Neil Regan may be a native of Eastern North Carolina, but living in Canton — just west of Asheville — keeps him in close proximity to a phenomenon he has come to love: waterfalls.
The 47-year-old's "Great Waterfalls of North Carolina" ($19.95; Parkway Publishers) came out this year. It's subtitled "A Guide for Hikers, Photographers and Waterfall Enthusiasts," and its 150 pages cover 65 waterfalls and cascades from Macon County east to High Shoals Falls, in South Mountain State Park in Burke County.
It's essentially an upgrade of "Spectacular Waterfalls of Western North Carolina," his 2008 paperback guide. The new one has 18 additional cascades, and incorporates new photographs, research and maps.
The format is built for easy use: two pages for each waterfall — a large photo on the left, simplified copy on the right that includes beauty and trail rankings, directions, a description and photo tip.
What's most striking are Regan's photos — all taken with a Kodak Z-1012, an inexpensive digital SLR. "You don't have to have the most expensive camera in the world to get great pictures," he said in a recent interview. "You just have to know how to use the equipment you have."
The photos attest not only to his skill but also to the beauty of the places he visited — all on public land or on private land whose owners allow public access. And all are prime for fall viewing.
We asked Regan to name some of his favorites.
Cullasaja Falls, off U.S. 64 in Macon County. "It's very different from others in North Carolina, and became my favorite the first time I saw it. The short falls and cascades snake back and forth in the upper section. Depending on the amount of water, it either falls over a large rock face in finger-like flows or — if the water's high — just a single sheet. It changes a lot depending on the flowage. Many falls do, but this one is much more distinctive. I've seen it both ways. I much prefer it with the finger-like flows.
"It's easy to get to — just west of Highlands, at the end of the Cullasaja Gorge, but it's in a bad curve — a blind curve — on U.S. 64. There's a roadside pull-off, but you have to be careful of traffic."
Looking Glass Falls, in Pisgah National Forest. "Beyond a doubt, this gets the largest number of visitors: It's always crowded — probably up to 100 people at a time. The waterfall is relatively wide, has a sheer drop, and happens to be located next to U.S. 276. There's a good bit of parking, an observation deck, and has stairs that descend to its base."
Waterfall on Scotsman Creek, between Cashiers and Highlands. "There are several that are hard to reach, but this one's down in a hole. You park at the entrance to a Forest Service road and walk back up the road for about a quarter-mile and listen for the running water — you still can't see the falls. Then you find a good spot to bushwhack down — and I do mean down. There's no real trail. Once down there, you see large, exposed rock surfaces with a sheer fall that runs over the rock. It's very unique.
"Another is the waterfall on Little Fall Branch, in northern Haywood County, in the Harmon Den area. It's in an unusual location: Most of the trail taking you there is really flat. You don't realize there's a waterfall until you get to it. The fall isn't very big, but it's definitely worth checking out because of the environment: Everything is moss-covered. The fall is a straight drop, and this is a tranquil place where you can just sit and enjoy nature."
—Best at daybreak
Rainbow Falls, in Transylvania County in Nantahala National Forest. "When sunlight hits the spray is a good time to catch rainbows in the mist. This one is mostly a sheer drop into a large pool. Overhead, it's very exposed — not overhung with trees."
—Best for skinny-dipping
"Skinny Dip Falls, of course. It's in Haywood County, off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 417. It's just a beautiful spot: The falls aren't huge but there's a beautiful, clear cold pool in these fairly remote surroundings."
"Skinny Dip, again for obvious reasons. But it's a popular place: I see other people — though not a huge number — most of the times I go. Most have their clothes on, by the way. It got its name honestly, but it's actually rare to see anyone with their clothes off."
—Best for families
Hooker Falls, in Dupont State Forest. "The walk is very short and easy and there's a small beach. It's also good for fishing, wading or swimming."
—Best for picnicking
Pearsons Falls, in Tryon. "It's owned by the Tryon Garden Club, which has a picnic shelter and picnic tables positioned at a couple places along the trail."
—Best for viewing wildlife
"None really come to mind if you're talking about animals you'd like to see, if you don't count birds. But I've visited close to 100 waterfalls — maybe more — and I've seen the most snakes of any place in Dupont State Forest. I saw copperheads and black snakes there, and the black snakes feed on the copperheads. And the black snakes were huge, so you know they are eating very well.
"DuPont, by the way has five falls, four of which were featured in the movie 'Last of the Mohicans.'"
—Best for autumn viewing
Whitewater Falls, near Sapphire. "From the observation deck you get a wide view of the trees and the surrounding area. In fall, it's a palette of earth tones, from yellow to red."
—Easiest to photograph
"Looking Glass Falls, for the reasons I mentioned. It's right there by the side of the road. You just have to get out of the car and walk up there."
—Hardest to photograph
Courthouse Falls, in the Balsam Grove area. "For light, the upper part of it is exposed because of the open tree canopy; the lower part, which is only partially exposed, has a horseshoe-shaped rock structure that resembles an amphitheater. It's very hard to catch the right light to capture both sides of the rock."
Sliding Rock, in Pisgah National Forest. "It's a slick slide into an 8-foot pool of ice-cold water. It feels great on a hot day. It doesn't matter how warm the air is: The water is always cold. It's nature's original water park."
"You need to be careful around any waterfall, and stay away from the top," Regan says. "That's how people get seriously injured or killed."