Hanging Rock State Park is popular for two reasons: views and waterfalls. On my recent adventure to Hanging Rock I took my friends on the Five Peaks Loop, a grand tour of all the best views in the state park. But I also had to show them the park has another superlative, an abundance of waterfalls. There are 5 waterfalls accessible by state park trails, and more via bushwhacking. This is the best location to view waterfalls east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the visitor center you can visit Upper Cascade Falls on an easy 0.2-mi hike or travel down the Indian Creek Trail on a slightly more difficult 0.6-mi one-way hike to Hidden Falls and Window Falls. All 3 of these waterfalls are crowded due to their location and ease of access near the visitor center, and not nearly as beautiful as Lower Cascade Falls. We were short on time and had already hiked 10 miles, so I decided that Lower Cascade Falls would be our one waterfall stop. Cascade Creek has much more water here than at Upper Cascade Falls, and the creek plummets ~35 feet into an amphitheater with an overhanging cliff above the waterfall. The setting is dramatic, and personally this is one of my favorite waterfalls in North Carolina. If you are visiting Hanging Rock State Park then plan on taking 45 minutes to see Lower Cascade Falls.
To get to there, follow NC-89 north from U.S. 311 for 10.3-mi passing through Danbury then take a left onto Hanging Rock Park Rd. Directly before Hanging Rock Park Rd passes the park gate turn right on Moores Spring Rd. In 0.3-mi turn left onto Hall Rd and you’ll see the large parking area for Lower Cascades Trail on your right in 0.6-mi. The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot.
Max elevation: 1112 ft
Min elevation: 955 ft
Total Time: 00:28:46
From the parking lot the trail barely loses elevation as it follows a wide gravel path for 0.3-mi towards Cascade Creek. There’s nothing to see here, but it doesn’t matter since the walk is fast. You’ll see a couple of roads and old paths that branch to the left of the trail, avoid these because they either lead to private property or to dangerous cliffs. At the end of the trail there is an elaborate wood staircase that provides safe access to the base of the waterfall. Thankfully the state park built these stairs because a decade ago there was nothing but a scramble trail to the base, which would have caused massive erosion and would be extremely dangerous.
Although not tall nor powerful, Lower Cascade Falls is stunning. The creek flows to the left before dropping ~35 feet into a shallow pool. In contrast to the other 4 waterfalls in the state park, Lower Cascade Falls has the highest water flow and is beautiful at any time of the year. Since the waterfall is located well below the main section of the park where Cascade Creek originates, the stream has picked up a lot of water and momentum on its course to the Dan River. Unless the water level is especially high, it is easy to rock hop across the creek and get beside the base of the falls. During the summer this is an excellent swimming hole. I would not climb around the rocks here, they’re slippery and the pool is shallow. By itself, this would be a nice waterfall. What makes it special is the dramatic cliff on the left side that towers and curves above the waterfall. Take your time and enjoy this marvel oddly located in the Piedmont of North Carolina.