Land Bridge Falls is further downstream; two similarly named landmarks like that can make directions ambiguous.

Minigizer squeezes the entire river into a less than 2 foot wide chute for a 25 yard stretch. It really looks more like a mini-crevasse on the top of a massive boulder that water just so happens to flow through. It’s a fascinating structure, to say the least. When kayakers run this, they duck the formation and shoot under it!!

Minigizer, with its land bridge formation on the top.
(35*6.5540′ N, 82*55.7120′ W)
Minigizer chute, and this is only half of it.
Top drop of Minigizer, taken from the land bridge formation.
Bottom pool that Minigizer empties into.
Video pan from the top of Minigizer.

The next 0.2 miles downstream is through the pit of The Narrows. This part has MASSIVE formations, colored rocks, and insanely steep walls. There isn’t a single photo that can do justice for the sheer size of these rocks. They dwarf and overshadow anyone walking below them. Tread carefully here, the smooth walls are masters of deception.

Wilton and Capt stoked on reaching The Narrows on the Toxaway River.

In about 0.1 miles downstream from Minigizer, you’ll reach yet another significant chute-style waterfall in the middle of The Narrows. This one is surrounded by a steeply sloped granite wall on river left, a vertical 200-ft rock wall on river right, and empties into a plunge pool followed by a boulder garden on river right downstream.

Significant chute-style waterfall, mid Narrows section on the Toxaway River.
(35* 6.4591′ N, 82* 55.6378′ W)
Bottom of the significant chute-style waterfall in the mid Narrows section. You can see how encased this area is with giant rock walls.

This particular section would be near impassable if the walls on river left are wet in any way. You could cross the river here and proceed on river right through the boulder garden but you’ll be forced back to river left just downstream at the Energizer, so it’s not really worth the effort of crossing twice.

Capt navigating the steep walls around the chute-style waterfall in the mid Narrows section on the Toxaway River.

Immediately downstream from here, you’ll reach the top of what the kayaking community calls Energizer. It’s basically like the Minigizer’s older brother, jacked up on an ungodly amount of steroids.

This near 100 yard chute pinches the Toxaway River into a foot wide fold on top of a long, massive rock formation projecting itself out of the river while simultaneously feeding the river on top of it. Yeah, crazy. Did I mention a vertical rock wall stands over the entire river right stretch of the chute?

According to American Whitewater, “Many feel this rapid is quite out of control so be ready for anything.”

The top third of Energizer on the Toxaway River.
(35* 6.3825’N, 82* 55.6046′ W)
Midway down Energizer.
Capt giving the thumbs up as we made our way down the last third of Energizer. The sandy beach bottom is looming behind him.

Energizer plummets out of The Narrows and empties into a wide, deep plunge pool after its wild descent. Here, the river also flattens out to a near creek style flow. To everyone’s surprise, there’s also a huge sandy beach at the bottom! Have I mentioned that I’ve never seen a waterway change identities so much in such a short stretch?

Capt, Josh, and Wilton at the bottom of the Energizer, contemplating how to cross the plunge pool.

There’s one catch. Crossing this plunge pool is one of the deepest crossings on the whole stretch. It’s not a long crossing but the easiest way is to just swim it to the shore. You could find a route on the river left side to cross that, at best, you’ll only be chest/chin deep in the wade. But, probably just easier to swim.

Chris chest deep in the wade while crossing Energizer’s plunge pool.
Capt making his way across the chest deep wade of Energizer’s plunge pool.

The beach bottom was a welcomed sight during my first shuttle. We spent a solid half hour hanging out there, soaking up the sun and swimming while enjoying some beers. I remembered thinking to myself, “I knew the Toxaway was good, but I didn’t know it was THIS good.”

Looking back on the Energizer.
Energizer and its swimming hole.

Going downstream from here feels like a small creek for a few yards but that quickly changes back to a boulder chocked river. In about 600-ft, you’ll reach the confluence of Indian Creek with the Toxaway River. At the confluence, the Toxaway goes through another 20-ft chute under a rock formation that reminds me of a bird. Yeah, I’m not sure either.

Bird Rock on the Toxaway River. Do you see it?
The chute that goes under the Bird Rock formation at the confluence with Indian Creek.
(35* 6.2942′ N, 82* 55.5480′ W)

The confluence with Indian Creek is roughly 1.5 miles downstream from Toxaway Falls. The start of the Upper Wintergreen Falls is roughly another 0.5 miles further still. There are three waterfalls upstream Indian Creek (Upper, Middle, and Lower Indian Creek Falls), but I haven’t visited them yet.

Headed downstream, the rocks get really “slabby”. Shortly later, the Toxaway goes flat and calm for a brief stretch next to a steep wall.

Capt and Josh approaching a flat section of the river after the Indian Creek confluence.
Wilton wading a flat stretch after the Indian Creek confluence.

After the brief calm stretch, the river goes through another chute that splits a very long slab of bedrock, topped off with a big boulder formation at the start. The kayaking community refers to this chute as Big Mank. I found this one to be particularly impressive.

Big Mank on the Toxaway River.
(35* 6.1885′ N, 82* 55.5403)
Big Mank on the Toxaway River.
Josh on top of the Big Mank formation.
A little further downstream looking back at Big Mank.
A little further downstream looking back at Big Mank.

Big Mank continues on as a rock ridge in the middle of the river for quite the distance. The sheer size of this rock spine is mind numbing and fascinating how it funnels the entire river, like child’s play. The following photo is literally the rest of the chute behind what is in frame in the photos above.

While walking down, I spotted a tree that was “planted” in one of its potholes! It’s about 6-ft tall and the way the roots spiraled inside the pothole had me geeking out! Thrive on, friend.

The “planted” pothole tree on the Toxaway River!
Life is persistent and always finds a way.

Big Mank continues to feed the Toxaway River though narrow chutes and boulders until it empties out into a huge swimming hole. This is probably one of the better swimming spots and offers a decent jumping rock. A tributary comes feeding in from river right as well. We ended up crossing onto river left at the top of the final cascades before it empties into the swimming hole below.

An excellent swimming hole at the bottom of the Big Mank series.
(35* 6.0535’N, 82* 55.6364′ W)
An excellent swimming hole at the bottom of the Big Mank series.

Immediately downstream of this fantastic swimming hole, the Toxaway River filters through what the kayakers call Feeding Trough. Much like Big Mank, the Feeding Trough has a giant boulder spine that rises out of the river. It funnels the river through a chute at the top of the ridge; then when it dumps out at the bottom, the river makes an immediate 90 degree left hand turn over a small cascade. The plunge pool seeps back and under the Feeding Trough on river left. Again, the geology here is insane.

Wilton walking down the rock spine of Feeding Trough with Capt at the bottom.
Feeding Trough on the Toxaway River.
(35* 6.0110′ N, 82* 55.6592′ W)
Feeding Trough on the Toxaway River.
(35* 6.0110′ N, 82* 55.6592′ W)
Feeding Trough on the Toxaway River, showing the 90 degree bend at the bottom.
Further downstream looking back on Feeding Trough.

Immediately downstream from here, you’ll pass another chute style cascade that dumps out into a wide pool.

Next chute style cascade further downstream from Feeding Trough.

In about 350-ft, you’ll come to the top of a 20-ft waterfall that the kayaking community calls 20 Foot Falls and the hiking community calls Uppermost Wintergreen Falls. I’ve heard Upper Wintergreen Falls described as having 4 drops, but it really only has 3 – unless you count this fall as the tippy-top tier. If you were to ask me, I think there is too much flat water at the base of this waterfall to be considered part of Upper Wintergreen Falls.

Uppermost Wintergreen Falls.
(35* 5.9505′ N, 82* 55.6388′ W)

Right below Uppermost Wintergreen is the brink of Upper Wintergreen Falls. This waterfall is mammoth and gnarly! Each drop is an easy 30-ft, and the river bends sharply to the right before filing over the next tier – creating a stair-step type of look that towers over the landscape below. The boulders surrounding the waterfall are equally as impressive, especially an overhanging rock on river left that has provided much needed shade for me on my outings here.

This waterfall is also known as 40/40 in the kayaking community. It’s so intense that even the kayakers rarely run it, and they don’t give directions online for how to do it. According to American Whitewater, “You either already know how or are with someone who does. Nuff said about that. Portage on the left.”

Scramble to the base on river left, but know that you will be precariously close to falls as you climb down.

Upper Wintergreen Falls.
(35* 5.9143′ N, 82* 55.6382′ W)

For scale, the next two photos are of just the top section in the upper right corner on the photo above.

The first 40-ft drop of Upper Wintergreen Falls.
Josh, Capt, and Wilton at the base of the first drop of Upper Wintergreen Falls. You can see how wild the terrain here is.

