user-avatarAlice
    SEP 2 2022    
Top 8 Best Waterfall Views in North Carolina

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The Tar Heel State is home to some of the most breathtaking waterfall views east of the Mississippi. Many of them are so accessible that you don’t even need to get out of the car. Others require some get-away-from-it-all hiking. 

With nearly 250 waterfalls, North Carolina is one of the best waterfall destinations in the US. Squeezing them all in on a single North Carolina vacation probably isn’t practical, so here are the falls we think should be at the top of your bucket list. 

Whitewater Falls - Nantahala National Forest, NC

This breathtaking cascade is the highest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. The Upper Falls, located southeast of Cashiers, NC, plunge a stunning 411 feet. The Lower Whitewater Falls, located just over the South Carolina border, drop another 400 feet before tumbling into the Cullasaja River.

The falls are incredibly accessible, with ample parking and easy access to a quarter-mile paved path that leads to a generous overlook and breathtaking views. Wooden steps will take you lower, so you can get an even better perspective. 

There is no camping near the falls, but the Nantahala National Forest’s Ammons Branch Campground features primitive pack-in/pack-out dispersed camping about a half-hour drive west of Whitewater Falls.  

Rainbow Falls - Gorges State Park

Transylvania County, NC is nicknamed “Land of the Waterfalls,” and for good reason. Due to an orographic lift (which occurs when air is forced from a low elevation to a higher elevation), the county has one of the highest average rainfalls in the entire United States. 

Rainbow Falls, located in Gorges State Park east of Sapphire, NC, is just one of Transylvania’s gorgeous waterfalls. It gets its name from the mist that sprays as the Horsepasture River splashes over a smooth rock face. The continuous spray refracts light on sunshiny days to create breathtaking rainbows. 

The hike to Rainbow Falls is a moderately rough three miles roundtrip. The trail will take you through Gorges State Park and into Pisgah National Forest. If you’re feeling up for a longer hike, you can continue on the trail to enjoy several smaller waterfalls, including Turtle Back Falls, as well as some wonderful scenic views. 

Staying near Rainbow Falls is tricky, since Raymond Fisher Campground, the only campground in Gorges State Park, is closed while another modern “front country” campground is being built. However, the Pisgah National Forest offers dispersed roadside camping on a first come, first served basis. 

Dry Falls - Nantahala National Forest

Also known as Upper Cullasaja Falls, Dry Falls features a path that takes you underneath the cascade for a spectacular behind-the-scenes view. The falls are located just off the Mountain Scenic Byway between Sapphire and Franklin, NC. 

It is only a short, kid-friendly hike to the 75-foot roadside waterfall. However, Dry Falls gets tons of visitors, so if you want to get away from the crowds, this isn’t the place to do it. 

The closest camping option is the Van Hook Glade Campground, located near Highlands, NC. Unlike Dry Falls, Van Hook Glade is tucked away and somewhat secluded from sightseeing traffic. It is also close to the Cliffside Lake Recreational Area, which offers ample fishing and swimming opportunities during warmer months. 

Lower Cascade Falls - Hanging Rock State Park

Most of North Carolina’s waterfalls are located in the western part of the state, nestled among breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, if you’re a flatlander and don’t have time for major travel plans, you can enjoy some gorgeous falls in the eastern Piedmont Region of the Tar Heel State. 

Hanging Rock State Park is only about a half-hour drive from Raleigh, NC, and is home to five wonderful waterfalls - Upper Cascades, Tory’s Falls, Hidden Falls, Window Falls, and Lower Cascade Falls.

It only takes a short hike to reach each of the park’s waterfalls. The trail to Lower Cascades is the most popular and is an easy 0.4-mile walk, although there are a good number of stairs to maneuver on the way there. 

Hanging Rock State Park has a large campground with 73 primitive campsites. The park also has 10 rustic cabins available for rent. 

Looking Glass Falls - Pisgah National Forest

Although this 60-foot waterfall is gorgeous year-round, it is particularly spectacular in the winter. Named for the mirror-like way the frozen water glistens in the winter sunlight, Looking Glass Falls is worth braving the frigid weather. However, if you’re in NC for a summer vacation, both the falls and Looking Glass Creek provide a welcome spot to cool off in the stifling Southern heat. 

Getting to Looking Glass Falls couldn’t be easier. Located right along the roadside in the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest, you barely need to get out of your vehicle to appreciate this beauty. 

Davidson River Campground is conveniently located just down the road from the falls. The primitive camping sites are mostly shaded, and some are located right on the water. The campground also has hot showers and flush toilets if you enjoy camping with a few modern conveniences. 

Skinny Dip Falls - Pisgah National Forest

If you are visiting the Grandfather District of Pisgah National Forest to visit Looking Glass Falls, you should also swing by Skinny Dip Falls before you leave the area. A cool, crystal clear mountain swimming hole surrounds this natural waterfall. The area is perfect for dipping, although you may want to bring a bathing suit since the area is well-visited, especially during the summer tourist season. 

The Mount Pisgah Campground is located right on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and is a perfect place to stay when visiting the falls and surrounding soaking pools. Some of the campground’s RV and tent sites can be booked in advance. Others are first come, first served. 

Not only does the campground make a perfect base camp for your waterfall adventures, but it also has spectacular panoramic views of the mountains. The sunrise views are particularly dazzling. 

Mingo Falls - Eastern Cherokee Reservation

Although the lovely Mingo Falls are located just outside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park on land owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, you don't need any special permits to enjoy the view. Tumbling down nearly 200 feet of rock, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Eastern Appalachia. 

The trail to Mingo Falls isn’t long, but it is challenging. The stone steps leading to the falls are steep and can be dangerously slippery after it rains. The best time to view Mingo Falls is just after sunrise before the crowds gather and the scene is still shrouded in misty fog. 

Public land camping is available in the nearby National Park. However, if you want to camp close to the falls, the Cherokee KOA offers tent and RV sites, as well as deluxe cabins for an extra comfortable stay.

Hickory Nut Falls - Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State Park is home to a prominent, 315-foot granite outcropping, which is the park’s most popular attraction. However, Hickory Nut Falls is well worth seeing while you are there. These stunning falls are the second highest east of the Mississippi River and were featured in the film, The Last of the Mohicans.

After a moderate hike, you can access a viewing platform at the bottom of the falls. The trail is 1.4 miles round trip and should take the average hiker less than an hour to complete. However, if you’re up for something more rugged and adventurous, the park’s Skyline Trail is a moderately strenuous climb that takes you through the backcountry to the top of the cascade. Although the view of Hickory Nut Falls is quite different from the top, watching Falls Creek disappear over the cliff is worth the extra effort to get there.

River Creek Campground allows you to stay close to both the iconic Chimney Rock and Hickory Nut Falls. The campground offers tent camping, pop-up and RV sites, and cabin rentals.

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