Last weekend, one man died and another was seriously injured following incidents at waterfalls in the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest, leading the U.S. Forest Service to issue a strong warning for those planning to venture out to one of Western North Carolina’s signature cascades. 

On Saturday, July 23, a man died while swimming at Secret Falls on the Nantahala Ranger District south of Highlands. The same day, another man was seriously injured after falling from a rock near Looking Glass Falls on the Pisgah Ranger District. In May, a man died while swimming at Elk River Falls on the Appalachian Ranger District. 

“Although there were witnesses to the incidents, the exact circumstances that led to these unfortunate outcomes are unknown,” said a press release. “Increased awareness of the dangers may help save lives.”

People should never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools at their base because rocks and logs can be hidden under the surface, and waterfall pools often have swirling water or currents that can drag and keep swimmers underwater. Additionally, summer water temperatures in deep sections of Southern Appalachian streams can be in the 50s, and the shock of the cold water can cause changes in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, slowing swimmers’ response times. 

The water above waterfalls is dangerous too, often featuring extremely fast current and slippery rocks that can make it easy to lose balance and fall. Pets can also succumb to these dangers and should be kept out of the river and on leash. 

In the event of an injury, call 911 and be prepared to administer first aid while help arrives. With more people visiting national forests, service can be strained, especially because most local emergency responders are volunteers for county emergency management agencies.

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