Getting the entire waterfall in a photo with any type of realistic scale to it is nearly impossible!

Chris sitting half way down Upper Wintergreen Falls.
Isolating tiers of the Upper Wintergreen Falls.
Video pan of Upper Wintergreen Falls.
Capt and Josh working their way down Upper Wintergreen Falls.

Upper Wintergreen Falls has one of the most highly regarded swimming holes in all of WNC. The entire Toxaway River is a fantastic swimming hole, but the base of Upper Wintergreen has a long chute that you can ride! It’s not the smoothest ride, but it’s also not the bumpiest. The trick is to let go and not fight it: lay flat by pulling your legs up from under you, suck your body close in, and allow yourself to be taken by the current!

Me riding the chute at the base of Upper Wintergreen Falls.

Upper Wintergreen Falls sure is a good time and it’s easy to spend a whole day at just this spot playing! In my opinion, I like this waterfall better than the iconic Wintergreen Falls.

Downstream from Upper Wintergreen, the Toxaway spills over yet another massive drop – Land Bridge Falls. The kayaking community regards this as the steepest drop on the river, and when you reach the brink you’ll most likely agree with that statement. The walls here are near vertical and smooth, while forming another rocky chute that cradles the river down the drop. Much like Minigizer, there is a chipped off piece of flat boulder that has fallen over the waterfall, bridging it near the top. However, the over 100-ft Land Bridge Falls dwarfs Minigizer in every way.

Land Bridge Falls.
(35* 5.8354′ N, 82* 55.6051′ W)

The photo above was taken from the base and you can really see how steep those walls are. This shot is one of my all-time favorite views. Crazy part is that the whole waterfall isn’t even in frame here.

What blows my mind most is how the formation curves the entire river at the base, like it’s nothing.

If you look closely near the upper portion of the drop, you can see the land bridge formation. Below is a group photo from my first shuttle on it for scale. To think, some kayakers seal launch off the formation to run this drop.

Capt, Wilton, Josh, and me on Land Bridge Falls.

To descend down, you’ll want to head into the woods on river left at the top. Pretty quickly you should be able to spot a very faint footpath descending the ridge river left. About half way down, you’ll see an obvious way to make your way back out onto the walls and towards the land bridge formation. It should go without saying that extreme care needs to be taken here.

Capt making his way down Land Bridge Falls.

Land Bridge Falls may be my favorite waterfall on the Toxaway north of Augerhole Rd. It’s special to me. We spent a solid half hour just lying on the land bridge – drinking beers, sharing hiking stories, looking out into the gorge below us (photo below), and creating experiences that later turn into memories to reside deep within me. Words or photos won’t do it justice, but there is something transcending about Land Bridge Falls.

Looking down into the gorge below Land Bridge Falls.
Chris photographing Land bridge Falls.
Can’t get enough of that land bridge!

The faint footpath on river left of Land Bridge Falls looked like it kept going up the ridge and around to the 60-ft Wintergreen Falls, which is immediately downstream. I’ve never taken the path further than just getting down from the top of Land Bridge Falls, because you can’t see the whole falls or reach the base using that path. So I’m not sure. I’ve always just kept going via rock hopping and wading because it’s immediately downstream from this point.

But it would make sense because getting down from the top of Wintergreen Falls is brutal. In my opinion, it’s the worst bushwhacking in the whole hike. I’m not going to proclaim to know the best way down. I’ve heard some say river left, others say river right. I’ve always done river left while friends have done river right. Pick your poison based on what you’re willing to deal with – both suck and both will have you swimming/wading the deep plunge pool at the base before getting to a dry and safe spot.

Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River.
(35* 5.8689′ N, 82* 55.4972′ W)

Roughly 2.2 miles downstream of Toxaway Falls, Wintergreen Falls is one of the more iconic waterfalls on the entire river. It’s hard to classify Wintergreen because many consider this, Land bridge, and Upper Wintergreen as all just “Wintergreen Falls” or “The Wintergreens” – meaning it’s not one waterfall but a series of several cascades and drops. I don’t agree with that because those drops stand out and don’t necessarily “flow” into each other. I’ve seen more discrimination for breaking up waterfalls into multiple entities over far less, so I think it’s safe to consider them all different waterfalls here.

Another look at Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River.

Regardless of your own definitions, we can all agree how beautiful and striking these falls are. The swimming hole at the bottom of Wintergreen is a must do.

Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River and its amazing swimming hole.
Wintergreen Falls on the Toxaway River.

Wintergreen Falls was also a popular fisherman’s hole, but there is no more hunting allowed on state park land. I’ve read and heard of faint “fisherman’s paths” that can take you to the base of Wintergreen from Augerhole Rd. But since hunting and driving on Augerhole have been restricted, the trails are overgrown and very touch-and-go.

In 0.4 miles downstream of Wintergreen Falls, Panther Branch confluences with the river. During that stretch you may find some small bits of footpaths on river left, but your best bet is to just continue to rock hop the river via the path of least resistance. After crossing Panther Branch, I’ve always been able to pick up a more defined spur path to follow on river left.

In 0.2 miles downstream of Panther Branch, is a small waterfall known as 10 Foot Falls in the hiking community. While only 10-ft tall, the setting is very interesting and worthy of a photo. A small spur off the footpath past Panther Branch will take you down to it.

10 Foot Falls.
(35* 5.5503′ N, 82* 55.0183′ W)
10 Foot Falls.

Only 0.1 miles further downstream of 10 Foot Falls, the small footpath finishes at a group campsite with picnic tables and grills. After the last couple miles of backcountry river, it was strange to run into something that looked so fairly new. But from here, a wide and open forest service road leads all the way back to Augerhole Rd – about another mile further. At this point, the hardest part is over.

Once at Augerhole Rd, you’ll see a sign saying “Wintergreen” with an arrow pointing up towards the service road. If I didn’t know any better, that sign would lead me to think that there is a dedicated trail all the way to the base of Wintergreen Falls.

From here, Frozen Creek Access is about 3.4 miles uphill Augerhole Rd. At this point, you have options on how you want to proceed, as there are several worthy waterfalls you’ll pass on the way out.

The top of Chub Line Falls is immediately below Augerhold Rd here. It’s only 200-ft down, but the descent is not easy and very steep. You can hear Chub Line and even see it from the road during winter. To reach the base, head up Augerhole Rd for almost 600-ft and you’ll come to a fallen log on the side of the road at about (35* 5.1841′ N, 82* 54.2974′ W). Just over the log is a recognizable spur trail that starts heading down the mountainside towards Chub Line. It’ll only take you 3/4 of the way down and fade out just as you reach a patch of briars above another fallen log. But at this point, you can see the pebble rocks and river below – it’ll be obvious what to do from here.

Chub Line Falls.
(35* 5.1184′ N, 82* 54.2338′ W)

Chub Line Falls may be the most underrated waterfall on the Toxaway River. I was completely blown away by this one – it wasn’t anything like I expected. Much like most things on this entire trek, pictures just didn’t do justice for conveying the majesty of this river.

Chub Line Falls.

This 40-ft waterfall is much bigger in person and very powerful. A rocky canyon setting is among some of my favorites, and something about this particular one really sends the Toxaway River crashing loudly down into it.

Chub Line Falls gets its name because this was historically as far upstream the chub minnow where able to swim. The fact they even make it this far is impressive, but I’d be scared if they were able to make it beyond this one.

Chub Line Falls.
Chub Line Falls.
Chub Line Falls.
Chub Line Falls.
Chub Line Falls.
Video pan of Chub Line Falls.

On my first shuttle, this was where we ended and climbed back up the mountainside to Augerhole Rd. If this is where your journey ends too then I highly recommend trying you’re best to retrace your steps and follow the spur you took down back out. This will help make access easier and help minimize erosion if everyone went one consistent way.

If you’re going to push further to Step Around Falls, then my suggestion is to just continue river walking. It’s only 0.5 miles downstream from Chub Line and the river is wide/low for most of it. Along the way you’ll pass a nice bluff on river left, pictured below.

Bluff on river left between Chub Line Falls and Step Around Falls.

Right before reaching Step Around Falls, the river bends left and comes over a four foot scenic cascade. The cascade also spans the entire width of the river, making a nice composition. Once you’ve reached here, you’re in the home stretch.

A scenic four foot cascade.

About 350-ft further downstream is the top of the 7-ft Step Around Falls. This waterfall got its name from a precarious maneuver “required” to reach the base – a “step” around a boulder crack, high over the plunge pool.

