The 17 Must See Waterfalls in North Carolina
The 17 Must-See Waterfalls in North Carolina
Many kinds of waterfalls call the state of North Carolina their home — just the Brevard area alone in North Carolina offers 250 waterfalls for visitors to enjoy. Some of these allow for swimming, some can be seen just down the road, and others will involve a challenging hike to see the falls in their full glory. Every waterfall will offer a unique experience, and many will offer an adventure that even kids will enjoy. Because waterfalls abound in this state, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t check out these 17 must-see waterfalls in North Carolina.
1. Rainbow Falls, Transylvania County
Located near the city of Brevard lies Rainbow Falls, a 150-foot waterfall that offers stunning 360-degree views of its surroundings. It’s known as one of the most beautiful waterfalls inside the Blue Ridge Mountains and gets its name from the rainbow it produces once mists come out during sunny days. Just an hour’s drive away from Asheville, this waterfall is also close to Lake Toxaway, offering visitors plenty of ways to spend their day.
If you’re into exercise and keeping fit, hiking to Rainbow Falls involves a strenuous 1.5-mile trail just to get there, but once you arrive, you’ll find the perfect spot for a picnic. You’ll also see a swimming area along the way, which provides hikers a great way to cool off during hot days. This waterfall is found within Gorges State Park, where the trailhead starts from the Grassy Ridge Parking area.
If you’ve come specifically to see a rainbow, make sure that the time is right — on many sunny days, you’ll see a rainbow form in the mist, especially when the water is high. These rainbows are often at their brightest when hit with a lower angle from the morning sun, so be sure to show up nice and early. Furthermore, this area is classified as a temperate rainforest that receives 90 inches of rain per year, so expect showers even on summer days.
2. Whitewater Falls, Jackson County
Just an hour’s drive away from downtown Asheville, Whitewater Falls is notoriously known as the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. Because this waterfall is located both in North Carolina and South Carolina, it is split into upper and lower falls. The former flows 411 feet down and is accessible via a pathway in the North Carolina side, while the latter falls from 400 feet high and is accessed through South Carolina.
It’s a place that deserves your undivided attention and allows you to see two falls in just one trip — you’ll also be in two states during your visit. Many visitors also hail Whitewater Falls as one of the best places in the state to take pictures, whether it’s of the falls itself or the breathtaking sights around it. From the parking lot to the lookout area, you’ll need to make a quarter-mile walk which is easy enough to do; it’s also accessible for families with small kids and those with wheelchairs.
Additionally, these waterfalls offer a lower viewing area under a set of stairs where you’ll see an even more stunning view. To make your way to Whitewater Falls, you first need to pay a small fee to come inside the Nantahala National Forest. Here, you’ll find the parking lot which offers barbecue and picnic areas so the whole family can enjoy a day of relaxation during your visit.
3. Soco Falls, Haywood County
With impressive rock formations and double waterfalls, Soco Falls is easily one of the most magnificent falls in the whole state. What makes it even better is that it’s easily accessed from the road, allowing visitors to pull over and take as many pictures as they want. Around 40 to 50 feet in height, these beautiful waterfalls plunge over sharp and rugged rocks, offering dramatic scenery for everyone to enjoy.
Located just 11 miles east of Cherokee, Soco Falls offers a parking area on Highway 19, just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. After taking a short walk, you’ll find an overlooking platform that leads to a series of longer trails — they run along the stream and will lead you down to the bottom of the waterfalls. If you do decide to follow these longer trails, take extra care since they are known to be strenuous and slippery.
To view the taller falls (around 120 feet), make your way to the observation deck which is less than five minutes away. Moreover, visiting during the winter months — when the leaves on trees aren’t blocking the view — will allow you to see the smaller falls on the left side. If you wish to get a closer view of the falls, head over to a steep trail that starts from the deck leading to the base of the waterfalls.
4. Crabtree Falls, McDowell County, and Yancey County
Visitors who make their way to Crabtree Falls Campground will come across the trailhead for the falls. While the trails have a steep elevation, most people should be able to manage the trek, which is approximately a three-mile round trip. You can also take a different route — the loop trail adds half a mile to the journey, but it will allow you to see some amazing sights.
Depending on the season, you’ll find vibrant flowers, rustic wooden bridges, and one of the most picturesque falls in the state. However, be sure to wear the right footwear no matter which path you take since both routes are wet, uneven, and sometimes rocky.
