The mountains of North Carolina are blessed with an abundance of water and, in turn, a high concentration of beautiful waterfalls. With around 500 North Carolina waterfalls spread through the region, those in search of a tumbling cascade should certainly have no trouble finding one. But to make it easier for you to find what we consider some of the best of the best when it comes to North Carolina Waterfalls, we’ve compiled our list of the top cascades to visit in western North Carolina.
Best Waterfall Hikes In WNC
Courthouse Falls | North Carolina Waterfall Guide
The 60-foot-tall Courthouse Falls has been drawing crowds deep into the Pisgah National Forest for years. The waterfall is part of Courthouse Creek, which flows through the Pisgah National Forest near the Devil’s Courthouse, which was long considered a sacred area of the Cherokee Indians who inhabited the region for centuries. The tall, slender waterfall pours through a narrow chute into a natural amphitheater of bedrock that makes for a nice swimming area during the warmer months of the year. The falls are accessible by hiking a short trail that is moderate difficult. But getting to the trailhead is the real challenge. To reach the falls, either go down NC Highway 215 for 6.5 miles south from the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn left onto Forest Road 140 (Courthouse Creek Road). Go 3 miles down the road and park on the right just after crossing the bridge over Courthouse Creek. Follow the marked trail for .36 miles to the falls, which will be on the left.
Hooker Falls | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
At 15 feet tall, Hooker Falls isn’t one of the tallest of the many North Carolina waterfalls, but it is one of the most popular and highly-visited falls in the entire state. Hooker Falls has been known for years to local residents and was named for Edmund Hooker, who operated a mill below the falls in the late 1800s. At the time, it was named Mill Shoals Falls. In recent years, visitors have flocked to the falls during summer months to swim in Cascade Lake at the base of the falls. While jumping from the falls is illegal, occasionally daring visitors can be seen leaping from the center of the waterfall into a small, deep pool below. The waterfall also gained notoriety for its role in a scene in the movie Last of the Mohicans when the characters run the waterfall in canoes. As a kayaking destination, the waterfall is the final drop in a series of steep waterfalls and slides along the Little River renown as a top whitewater paddling river when water levels rise following heavy rains. Visitors may park at the Hooker Falls parking area, and then hike the short Hooker Falls Trail for roughly 1/4 mile. There are two views of the falls, the first overlooking the falls from above, and a second view from across the plunge pool that lets you view the entire falls. DuPont State Forest may also allow access to the falls to handicapped persons. Contact the DuPont State Forest for more information.
Linville Falls | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
Located just a short drive from Linville, North Carolina, Linville Falls is features several different drops that begin in a twin set of upper falls before moving down a small gorge, and culminating in a high-volume 45-foot drop. According to wikipedia.com, Linville Falls has the highest volume of any waterfall on the Northern Edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Local lore holds that the falls were once used by local Native Americans to execute prisoners. The name of the Linville Gorge and the falls themselves comes from an ill-fated expedition into the gorge by the Linville brothers that ended when two out of three members of the expedition were killed by local native Americans. Until August of 2010, it was believed that no one had survived a trip down the Linville Falls. However, Pat Keller, of Asheville, changed that when he bombed the three-tiered waterfall in his Dagger kayak and walked away uninjured. The falls is owned by the National Park Service, which operates a visitor center and several miles of non-handicapped accessible trails with 4 overlooks for the falls. The 0.5-mile (0.80 km) Upper Falls trail leads to the top of the falls, where visitors can see the small twin upper falls and the water spiraling through a small canyon on its way to the main falls. The Erwin’s View trail leads to 2 overlooks, the Chimney View overlook (0.7 miles) and the Erwin’s View overlook (0.8 miles). The 0.5-mile (0.80 km) Plunge Basin Trail leads to the Plunge Basin Overlook, which provides a view of the falls from the other side of the river. Finally, the 0.7-mile (1.1 km) Gorge Trail, which branches off from the Plunge Basin trail, leads to an area near the foot of the falls. Swimming is prohibited at all areas of Linville Falls, as many deaths have occurred.
Sliding Rock | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
One of western North Carolina’s most popular attractions is the 60-foot-long Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest. Thousands of visitors each week take a trip down the smooth rock slide on Looking Glass Creek before they take the final plunge into a large, deep pool at the bottom. For years, visitors to Brevard and Pisgah National Forest have cooled off by taking a dip in the cool water of the natural rock water slide. In recent years, the area was developed by the US Forest Service into a popular recreation area. Parking is available in a large lot above the rock and beside U.S. Highway 276. There are two viewing platforms, steps down to the pool and railings to help climb the rocks on the left side before sliding down. A restroom and changing room is provided and a lifeguard is periodically on duty especially during summer weekends. At other times, sliding down the waterfall is done at a visitor’s own risk. Children must be of a certain size to slide alone, otherwise, they may slide in the lap of an adult. A $1.00 per person fee is charged by the Forest Service to use the area between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, when lifeguards and rangers are on duty. The rock is closed to sliders during times of high water or when lightning is detected in the area. To get to the recreation area and the falls, travel north from the intersection of U.S. Highway 276, approximately 7.7 miles north of the intersection of 276, U.S. Highway 64, and NC Highway 280 in Brevard, North Carolina. En route, you will pass Looking Glass Falls and the parking area for Moore Cove Falls.
