South of Hendersonville, take Exit 53 off I-26 onto Upward Road. Head east (away from Hendersonville) on Upward Road for 1.6 miles and turn right on Big Hungry Road (SR 1802). The road forks at 0.5 mile; stay left to remain on Big Hungry Road. Continue 0.25 mile to another fork and bear right. From this fork, drive 1.5 miles to a pullout on the left, just before the bridge over Hungry River. A larger pullout is on the right, a little bit before the bridge.
A couple of footpaths lead from the pullout. The one on the left, farthest from the river, leads to the falls, but it requires scooting down a short, steep section of rock to reach the base. The one closest to the river follows a fairly easy course right up to the pool.
It seems strange that I’ve never seen this waterfall on a summer weekend, considering how much time I’ve spent in the area. But I think it’s safe to say that this is a popular place to hang out on hot days. At normal flows, the huge pool has a sandy bottom and lots of shallow areas that are perfect for the kids.
You might think my beauty rating of 3 is too low. Despite its short height, the waterfall is impressive, especially given the size of the river. However, to me, the old dam at the top of the falls and the bridge that is clearly visible downstream detract from the aesthetic qualities.
As best as I can determine, the dam was built in 1911, two years before the lower dam was constructed. (See Lower waterfall on Hungry River.) During the “Great Flood of 1916” most of western North Carolina was without power due to hydroelectric dams being destroyed, but the lights stayed on in Hendersonville when this dam refused to surrender. (I have one reference that says it was the lower dam that continued supplying power and one that says it was both dams.)
What the greatest flood in over a century couldn’t do, bulldozers certainly can. The dam was slated for removal along with the lower dam, which was taken out in 2015, but that project got delayed. My understanding is that bids were submitted this year (2020) and hopefully the dam removal project will begin soon.
It’s needed. Like the lower dam, this one causes huge log jams and severely disrupts the natural river flow. The lake behind the dam no longer exists, having completely filled in with sediment that is some 30 feet deep. A concern with removing the dam is that all this sediment will wash downstream, causing enormous problems for the riverine ecosystem. The plan is to remove this sediment, some 40,000 cubic yards of it, prior to taking out the dam and depositing it into a hole dug elsewhere on the game lands. That’s gonna have to be a big hole!
Hungry River is called “Big Hungry River” by the locals and in many publications. It’s meant to distinguish it from Little Hungry River, one of its tributaries. However, the official USGS name is Hungry River.