Waterfalls are the most beautiful natural attraction in our little slice of North Carolina. The scenery of a waterfall is a great reward after a long trip to the mountains, or a long hike to get to your destination, and they are so worth it. Here are just a few of our favorite Western North Carolina Waterfalls.
This waterfall is one of the most popular in the state of North Carolina, and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Falls Trail is declared an “easy” 1.6 miles, but you can take a slightly more strenuous 1.4 mile trail called The Gorge trail, if you want a more challenging incline. On that harder trail, you get the payoff of five gorgeous viewpoints of the waterfall. No matter which route you choose to go, you’ll be enamored with this three-tier waterfall that plunges from a dramatic 90-foot drop. If you happen to go by this Western North Carolina waterfall in the winter, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed, there is a second parking area near the village of Linville Falls that will get you to a trailhead.
It’s called secret for a reason, but the secret is starting to get around. Equipped with a tiny parking lot and one lone post declaring “Secret Falls” this place is somewhat hard to find, but it’s worth it! The trail is .7 miles in and out, and it’s rated as moderate. At the bottom of the trail, you’ll find yourself in awe, sandwiched between two waterfalls. This is a great place to bring a picnic, and even the family dog, if they love swimming, as this waterfall destination provides an awesome swimming hole. The best part? It’s typically less crowded, even in the summer, thanks to its discreet location! Ask around Highlands, NC and locals who have discovered it will rave about how beautiful it is. If you are in this part of North Carolina, you can’t miss this one.
Nestled in Gorges State Park in Sapphire, NC, Rainbow falls is a 150–foot waterfall that sits at the end of a 1.5 mile hike that is considered moderate to strenuous. On sunny days, when the light peaks through, you might be lucky enough to see the rainbow emerge from the waterfall, that it’s so aptly named for. When the water is low, there are many rocks for seating and potential picnics for hikers, but the park warns visitors not to try and scale the rock face, and to be aware of the water levels before going on a hike. The park has other Western North Carolina waterfalls worth visiting as well, if you are an avid hiker! The park is a well-loved gem of Sapphire and the surrounding communities and can take up an entire day of your time with its various hiking and biking trails.
This narrow waterfall in Canton is a popular swimming hole in the summertime. Just an easy to moderate hike, this waterfall is accessible to the novice hiker. Located on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, and while there is no fee to park here, the parking lot will most likely be packed on summer weekends. If you can, we recommend going to this destination on weekdays to beat the crowds. If you can manage that, you may even have the place to yourself. Despite the crowds, you’ll see why this waterfall is so popular. In the summer it’s surrounded by lush greenery and in the fall, bright orange, yellow and red leaves are at their peak.
You might drive over these falls on U.S. Highway 64 and not notice the rushing falls underneath! The best way to see these falls is to look for the stone bridge you are driving over, and then park in the closest parking area and walk to the viewing spot for Toxaway Falls. If you or anyone in the group you are traveling with might have a hard time participating in a hike, this would be a great way to see a beautiful waterfall with no extensive walking required.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is equipped with some gorgeous hikes and waterfalls, and Crabtree Falls is no exception! This waterfall is towering, and it offers a bridge below for hikers to view the falls looking up, giving it a more dramatic viewpoint. There are two routes you can go for this hike: The 3-mile trail or the 3.5-mile trail. The shorter trail has more of a moderate incline/decline, making it the better choice for less experienced hikers (however, this is still quite a trek even for those who are less experienced). The more strenuous, longer path actually takes you above the falls, bringing new meaning to the phrase “the road less traveled” as you’ll be seeing the falls from a place many don’t. If you head 3/4 of a mile south of the falls, you’ll come across a beautiful picnic area with breathtaking mountain views.
On your way up Cullasaja gorge, you’ll be subjected to gorgeous roadside views of huge waterfalls cascading down the mountainside. These waterfalls are beautiful and worth a visit, but we would be remiss if we didn’t strongly encourage you to drive a little ways up the road to Dry Falls. A Nantahala National Forest sign alerts you just before the upcoming parking lot for Dry Falls. Pay the parking fee and descend down the staircase (which can be slippery if it has recently rained) and you’ll make your way down a slight decline to Dry Falls.
You’ll love this up-close-and-personal interaction with a huge waterfall. If you go after it’s recently rained, the waterfall roars even louder. You can even safely walk under the falls, but bring a jacket, because you might get a little misty if you get that close!
While it may not be the most impressive falls in terms of height, at only 20 feet tall, you’ll love the tranquility of the pool that surrounds this waterfall. Located in Panthertown Valley, a hiking mecca in Western North Carolina, this is one of several waterfalls in the Panthertown Valley hiking trail system. If you go to visit Schoolhouse Falls, you can hike around and visit various waterfalls, rather than just one. The main route to Schoolhouse Falls is a moderate 2.5-mile hike.
Looking Glass Falls is a very well-known Western North Carolina waterfall, partly because it’s one of the few roadside waterfalls that you can drive almost right up to for viewing, and even let the kids play in! Looking Glass Falls is right off U.S. 276 and is in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest. The best part about Looking Glass Falls is how accessible it is for everyone of all capabilities. Even if you aren’t able to complete a full scale hike to view Western North Carolina waterfalls, this 60-foot tall beauty is right at your fingertips. There is no fee to park here, either, but it is a popular destination, so the best option would be to try and go during a weekday or off-season.
Yep, twin waterfalls! This is a fun day trip visit if you are chasing Western North Carolina waterfalls. The falls aren’t that high, standing at approximately 15 feet tall. But there are boulders surrounding the falls that can make for perfect makeshift picnic tables, and an old red mill sits proudly in the background, making a perfect backdrop for a date. You can actually walk about a quarter of a mile downstream and view a smaller waterfall called Cathedral Falls. Although these waterfalls are smaller than most on our list, you can see three at once, which feels like a bargain if you are waterfall hunting for the day!
If you are planning your mountain vacation, or even thinking about a future vacation to Western North Carolina, we can help you every step of the way. We live, work and play in the mountains. On the weekends, you can find most of us getting out and about to explore some of the same waterfalls listed above, and more! Let us help you plan your perfect North Carolina vacation and find the best place for you and your family to stay in while you are here.