Looking Glass Falls | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
One of the most popular and highly visited waterfalls in North Carolina, Looking Glass Falls, which takes its name from nearby Looking Glass Rock, is an 80 foot tall cascade located only a few hundred feet from U.S. 276. Looking Glass Falls are open year round, free of charge, just minutes from Brevard, North Carolina. With its ease of access thanks to the roadside location, the waterfall is very popular and often draws large crowds during summer months. As a result, there are frequently injuries and even deaths at the 80-foot-tall waterfall. As with any waterfall, visitors should use the utmost caution when approaching the river due to slick, moss-covered rocks. The waterfall has been successfully kayaked on several occasions.
Graveyard Field | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
Graveyard Fields is home to three beautiful cascades located in one of the most scenic sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The high elevation balds of Shining Rock Wilderness area make for unique vistas unlike anything else in the Southern Highlands region. The 60-foot-tall Second Falls can be seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Graveyard Fields Overlook, but visitors should opt to take a closer look by taking the short hike from the Graveyard Fields parking area down to the overlook. Along the way, hikers will cross Yellowstone Prong before ambling down a set of stairs to the viewing area. Upstream of Second Falls is First Falls, which can be accessed by a roughly 7-mile-long round trip hike. The access area for both waterfalls is located between Mileposts 418 and 419 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Rainbow Falls | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
Rainbow Falls is a waterfall in Western North Carolina, located near Brevard. The falls is located on the Horsepasture River. It is on Pisgah National Forest land just outside Gorges State Park. According to wikipedia.com, a proposal to route the flow of the river around the falls in the mid 1980′s for a hydroelectric power plant was thwarted by public opposition. On October 27, 1986, the Horsepasture River was designated a national Wild and Scenic River, protecting the falls from future development. The rock face over which the river flows is not vertical, but the large volume of water during normal river flows cause it to leap many feet out from the rock and a deep plunge pool lies at the bottom of the falls. It creates large amounts of wind and mist that race up the hillside opposite the falls. If the sun is in the right position, a rainbow is easily observed here, giving the falls its name. As of 2011, there is a new 3.0 mile round trip trail to Rainbow Falls through Gorges State Park. From the parking lot, follow the trail for 5 minutes, bearing right at the intersection. 20 minutes further, the trail enters the Nantahala National Forest, with a side trail to the left that heads to Stairway Falls. Bearing right takes you to Rainbow Falls in about 20 more minutes. Hikers can then go further up the trail to Turtleback Falls. Prior to the opening of the park, the only path to the falls was through an unofficial trail on National Forest property.
Turtle Back Falls | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
Turtleback Falls, also called Umbrella Falls, is a waterfall in Western North Carolina, located near Brevard. The falls is located on the Horsepasture River in the Nantahala National Forest land just outside Gorges State Park. The falls has a large, deep pool at the bottom commonly known as the “Chug Hole”. The river flows over a large, sloping slab of rock before curving steeper and finally dropping into the pool. The appearance of the rock, similar to a turtle’s shell, gives the falls its name. To access the falls, take a short hike starting in Gorges State Park before passing through Pisgah National Forest property into the Nantahala National Forest. The 20-minute-long hike takes visitors to Rainbow Falls before heading further upstream to reach Turtle Back Falls. The area is a popular place for swimming and people frequently slide over the falls into the Chug Hole during low water; however, the currents can be dangerous in higher flows and people have drowned at Turtleback, or have been swept downriver and over 125′ Rainbow Falls.
High Falls of DuPont | North Carolina Waterfalls Guide
High Falls is located in Transylvania County on the Little River through the DuPont State Forest. It is one of four major waterfalls on the Little River in this area, the others being Triple Falls, Hooker Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Above the falls itself, the river is level and calm. The falls consists of a wide, ever-steepening slide over granite, and the water generally stays on the rock the whole way down. In some places, the water free-falls for a few feet or jumps off the rock face, but it is not possible to get behind the falls anywhere. High Falls has been known for years to local residents. In the 1990s, DuPont Forest was sold to the State of North Carolina, and as DuPont has completed cleanup of various areas, those areas have been made open to the public as a part of the 10,000+ acre DuPont State Forest. Visitors may park at the Hooker Falls parking area, and then hike the Triple Falls / High Falls Trail for roughly 1 mile (past the view for Triple Falls). Alternately, the High Falls Parking Area offers visitors a chance to access the falls through a scenic trail near the Visitors Center. The High Falls Trail takes visitors to a pavilion with a view of the falls from above, before hikers can head down the stairs to the base of the falls for a closer look.