How to stay safe around waterfalls
Fall is a great time to visit any of North Carolina’s hundreds of waterfalls.
In the North Carolina mountains, Transylvania County alone has 250 to see, earning the county southwest of Asheville the nickname “Land of the Waterfalls.”
We’ve made it easy by narrowing the list to 14 of our favorites from across the state. Have another North Carolina waterfall you love? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, if you visit any of them, never walk on top of the falls, as rocks are slippery and dangerous, park rangers warn. Many have viewing decks for a reason.
At least 40 people have died at waterfalls in the national forests of Western North Carolina since 1993, the U.S. Forest Service says. Thirteen have died since 1995 in falls from Whitewater Falls near Cashiers in the Nantahala National Forest. At 411 feet, it’s the highest waterfall in the Eastern United States.
One, however, is meant for kids and adults to glide down in their swimming trunks, and it tops our list of favorites.
VisitNC.com describes the 60-foot rock waterslide as Western North Carolina’s “most famous naturally occurring thrill ride.” Eleven thousand gallons of water pour down Sliding Rock every minute, along with thousands of visitors over the years.
Sliding Rock is in Pisgah National Forest, about 130 miles west of Charlotte via U.S. 74 West.
Hickory Nut Falls
At 404 feet tall, Hickory Nut Falls in Chimney Rock State Park is one of the highest east of the Mississippi River.
In late September, the park officially opened its new 1.1-mile Skyline trail, which ends where cascades tumble over the mountainside to form the falls.
The waterfall was featured prominently in the 1992 film “The Last of the Mohicans,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Scenes at the waterfall included the final confrontation between the characters Chingachgook and Magua.
The park is about 100 miles west of Charlotte via Interstate 85 South and U.S. 74 West.
Looking Glass Falls
The 75-foot waterfall south of Asheville is one of Western North Carolina’s most popular.
The name comes from Looking Glass Rock, where water freezes on its sides in winter and glistens like a mirror or looking glass. The waterfall is easily accessible along U.S. 276 near Brevard. It’s 142 miles west of Charlotte via I-85 South and I-26 West.
At 120 feet tall, this waterfall on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is one of the tallest and most spectacular in the southern Appalachians, park officials said.
No special permits are required for access to the reservation. While the hike to the waterfall is only 0.4 miles, it is considered moderately difficult. Besides taking video and photos, some visitors enjoy carving their names into the fallen trees at the base of the falls.
Mingo Falls is 172 miles west of Charlotte via U.S. 74 West.
Stone Mountain Falls
The waterfall in Stone Mountain State Park features a 200-foot drop.
The park is in Roaring Gap, about 92 miles north of Charlotte via Interstate 77 North and State Road 1924.
Stone Mountain State Park is also known for the massive granite dome that keeps watch on visitors who camp, hike, climb, fish, picnic and ride horseback.
Catawba Falls is a series of waterfalls on the headwaters of the Catawba River, in McDowell County south of I-40, near Old Fort.
The waterfall drops at least 60 feet to a large pool where trout swim.
Catawba Falls is 107 miles northwest of Charlotte via I-40.
High Shoals Falls
The Jacob Fork River plunges over 80 feet of rock into a blue-green pool and then through a boulder-filled gorge, according to the outdoors website. “If you plan to visit just one destination within the park, this should be it,” HikeWNC says.
The park is near Connelly Springs in Burke County, 63 miles northwest of Charlotte via N.C. 16 North and N.C. 27 West.
Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains thanks largely to how close it is to the Blue Ridge Parkway, according to VisitNC.com.
The three-tiered waterfall gushes into Linville Gorge, known as the “Grand Canyon of the southern Appalachians.”
Two main hiking trails lead to views of the falls, both beginning at the Linville Falls Visitor Center. The trails range from moderate to strenuous in difficulty.
The falls are 120 miles northwest of Charlotte via U.S. 321 North and I-40 West.
The waterfalls of DuPont State Recreational Forest
Four impressive waterfalls lie within the 10,400-acre DuPont State Recreational Forest in Henderson and Transylvania counties, between Hendersonville and Brevard.
The waterfalls appeared in “The Last of the Mohicans,” according to the website Movie-Locations.com. In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss Everdeen finds the disguised Peeta beside the forest’s Triple Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls is the first of the forest’s chain of waterfalls along Little River. It drops off an overhanging ledge, allowing visitors to walk beneath, as shown in “The Last of the Mohicans.” The water then flows down a long plane of granite and into a pool.
Little River drops off a 12-foot ledge at Hooker Falls, DuPont’s fourth and final waterfall, before flowing into Cascade Lake further downstream.
Cascade Lake has become a popular swimming hole for locals, although the Forest Service discourages swimming there and provides no supervision.
To reach the waterfalls from Asheville, take I-26 east toward the Asheville airport. Take the airport Exit 40 and drive south on N.C. 280 for about 16 miles. Turn left onto U.S. 64 east for about 4 miles. In Penrose, turn right onto Crab Creek Road for about 4 miles to DuPont Road. Turn right on DuPont Road and continue 3.1 miles.
The highest waterfall east of the Rockies, Whitewater Falls plunges 411 feet near Cashiers in Nantahala National Forest. South Carolina’s Lower Whitewater Falls drops another 400 feet.
For the best view, follow the paved walkway to the upper overlook. The walkway begins at the end of the parking lot and is wheelchair-accessible. A lower overlook lies at the bottom of 154 wood steps.
“More energetic hikers can continue down the half-mile spur trail that drops 600 feet in elevation to the Whitewater River and Foothills Trail,” VisitNC says.
Whitewater Falls is 155 miles southwest of Charlotte via I-85 South and S.C. 11 South.
Which waterfalls did we miss? Here’s one, and it’s “dry!”
Several readers requested we add Dry Falls in Nantahala National Forest to our list.
Less than a mile from Bridal Veil Falls, this waterfall drops 80 feet, 40 feet of which is free fall, according to Visit NC.
The waterfall is easy to reach – it’s right off Highway 64 between Highlands and Franklin –and has a “great, safe walkway, bathrooms and parking lot,” reader David Clary said. “It is called Dry Falls because you can walk under it and stay dry,” he said. “Very high water volume, and just up 64 is Bridal Veil Falls, which is small but you can drive your car under it.”
The waterfall is 167 miles west of Charlotte.
Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak