Mingo Falls Cherokee NC

We visited Mingo Falls on October  15th, 2013 as part of our 2013 Fall Photo Excursion.   We had been to Cherokee NC many times, but had never taken the time to visit Mingo Falls.  To be really honest, we were surprised at how beautiful the falls and surrounding area were, and would definitely recommend taking a some extra time to visit the falls if you’re in the Cherokee NC area.

Mingo Falls
Wide view of the top of Mingo Falls surrounded by fall color

Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls is located in Big Cove Community of the Cherokee Indian Reservation (Qualla Boundary) in North Carolina.  Big Cove is just north of Cherokee, NC.

Mingo means “Big Bear” in the Cherokee language.  Mingo falls is a beautiful and one of the tallest waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains at 120 feet tall.

Mingo Falls Tall
This tall view of the falls gives you some perspective on how tall Mingo Falls really is. This photo was taken from the bridge.

The trail head to Mingo falls is located right off of Big Cove Road and the hike to the falls is very short.  The only difficulty is the 150-160 stairs that must be climbed to get to falls.  The stairs aren’t steep, and there is ample room to stop and take a breather without blocking other visitors coming up or down.  The stairs aren’t level though, which adds to the challenge a bit.  Jenn and I are in our early 40s and not in bad shape, but certainly not in great shape either.  We took a few short wind breaks on the way up.  We made it to the top without too much difficulty, but were a bit winded.

Mingo Falls Stairs
Mingo Falls Stairs leading down to the parking lot.

At the top is nice bench where you can catch your breath, and enjoy the view and sounds of the creek flowing from the base of the falls.  The entire area is heavily shaded, so nice and cool as well.  We would recommend making sure you have some water with you, as you will break a sweat on the way up.

We promise though, the falls are worth the climb.  So take your time, and make your way up, you’ll be glad you did.

Once you’re at the top of the stairs, the trail to the falls is short, but a bit rocky.   The trail leads to a set of wooden stairs that take you to a bridge that gives you a wonderful view of the base of the falls.  Be prepared, there will generally be lots of people here, especially in the summer.

If you’re a photographer, I would highly recommend arriving very early in the morning to get pictures.  This will keep you from having your tripod bumped and from having the motion of the bridge as people walk over it from blurring your time lapse waterfall photos.

If you are not a photographer, please step lightly as you come up the stairs and walk across the bridge to keep from messing up any photography that is going on.

Mingo Falls Logs HDR
HDR photo of the logs and rocks at the base of the falls, just before the bridge.

We stayed for about 15-20 minutes, taking lots of photos and just enjoying the wonderful sites and sounds of the falls.  Honestly, I could have stayed there all day, but we had other places we wanted to see and visit.

We headed back down the trail, taking a few photos of the creek before we arrived at the stairs.   Here’s the good news, going down the stairs is far more easy than going up!   At the base of the stairs is a nice little waterfall, where I spent a few minutes taking some photos.   Here’s one that I thought turned out really well.

Mingo Falls creek
Small water fall at the base of the stairs to Mingo Falls.

We’ve been to and photographed a number of waterfalls in the area, and Mingo falls is definitely on our list of the most beautiful.  If you love waterfalls, you’ll definitely want to put Mingo Falls on your list to visit and photograph!

Directions to Mingo Falls

From the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, drive south (toward Cherokee) on US-441 and take the second left onto Big Cove Road. At the first stop sign turn left and drive 4.5 miles to Mingo Falls Campground, where the trail begins.   You will see a small sign on your right at a bridge that says “Mingo Falls”.  Make sure you obey the slow speed limit as you pass by the school area too.


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