Nestled within the picturesque landscapes of North Carolina lie some of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the country. From the towering heights of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the hidden corners of the Great Smoky Mountains, these cascading wonders captivate the hearts and minds of adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Here are six magnificent waterfalls to hike to while visiting North Carolina.
Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Micaville, North Carolina, you’ll find the Instagram-worthy cascades of Crabtree Falls. With cascades that tumble 70 feet down what looks like an ancient staircase of bedrock, the falls are the tallest in this region of the Pisgah National Forest. You can get to this natural wonder via a moderate hiking trail that offers stunning views of the surrounding forest and mountains. Be aware – the trail to the falls can be steep and include switchbacks and stone steps. When you arrive at the falls, prepare to get your camera ready. The falls flow into a glistening pool surrounded by steep rock walls dotted with ferns and rich green trees.
Elk River Falls
In the small town of Elk Park, Elk River Falls draws in visitors with its breathtaking backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains. A simple hike from Elk River Road (look for the gravel area and sign for the trail), this 50-foot waterfall dramatically roars over a rocky ledge and into a small pool below. There are multiple boulders and dry rock spaces for picnicking below the falls, and further downstream, you’ll find a charming beach space and area for swimming. Do not swim in the pool directly below the falls for your safety – the currents are dangerously strong.
High Shoal Falls
Located in South Mountains State Park, High Shoal Falls is a picturesque waterfall accessible via a gorgeous trail that takes you through a lush rhododendron forest. You’ll access the trail at Jacob Fork near the campgrounds and hike a half mile along the Jacob Fork River before reaching a stunning boardwalk that takes you around cliffs and above the flowing river. At the end of the hike, you’ll reach the observation deck where the 80-foot falls thunder over a rocky ledge – a perfect photo opportunity.
Considered one of the most popular waterfalls in North Carolina, Looking Glass Falls is tucked away in the Pisgah National Forest. Named after the ice that forms along the sides of the falls during the winter, creating the illusion of a looking glass, these 60-foot cascades can be viewed from a roadside parking area, making them easily accessible for visitors. To avoid crowds and secure a parking spot, visit the falls early and on weekdays. If you’d like to hike to the falls, it’s less than a half-mile from the parking area.
Anything but dry, the Dry Falls in the Nantahala National Forest of western North Carolina offers the unique opportunity to stand behind the falls as they roar over a ledge that cascades 75 feet into the Cullasaja River. There’s nothing like feeling the power of the falls as the cool mist swirls around you. The trail to the falls includes multiple observation points, and during the fall, it’s an incredible spot for autumn leaves. Ice formations spread along the rocky ledge and down the boardwalk in the winter, transforming the falls into a winter wonderland.
Bonus Falls: Douglas Falls
Cascading 70 feet over a cliff, Douglas Falls near Barnardsville is easily identifiable by its thin jet of water resembling a ribbon. Situated in the picturesque Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest, the falls are accessible via a marked trail from the parking area. It’s a straight shot to the falls along the trail, but be prepared for a downhill hike to reach the base. Be aware this waterfall tends to be seasonal, and during dry periods the water flow may be less impressive than during the rainy season.