[Updated July 27, 2021] Spend any time in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina and you’ll quickly realize that waterfalls are a big thing here.
Waterfalls in NC can be as literally big– as in over 800 feet high– as they are numerous. You’ll find approximately 250 waterfalls just in the 381-square-mile Transylvania County, located just south of Asheville!
Of course, this is but one small county in the area. A proper western North Carolina waterfall tour might take visitors from the Transylvania waterfalls near Brevard north up the Blue Ridge Parkway to the beautiful waterfalls near Boone.
Long story short, waterfalls in NC are pretty much everywhere.
Suffice it to say that the job of narrowing the list down to just 20 of the best western North Carolina waterfalls for hiking was a tough one.
Our collection of falls offers an eclectic mix of trekking trails, swimming pools, deep plunges, and rock slides. So let’s dive in and explore some of the most incredible waterfall hikes in NC!
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Waterfalls Near Asheville, Brevard, & Hendersonville
The most famous western North Carolina waterfalls are those found in and around Brevard, the seat of Transylvania County.
Hooker Falls, High Falls & Triple Falls
If you’re looking for jaw-dropping sights in NC’s Blue Ridge region, these three amazing Brevard waterfalls are hard to beat.
All can be viewed during an easy to moderate 3-mile hike in Dupont State Recreational Forest, which is about 40 miles south from Asheville.
Hooker Falls is a wide waterfall that plunges into a small lake. Triple Falls offers a three-tiered drop of over 120 feet. But High Falls beats that with 150 feet of cascades.
Each has great observation options, including swimming at Hooker Falls. Just note that there are no lifeguards there, so be mindful of safety and use the buddy system.
Looking Glass Falls & Skinny Dip Falls
When you’re visiting one of the beautiful waterfalls near Asheville, another one is usually just around the corner.
That’s certainly the case at Looking Glass Falls, which is in Pisgah National Forest.
This bucolic setting, located just outside the Brevard city limits, boasts plenty of falls. But Looking Glass Falls is especially popular because of its drive-up viewing option.
Right across the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Looking Glass Falls Overlook you’ll find the trailhead for nearby Skinny Dip Falls, which might be a bit more exciting. Despite the name, skinny-dipping is discouraged here, but swimming is allowed.
Daniel Ridge Falls
A skyscraper of a waterfall, Daniel Ridge Falls tops 150 feet and is easily accessed via the Daniel Ridge Loop Trail.
The falls are located in the southern portion of Pisgah National Forest, near Brevard. Daniel Ridge Falls is a small collection of thin lines of water, plodding and plunking down a stunning rockface.
If the waterfalls are all that’s on your itinerary, they can be viewed via a 1-mile, in-and-back hike.
But if you have time it’s worth doing the entire 4-mile loop, which offer plenty of other natural beauty to behold.
French Broad Falls & Shoal Creek Falls
Though they’re located on private property, visitors are allowed to stop and behold dueling waterfalls at the Living Waters Ministry.
French Broad Falls is on the North Fork of the French Broad River. To its right is another waterfall fed by Shoal Creek, a.k.a. Shoal Creek Falls.
Also, just about a quarter-mile away via trail you’ll find a third notable NC waterfall: Bird Rock Falls. Three for the price of one trip is hard to beat!
Another amazing waterfall near Hendersonville, Asheville, and Brevard is Key Falls.
Measuring around 50 feet high, Key Falls forms when a small creek begins its journey down a stepped rockface en route to the French Broad River.
This waterfall is on the private property of Key Falls Inn, but the owners kindly give visitors access to it even if they’re not staying at the B&B.
Nevertheless, there is a good restaurant—The Pavillion—there if you want to take in a nice dinner.
The headwaters of the Catawba River leave a lasting impression as they tumble down mossy rocks, etching their way through the wildlands of western North Carolina.
Located just 25 miles east of Asheville, Catawba Falls is in Pisgah National Forest, on a shady hiking trail near Old Fort (just off of I-40).
While they all get listed under the name Catawba Falls, there are actually many different falls to enjoy along this top NC waterfall hiking trail.
Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway (Mile Marker 339), Crabtree Falls is about 40 miles northeast of Asheville.
Reaching the falls requires a bit of hiking, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
You’ll marvel at the view as waters from Crabtree Creek come cascading over the 60-foot rock face.
There’s also a bridge that goes across the creek below the falls, and a wonderful collection of rocks at the base to use for picnics or simply enjoying the view.
Waterfalls Near Murphy, Cherokee, & Cashiers
Further east, as North Carolina tapers towards Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge peaks climb higher and the water falls in lovely fashion.
Murphy, Cherokee, and Cashiers all have incredible cascades within an hour’s drive.
Famous for being the tallest waterfalls east of the Rockies, Whitewater Falls is so grand that it straddles two different states.
Upper Whitewater Falls is located in North Carolina, but the base of the falls—some 811 feet down—is in South Carolina.
Upper Whitewater Falls has a 400-foot plunge all its own. It can be accessed from the town of Sapphire, off US-64, not far from Gorges State Park.
Rainbow Falls & Turtleback Falls
Located in Gorges State Park, near NC’s southern border, Rainbow Falls is famed for the mist that creates daily rainbows in front of it.
The waterfall is accessed by a 3-mile in-and-out hike, which includes another noteworthy waterfall (Turtleback Falls) just beyond it.
Turtleback Falls has a nice swimming spot located right at its base.
There are even more waterfalls to be found upriver, but these two are the highlights.
Bridal Veil Falls
Offering over 120 feet of streaming waters, Bridal Veil Falls is in the Nantahala National Forest just outside of Highlands, NC.
Bridal Veil Falls is fairly famous because cars can pass right under it while driving along US-64.
The effect of the falling water creates the sort of white veil that give the falls its name.
This one is not to be confused with another famous North Carolina waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls, found in Dupont State Recreational Park.
Generally, people visit Bridal Veil Falls on their way to Dry Falls, another of the waterfalls near Highland, NC in the Nantahala National Forest.
It’s actually less than a mile away! Dry Falls stands a total of 80 feet, with about half of that in an all-out plunge.
Though this one isn’t drive-under, visitors can walk beneath the plunge and see the waterfall from the mountain’s vantage point.
Nestled in a valley with a mountain stream and rhododendron thickets, Schoolhouse Falls is another cascade in Nantahala National Forest.
In my opinion, it’s one of the best treasures in Panthertown Valley. It can be reached via the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead, just east of Cashiers, NC.
The beautiful waterfall has an equally attractive rock pool at its base. The hike to the falls is under three miles round-trip.
Silver Run Falls
For those who aren’t big fans of hiking to waterfalls, Silver Run Falls might be an optimal choice. It requires less than a quarter-mile of trekking round-trip.
One of the many waterfalls near Cashiers, NC, Silver Run Falls checks a lot off the list.
The water plunges about halfway down the falls before hitting a smooth rock face, then gliding into a refreshing rock-lined pool at its base.
It’s also very nice to see in the winter, when ice formations start to change its appearance dramatically.
Located between Maggie Valley and the Cherokee Reservation, Soco Falls is a double waterfall that merges at the base before cascading down some strewn boulders.
It’s just past the Blue Ridge Parkway (right off of US-19), heading south from Maggie Valley.
The trail is short, but steep and sometimes slippery.
Nevertheless, once you arrive you’ll see two falls facing one another, which is just as amazing as it sounds!
Waterfalls Near Banner Elk, Boone, & Blowing Rock
Moving north of Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway climbs in elevation and slices through the upper reaches of Pisgah National Forest.
This area features some fantastic waterfalls, both large and small, and one or more of them is never far away.
It’s along the Blue Ridge Parkway (Mile Marker 271.9), in E.B. Jeffress Park.
The Cascades can be accessed via an easy hiking trail of a little more than a mile, with a couple of viewing platforms from which to take in the impressive scenery.
The park is also a great place for an afternoon picnic.
Perhaps the most popular of the waterfalls near Blowing Rock and Boone, Hebron Falls is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway (Mile Marker 297) and can be visited via the Boone Fork Trail.
Note that the trail is highly trafficked, particularly on weekends, and requires about three miles of hiking.
But once you get there, the walk is well worth it: The falls has multiple drops as it bounces from boulder to boulder.
Boone Fork Falls
Reached via the Julian Price Park picnic area along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Boone Fork Falls is another great spot for those who like hiking to waterfalls.
It’s on a challenging 5-mile loop (the Boone Fork Trail), which also features a detour to the aforementioned Hebron Falls.
Like Hebron, Boone Fork Falls is formed when the Boone Fork Creek cascades over and around massive mountain boulders.
Elk River Falls
Outside the tiny town of Elk Park, near Banner Elk, is Elk River Falls.
One of my favorite features in Pisgah National Forest, this 50-foot plunging waterfall has a wonderful swimming hole at its base.
The drive is a bit of detour, but the hike to the trail takes less than five minutes.
There are also comfortable, large and level rocks great for picnicking or sunbathing.
Another on the list of fabulous waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls is truly a showstopper.
It offers several different viewing platforms, including a very cool one that juts right out into the water.
To get yourself oriented, Linville Falls Visitor Center is at parkway Mile Marker 317.8. You’ll find a first-class campground there, and plenty of good hiking trails nearby.
The Linville Falls Trail leads to the Upper Linville Falls, and Linville Gorge Trail leads to Lower Linville Falls.
Stone Mountain Falls
Although it’s a bit of a drive away from some of these falls (around 55 miles), Stone Mountain State Park is well worth the detour.
Stone Mountain Falls is a 200-foot high sliding waterfall that has a nice wading pool at its base and several viewing platforms along the way.
It’s located on the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, which also includes the Hutchinson Homestead, summiting Stone Mountain, and spectacular views.
As you’ll see in our full story below, Stone Mountain State Park also has lots of other nice waterfalls to check out!
In the end, listing all of the best waterfalls in NC in one story is simply an impossible endeavor.
There are so many worth visiting, both on and off the beaten track. And sometimes even a small cascade with a quiet pool really hits the spot.
That said, these 20 North Carolina waterfalls will never disappoint, providing all the right magic you for a great waterfall hiking adventure. –Jonathon Engels, lead image by Will Thomas via CC BY-SA 3.0