Step Around Falls.
(35* 4.9049.’ N, 82* 53.9506′ W)

But for the life of me, I was not able to find this “Oh, &%$#,” moment I have read about. I was able to slide to the base river left with Chris, and had no problems doing so. Upon further review, I realized we probably weren’t high enough on the boulders to where the “step” is – we traversed the rocks near river level.

Top of Step Around Falls.
Step Around Falls.

Although Step Around is more of a cascade than a waterfall, the setting is pretty nice. The plunge pool at the bottom is deep and makes a good jumping spot, if one felt so inclined.

Step Around Falls and its deep plunge pool.
Video pan of Step Around Falls.

About 0.2 miles back upstream from Step Around Falls, Auger Fork Creek empties into the Toxaway River. Kevin Adams describes on old logging road turned makeshift path that runs for 0.5 miles from Augerhole Rd and is supposed to empty out at the confluence. I couldn’t find it but, admittedly, I didn’t look very hard. I’ve also heard that old grade is heavily overgrown and hard to navigate. The way we saw it was that the creek walk was easy enough, and we knew a reliably easy way out once we reached Chub Line Falls again. Besides, when we got back to Chub Line, the lighting was better for photos.

Following the same spur we took down, we were back on Augerhole Rd. At this point, Frozen Creek is roughly 3.2 miles uphill Augerhole.

About 0.7 miles up Augerhole Rd, Auger Fork Creek and Maple Spring Branch meet at a confluence – forming two magnificent waterfalls aptly named Auger Fork and Maple Spring Branch Falls.

I used to always miss the start of the spur trail for these falls, but once at the base the trail is easy to follow back up to the road. After a few times of missing it, I got smart and finally dropped a way point. Right around (35* 5.5100′ N, 82* 53.8164′ N) on Augerhole Rd, which is just after it bends to the left if heading up the road, is where the spur starts behind some small shrubs. Once you get a few feet into it, the spur becomes increasingly more defined.

Auger Fork Falls, shrouded in Fall foliage.
(35* 5.5268′ N, 82* 53.7719′ N)

Honestly, Auger Fork is a 55-ft personal favorite. It’s scenic and when you turn your head towards the right, you’re looking at the 60-ft Maple Spring Branch Falls. The sandbar at the bottom is top notch for solo chilling and meditation, just saying.

Maple Spring Branch Falls, shrouded in Fall foliage.
(35* 5.5180′ N, 82* 53.7370′ W)

In order to get the view of Maple Spring Branch like in the photo above, you’ll have to climb up the bottom 10-ft section to reach the base of this drop. But if you climb to this spot, all you have to do is turn around to get a full view of Auger Fork Falls!

Full view of Auger Fork Falls.

Backtrack up the spur to Augerhole Rd. About 360-ft up the road, there is another 15-ft chute style waterfall that is unnamed. I’ve heard some call it the Auger Fork Chute, but that’s a small group of people.

During winter, you can faintly see the waterfall from the road. I don’t think this is worth the effort to get down, and I only have a photo of it because I accidentally wound up there the first time I was trying to find the spur trail for Auger Fork and Maple Spring Branch – told y’all that I always missed it coming down!

Unnamed Falls.
(35* 5.5646′ N, 82* 53.8771′ W)

About 0.7 miles up Augerhole Rd, from the spur for Auger Fork and Maple Spring Branch, is another 15-ft waterfall known as Double Drop Falls. You can hear and see this one from the road, which is only about 80-ft below it. The woods are open here, so descend towards the falls once you spot it – the way down is obvious.

Double Drop Falls.
(35* 5.8741′ N, 82* 53.7908′ W)

Double Drop is surprisingly scenic and easy enough to get to that it’s worth seeing if you never have before.

Once back on Augerhole Rd, it’s about 1.7 miles back to Frozen Creek Access from Double Drop. Most of it is a gradual uphill, but compared to the rest of everything else this is cake. Around 0.7 miles before reaching Frozen Creek, Augerhole Rd splits to Canebrake. You’ll want to turn left here, but there is signage that points it out as well.

Overall this shuttle is one of the most intense, challenging, yet rewarding hikes WNC can offer. The Toxaway River is among one of the most wild and scenic waterways around, and the entire trek is some of most fascinating geology I have ever seen.

3 Responses to “Toxaway River Shuttle – Gorges State Park, NC”

  1. Jeff M

    Incredible review, fantastic pictures. What is the approx distance of the entire route?

  2. hikingwnc

    It was indeed one of the most amazing geologic settings and it was a great day. It was a heck of a first hike together!


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