Western NC is full of waterfalls, literally 100s of them are scattered around the mountains of western NC. This article highlights our personal favorite waterfalls in NC and we’ll be adding to the list as we visit even more. These are falls we’ve actually visited, and the majority of the photos are ones we’ve taken while visiting.
Looking Glass Falls
Looking Glass Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in NC due to it’s beauty and ease of access. Looking Glass falls is located directly off of US 276 between Waynesville and Brevard, NC and can be seen from the parking lot right off the main road or a little closer up by walking down the short stairs to the overlook. The name “Looking Glass” comes from the nearby “Looking Glass Rock”. Nice views and photos of the 50 foot waterfall can be obtained from both the parking lot and overlook.
Wading and swimming is allowed in the area below and down from the falls. If the summer, you’ll often see children playing in the water.
See more photos, video, and more details, including full directions on our Looking Glass Falls page.
Soco Falls is a bit of a hidden gem and is one of our favorite waterfalls in NC. Soco Falls is located off Highway 19 between Maggie Valley and Cherokee, right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of the things that makes Soco Falls unique is that it’s actually two falls in one.
Access to the falls is via a short trail and a wooden overlook that provides a downward view of the falls. For the more adventurous, there is a trail that leads to the base of the falls. The trail is very steep and muddy. A few climbers have been kind enough to set-up rope to help with the climb up and down. I would rate the trail difficult, and should only be used by experienced hikers and climbers.
Directions to Soco Falls: From The Blue Ridge Parkway, get off on the highway 19 exit and head towards Cherokee, NC. Just as you enter the Cherokee boundry, watch for a small sign that says Soco falls is 1/2 a mile ahead. Just look for the small parking lot on the left. There is a small sign saying “Soco Falls” and you’ll see a wire fence and a break in the guard rail where the trail begins.
Linville Falls, in Linville Gorge area of NC, is one of the most popular waterfalls in the NC, and for good reason. The falls are actually three separate falls: a twin set of upper falls, followed by a gorge area, and finally a plunge of 45 feet. The falls can be accessed by a number of trails, ranging from moderate to strenuous. You can download a trail map here.
Linville Falls is part of the National Park Service and includes a Vistors Center, restrooms, and picnic areas. The falls are a very popular tourist destination and often very busy during the summer and fall, especially on the weekends. If you are a photographer, we highly recommend arriving very early to avoid the crowds.
No wading or swimming in or around the falls is allowed, and frankly doing so can kill you. The current is very very strong.
Directions to Linville Falls: Linville Falls is easy to find and is located directly off the parkway at Milepost 316. There is a road that leads you down to the parking lot and Visitors center.
Dry Falls is located in the Nantahala National Forest, and contrary to it’s name, it’s not dry. Dry falls is part of a series of waterfalls in NC along an 8.7 mile stretch of the Cullasaja River. The name comes from the ability of visitors to be able to walk behind the falls and remain mostly dry. The mist is pretty heavy, especially after a rain so be prepared to get a little wet.
Like Looking Glass falls, Dry Falls is located just off the highway and very easy to access. Because it is so easy to access, it is very popular and often very busy. Photographers need to get there very early to get the best lighting and avoid the crowds.
Directions to Dry Falls: Dry Falls is located on US 64 near Highlands, NC. From Highlands, take US 64 West and watch for the sign.
Graveyard Fields Upper and Lower Falls
One of our favorite places on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Graveyard Fields and it also happens to be one of our favorite waterfalls in NC too. Located about 30 minutes from our house, Graveyard Fields is right on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 418. Graveyard Fields is a unique looking area with lots of water, waterfalls and nice hiking trails.
One of the main features of Graveyard Fields is it’s two waterfalls, commonly called Upper and Lower Falls. Yellowstone prong is a creek that flows through Graveyard fields and contains two waterfalls called: Upper Falls and Lower or Second Falls. Both are very pretty, but Second Falls is a little easier to get than Upper Falls.
Wading and swimming in the area is allowed in both falls and the pool just below Second Falls is a popular swimming spot during the summer. We’ve brought our kids there many times, and there are often many other families there as well. Just be careful, as many of the rocks in the area are slick.
We recently visited Mingo Falls for the first time on our 2013 Fall Photo Excursion and were surprised at how beautiful the falls really is. Nesstled back in some dense woods in Cherokee, NC, the 120 foot high falls is serene and peaceful.
To reach the falls, you have to climb 150-200 stairs, but the reward of seeing the falls is well worth it. Read about our trip to Mingo Falls which includes directions.
Skinny Dip Falls
Skinny Dip Falls is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 417 and is a popular and beautiful waterfall and “swimming hole”. The falls are just a short .5 mile hike from the Looking Glass Rock Overlook, and provides 3 different small falls and levels of wading pools. One pool is deep enough to jump into from a large rock that is nearby.
Skinny Dip Falls is off the “beaten path” at bit, which makes it not as popular as some of the other waterfalls in the area, although this has been changing some over the past few years as it’s grown more popular. Definitely recommend a visit!
Get full directions, more details and see more photos and video of Skinny Dip Falls on our Skinny Dip Falls page.
Tips for Waterfalls in NC:
- Wear shoes with good traction and deep tread. Hiking boots or water shoes are ideal. Areas around Waterfalls are often wet and slick.
- Bring a small first aid kit with you. This is the one we use..
- Be smart! Water and rocks make for slick surfaces, especially when moss is involved. Avoid going to the edge and watch for strong currents below the falls. Remember, at the majority of the falls, you’re very remote and not close to emergency medical assistance.
- Don’t assume you can swim. Some falls allow swimming and wading below the falls, while others do not. Make sure you understand the rules to avoid a fine.
- Do a little location research before you visit. Many of the waterfalls require a bit of hiking, and know the trails and their locations really help.
- Don’t forget your camera! We also recommend keep your camera in your pack until you are ready to take a picture. Nothing is worse than slipping and falling and breaking your camera.
- Speaking of a pack. For falls that are more than a short distance, bring a light weight lightweight Day Backpack with some water and snacks.
- As a photographer, this one is important – Be considerate! Nothing worse than getting in the prime spot for a great photo and having someone walk in front of you. If you are a photographer, practice the before 10am rule. Meaning you should be there before 10:00am if you want to get photos of the falls without people in them.
- If you plan to swim or wade, bring some water shoes. They really help protect your feet and keep you from slipping on the rocks under the water.
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