Lower Cascade Falls

Funny what happens when you show up at a popular state park when it’s not a holiday weekend: no weddings, no crowds, only one pack of noisy Cub Scouts on a camp-out.

All of this (plus the weather forecast predicting rain all day) meant I had the waterfalls of Hanging Rock State Park mostly to myself. Nice gift from the good folks of North Carolina.

I woke up yesterday to fog and overcast skies and knew immediately: perfect weather for taking pictures of waterfalls. Sunny skies make it almost impossible to get that cool blurring of the waters, because lowering the shutter speed to create the blur lets in far too much light and overexposes the image.

The fog, alas, burned off as I drove northwest from Winston-Salem, thwarting my thoughts of getting all Blair-Witchy, but the overcast skies persisted, yielding near-ideal conditions for waterfall photography (ideal conditions would be having the proper equipment and skill required to attempt such shots; hey, you try to be an idealist after 20 years in the news biz — I dare you).

Hanging Rock has four major waterfalls: the Upper and Lower Cascades, Hidden Falls and Window Falls. All are within a half-mile of the nearest parking lot, which is nice if you’re coming just to gape at the sight and sound of water falling off cliffs. If you’re a hiker hoping to get away from humanity, however, you’re going to be disappointed. Even on a slow Saturday, you’re going to have to share.

So let’s see some pictures:

Lower Cascade Falls

Here’s the Lower Cascade, the prettiest in the park. I showed up at 9 a.m. and there were already a couple photographers there who had the same idea (they had real cameras with long lenses and tripods and everything. Cheaters!). Picturesque as this scene may be, it does not do justice to the beauty of this site: to the left is a massive concave cliff wall looming over the falls and pool below. Stunning.

Water in the creek nearby

Here’s a little cascade flowing from the pool below the main fall. I was tempted to just hang around here and let myself be awed all day, but I had other places to go. Next up: Upper Cascade.

Upper Cascade Falls

There was a wedding about 10 feet from this waterfall a couple weeks ago. It was empty yesterday. It’s a very pretty scene but difficult to shoot (and difficult to avoid falling on your fanny among all the slippery rocks. I managed to remain ambulatory, but only by luck).

Small burst of fall color

Caught some emerging fall colors nearby. Speaking of which: when the reds and yellows pop in October, fresh throngs return to the state parks in these parts. The last couple weeks of September might be the best times to go.

There’s a sign near the trail to Upper Cascade that points to the “Rock Garden.” I passed it a couple times wondering why anybody would a) build a rock garden here; or b) want to go look at a rock garden somebody had built here. Yesterday a thought entered my brain: “hey, moron, maybe it’s a natural feature they’ve dubbed Rock Garden.”

Rock Garden

OK, so I’m a bit slow on the uptake. This area is full of great rock formations; the flat areas atop these rocks are worn smooth by generations of kids clambering all over them. So, if you’re in the neighborhood, add the Rock Garden to your itinerary.

Next up: two waterfalls along the Indian Creek Trail. I had no trouble knowing I was getting close — the shrieks of about two dozen Cub Scouts made it clear I was near the main attraction. I just had to remind myself that kids raising hell in the woods is about 10 times preferable to them becoming video-fed diabetics.

Anyway, here’s a shot of Hidden Falls.

Hidden Falls

Not super impressive, photographywise, but a pretty setting nevertheless. I did see some interesting plant species; someday I’ll get ambitious and try to figure out what they are.

Buds of some sort

Buds about to bloom, I presume.

Next stop: WIndow Falls — so named because there’s hole in a rock wall you can climb through to see a waterfall beyond. I’ll get to that pic in awhile but wanted to show this one first.

Window Falls

You can climb (or stumble, in my case) up behind this waterfall and get neet shots of it this way. It’s not much more than a trickle at this point, but a long exposure does cool things.

Unknown wildflower

Here’s a cool wildflower I saw growing near the falls.

The window

Here’s a guy taking a picture of the Window.

Upper section of Window Falls

Here’s the upper section of Window Falls, taken from the other side of the Window. The light is all over the map here so it’s a photographic challenge.

From Window Falls I wandered about a half-mile further down Indian Creek Trail, which becomes narrow, nearly overgrown and challenging to trod among the many rocks and roots in the trail. One thing I’ve noticed at Hanging Rock: Once you get off the tourist tracks, the trails become far more interesting. You practically expect those trees from the Wizard of Oz to reach out and grab you by the arm.

Here’s some fungus along the trail:

Fungus near forest floor

The last stop on my tour: a remote corner of the park called Tory’s Falls. It’s about a quarter-mile from the parking lot and there is water falling down a cliffside, but not much to photograph.

Near Tory's Falls

The setting is quite scenic, however. Might be a cool place to just kick back and read a novel for a couple hours, if you could find someplace flat to sit (the trail ends on a rocky, grooved slope).

Hanging Rock links:

Google map of Hanging Rock’s waterfall sites:

View Hanging Rock State Park waterfalls in a larger map