North Carolina is known for many things. The “Tar Heel State” houses college basketball’s greatest rivalry when Duke and North Carolina go head-to-head. Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully lifted off the ground here in the world’s first controllable, sustainable airplane. One of the original thirteen U.S. colonies offers Cape Hatteras — known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” — to the east and the rolling beauty of the Appalachian Mountains to the west.
Between gentle countryside at the Appalachian foothills on up to Mount Mitchell — the highest point east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet above sea level — there are hundreds of natural wonders luring new visitors year after year in search of adventure: North Carolina waterfalls.
North Carolina Waterfalls
Spanning Gorges State Park at the state’s southern border up to Great Smoky Mountains National Park along its north, the western region of North Carolina is sprawling with hiking trails that meet waterfalls at seemingly every turn. The millions of acres here offer hundreds upon hundreds of waterfalls to explore, so we did our best to corral 21 of the most popular for every bucket list traveler venturing to North Carolina.
1. Whitewater Falls
An hour’s drive outside downtown Asheville brings you to, arguably, the most scenic of all North Carolina waterfalls. This rugged and steep terrain leaves much of the surrounding Nantahala National Forest undeveloped, though several overlooks along the Foothills Trail offer breathtaking views of the upper falls and their 411-foot drop; the lower falls plunge another 400 feet, though they cross the border into South Carolina.
These awe-inspiring views of nature in its purest form are enough to take your breath away.
2. Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls begins a run of beautiful waterfalls scattered around DuPont State Recreational Forest, each offering its own atmosphere and scenery. This first in Highlands, North Carolina was once home to one of the coolest waterfall experiences; People could drive underneath Bridal Veil Falls as the mist came down on you.
Today, the road is rerouted around, but a nearby parking area lets you head over for a closer look.
3. High Falls
The High Falls Visitor Center parking lot is your starting point for a mile-plus, round-trip hike. Perfect for picnics, a closer look of these falls can be accessed when water levels are lower.
4. Triple Falls
A short 0.5-mile hike from the High Falls Loop and you’ll find one of North Carolina’s most unique experiences; A flat rock area between these falls gives hikers the chance to stand between the falls themselves! You’re not able to swim here given the fast-moving current, but you certainly won’t be returning to nearby Brevard anytime soon with an experience like this.
5. Hooker Falls
Though only a 12-foot waterfall, Hooker Falls is as scenic as any. It’s the fourth waterfall along Little River, and although the Forest Service doesn’t recommend swimming as the area is unsupervised, that can’t stop ambitious hikers from conquering the hiking trails before taking a dip in Cascade Lake.
6. Graveyard Fields
Considered one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s favorite waterfalls, you’ll need to prepare for the 3-plus-mile trail ahead before arriving at this knobby beauty deep in the North Carolina hills. This is one place you’ll be visiting time and again.
7. Skinny Dip Falls
No; Despite the name, this isn’t (supposed to be) a nudist gathering where clothes are optional. The nearby Looking Glass Rock Overlook draws tons of visitors during summer month, but this short hike brings you to this kid-friendly hollow — Keep an eye out for the “Dragon Tree” on your way!
8. Soco Falls
Head towards Maggie Valley before pulling off on the side of the road for this short hike. Awaiting you is a double waterfall, considered one of the most majestic you’ll find anywhere in the state.
9. Mingo Falls
On the Qualla Boundary of western North Carolina is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Although short, a moderately difficult hike here brings you to one of the southern Appalachian’s highest waterfalls, measuring around 120 feet in height.
Juneywhank Falls, Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls are all short treks from here and the nearby Deep Creek Trailhead in Bryson City.
10. Rainbow Falls
One of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ most scenic, Rainbow Falls gets its name from the mist-filled rainbow of colors emanating from its water on sunny days. A short hike up river and the Turtleback Falls swimming hole awaits you.
11. Linville Falls
Situated at mile-marker 316 of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the “Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians.” This three-tiered waterfall rolls into Linville Gorge and is home to one of the area’s more difficult hikes, The Gorge Trail, with a 1.4-mile round trip. Spectaular doesn’t do this one justice.
12. Crabtree Falls
Located between Linville Falls and Mount Mitchell, this 60-foot fall plunges down a nearly 90-degree rock face and is part of a 2.5 mile loop just south of Little Switzerland.
13. Shunkawauken Falls
One of the many drive-up falls found in North Carolina, this 150-foot fall runs near Columbus and will force any traveler to pull off for a long and relaxing stop.
14. Looking Glass Falls
Another easy hike offers beautiful scenery and an easy-flowing pool here at Looking Glass Falls, which you can even view from the nearby road if the short trek doesn’t make your to-do list.
15. Dry Falls
It’s one of the easiest to access among these North Carolina waterfalls, but Dry Falls is definitely one of the more beautiful. You can explore behind the falls as the Cullasaja River flows overhead, then spend the afternoon exploring the Nantahala National Forest. This waterfall is also accessible by wheelchair and stroller!
16. Bust Your Butt Falls
Thrill seekers, apply within.
Just 10 miles from nearby Franklin, Bust Your Butt Falls draw climbers and adventurers hoping to jump from the top of the falls. One of the more popular waterfalls (for obvious reasons) offers plenty of sitting room down below for your tanning and viewing pleasure.
17. Sliding Rock
Oh yes, THIS is on my must-do list.
Sliding Rock is staffed with lifeguards, and this 60-foot mountain water slide ends in an eight foot deep pool at the bottom. It’s open seven days a week, unless high water and severe weather forces a short shutdown. There is an admission fee of $4.00, making Sliding Rock 100 percent worth the price.
18. Hickory Nut Falls
Chimney Rock State Park lays claim to another 400-foot drop into the Rocky Broad River. Hickory Nut Falls isn’t just one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, it is also famous — This magnificent beast was featured in the iconic film “The Last of the Mohicans.”
19. Catawba Falls
Located along the southern slope of Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County, these multi-tiered falls are absolutely incredible and one hike you will not want to miss.
20. Moore Cove Falls
Moore Cove is known as one of the more unique waterfalls in the United States for one reason: A cave under the falls creates a private, picturesque view of the free-falling water above. If it weren’t illegal to set up camp and live in a national park, this would be my top choice.
21. Silver Run Falls
Our final falls among the hundreds in North Carolina flows just a few miles from Cashiers. This short hike is less than a 0.5 mile round trip, easily accessible, and offers a perfect swimming hole during the summer months. This place has it all, and honestly, I can’t imagine what else you’re waiting for at this point?
Have you visited any of North Carolina’s waterfalls? Share your story at our Wide Open Roads Facebook page!