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Whitewater Way

You’re on vacation and looking to visit all the Native American museums, hiking trails, breweries, farm-to-fork restaurants, and art galleries for which Western North Carolina is known. But you also want to experience the beautiful mountain scenery and byways without spending an entire day in the car. Whitewater Way is the answer you seek! This stretch of State Highway 281 from Sapphire, NC to the South Carolina border is only 9 miles long, but it showcases the natural splendor of the region in about 20 minutes.

While in Sapphire, you may also want to explore Gorges State Park, a 7,500-acre paradise brimming with thundering rivers, cascading waterfalls, and sheer rock faces that disappear into deep gorges. The park boasts 17 miles of mountain-biking and equestrian trails and 13 hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties. 

You have your choice of waterfalls to visit, including Bearwallow Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Turtleback Falls. But the real showstopper is Whitewater Falls, for which the byway is named. It’s the highest falls east of the Rockies, and you can get as close as you’d like. A half-mile, round-trip easy hike takes you to the 400-foot waterfall. The trail is predominantly paved, making it suitable for all ages. At about the halfway mark, you’ll have views of the upper falls before a staircase leads you down to the

Due to the combination of dense foliage and high precipitation, expect to find a near-tropical climate as you drive the Whitewater Way. The deep gorges and abundant waterfalls make for stunning scenery. The area is also home to many rare plants and animals. In fact, the rare Shortia plant only grows here and in Japan.

When you return to Sapphire, treat yourself to the Lemon-Basil Sauteed Springer Mountain Chicken Breast with arugula gnocchi and oyster mushrooms at the upscale The Library Kitchen & Bar. For a homier vibe, try the crab cakes and sweet potato fries at Mica’s Restaurant and Pub.