This is an amazing trail to check out - best decision I've made to discover and test my physical and mental toughness with spectacular views of the waterfalls. So worth it!
This was a challenging hike to say the least. I recommend taking the time to study the map, and make sure you have a head start in the early morning hours, because this could take about 6-8 hours to complete and maybe more with extra exploring. The round trip is a total of 7.3 miles (11.8 km) from the Skyline Drive parking lot to the Whiteoak Canyon Trailhead parking lot (mile 42.6) to the final waterfall of the lower three. The elevation is moderate with a 900-foot drop to the upper falls, but an additional 1,100 feet to the lower falls. A total of 2,000 feet in elevation change. Be prepared for a temperature change as well – at the time of the hike last April, the starting temperature was just above freezing, and dropping in elevation with a few short hours later, it went all the way up to 70F. Quite warm when you have a backpack, and constantly on the move. Make sure to keep time when the sun will set. This will determine what time to arrive and leave.
After the moderate first half of the journey, you can stop and enjoy the three upper falls. Hearing the soothing sounds of water trickling down towards the waterfalls is wonderful, and so calm. A gorgeous site you cannot forget. Collecting your thoughts with meditation are ways that help me move forward. From this point, you can take a breather to watch the waterfall from above and recoup for the next journey to the Lower falls. A good 15 minutes is enough time to get ready for the steep challenges ahead.
During this time, you will notice the elevation is much steeper than the previous 2.3 miles, and gets tougher. I suggest a walking stick to help alleviate the strenuous use of the muscles in your legs to prevent cramping. Make sure to hydrate every so often with an ample amount of water and electrolytes. On the way down to the lower falls, watch your footing and take your time with lots of caution with uneven rock, and roots from trees branching out that could trip you. The last thing you need is a sprained or broken ankle trying to get back to your car.
You have now made it to the lower falls! Please take as much time as you need to enjoy the last of the Lower Falls. Rest up a little more with 30 minutes, and fuel up with some food and water. Go photo crazy, and take as many photos as you would like, because you never know when you will come back. In the meantime, take a mental note of time and focus on the journey back up the mountain. With exhaustion looming, stay positive and hydrate. Higher elevations can cause you to lose more liquids, so keep that a priority.
This hike is for the more experienced, physically, and mentally tough individual. Always prepare, and make sure you know your body. There are black bears and lots of wildlife here so be on the lookout. Black bears usually keep their distance, and are skittish from humans. Do not panic if you encounter a black bear. Be vocal with your hiking partner, and stay calm. In rare cases move around the bear, and respect their space. After all, this is their land, and most importantly, their home.