As the river flows, Twisting Falls is very close to Elk Falls, and considering that it’s on the same river, it makes sense to include it in the Elk Park hub. However, driving from Elk Park to Twisting Falls is a long, roundabout journey. You can take backroads for the shortest route, but you had better have a good map with you if you try that. The better option, if coming from Elk Park, might be to take US 19E to Hampton, Tennessee. In Hampton, turn right on US 321 and follow it north for 16.8 miles, then turn right on Poga Road, just before US 321 crosses Elk River. If you were coming from the junction of US 321/US 421 in the Boone and Valle Crucis area, you would follow US 321 south for 16.5 miles and turn left on Poga Road, just beyond the Elk River bridge.
Drive 0.3 mile on Poga Road and bear left to cross back over Elk River. Turn right immediately after crossing the river. Drive another 3.45 miles, crossing the river two more times, and turn right on Clawson Road. Go 0.5 mile and turn right on Dark Ridge Road. Dark Ridge Road changes to dirt at 0.2 mile. At 0.3 mile, just before you reach an old barn on the left, turn right into the parking area for the falls. If the ground is very wet, you might want to park somewhere along the dirt road. When it’s muddy, the parking area becomes a quagmire and has a habit of trapping vehicles that don’t have four-wheel drive.
If you park on the road, pull up to where it widens so you don’t block it. Don’t try to park in the field along the left side. And please don’t litter. This is private property and the landowners have endured too much disrespect from inconsiderate visitors. Continued access to the trailhead is in the balance.
Base of falls: Take the old road that starts at the west end of the parking area. The road forks in less than 100 yards. Turn right. In a little over 100 yards, the road swings to the right at a power line. A path veers to the left here. Follow the path to a point directly under the power line, then take the path to the left that drops down the bank. This ungraded path is extremely steep and rocky. It reaches the river at about 0.16 mile from the power line. Once you reach the river, head upstream for about 200 yards to the falls. An obvious path leads most of the way, but you’ll have to scramble over the rocks in a few places.
Top of falls: Follow the dirt road that you drove in on. Shortly beyond the gate, you’ll pass under the power line. In a little over 0.1 mile beyond the power line, you’ll see a side path on the right. This path descends very steeply to the river in a quarter mile. The brink of Twisting Falls is a short distance downstream.
Note: Twisting Falls is in Tennessee. However, since it is so close to the North Carolina border and is such a nice falls, I felt it should be included on this site.
More mystery surrounds Twisting Falls than most waterfalls in North Carolina or Tennessee. Part of the reason is its location, tucked away on backroads off of backroads. But the biggest reason is the nature of the waterfall. You can’t see all of it from any one location, and seeing it from multiple viewpoints requires a difficult and potentially dangerous effort. So most people hike to the base or top. If they go from one to the other, they swing wide and don’t see the middle section of the falls. I believe this is why some believe there is more to Twisting Falls than there really is, and others think there is less.
Twisting Falls starts as a river-wide set of cascades leading to an 8-foot drop. The river turns left and runs about 75 feet to the next drop, which is about 16-feet. The river turns right at the top of this falls. Below it, it runs through a narrow chasm for about 100 feet to the next drop, which is a little 5-foot falls. The river makes a 90-degree turn to the left at the base of this falls. It flows for about 100 feet and turns 90-degrees to the right as it flows over a 10-foot falls. At the base of this falls, the river turns 90 degrees to the left and flows for about 75 feet to the next falls, where it runs 90 degrees to the right. This next falls is about 35 feet high, and is the lowest section of the waterfall.
As you can see, Twisting Falls is aptly named. Elk River makes six sharp turns as it flows through the deep canyon. Despite what you might read elsewhere, the entire run I described is the official Twisting Falls. The boating community has given names to some of the individual drops, but collectively this is Twisting Falls.
The lower drop is often referred to as Compression Falls. I understand this name came from someone whose back didn’t fare well on the landing when he went over the falls. In a classic example of how the Internet has enabled chaos to ensue over the names of waterfalls, many people believe Compression Falls to be a separate waterfall from Twisting Falls. I’ve even read that the “real” Twisting falls is a quarter mile or more upstream from Compression Falls. This is simply not the case. The entire run of Twisting Falls is less than a tenth of a mile. The drop people refer to as Compression Falls is simply the lower twist.
Further complicating the matter are some references to Elk Falls as Compression Falls.There is a photo of Elk Falls in the book North Carolina Rivers & Creeks, by Leland Davis, that is captioned as Compression Falls. I don’t know for certain which of these waterfalls is the one the boaters erroneosuly named Compression Falls. I’m pretty sure it’s the lower drop of Twisting Falls. I do know that neither of these waterfalls have any legitimacy in the name Compression Falls. Twisting Falls is listed as such on the USGS topo map. Elk Falls is listed as Big Falls on the map, but has become known—popularly and inarguably—as Elk Falls or Elk River Falls. The name Compression Falls is simply a moniker assigned by a paddler without deference to anything official, as paddlers do with every drop on every river.
There is another, and far more serious, issue involving Twisting Falls. It has become a playground for idiots. Visit on a summer weekend and you’ll find it crowded with loungers, swimmers, daredevil jumpers, litterbugs, and drunks. You’ll even see people jumping the lower 35-foot drop. It’s not surprising that a number of serious accidents have occurred here. You have to cross the river in order to climb up to the top of the lower drop. Just making the crossing is a potentially dangerous affair, even in low water. Climbing up the falls and jumping off is sheer lunacy.
The idiots don’t restrain themselves to merely putting themselves at risk. They toss beer cans, block the road, and drive much too fast on the narrow entrance road. They don’t seem to understand that access here is a privilege, not a right. The sensible and sober among us would do well to help enlighten them.
The beauty rating is based on considering the entire waterfall. It’s awesome how it twists and turns through the narrow canyon. The problem is that you can see it only in sections, and only by making difficult and dangerous scrambles to get to each viewpoint. A steep scramble path leads up and around the falls on the river left side. Side paths off it lead to various points on the falls. If you simply want to get from the base to the top, you should swing wide around and stay away from the river as much as possible. Even this won’t be easy and has the potential for serious falls. If you explore close to the falls, you should know that a few spots could get you killed if you’re careless. Don’t attempt it wearing flip flops, like some of the idiots do, and don’t bring the kids or the dogs. Trust me, this is serious business. If you have the experience and ability to explore Twisting Falls safely, you’ll be able to figure out the route and make it through without trouble. If you don’t, you should stay at the base or the top, and leave the middle alone.
Some people hike down to the top of Twisting Falls and remain there. It’s a beautiful area, with nice swimming holes and the scenic upper cascades of the falls. Directly across the river from where the trail comes out is a waterfall on a side stream (see Nearby Waterfalls) and immediately upstream is a very scenic cascade. If you want to go to the base of Twisting Falls from the top, the best option is to cross the river and head down the river left side. But again, if the water is up at all, this simply isn’t safe. Also, from the top, you are very close to some of the dangerous areas along the falls, so you need to swing away from the river as soon as you can. You can go down on the river right side from the top to the base, but this will be total bushwhacking after a few of the faint paths peter out. It actually would be easier to hike back out and then follow the trail down from the parking area.
I recommend hiking to the base of Twisting Falls, enjoying the beautiful lower drop, then returning to the car. The lower drop alone deserves a beauty rating of 8, so you’ll have a wonderful experience if you can handle the 8 hike difficulty. If you want to see the interior of the falls, you need to make an honest assessment of your hiking abilities, understanding that the difference between an 8 and a 10 difficulty rating is extreme in this case.