From NC 106 in Highlands, go west on US 64 for 4.2 miles and turn right into Cliffside Lake Recreation Area. This is a short distance beyond Van Hook Glade Campground. Follow the road for 1.35 miles and turn left into the parking area. Cliffside Lake Recreation Area charges a modest day-use fee. You’ll pass the self-service pay station on the way to the trailhead.
Two trails lead from the far end of the parking area. Clifftop Vista Trail goes left. Take Ranger Falls Interpretive Trail, which goes right. It ascends moderately for just under 0.4 mile to a fork. Flat Mountain Trail goes right and continues ascending. Follow Ranger Falls Trail, which goes left and descends about 0.3 mile to Skitty Creek. Downstream is a little bit of falling water that you might think is Ranger Falls. It’s not. Continue following the trail upstream. You’ll pass under a power line in just over 100 yards. After another 0.3 mile, a side path crosses the creek. Continue straight ahead to arrive at the falls in another 0.15 mile.
What a pleasant surprise! I’m not talking my reaction when I first saw Ranger Falls, but rather my reaction when I heard the Forest Service was actually building a new trail to a waterfall. New trail construction hasn’t been high on the list for the Forest Service in a long time, so this was a welcome announcement. My thanks go to Nantahala National Forest for making Ranger Falls accessible. The waterfall isn’t overly impressive, but it’s scenic and the hike is pleasant. A sign at the trailhead says the distance to the falls is 0.5 mile, but it’s really closer to 1.25 miles.