Crabtree Falls is located to the north of Asheville just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tumbling around 70 feet from a ledge and onto the rocks below, this waterfall was named after the lone tree found at its base. You’ll also find a bridge that’s been placed some distance away from the waterfall, allowing for a great place to snap some photos.
5. Dry Falls, Macon County
Dry Falls offers a family-friend hike that takes only a quarter of a mile to reach. It is considered one of the easiest falls to get to while offering one of the most visually striking waterfalls in the state. At 65 feet high, it plummets over rock cliffs and into the riverbed under it.
This waterfall is so accessible that it can be reached with a stroller or wheelchair. Situated near the town of Highlands, Dry Falls is another one of North Carolina's beautiful waterfalls. It also offers a scenic drive where you'll pass through the Cullasaja Gorge.
On your way to the actual waterfalls, you'll find lush greenery surrounding the falls. There's also an area where you can feel the mist spray on your face for an experience you won't find anywhere else. On a warm and sunny day, Dry Falls offers a great way to cool off.
6. Looking Glass Falls, Transylvania County
Just 16 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway lies the gorgeous Looking Glass Falls, where you’ll see sights up close and personal. Hiking will take less than half a mile both ways — it is easy enough for everyone to take part in and leads to a stunning overlook. This 60-foot-tall waterfall towers down a cliff and is visible from the road, but it’s best appreciated by viewers when they hop out of their cars.
If you wish to take a detour, you can also reach the falls through a road near Brevard where the waterfalls easily attract crowds. During the summer season, visitors usually dip their feet into the pool, while others jump into its chilly waters for a cool down. When you finish your visit, there are many other waterfalls within the Pisgah National Forest, all of which are open for you to enjoy.
The falls’ easy accessibility makes it a favorite among travelers — and popular among families. If you’re looking to spend more time here, head down the steps that lead to the falls for a closer view. You may also walk in the stream below the falls where you can swim or take pictures, which is best done in the morning as the sun comes up over the waterfall. Many people also find it lovely to visit during winter when the whole waterfall and river are frozen, making beautiful ice formations.
7. Quarry Falls, Macon County
Quarry Falls is a 20-foot, multi-tiered cascade located in the Cullasaja River Gorge, next to U.S. Hwy. 64 west of Highlands. This scenic route is known as the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway and goes through the Nantahala National Forest. The waterfall is best known for its deep and large pool found at the bottom, making it a popular place for swimming in the summer months.
The locals refer to this waterfall as "Sliding Rock" or "Bust-Your-Butt-Falls" and offer a “jump off” rock for those who wish to dive into its chilly waters. However, there are slippery boulders here, so take extra caution when traversing the area. Furthermore, visitors will need to check on the water levels before diving since the falls can have varying depths depending on the rainfall.
From the parking lot, the waterfall is only a short walk away, making it easily accessible for visitors. Moreover, there are many big rocks that provide a great spot for sunbathing, picnicking, and watching swimmers. If you’re looking for more adventure, you may also visit the other waterfalls nearby such as Dry Falls, Cullasaja Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.
8. Skinny Dip Falls, Transylvania County
This is another great waterfall that’s perfect for swimming — its waters offer a refreshing dip on a summer day and also have great close-up views. Additionally, Skinny Dip Falls offers multiple cascades and pools, but don’t let its name fool you; remember to wear clothes when swimming here. It’s another waterfall that can be found on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the trail presents a few rocks which you’ll need to pass through.
Luckily the trail is easy enough to follow and accessible for hikers of all ages. At the end of the trail, you’ll see a bench and staircase which you’ll need to follow down to see the falls. The falls offer an overall height of about 30 feet and a unique, natural swimming hole along with a scenic location where you’ll be able to enjoy nature in all its glory.
The hike to the falls and back is only a mile long, with the overlooks being easily accessible on wooden platforms. These falls are nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains and have become a popular place to cool off, so expect to have company when making your trip. Moreover, these falls share a parking area with the Looking Glass Falls, so be sure to come in early to secure a spot.
9. Triple Falls, Transylvania County
As part of the DuPont State Recreational Forest, Triple Falls offers magnificent views of three distinct, different kinds of waterfalls. It is one of four major waterfalls which run on the Little River, with the others being Hooker Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and High Falls. Offering a vertical drop of 120 feet, these falls come in two views; one where you can only see the bottom falls and the other where you can see the entire falls from an upper overlook.
Visitors may enjoy a variety of things to do here such as mountain biking and horseback riding around the area. You may also park by the Hooker Falls parking area, while the hike to the actual falls is around half of a mile long. Like with many waterfalls, people are highly discouraged from climbing the rocks around the falls.
