Blue Ridge Parkway | WHITE ROCK FALLS TRAIL

Upper waterfall on White Rock Creek

Upper waterfall on White Rock Creek

Length: 2.2 miles round trip to waterfall from The Slacks Overlook
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty:  Strenuous

The White Rock Falls Trail runs 2.5 miles between The Slacks Overlook and the White Rock Gap Parking Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I did not hike the entire trail because I did not want to make a 5-mile round trip hike. I opted instead—like many other hikers—to see White Rock Falls and then turn back. The waterfall, which is stretching the definition of the word, is located near the middle of the trail, but a little closer to The Slacks. Therefore, if your goal is just to see the waterfall and the cascades that flow below it, The Slacks Overlook is where you should start (this is where I started). The waterfall and cascades begin about .9 mile into the hike and continue downstream for another quarter mile. Round trip from The Slacks is 2.2 miles versus 2.8 miles from White Rock Gap.

Regardless of which end you start at, the trailhead for the White Rock Falls Trail is on the opposite side of the Blue Ridge Parkway from the parking areas. From The Slacks parking lot, look back towards the Parkway and exit the parking lot at the left side. Once you get to the Parkway, walk across the road and take a left. The trailhead is located about 50 yards down. It is nearly impossible to see from the parking lot because it begins down into a gully. There are a few warning signs at the start of the trail, but nothing that identifies it.

The photo below of the trail map was taken from an information panel at the White Rock Gap Parking Area. There is no map on display at The Slacks Overlook, so be sure you understand where to begin the hike. If you can find the correct trailhead, you don’t need a map. Just keep walking until you come to the waterfall.

White Rock Gap Trail Map (click to enlarge)

White Rock Gap Trail Map (click to enlarge)

The White Rock Falls Trail is marked with yellow blazes. These are paint splotches on trees or rocks that mark the route like Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs. If done properly, consecutive blazes should be within eyesight of each other, but that’s not always the case. However, you should at least see them at regular intervals. There are two forks in the trail that have no directional signs, so the blazes end up coming in handy.

Yellow blazes mark the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway's White Rock Falls Trail

Yellow blazes mark the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s White Rock Falls Trail

The hike begins in a forested area and makes a steady descent down a moderate hill towards a small creek. The trail surface is largely free of rocks and roots at this point, but as you approach the creek just .2 mile away, the trail gets a little rougher. After crossing the creek via a footbridge, the terrain levels out for a short stretch as it follows a ridge above the creek. Patches of rocks and root spring up for short distances, but just when you are ready to start cursing the trail, it’s back to a smooth surface.

Rough terrain on the Blue Ridge Parkway's White Rock Falls Trail after crossing the creek

Rough terrain on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s White Rock Falls Trail after crossing the creek

After a tenth of a mile along the ridge, the trail once again begins downhill. You can’t see a creek anymore, but you can hear water rushing downhill a little faster than before. After a short walk you’ll come to White Rock Creek, a different and wider creek than the first one. The creek you crossed earlier actually flows into White Rock Creek. There is a small cascade where the two converge.

Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway's White Rock Creek Trail spans White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s White Rock Falls Trail spans White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Small creek flows into White Rock Creek

Small creek flows into White Rock Creek

The White Rock Falls Trail follows the creek for the next tenth of a mile along flat terrain. However, at this point the trail is loaded with ankle-twisting rocks, so progress somewhat slows.

Rocky terrain on the Blue Ridge Parkway's White Rock Falls Trail

Rocky terrain on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s White Rock Falls Trail

At the half-mile point the trail forks. One direction goes uphill (right) and the other downhill (left), and as mentioned, there is no directional sign. However, there is a yellow blaze on the uphill trail, which indicates that’s the correct way to go. The downhill fork just leads of a rock outcropping. It’s kind of neat and only 50 feet away, so you might as well check it out.

Short detour on the Blue Ridge Parkway's White Rock Falls Trail leads to an interesting rock outcropping

Short detour on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s White Rock Falls Trail leads to an interesting rock outcropping

Once back on the White Rock Falls Trail, you have a steep uphill climb that amounts to the length of a couple of staircases. Along this stretch is a clearing with a decent view of the surrounding mountains. Tree branches are in the way, and if the leaves are on the tree, you might not see much. There is a large rock that you can climb on for a completely clear view, but I’m getting too old to make such an effort. Also at this point, the trail has left the much denser forest, and you are now hiking through more open terrain.

