Of the many roadside waterfalls along NC-281, between US 64 and Upper Whitewater Falls in Sapphire, North Carolina, White Owl Falls may very well take the cake for most scenic. Though only about 15-ft tall, this photogenic water feature is a top favorite for many in the waterfalling world.
This 0.3 mile round-trip hike, losing and gaining only 100-ft in elevation, makes for the perfect side stop to other destinations like Gorges State Park, Upper Whitewater Falls, and the plethora of other waterfalls that are also along the Thompson River. Close by, you can visit John’s Jump Falls and D.E.W. Falls – both near roadside waterfalls as well.
There are two options for parking:
Coming from US 64 in Sapphire, you can drive 3.7 miles south on NC-281 to Brewer Rd (on your left) – which is also the parking access for the trail down the Thompson River. This road is about 5 miles north of the Upper Whitewater Falls overlook parking, in case you’ve driven too far.
Or, you can can drive another 375-ft south on Brewer Rd to a small pull out on your right, to save yourself that tiny amount of road walking.
Head south on NC-281 for about 290-ft. The road (if walking south) will begin to curve slightly towards the right. At the curve will be a guardrail, and just behind the start of the guardrail is an obvious spur trail that goes down a concrete drainage for a few yards. The trail then bears right (south) for about 0.10 miles as it works its way to the river. You’ll be able to hear it the entire way and shouldn’t have much difficulty navigating the trail. Back track the trail out to your car after enjoying this classic and underrated waterfall!