To enjoy a more relaxing trip, avoid the weekend crowds by arriving early or visiting during weekdays. You can have an early breakfast by the rocks at Triple Falls, while you can also find restrooms in the Visitor Center. Additionally, the whole area is pet-friendly, but remember to keep dogs on a leash.
10. Mingo Falls, Swain County
Located just five minutes from the Smoky Mountains National Park, Mingo Falls is a popular destination for visitors all over the country. This 200 feet tall waterfall is open to the public every day for free, so be sure to visit as soon as possible. Because of its height, it is one of southern Appalachia’s highest waterfalls.
However, before you reach these falls, you’ll need to go through a moderately hard path — while it’s just a quarter-mile away, you’ll have to climb 161 steps to get to the falls. As a result of the morning fog, the steps can become slippery, so be sure to take extra caution when attempting to climb. Mingo Falls is also called Big Bear Falls in the Cherokee language.
Mingo Falls lies in the Qualla Indian Reservation in Cherokee, which allows for plenty of photo opportunities. If you want to take your camera out, make sure to go early and get there before the sunsets. There’s a viewing platform in front of the waterfall that is very safe. However, be sure that there aren’t many people around as tripods will shake when being walked on.
11. Linville Falls, Avery, Burke, and McDowell Counties
This three-tiered waterfall flows into the Linville Gorge, sometimes known as the Southern Appalachians’ Grand Canyon. Linville Falls is a beautiful work of nature that tumbles 90 feet down, providing visitors with amazing views and easy to capture moments of magic, which makes it one of the state’s best waterfalls. Because of this, many photographers love to visit for the chance to take a shot at the falls and their gorgeous surroundings.
It offers an easy and accessible trail that anyone can do — the distance to the falls from the trailhead is just over a mile and a half long. Furthermore, pets are welcome here but will need to be on a leash at all times. Once you reach the end of the trail, you will be provided various lookout areas, the first of which is a half-mile from the trailhead.
This option will take you to an overlook where you can observe the lower and upper falls. If you want a better view, you can continue forward to the Chimney View overlook, which provides an entire view of the falls. The next lookout takes you to Erwin's View Overlook where you’ll have access to the Linville Gorge Trail which runs for 0.75-miles and leads you to the pools.
12. Moore Cove Falls, Transylvania County
Located in the Pisgah National Forest in Brevard, Moore Cove Falls is arguably the most unique waterfall in the country. This free-falling waterfall is situated in a picturesque creek valley, and the area offers a quiet and exclusive retreat — the perfect destination for those who want to see fewer tourists and more nature. However, before you get there, you’ll need to go on a one-mile hike.
Many find this waterfall to be unique due to the various cliffs, the cave behind these falls, and the high drop that hurls the water into its cave. Visitors are also welcome to come inside the waterfall and explore the cave while listening to the crashing of water from above. It’s surrounded by lush greenery and dense forest, making it the perfect spot to get away from life’s stresses and into the relaxing and peaceful sights and sounds of nature.
If you’re looking for more adventure, a trail leads northbound, where the sounds from the highway get lower as it takes you deeper into the forest. Here, you’ll find vibrant ferns and wildflowers that cover the sides of the trails during the summer season. Moore Creek is also a tributary of Looking Glass Creek, so you’ll likely see this waterfall next.
13. Catawba Falls, McDowell County
The powerful Catawba Falls stands at 100 feet high and offers one of the most scenic sights in all of the Blue Ridge waterfalls in North Carolina. It is conveniently located inside Pisgah National Forest by the southern slope. While it wasn’t accessible until recently, various features such as a parking area, footbridges, and signage have now made it easily reachable.
The waterfall is also divided into three sections, known as the lower, the middle, and the upper parts. Its waters flow off from the escarpment and then into the Piedmont area below the falls. This tall and majestic waterfall will give you amazing views no matter where you look, so you don’t want to miss out on Catawba Falls.
On your way there, you’ll go over a two-mile round trip trail that will lead to the falls’ base where those looking to escape from the summer heat often jump in. You’ll find shady areas here that provide a great place to relax, sit, and enjoy the waters. To get there, be sure to drive three miles to Catawba River Drive right up to the end for parking, then hike to the waterfall.
14. Leatherwood Falls, Clay County
Sometimes known as “Fire Creek Falls,” Leatherwood Falls provides a small but intimate setting to fantastic views of the 25-foot waterfall. While you can’t get a glimpse of the falls from the designated parking area, the round-trip hike to reach the falls is only 0.2 miles away, so you won’t have to exert much effort to get there. Many visitors say that the best time to visit the falls is during the fall season, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly.
