Tall tales form the Southeast’s most legendary high-elevation spots.
Young and star-crossed lovers, determined to spend eternity together whatever the cost, cast themselves from a precipice to escape barriers to their marriage in life. So says the lore behind almost every Lovers’ Leap. The cast of characters usually includes chiefs, warriors, and maidens. These legends date back to early settlers, who made famous many a high cliff with tales of Native American-inspired romantic tragedy. Despite their dark lore, or perhaps owing to it, Lovers’ Leaps remain popular spots for their staggering views— worthy settings for any tale of passion.
Hot springs, N.C.
Historian Hazel Moore wrote Hot Springs of North Carolina about the history of the small town she grew up in. She includes a Lovers’ Leap legend written in 1906 by Sally Royce Weir about a Cherokee chief named Lone Wolf, who ruled beside the Tahkiostie (French Broad) River. He wanted his daughter, Mist-On-The-Mountain, to marry a powerful but old brave named Tall Pine.
One day, Mist-On-The-Mountain fell in love with Magwa, a handsome young visitor to her village. When her father refused Magwa’s marriage proposal, Mist-On-The-Mountain traveled to the foot of the towering rock to meet Magwa, when Tall Pine, who had followed them, struck and killed the younger man. Mist-On-The-Mountain ran, but Tall Pine cornered her on the high cliff, where she heard Magwa’s spirit call to her. She leaped into the river to join her lover, and moments later a panther struck and killed Tall Pine before he could escape the lurid scene.
Today a popular side path of the Appalachian Trail, this Lovers’ Leap hike rewards you at the top with sweeping views of the French Broad River 500 feet below. It’s a short hike at only 2.6 miles round trip, but like most Lovers’ Leaps, it’s a strenuous one, gaining 1,000 feet in elevation. You’ll find river birches, maples, and oaks shading the riverside path. Begin at the Silvermine Trailhead. Follow the river-side path until you see white blazes for the Appalachian Trail, and then orange blazes marking the Lovers’ Leap trail.
HAWKS NEST STATE PARK, ANSTED, WV.
The popularly accepted legend for what is now Hawk’s Nest State Park was documented by George W. Atkinson in his 1876 book History of Kanawha County. It stars a Shawnee Indian chief who, like the father in the Hot Springs tale, disapproved of his daughter’s love for a young brave. Instead, the chief arranged for a marriage between his daughter and the chief of a neighboring tribe. The young maiden courageously refused the marriage, telling her father she loved a warrior in her own tribe. Angry, her father ordered her to stay in her tipi under guard until she consented, but she managed to sneak out toward dawn. She fled to the tipi of her true love, and they escaped together. Soon after, the chief and his warriors picked up their trail and cornered the two lovers on the cliff that overhands the New River. Rather than be separated in life, they embraced and made the fatal plunge.
In what is today Hawk’s Nest State Park, this Lovers’ Leap stands nearly 500 feet above the New River Gorge. “It’s a short trail, but you’ll definitely get exercise,” says Gia Tyree, office manager at the park. “We call it ‘Nature’s Stairmaster.’” Despite the grim folklore, Tyree says people seek it out “to find a peaceful spot to take in the sights.” This trail starts at Hawk’s Nest State Park office and travels down steep wooden steps to the overlook.
BLOWING ROCK, N.C.
This towering cliff shares a similar legend, but with a less harrowing ending. It is said that a Chickasaw chief journeyed with his daughter from the plains to what is now the Blowing Rock to hide her from a white man’s affection. One day the maiden flirtatiously shot an arrow in the direction of a Cherokee brave she saw in the distance. He came to her and they soon fell deeply in love. Then a reddening sky made the brave think it was a sign of trouble calling him to his own tribe. As the maiden begged him not to leave her, the brave felt so torn between love and duty, he jumped from the high rock. But when the maiden called to the Great Spirit to bring her lover back, the winds blew the brave up into her arms.
At 3,000 feet above the John’s River Gorge, the Blowing Rock offers views from Hawksbill Mountain to Mount Mitchell. The winds from the John’s River Gorge blow so strongly that when it snows, you’ll see flurries rise toward the sky. This Lovers’ Leap offers a scenic overlook without a hike. From the Blowing Rock parking lot, follow the trail with 1200 feet of gradual climbing to the observation tower. •
More Lovers’ Leaps
Lookout Mountain, Tenn.
The story here is that young Native American lovers were forced apart because their tribes were at war with each other, so they jumped to their deaths in despair.
Here, two young Native American lovers from opposing tribes were told they couldn’t be together, and when the brave was thrown from the cliff in punishment for their affair, the maiden jumped out of her father’s arms to join him.
Legend has it that a Cherokee maiden threw herself from the falls after her lover was driven from her tribe.
Locals tell the story of a maiden who fell in love with a brave when he rescued her from a bear, and when her father, the chief, refused to allow their marriage, the young couple jumped to their deaths from the pinnacle at sunrise.