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10 Best Waterfalls in North Carolina

The best waterfalls are in the Western North Carolina mountains. With hundreds of miles of national and state forest, and crystal clear rivers running through them, North Carolina is a prime location for some of the most breath-taking waterfalls you will ever see. Known as the land of waterfalls, Transylvania County holds over 250 waterfalls in its borders. Whether you are going for a hike, a family fun day, or just to experience the calming effect of a rushing fall, there is a trail and waterfall for you. Here are 10 of the best waterfalls in North Carolina. 

1. Looking Glass Falls

Hike Distance: 0.25 miles round trip hike

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate 

Waterfall Height: 60 ft

A landmark of Looking Glass Creek in the Pisgah National Forest, this is a popular destination for travelers meandering down the Blue Ridge Parkway. The traditionally beautiful landmark is a great way to end a day trip through the Pisgah National Forest, particularly in the autumn as the mountains are painted with fall colors. Take the time to enjoy the greenery and forestry, as well as the animal life that may poke its head out. This is a great family hike because the falls are set in enough that there is a basin of water perfect for getting your feet wet and trailing through the river bed. 

2. Dry Falls

Hike Distance: 0.25 miles round trip hike

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Waterfall Height: 75 ft 

Just outside of Highlands & Cashiers, NC

Situated in the Nantahala National Forest, Dry Falls boasts a trail that allows visitors to walk under and behind the 75-foot waterfall. The powerful Cullasaja River glides through the forest, rushing over the edge of the cliff. An observation deck at the trailhead is available for anyone looking for a raised front view of the falls. 

3. Rainbow Falls

Hike Distance: 3.9 miles round trip hike 

Difficulty: Relatively Moderate

Waterfall Height: 150 ft 

Part of the Horsepasture River, Rainbow Falls is situated in the Nantahala National Forest and right outside of Gorges State Park. This roaring, 150-foot waterfall sits in a valley surrounded by an incredibly colorful landscape. See some of the wild plants common to North Carolina. The trail is a longer, more difficult trail as it traverses upriver for about two miles, but allows you to see not only Rainbow Falls, but TurtleBack, Drift, and Hidden Falls. 

4. High Falls

Hike Distance: 1.2 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Waterfall Height: 150 ft

The second of four waterfalls that guide Little River through the mountain terrain, High Falls is not to be missed. Located in Dupont State Forest, this 150-foot waterfall flows through thousands of rocks along the riverbed imbuing onlookers with a sense of calm. When weather permits, visitors can enjoy getting to see the falls up close as they skillfully make their way from rock to rock. At 150 feet, the expansive space is prime date locations for a couples picnic or hike.

5. Triple Falls

Hike Distance: 0.5 miles from Hooker falls parking lot

Difficulty: Easy

Waterfall Height: 120 ft 

The third waterfall along the Little River, this series of 3 consecutive cascading falls are the crown jewels of the breathtaking Dupont State Forest. Triple Falls, along with the other waterfalls in this state park, may seem familiar to you. It served as a set for popular films such as The Hunger Games. Triple falls is an easy half-mile hike and the view from the deck is enthralling. Because of the force of the current, visitors are unable to get close to this waterfall. 

6. Mingo Falls

Hike Distance: 0.25 miles hike

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Waterfall Height: 120 ft

Mingo Falls, or Big Bear Falls in the language of the Cherokee Tribe, is a steep 120-foot waterfall in Cherokee, NC. The short trail is comprised of a steep, 161 steps to a stellar view of the falls rolling down the mountainside. Just five miles from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this is one of the many waterfalls near Sylva, NC. It is also the perfect cool down for any long hike in the national park. Take time to explore Cherokee and learn the history of the people that have enjoyed the lands for generations. 

7. Cullasaja Falls

Hike Distance: Drive view only

Difficulty: Minimal parking 

Waterfall Height: 250 ft

As you may have guessed, the Cullasaja river feeds into the Cullasaja Falls. Cullasaja, or Honey Locust Place in Cherokee, stretches 23 miles, twisting and turning visibly before rushing down the impressive 250-foot waterfall. This waterfall greets travelers as they drive between Franklin and Highlands, NC. There is a small pull-off on the side of the road for 2 or 3 cars to pull over and enjoy the view. However, there are no posted signs so make sure to keep your eyes open and drive slow. Take time to mine for gems in Franklin or visit one of the Highlands many scenic locations. 

