Ranger Falls Trail is a 2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Highlands, NC that features a waterfall. The trail is rated as moderate and primarily used for hiking.
I found it easy to navigate and to be a good workout. Lots of steep grades and narrow passages. The waterfall was a nice scene after viewing trees for 30 minutes. Will not do again.
I agree with some of the sentiments mentioned by Hiking Diva about the half after the falls needing better markings at the junctions, but I followed the trail based on what seemed like the most obvious route and didn't have any problems. I wouldn't suggest going on a 2 hour hike when you have 2 hours before sunset and have never done the trail before hoping for the best because that is when the worst is bound to happen.
I did like that this trail was not heavily traveled on a Friday around noon. I appreciate all of the signs along the way indicating types of trees and bushes. It is a nice mix of up and down hill with nothing too strenuous. I always hike with waterproof boots so the wet areas didn't bother me. The falls themselves are not a destination but just another point along a nice walk through the woods.
I would give this a Zero star rating if I could. I am an avid hiker/backpacker/bushwhacker - this was, hands down, the worst trail experience I have ever had.
Trail info indicates it is a 1.5mile trail. There is no official trail map, but there is an "interpretive trail brochure" with lots of dandy details that correspond to quite a few signs along the trail.
But no one blazed the trail. I (wrongly) assumed as an "interpretative" trail, it would be easy enough for me to complete in 2hrs before sunset. The trail to the Falls itself was no problem, however, afterwards, there are so many unmarked spurs, that one could literally be lost all day.
I ended up on a spur that took me thru a meadow, where I had a close encounter with a bear. I had spray, a whistle, rocks - but the bear ran into the meadow that was way over my head. I didn't know if I should backtrack or keep ahead. I am not particularly antsy about bears, however, I was solo and no clue where the bear was. I made it out, and tried to find a Ranger to alert as someone else was on the trail...none to be found.
I complained to the campground host who said it is the Park Service's responsibility to blaze the trail and that the complaint would fall on deaf ears. That they had been "blazing" using ribbon - which would be dandy, however, they show up suddenly, no explanation of the varying colors.
Additionally, the trail was ridiculously muddy and slippery - and there had been NO rain in over a week. The routing of the trail was poorly-planned, and many cut off small tree stumps were present on the path, making it quite "trippable".
The falls itself are not that impressive.
The 1.5 mile trail ended up being over 3.2 miles and I do NOT recommend this until they blaze the trail adequately.
If you are looking for a traditional hike through the forest without seeing any other hikers, this is a great hike for you. We went early morning on a Sunday with the dog and our three kids under 7 hiking and I wore our 1 year old. Nobody else on the trail. The falls are very pretty. Hike back was pretty killer uphill. Directions given by all trails to the trail head is a bit off. Took us 2 hours to complete but I stopped to photograph the flowers and mushrooms and we had a lot of young kids. Peaceful and relaxing.
Easy to moderate short hike.