Like it wet and wild? Head for waterfall country. North Carolina has between 1,000 and 1,500 waterfalls and perhaps 500 could be described as major falls, estimates Kevin Adams in his book, “North Carolina Waterfalls”.
With summer thunderstorms filling streams and rivers, July marks a prime time to blend mountain hiking with waterfall watching.
To get you going, here's a list of 10 waterfall walks in the Carolinas, most of which are within a three-hour drive of Charlotte. I've hiked all of them, including trips last month to Triple Falls, Raven Cliff Falls and Whitewater Falls. The idea is to hit the trail and work up a sweat.
Waterfalls are listed east-to-west:
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Stone Mountain Falls, Stone Mountain State Park.
Prepare to huff and puff to see this waterfall near Elkin. Start at the parking lot and climb the stone monolith on the 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail. You'll descend a series of wooden stairs beside the falls, a stunning 200-foot cascade down a 500-foot granite slope. Or start at the other end of the loop for a less strenuous hike. Information: www.ncparks.gov/Visit/main.php.
Harper Creek Falls, Pisgah National Forest.
Harper Creek Falls is north and west of Lenoir in the Pisgah National Forest. A bit hard to find but worth the hike and view. Get directions from “Wilson Creek Area Trail Map” published by the U.S. Forest Service. Harper Creek, a three-section slide about 40 feet high, plunges into a huge pool. Information: www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.
Linville Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway
One of North Carolina's most heavily visited waterfalls, Linville Falls Visitors Center lies about 1.5 miles from Milepost 316.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Park at the visitors center and then take the Erwins View Trail, a moderate, round-trip walk of 1.6 miles to four overlooks. A superlative 50-foot drop. Information: www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.
High Shoals Falls, South Mountains State Park
About 45 minutes north of Shelby, and the nearest major waterfall to Charlotte, Jacob Fork spills down High Shoals Falls in an 80-foot cascade.
Park in the main lot, start at the Hemlock Nature Trail and pick up the High Shoals Loop Trail. Follow the loop trail for a mile and ascend the stairs to the viewing platform at the top of the falls. Feel the cool mist on your skin. Information: www.ncparks.gov/Visit/main.php.
Hickory Nut Falls, Chimney Rock State Park
Though Chimney Rock Park began in 1902, it wasn't until 1963 that park operators built a vehicle road to the base of Hickory Nut Falls.
The moderate, 0.75-mile-long trail begins at a secondary parking area. Gaze at the top of the 404-foot-high falls where the climactic fight scene was filmed for the 1992 movie, “The Last of the Mohicans.” Admission charged. Information: www.chimneyrockpark.com.
Triple Falls, High Falls, DuPont State Forest
About 20 minutes west of Hendersonville, DuPont forest claims six waterfalls within its 10,400 acres. Cars aren't allowed, so walk, ride a mountain bike or a horse to the falls.
Park at the Hooker Falls access area and (after taking 5 minutes to walk to Hooker Falls, an 11-foot drop) cross Staton Road to pick up the Triple Falls Trail. Triple Falls is a 120-foot, three-tiered cascade. Be aware of steep trails and slick rocks. Last year, a Maryland man died from injuries he received after climbing rocks on Triple Falls.
Ten minutes beyond is 150-feet high High Falls. So long as you're in the forest, hike or ride to Grassy Creek Falls, Wintergreen Falls and Bridal Veil Falls (which also appeared in “The Last of the Mohicans”). Information: www.dupontstateforest.com.
Raven Cliff Falls, Caesars Head State Park
At 420 feet, this is South Carolina's highest waterfall. Go past the main parking lot for Caesars Head State Park on U.S. 276 1.1 miles to a secondary lot ($2 fee per car). A trail leads to an observation platform and picnic shelter.
The 2-mile hike has a moderate grade and is suitable for families. At the platform, you'll look out across a gorge at Raven Cliff Falls. The view is breathtaking but tree canopies obscure the bottom of the falls. Information: www.southcarolinaparks.com.
Rainbow Falls, Nantahala National Forest
I made a memorable trip to Rainbow in the early morning darkness of Jan. 28, 1986. It was 12 degrees below zero, perhaps North Carolina's coldest day of the decade. Half the waterfall was frozen. As the sun rose in the east-facing gorge, the ice took on a bluish cast and a rosy pink light spread down the falls.
A 125-foot sheer drop, Rainbow gets its name from the rainbows that form in the billowing mist in the mid-morning sun. Bonus: As you walk the 30-minute trail to Rainbow, you'll pass Turtleback Falls. A half mile beyond Rainbow is Stairway Falls. Access is through Gorges State Park parking lot. Information: www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc; www.ncparks.gov/Visit/main.php.
Granny Burrell Falls, Panthertown, Nantahala National Forest
Panthertown, a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by granite cliffs, is ringed with waterfalls. It's north of U.S. 64 between Sapphire and Cashiers.
A small waterfall with a 10-foot slide and a circular pool, Granny Burrell Falls makes a visit worthwhile because of its Japanese-garden-like serenity. Other major falls are Schoolhouse Falls, a drop of 18 feet, and Wardens Falls (Jim Burrell Falls), an 18-foot slide. Get a “Guide's Guide to Panthertown Valley,” by Burt Kornegay, to navigate the maze of trails. Information: www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.
Whitewater Falls, Nantahala National Forest
Among the highest waterfalls in the state, Whitewater cascades 411 feet into a deep gorge of the Whitewater River.
From U.S. 64 west of Brevard, take N.C. 281 south 9.3 miles. A parking lot, picnic area and quarter-mile paved walkway lead to an observation platform. Walk down 154 steps to a second platform for an even better view. Parking fee is $2 a car. Information: www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc.