Kayaking to Hooker Falls

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-084

I have long dreamed of paddling Cascade Lake in North Carolina. The lake is in a beautiful setting in the mountains of North Carolina in the Dupont State Forest. Unfortunately, the only access I was aware of was the dirt road that ran along the west shore. There was no public access on that side, so it seemed that the lake was off-limits. Then my friends Lisa and Sherry posted photos that their paddling group had taken on a recent trip. They paddled from Cascade Lake Campground on the eastern shore of the lake up to Hooker Falls. I knew I had to give it a try.

For this particular trip I was joined by Brian Goess. When we started out the weather looked iffy, and at one point sporadic rain drops hit the windshield of the truck. As we drove north toward Hendersonville, though, the weather cleared, and it looked like it was going to be a spectacular day.

We found the campground with no trouble. I was pretty familiar with the area, so it was just a matter of watching for the signs. We pulled in and were directed to the camp store to purchase a day pass.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-048
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-047

The folks running the place seemed to be very friendly. In fact, everyone we encountered was pleasant – campers and employees alike. The place was jam-packed and every camping slot filled for the holiday weekend, but we were able to get a day pass and were assigned a parking spot near the boat ramp.

The place really was crowded. There were tents right next to the boat ramp, and lots of little boats coming and going. We would not be alone out on the water. Most of these were canoes and kayaks, but there were a few boats with small motors.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls

Our plan was to paddle up to Hooker Falls first, then explore more of the lake if we had time. We turned left from the ramp and headed upstream. The lake was already fairly narrow, but narrowed significantly more as we paddled on. Soon, the route was about as wide as one of the typical rivers we travel. However, there was no current at all – it was all nice flat paddling.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-003
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-069

We could hear the falls long before we saw them. There was a slight roar ahead. The river took a bend to the left, and the falls revealed themselves.

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There were a few people at the falls when we arrived, but it seemed that they had all arrived by boat. There were far fewer people there than I would have imagined for such a lovely day. We paddled on up to the falls, getting as close as we dared, crossing back and forth to surf the waves or get into position for the perfect shot.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-076
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-078
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-080

Brian and I pulled our boats up onto the shore and enjoyed our lunch on the rocks at the base of the falls. As we relaxed and enjoyed the sound of the water, a couple of other groups arrived. One group started sliding down part of the falls into the water. The other group just did a close approach to the falls.

Hooker Falls
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-041

I’ve seen videos of others running the falls. They will put in upstream on Little River and head on down. I don’t know what water levels are required for such a run, but it looks like it would be fun.

Our approach to Hooker Falls was much, much tamer. Here’s a video of the trip from the GoPro…

We left the falls and headed on back down Little River toward the lake, proper. This time we skirted the western shore, checking out little coves along the way. There were LOTS of kayaks out and about. It was the perfect day to paddle.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-091
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-092

We paddled the lake on the opposite side of the campground. At one point we reached a cove that was lined with brick sea walls. An elaborate set of steps led up…somewhere. We couldn’t figure out if it was part of an old homeplace or part of the electricity generating station. A group was camping in that area.

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Continuing on around the lake, we reached the point of no return. A warning sign told the dangers just a few yards ahead. The river drops over a dam into a deep gorge. We didn’t want to get very close to that at all.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-031
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-032

We started back around on the eastern shore, heading back toward the campground and boat ramp. From this perspective we could really see how crowded the place had gotten. In addition to the tents around the boat ramp, there were much larger RVs parked lakeside.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-098

Soon enough we were back at the boat ramp. We loaded up and drove on out of the campground, passing by the small swimming lake on our way out.

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I have one more place I wanted to stop. I drove on around to Cascade Lake Road. This is the dirt road that runs along the western shore, and frustrated me with its lack of access to the lake. One thing this road does afford is an amazing view of the dam and the gorge below.

Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-049
Cascade Lake and Hooker Falls-050

It was a good thing we didn’t ignore that warning sign on the lake. As we were looking at the dam, a couple drove up. They said that the parking area for Hooker Falls was closed for construction. That explains why there were so few people there, except for those arriving by boat.

So, conclusions? This is a great short paddling venue. It’s relatively close, and the paddling is straightforward. You can get to some beautiful scenery in just a matter of minutes. In all, we paddled nearly 6 miles, but most of that was exploring the lake. The biggest attraction, Hooker Falls, is only a mile from the boat ramp. Here’s a map of our trek…

Paddle Route

…and here’s a slideshow of all of the shots taken on our trip.


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