Drive 5.8 miles south from downtown Brevard on US 276 and turn right into the paved parking area. Look for the Connestee Falls Park sign.
A short path leads from the parking area to a viewing deck at the top of the falls.
I suspected I would ruffle some feathers when my book came out giving Connestee Falls a 1 beauty rating. Some people didn’t agree with my assessment and felt like I was being too hard on county officials. I haven’t changed my mind. As far as I’m concerned, Connestee Falls is the poster child for everything that can go wrong with a waterfall. And it’s such a shame, because it really is a stunning waterfall. The waterfall is gorgeous; it’s the public view of it that’s horrible.
I remember visiting Connestee Falls as a child, before the paved parking lot and real-estate office were built, when you could hike down to the base without the safety railing and cables. It was just another waterfall in a county filled with them. A lot has changed. Since the Connestee Falls resort development began in the early 1970s, this has become among the best-known waterfalls in the state. You just can’t see it anymore.
Sometime since the first edition of North Carolina Waterfalls, public access to the base of the falls was prohibited. You could still walk out to the top and view the falls from an overlook, but you couldn’t see much from there. After the second edition, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy began working with the landowner, enabling Transylvania County to acquire the property for a park. Everyone was happy that Connestee Falls was finally going to be protected. I was particularly excited that the county was going to create a park, as the old trail would be rebuilt, allowing full access to the falls again. I know many people felt the same.
Connestee Falls Park opened in 2011. The park has picnic tables and a boardwalk leading to a new viewing deck at the top of the falls. That’s it. Access to the base is strictly prohibited. Those who would ignore the signs and hike to the base anyway are thwarted by fencing. I’ve been told that the county has a plan for opening access to the base. However, there is no hint on when, or if, such a plan will be implemented. But at least the park has a really cool metal railing along the boardwalk and viewing deck—never mind that the money spent on it would have gone a long way toward upgrading the old trail to the base.
Sadly, the story is not finished. When CMLC acquired the land for the county, the tract did not include the entire slope above the falls. And I’m sure the organization had no idea building regulations would permit a house up there anyway. So what we have now is a boardwalk leading to a lousy view of a waterfall that has a big house sitting on the mountainside above it. But at least we have that cool metal railing. CMLC’s involvement was strictly in enabling Transylvania County to acquire the land. It had no involvement in developing the park, and I imagine it was as surprised as I am as to what transpired.
I find it interesting that all the press releases and public announcements I’ve seen for Connestee Falls Park include a photo of the waterfall that was taken from an old viewpoint. This is false advertising, as far as I’m concerned. Some of the photos shown here were also taken from points other than the viewing deck. They show what the waterfall looked like before access was closed, not what you can expect on your visit. What you can expect is a lousy view.
There are actually two waterfalls here, each on a separate creek. At the overlook, you’ll stand at the top of Connestee Falls on Carson Creek. Across the gorge, Batson Creek Falls cascades down to meet Connestee. The now-joined creeks squeeze through a cleft known as Silver Slip, but you can’t see it from the upper overlook. You can see Batson Creek Falls pretty well from the overlook, but not Connestee. I’ve heard people saw they thought the view from the deck was good because you can see Batson Creek Falls fairly well. That’s true, but my beauty rating is for Connestee Falls.
According to local lore, the name Connestee came from a legend about an Indian princess who married an Englishman. After the Englishman left her and returned to his own people, the disheartened princess leapt to her death over the waterfall. Another account says that both Connestee and her lover escaped and were pursued. While attempting to cross the river above the waterfall, they fell to their deaths. It’s virtually certain that the legend does not refer to Connestee Falls. Similar legends with different princess names seek to explain the naming of several other waterfalls across the nation and even in other countries.
There is a more reliable account of how Connestee Falls got its name. According to Jim Bob Tinsley in The Land of Waterfalls, Dr. F. A. Miles, owner of Caesar’s Head Hotel in 1882, wrote a letter to a friend in which he stated that the waterfall reminded him of the legend of the Indian princess. Miles subsequently dubbed the waterfall Connestee. Perhaps there was an Indian princess named Connestee, but it seems certain she did not lose her life at Connestee Falls.
Some of the photos shown here were taken from across the gorge. A network of trails provides access to Batson Creek Falls, the two upstream falls on Batson Creek, a small waterfall on a side stream, and some pretty little waterfalls downstream from Connestee Falls. The folks at Connestee Falls development should be commended for protecting this property and maintaining such an impressive trail system. When I was hiking here, I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be if Transylvania County officials applied the same passion and determination to building a trail at Connestee Falls. Only residents and their guests are allowed to hike the trails on the Batson Creek Falls side.
Visit the Waterfalls on Batson Creek Page for more info about the falls on that side of the gorge.