Western North Carolina is a lush, beautiful area full of mountains, lakes, forests and literally hundreds of waterfalls. While living there I had the pleasure of seeing 24 of these waterfalls. I wanted to share my personal guide to Western North Carolina Waterfalls. They’re separated by region.
Pisgah National Forest
Looking Glass Falls
This massive waterfall is one of the most impressive I’ve seen in North Carolina. To get to this 60 foot waterfall you simply park along the side of the road (near the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest) and descend a few flights of paved stairs. This waterfall is a favorite for locals and tourists so it can be quite crowded on hot summer days because it’s a perfect swimming hole. I love to visit in the off-season when you can have the entire waterfall to yourself.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Graveyard Fields Upper Falls
This 40 foot waterfall is a 3 mile roundtrip hike that’s moderately easy. Although it isn’t incredibly steep or anything, you do encounter some very slick rocks (and a bit of a scramble) to get to the view of the falls. One of the highlights of this trail for me is picking blueberries in patches of bushes during berry season.
Graveyard Fields Second Falls
This multi-level, 55 foot waterfall is visible (at a distance) from the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 2/3 mile roundtrip hike is a decently easy hike and a lot of the area is paved or a boardwalk trail. Because of all the different levels, this is an amazing place to have a picnic and still have your own little piece of the waterfall. The base of this waterfall has a very small swimming hole, but it’s still a swimming hole.
Skinny Dip Falls
To access this trail, park at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (mile marker 417). Cross the Parkway to access the 1 mile roundtrip hike, which is unpaved and does have a slight incline. At the end of the trail is a wooden bridge / boardwalk that connects the side with the trail over a small gorge filled with other falls to get to the main attraction of the 30 foot waterfall (above) one of the rocks on the right side of this photo is the perfect spot to jump from into the swimming hole (beware, the water is extremely cold). Be careful adventuring down the gorge to the lower falls because it’s slick! This is a local favorite, so expect to hang out with some locals in the summer. This is a For the Love of Wanderlust favorite.
This 70 foot waterfall is accessed by one of two trail options: 3 mile there & back hike (what we did both times) or the 3.5 mile loop (supposed to be more strenuous). This trail is steep in parts & unpaved, but there are a few steps built into the trail that can be sick if they’re wet. There isn’t a swimming hole, but it is well worth the hike for the view. This is a For the Love of Wanderlust favorite.
This stunning 150 foot waterfall falls over 4 levels and can be seen from 5 different viewpoints (Matt and I have only done 2) that can all be seen within a 4 mile hike which is totally on our to-do list. This photo is from the Erwin’s View Trail which is 1.6 miles round trip and includes a closer view of the uppermost section seen in this photo.
This trail doesn’t give you an overall view of the waterfall, however this is still a very enjoyable and beautiful trail. There are smaller individual sections with various viewpoints. This interactive nature trail is a 1 mile loop.
DuPont State Park
At 14 feet, this is the shortest of the DuPont waterfalls, but it still is beautiful. This hike is less than half a mile roundtrip and is very easy to get to.
I think this is the most impressive DuPont waterfall. It’s a 120 foot waterfall that flows over three sections. This waterfall was used in a scene of the first Hunger Games movie and it’s unique because you can literally stand, sit, picnic or do yoga in the middle of this waterfall. Triple Falls can be accessed from two trails: 1 mile roundtrip from Hooker Falls or 2.2 miles roundtrip from High Falls (I’ve done both and prefer the High Falls Trail).
High Falls is a 100 foot fall that’s only .5 miles from the High Falls parking lot or 1 mile from the Hooker Falls parking lot. I recommend the 2.5 mile look to High & Triple Falls (see above). You can hike to the bottom of the falls and you can also see the top of the waterfall from the covered bridge above (the latter is on my to-do list).
Nantahala National Forest
Dry Falls is a unique waterfall because you can walk behind it on the paved walkway and stay (relatively) dry. At 75 feet this beauty flows much heavier during rainier times. You can see this waterfalls from the handicap accessible overlook next to the parking area or you can go down the couple of flights of stairs to get to the trail that goes behind and around the waterfall.
