Pearson Falls at Saluda, NC

By Bonnie & Bill Neely

While driving in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near Saluda, NC, we decided to follow the signs to Pearson Falls. Living in Greenville, SC, we are privileged to be within an hour’s drive to numerous waterfalls in these nearby mountains, and they are among our favorite hiking finds.  Pearson Falls is unique in that it was discovered in a remote, undisturbed, beautiful glen of Pacolet Gorge when an employee of the Asheville-Spartanburg Railway (now Southern RR) was sent searching for a pass through the mountains.  This employee, Charles William Pearson, found no pass but was awed by this hidden gem of flora and fauna, which he assumed he was the first person to ever discover, perhaps from its evolutionary beginning in these mountains which are the oldest granite on earth.

Later Pearson purchased this lovely, natural scene with one of the highest waterfalls in North Carolina, as part of a large tract of land on which he lived and farmed.  In 1931 during the Great Depression his son found he had to sell some of the land and it seemed doomed for the lumber companies. But the newly formed Tryon Garden Club learned of this and raised the funds through donations to save this pristine natural treasure.  To this day, 90 years after the Tryon Club was formed, the Pearson Falls 308 acres thrives as a protected wildlife preserve, a Blue Ridge National Heritage Site, A North Carolina Birding Trail SIte, Smithsonian Institute Archives of American Gardens. It continues to be supported by donations and the $5.00 admission fee for people over age 12. It is open year-round except Christmas and Thanksgiving days and during January.

The peaceful green with dappled shade all around us beckoned us along the easy trail to the foot of the huge waterfalls, 90 feet high. The waters’ sound mingled with cheerful birdsong on this sunny summer day. We sat for awhile just breathing in the fresh, moist air as we rested quietly on one of the benches near the water. Although we could not identify many of the green species around us, we could deeply appreciate their myriad unique aspects, knowing that some of these species are only found in this area, nowhere else on earth.

Botanists and Master Gardeners come here to study and learn, and we all come here to appreciate Nature’s Amazing Creativity in her thousands of varieties of beauty.  Here spring and summer surprise visitors with native lovely blossoms, including redbud, azalea, violets, rhododendron, dogwood, and red trillium, colorful among mosses, ferns, and hundreds of other species.  In autumn the numerous varieties of deciduous trees shine forth their brilliant array of colors. In winter the bare branches and trunks offer their own unique, tranquil beauty.  All the while the enchanting river pours over the huge granite boulders singing its beckoning call.  Pearson Falls is inviting each of us nearby to return again and again for peaceful, inspiring reprieve from the bustle and madness of daily life. 

We enjoyed talking to the friendly gate-keeper Andy Ruff, who lives on the property with his wife and makes sure it stays as perfect as our Creator made it. Pets of any kind are prohibited, except service dogs. He had to enforce this rule, even for a talking parrot who came in a car with a couple from California, explaining that its droppings would contaminate the area with foreign matter.  Ruff and the garden club members carefully keep non-indigenous plants from settling in and becoming invasive. The Pearson’s Falls Glen: Its Story, Its Flora, Its Birds by Donald Culross Peattie is a wonderful companion to your visit so your left brain can learn facts about what inspires your right brain. Location is just off Route 176, 4 miles north of Tryon, NC or 3 miles south of Saluda, NC.