*Original post updated Summer 2019*
With about 250 in Transylvania County and the Brevard area alone- not to brag- we’re waterfall rich in NC, y’all.
Hikes to the falls of your choice can range from a brief walk from the parking lot to a challenging jaunt where you truly earn the reward of breathtaking views of Mother Nature showing off a bit. In the hot, humid NC summer months there’s nothing like a dip in cool mountain water after a hike. Keep in mind that rains can change the scenery by increasing water flow after a big storm and periods of draught can also constrict the flow at your favorite falls. The waterfall you see on one trip might change from what you encounter on your return- but that’s part of the fun. Since the environment is constantly changing, the level of caution you used on one trip might also change on your next. Although they’re one of nature’s more accessible wonders, NC waterfalls are nothing to take lightly and proper safety should be practiced every step of your hike.
Here are a few rules for your next waterfall encounter:
- Never climb on or around waterfalls
- Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools below (rocks, logs, and strong currents might be hiding under the surface)
- Never wade in the river above a waterfall
If you want to leave (most of) the thinking to the experts and just be pointed in the right direction of your pot of watery gold, try one of the many tour services that specialize in waterfalls hikes:
And, as you can see from our post, there’s no one better to inspire you with mountain views, news and falls than our insta-friend Mark at ROMANTICASHEVILLE.COM
Check out our handy waterfall map and tips below to make your own tour. We wish you luck and many scenic miles as you go chasing waterfalls.
Elk Falls, AKA Big Falls: Pisgah National Forest. For a big bang for your buck, a quick 5 minute walk from the parking lot will land you at these falls with a pool at the base that’s perfect for a swim. This can be a dangerous one though, especially after heavy rain, again, please be safe. A reader wrote in and shared this article which clearly shows the dangers of jumping off & in.
Looking Glass Falls: Pisgah National Forest. Literally, right off the road- you could be really terribly lazy and see some of the falls from your car… but don’t do that- explore a little! Named for a large rock that water freezes on like a looking glass during the winter, this beauty is 60 feet tall with rocks at the base that are climbable (but slippery) for an up close and personal experience of the falls. Moore Cove Falls is also just one mile away but you won’t have the luxury of signs directing you to this hidden gem. It’s worth the trouble though since you can walk behind the falls here.
Rainbow Falls: Pisgah National Forest via Gorges State Park. Although beautiful, safety should be especially considered at these falls. Rainbow Falls is a look but don’t touch experience where, sadly, some have lost their lives. A sobering reminder of nature’s power. If you want to get in the water, Turtleback Falls is a short distance upstream and might be described as Sliding Rock’s more adventurous cousin- here you can slide down the rock into a mountain-cooled swimming hole.
Harper Creek Falls: Pisgah National Forest. Harper Creek feeds Wilson Creek- an excellent area for a mellow dip in cool mountain water or even an afternoon of tubing- check out Scoop’s tubing guide here. Follow the trail to Harper Creek Falls and you’ll be met with a sight that, at first, is far from mellow. Huge falls with tall rock walls surrounding a swirling pool will take your breath away. If you have breath left in you, there are various ropes and scramble trails that will lead you to a different vantage point of the falls. Proceed with caution and make sure to stay within your experience and abilities.
Cedar Rock Falls: Pisgah National Forest. This waterfall is only ¼ mile into the John Rock Trail hike which gets strenuous with 3,320 feet of elevation gain by the time you’re done. The good news is you get a treat at the beginning to get you energized for your trek as you pass the falls, though!
Sliding Rock: Pisgah National Forest. Not quite a waterfall, but still mountain-goers’ favorite way to cool off on a hot summer day. This water is cold so be prepared for a surprise ending after your slide!
Courthouse Falls: Pisgah National Forest. With only a .3 mile trail to a 45 foot drop into a large pool, these falls are perfect for the person that wants a shorter hike with the same payoff of a grueling, high-climbing trail.
Grassy Creek Falls: For a whopping 1 mile round trip, you get a multi-cascade waterfall. The Switzerland Inn is nearby with great views from their restaurant for your post-hike nosh.
Hooker Falls/Triple Falls/High Falls: Dupont State Forest. The triple threat of the waterfall world, you can see Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls all on the same 7 mile hike. The aptly named High Falls is an impressive 150 feet. 7 miles is a bit longer than a beginner-friendly hike might be, but you can pick and choose from among the 3 sights to shorten your trip. Be sure to back a picnic to have between the layers of Triple Falls, pictured below (no swimming, though).
Crabtree Falls: Blue Ridge Parkway. About 3 miles total with an easy option to the bottom and more strenuous to the top.