Whitewater Falls is the tallest waterfall west of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. at an incredible 811 feet. This waterfall is extremely close to the South Carolina border, in fact, you can access it from both of the Carolinas. It’s a .5 mile paved walkway to the first, wheelchair accessible viewpoint. A better view is at the bottom of the 150 stairs just past this view, but be sure to stay on the trail because there is a massive drop-off from these views.
Even though this waterfall is in Nantahala National Forest the trail is accessed from Gorges State Park. The trail offers a beautiful view of the waterfall and there are multiple side trails that lead down towards the base of the 150 foot falls, and also one that takes you near the top (to-do list!). The trail to and from the falls is 3 miles roundtrip.
Cullasaja Falls is viewable from the road upon entering Nantahala National Forest near Highlands, NC. I’ve heard that it is possible to get closer access to these waterfalls, but have never attempted or seen them. The viewpoint for this has a small pullout, but it is truly very small. Be careful getting out of your car because the road is windy and has many blind spots. This road with its magnificent views is a For the Love of Wanderlust favorite.
Bridal Veil Falls
This 45 foot waterfall has an especially unique quality – you can drive behind it! However, this is a waterfalls that requires some rain. When Matt and I went it was hardly even a trickle. My photos of it look like I’m taking photos of a car in front a cliff. Ha! (This is the one photo not taken by Matt or me.) We both want to go back when there’s been some rain.
This 2.5 mile roundtrip hike is a switchback trail that leads you to a beautiful portion of Nantahala National Forest and finally to the 20 foot Schoolhouse Falls. Although it isn’t the biggest, widest waterfall it’s in a stunning area and this is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been on earth. We passed one person in this area the whole hour or so we were at the actual waterfall. This is a For the Love of Wanderlust favorite.
Sock Falls is 30 feet and just off of U.S. Highway 19 and when you see the small ‘Soco Falls’ sign be prepared to pull over. The path to the wooden viewing deck starts at a gap in the guard rail and less than 5 minutes gets you to the viewpoint. My dad and I climbed down near the base, but he slipped so be very careful if you choose to go down there.
French Broad Falls
French Broad Falls (along with its “twin” see below) is found off Highway 215 on the property of the Living Waters resort. Take the small trail off the side of the road, just listen for the falls.
Shoal Creek Falls
This 15 foot waterfall is the “twin” to French Broad Falls. It’s found at the end of a small trail off the side of Highway 215. It’s found on the Living Waters resort and you can stand on the massive boulders in the river, a perfect place to sit & enjoy these waterfalls.
Catawba Lower Falls
This stunning 100 foot waterfall is actually made up of dozens of small cascades. The trail to the Lower Falls is 3 miles roundtrip. The hike is a steady incline following a series of small cascades and even an old dam with a “waterfall” going over it. Don’t turn around there! (I made that mistake once before.) If you’re able, continue on the trail to see Upper Catawba Falls.
Catawba Upper Falls
It’s a decently strenuous hike to get to this 50 foot waterfall from Lower Falls. Although it’s only an extra mile roundtrip from there it’s incredibly steep and requires climbing up some rocks. There are ropes tied to trees and screwed into rocks to help pull yourself up long the way. It’s seriously steep and seriously worth it.
Off NC 215 Off The Parkway
Just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway exit 423 is the multi-layered waterfall that eventually flows under a beautiful stone bridge. There’s a small pullout to park in and you can hike down to the bottom of this waterfall. Be sure to get that view!
Bubbling Spring Branch Falls
This waterfall is approximately 2 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway (exit 423). It’s visible from the highway, which is how we saw it. My dad U-turned so we hike down to it. There’s a small trail that starts with a steep decline from the road and ends at the bottom of this section of the waterfall. A couple miles from here is Sunburst Falls (see above).
Chimney Rock State Park
Hickory Nut Falls
This 404 foot waterfall, very distantly viewable from the road, was used in the last fight scene of The Last of the Mohicans and is located in Chimney Rock State Park. To get a closer view of the falls you have to take the 1.5 mile roundtrip trail. Although this is a beautiful waterfall, it is also the only waterfall on this list with an admission fee.
These are just a fraction of the waterfalls found in Western North Carolina. I am very excited to get out explore more each year and to expand this guide with each new discovery. North Carolina is an extremely special state filled with so many different varieties of natural beauty!
Have you explored any waterfalls in WNC? Which is your favorite?
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