NC 181 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 312. From there, head south on NC 181 (shown as NC 131 on the Forest Service modified topo map) for 6.9 miles and turn right on the unpaved FR 496; this is 20.5 miles north of US 64 Bypass in Morganton. Go 1.65 miles on FR 496 to the stream crossing and park beside the road. Note that FR 496 is typically closed in winter.
Zigzag Falls is less than a quarter-mile downstream from the road. Between the road and the falls, the creek is calm, so it’s fairly easy to walk in the creek bed. There is a much shorter route that will keep your feet dry, but it’s a steep climb. Continue on FR 496 for 0.25 mile to where the road makes a sharp right turn around a ridge. Follow the ridge down to the falls.
Regardless of how you reach the falls, you’ll have to do some serious scrambling to get to a good view. The only decent vantage point for the main upper portion is on a knife-edge rock that juts into the creek and causes it to zig and zag. It’s not safe to climb out onto the rock without a rope.
I’ve known for many years that this waterfall was here, but I hadn’t taken the time to explore it until I started working on the third edition of North Carolina Waterfalls. I wish I’d come sooner, as it’s striking. From a geologic perspective, it rates a 10. The creek flows steeply over jagged rock, hits a small bluff where it turns sharply to river left, flows through a narrow chute into a small, deep pool under another bluff, turns sharply back to river right, cascades down to a huge, overhanging bluff, then turns sharply to river left and goes over the final 15-foot drop. Whew!
I’m sure the description and beauty rating will entice many waterfallers to see it for themselves, especially considering how close it is to the road. Just keep in mind that this is not an easy waterfall to experience, even for hard-core waterfallers. Don’t leave your wits in the car.