View of the mountains from the White Rock Falls Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

View of the mountains from the White Rock Falls Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A large boulder along the Blue Ridge Parkway's White Rock Falls Trail provides a platform for a clear view of the mountains

A large boulder along the Blue Ridge Parkway’s White Rock Falls Trail provides a platform for a clear view of the mountains

As I continued on from the overlook area, I was wondering if I was on the wrong trail because I was hiking farther and farther from White Rock Creek. Starting at the fork, the trail cuts away from the creek for about .2 mile before making an abrupt U-turn and heading back towards it. The first tenth of a mile is uphill until the trail reaches the peak of the mountain it has been climbing since the fork, but from the summit until White Water Creek, it’s all downhill.

At about .6 mile into the hike is the U-turn. The White Rock Falls Trail now heads back towards the section of White Rock Creek where the cascades begin. Once again, there are lots of rocks on this section of the trail.

Another rocky section of the White Rock Falls Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Another rocky section of the White Rock Falls Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The trail splits again at the .8-mile mark. You have the choice of making a sharp right down a hill or continuing straight ahead. If you look carefully, you will see a yellow blaze on the downhill trail (I have no idea where straight leads to). This is definitely the most difficult stretch of the White Rock Falls Trail, for from here until White Rock Creek it not only heads down a steep hill, but it is also full of rocks and roots. The average grade is 20%, and most hikers agree that strenuous hiking begins at a grade of 15%. Some short segments of the trail reach 40%. (Grade is not the angle of the slope, but the calculation of rise (climb in elevation) divided by run (length of horizontal progress) expressed as a percentage ((rise/run) x 100). For example, using feet as the unit of measurement, a 10% grade means that a trail climbs 10 feet for every 100 feet in length.)

Most difficult segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway's White Rock Falls Trail

Most difficult segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s White Rock Falls Trail

You’ll see and hear White Rock Creek to your left, and on the way down—just short of a mile from the start—you will pass a side trail that people have beaten down a very steep hill to the base of the first cascade. From what I saw later, I’m pretty sure this is White Rock Falls—if there is a single White Rock Falls—for this is the only cascade that with a little imagination could be classified as a waterfall. All the rest are true cascades.

If you are just out for exercise, you might want to skip this steep side trail and take a closer look at the other cascades farther down, for they are easier to get to. However, if you are a photographer, you’ll definitely want to take this detour. I did it at age 56 and with a bad knee, so it’s not that difficult. In fact, if you are agile, once at the bottom you can scurry upstream to other cascades that are not accessible from the trail. I didn’t go any farther than the base of the falls. Be aware that the side trail has a clay surface, so if it is wet, you’re in for some spills if you don’t have hiking poles. I saw dozens of skid marks where other hikers had slid like they had stepped on a banana peel.

White Rock Falls near the Blue Ridge Parkway

White Rock Falls near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Figuring that I’d seen White Rock Falls, I decided to head back to the parking lot when another hiker came by from the White Rock Gap Parking Area direction. He told me that there were numerous cascades starting just five minutes away (for him, probably fifteen for me). Thus, I continued downhill to see them. The rocks on the trail subside a little once you get past the first waterfall, but the trail remains quite steep. It even veers away from the creek, but after another tenth of a mile it makes a sharp left, and you’ll find yourself back at the water after a few more minutes of downhill hiking. The difficulty of the descent is alleviated by the use of switchbacks.

At this point, you can keep walking along the creek until you are tired of cascades. The main problem, as far as photography is concerned, is that downed logs are piled up at just about every cascade, so photos won’t be that great. I photographed three more cascades over a 200-foot stretch of White Rock Creek, stopping at one that emptied into a large pool of water. Are there more after that? According to my GPS, the White Rock Falls Trail crosses the creek just a few hundred feet farther down and never comes close to it again, so I must have been at or near the last cascade. Anyway, I’d seen enough and decided to turn around and head back to my car. All told, I had hiked 1.1 miles, and about a quarter mile past the assumed White Rock Falls.

Cascade on White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cascade on White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cascade on White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Cascade on White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Final cascade on White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

Final cascade on White Rock Creek near the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Last updated on December 20, 2023
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