Nestled within the Nantahala National Forest, Leatherwood Falls also provides a recreation area where you’ll find several paths of varying lengths. If you’re looking for a quick stroll, then head over to the asphalt trail by the entrance. Just across the picnic area, you’ll find a stream that provides a great opportunity for those who wish to swim, fish, or tube.
You’ll also see the Leatherwood Falls Trail, a 0.7-mile loop that experiences heavy traffic which overlooks the waterfall. Furthermore, the Fires Creek Rim Trail is located at the picnic area, spanning over 25 miles around the Fires Creek Backcountry Area. Apart from hiking, this area is also a great spot for swimming, picnicking, fishing, horseback riding, and camping.
15. Silver Run Falls, Jackson County
Located just four miles from Cashiers, Silver Run Falls offer great ways to beat the heat in summer along with activities that the whole family can enjoy. To get there, you’ll be taking an easy, 0.2-mile trip one way which is accessible to all ages. Dogs are also welcome to come with you as long as they stay on their leashes.
Sitting in the Nantahala National Forest, Silver Run Falls is a 25-foot waterfall that cascades into a quiet pool and small beach area. Unfortunately, this means it can get crowded during hot days, especially because it's safe for children to play by the water. However, during off-peak season, you can be sure to have the pool all to yourself.
If you don’t feel like swimming, there are plenty of other things to explore here — a forest service sign on the road marks the small parking area which fits four to five cars. This short, quarter-mile walk will take you across a bridge over the Whitewater River. There are also observation spots around the shores where you can absorb various views of the falls. Lastly, there are plenty of rocks where you can access different angles of the waterfall.
16. High Falls, Transylvania County
As mentioned earlier, Dupont State Park has access to two waterfalls; Triple Falls and High Falls. Not far from Hendersonville, the park was used as a filming set for the first movie of the Hunger Games. To get to High Falls, you’ll need to go through a two-mile trail known as the High Falls Loop, which leaves from the Visitor Center. The trail is relatively easy, offering long and steady declines and inclines while being available at any time of the year.
As soon as you see High Falls, you’ll hear the roar of the Little River as it tumbles down 150 feet along a rock face. To take the best pictures, be sure to head over the trail that’s direct across the falls or the one that’s just above (where the large picnic shelter is located.) Heading in further will lead to a trail that will take you to Triple Falls. Both these stunning waterfalls provide impressive views and depending on the water level, the base of High Falls and Triple Falls may become accessible.
This area offers a great spot for picnics — unfortunately, there is no food for sale here, so be sure to bring your own. This gorgeous setting is highly popular, so expect to see a lot of people on weekends. You can also expect overflow parking during this time, so be sure to come in early to secure your spot. Other falls close by include Triple Falls which is just half a mile away and Bridal Veil Falls which is only 2.2-miles away by hiking.
17. Sliding Rock Falls, Transylvania County
Known as the ultimate destination for a great family trip, Sliding Rock Falls offers a gentle incline where visitors can slide down on the 60 feet long slippery rocks. Here, you’ll find clean and clear waters that splash over smooth rocks before plunging into the deep pool waiting at the bottom of the falls. As long as you’re able to swim and are comfortable with water, these pools are suitable for every age.
During summer, the waterfall is surrounded by lifeguards, and rules for safety are put in place; while inner tubes are prohibited, life jackets are allowed. While picnicking isn’t allowed here, guests will be able to use the restrooms and changing rooms provided. Moreover, the rocks underneath your feet may be hard, so it's best to bring water shoes if you already have them.
Additionally, a small fee is charged for every person who wants to enter the area from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Here, you’ll see sliders line up and wait their turn to slide down the chilly waters (50-60 degrees) of Sliding Rock Falls where they’re guaranteed to make a splash! Powered by 11,000 gallons of water flowing down the huge rock per minute, this natural water slide offers the best way to beat the heat on summer days.
Visit North Carolina Waterfalls Today
With plenty of waterfalls in each and every corner of the state, North Carolina is certainly one of the best places to be if you’re an avid waterfall lover. Offering waterfalls in all kinds of shapes, sizes, heights, and trails, there is a prime location for a waterfall in almost every county. Whether you want extra activities to do or just want to admire the power and beauty of these natural masterpieces, these are just some of the best watery creations that North Carolina has to offer. Once you visits all the waterfalls you would like to see, South Carolina has many great waterfalls to explore as well.