Dry Falls: Nantahala National Forest. A gorgeous waterfall that gets its name from the fact that you can walk behind it while staying dry. Situated near the heart of Highlands, NC, be sure to stop into Kilwin’s and stroll the quaint Main Street after your visit. For an extended stay, Old Edward’s Inn is a classic.
Bridal Veil Falls: Nantahala National Forest. Also near Highlands, Bridal Veil Falls is viewable from the road, in fact you used to be able to drive behind it.
Glen Falls: Nantahala National Forest. If you’re hoping for a little more physical waterfall viewing experience than Bridal Veil Falls, try Glen Falls with a 2 mile moderate roundtrip hike. Also in Highlands, so you can still get ice cream afterwards- WHEW.
Indian Creek Falls/Tom Branch Falls/Juney Whank Falls: Deep Creek. Plenty of variety here near the TN border, you can choose to see all 3 falls or break up your trip by visiting your favorite. As you might be able to tell from my post-hike recommendations above, my rewards usually come in food form- most likely in a cone- but if you’re more into lower calorie rewards, try tubing at Deep Creek Camping. Tom Branch Falls is pictured below.
Soco Falls: NC Smoky Mountains. Double your pleasure with twin waterfalls with an easy path down.
Upper Whitewater Falls: The largest East of The Rockies at 811 feet in Cashiers, Upper Whitewater Falls stretches across both of the Carolinas.
Log Hollow Falls: Secluded and only accessible via an unpaved, one-lane road, your pre-hike efforts just to get here will be rewarded with a short hike to multiple falls. Loggin Road Falls comes first then the trek gets tricky up to Discovery and Upper Log Hollow Falls.
High Shoals Falls: A bit of a hike (ha) from our favorite mountain escape in Asheville at 70 miles east of town, 40 miles of trails and an 80 foot waterfall are well worth the drive. Hiking up to the falls is 2.7 miles in the most gorgeous woodland paradise you can imagine. The Hemlock Nature Trail is even wheelchair-accessible with boardwalks along a .75 mile route while Chestnut Knob is a bit more challenging and clocks in at 4 miles roundtrip.
Hickory Nut Falls: The famous Hickory Nut Falls (from the film The Last of the Mohicans) is located in Chimney Rock State Park. A quick .75 mile hike will bring you to it’s base with the top 404 feet above you. Remember waterflow depends on the recent rainfall and can range from a trickle to roaring. Take advantage of the other trails in the park and enjoy the view of Lake Lure from the top of Chimney Rock while you’re here which, fun fact, was also made famous in film. You might recognize some of the Lake Lure scenery from Dirty Dancing. [Insert joke about not putting Baby in the corner.]
Graveyard Fields: Not as creepy as it sounds, the name comes from tree stumps toppled by high winds hundreds of years ago that look like gravestones. A 1925 fire is to blame for the starkly different landscape from the surrounding areas as the landscape is still recovering. The Graveyard Falls Loop is about 4 miles and starts from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway passing 2 of the area waterfalls along the way. What a great place to get out and stretch your legs after cruising the parkway!
Skinny Dip Falls: Not just a fun name, but a fun hike of 3 miles into this popular swimming hole. Bath suits required.
Linville Falls: Blue Ridge Parkway. On the 4 mile hike to the falls, you’ll be treated to 5 different lookouts for 5 unique views. It’s no wonder this is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
Lower Cascade Falls: Perfect for a lazy afternoon by the water, these falls are surrounded by natural rock creating an enclosed swimming hole.
Cathedral Falls: Balsam Grove, NC. Also know as Bird Rock Falls, Cathedral Falls gets its name from the towering cliff walls that surround the waterfall and act as nature’s speakers for the most ridiculous noise maker you’ve ever heard. The sound of rushing water is amplified by this unique formation. Located on the private property of Living Waters Retreat, don’t let the “Enter at Own Risk” signs fool you- they welcome (cautious) visitors for a leisurely walk to the falls.
Big/Little Bradley Falls: Saluda, NC. One of my favorite escapes for a little Tour de France-style biking (ha, kidding… it’s much more of a struggle bus than a peloton), Saluda is also home to fabulous hiking. At 200 and 70 feet tall, respectively, both falls mean business. Both are inaccessible without a guide, so check out Green River Adventures for a waterfall trek or, if you’re feeling extra spicy, a day of canyoneering/rappelling.
Callusaja Falls: Nantahala National Forest. Just under 10 miles west of Highlands, the drive will wind you around the mountain with beautiful cliff-side views. There isn’t a sign to alert you to your arrival so just look for a small pull-off going toward Highlands from Franklin on US 64. At 250 feet high, this one is worth the steep hike down.
Whether you want somewhere to take a post-hike swim or are looking for a killer hike before taking in the scenery (and staying dry) at the falls of your choice, Scoop has you covered! Don’t forget to tag us in your adventures Instagram adventures: @ScoopCharlotte.