8. Moore Cove Falls

Hike Distance: 1.2 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Waterfall Height: 50 ft

Located in the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, this waterfall changes. The amount of rainfall will determine the force seen by a visitor on any given day, as with most waterfalls. What makes it unique is the single path free fall from 50 feet off the cliff. Water flows straight off the edge, not down the hillside. Visitors can enjoy exploring the lower cave at the base of the bluff along with watching the water crash into the rock surface right in front of them. The smaller size of the falls and shorter distance hike makes this a great choice for a family-friendly hike. 

9. Hickory Nut Falls

Hike Distance: 1.5 miles round trip

Difficulty: Moderate 

Waterfall Height: 404 ft

Hickory Nut is the highest waterfall in North Carolina, and one of the tallest east of the Mississippi River. This hike can be a great family adventure but know the hike is not conducive to strollers or wheelchairs. However, the trail itself is part of the fun, with resting areas along the way allowing you to take time and appreciate the surrounding forest. Filled with rare wildflowers and trees, the trail is a bird watcher’s paradise. One of the best ways to take advantage of this roaring waterfall is to use it as a backdrop during a picnic on the tables surrounding the falls. You may even recognize the falls from the final scene of The Last of the Mohicans.

10. Linville Falls

Hike Distance: 1.6 miles

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate/Moderate to Strenuous

Waterfall Height: 150 ft

Known as the Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians, the Linville Gorge is surrounded by mountain ranges. The Linville River is carved 2,000 feet into the valley below forming a cornucopia in the form of a gorge. The three-tiered falls cascade into the dark blue gorge below. The falls trail is an easy hike with a top view of the gorge,  while the basin gorge trail is a moderate hike down to the basin of the gorge. 

Swimming In the Falls 

There is more than one way to enjoy the numerous waterways in North Carolina. 

Kayaking, paddleboarding, tubing, rafting, and of course swimming. Below are two falls

that might as well be nature’s slip-n-slides. 

TurtleBack (Umbrella) Falls

Distance: 3.5 Mile round trip 

Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous

Height: 15 ft slide

Turtleback, or Umbrella Falls as it is sometimes known, is a rushing waterfall that

umbrellas out forming a sliding rock perfect for thrill-seekers. The rock face slides down

a 15-foot plunge into a 7-foot base perfect for swimming. While this is a fun sliding rock, 

the strong current, difficult hike, and deeper water make this fall better for older

teenagers or adults. The best part is the trail to Turtleback is that it is the same trail for Rainbow Falls. So you can enjoy both on your way!

Sliding Rock

Distance: No hike, designated parking area available

Height: 60 ft gradual slide

Slide 60 feet into a cool, 8-foot pool of water at the base of Sliding Rock Falls. Two observational decks sit perched above the falls so anyone that can’t enjoy the waters can see their friends and family slide down the rockface. The natural water feature is open seasonally depending on weather conditions. Lifeguards are on-site to maintain the safety of both participants and observers. Slide down by yourself or as a train all at once! The more gradual slope and lack of freefall, lifeguards, and easy access make it the perfect spot for a family water day. Be aware there is a $3 entry fee for observers and participants alike. 

Things to Know Before Visiting a Waterfall

  1. Weather. A large amount of rainfall or snow can raise the water levels of a river or erode a trail. It is always best to check the National Parks website for trail closures or restricted access to waterfalls.
  2. Watch Your Step. While the cool mist rising from the base of the falls and feeling the rush of the falls can be tempting, moving water and wet river rocks can be slippery, so be careful. Always pay attention to signs and guardrails for your safety. 
  3. Swimming. Some locations allow you to swim at the base of the falls. Check the National Parks website beforehand. 
  4. Pets. Most trails allow pets, but they must remain leashed at all times. 
  5. Respect the View. The falls and surrounding natural scenery are an awe-inspiring gift, that is preserved for the public benefit. Do not leave your trash or pull flowers or plants up.  
  6. Stay on the Trail. The trail is clear and not overgrown. It is best to stay on the trail to avoid poisonous plants, animals, or tripping hazards. 

With these tips in mind, plan the perfect trip to a few of the best waterfalls in North Carolina. While you are close, make sure to visit some of the unique mountain towns that call North Carolina home.