The rolling, mountainous terrain of western North Carolina near Asheville is simply gorgeous. Tree-covered mountain summits and grassy balds fill the horizon. And deep cut river valleys and gorges slice through the landscape, spilling and tumbling and diving in scores of majestic waterfalls.
When river meets towering rock, something seemingly magical happens, as water begins to tumble and spill into a pool below. Waterfalls are simply beautiful. They’re strikingly photo-worthy. And those tumbling tendrils of water somehow stir remarkable emotion in the soul.
In Asheville’s mountainous and river-filled terrain, waterfalls are plentiful: there’s no shortage of great waterfall hikes to be found near the city. We’ve hiked many, exploring the area’s towering and thundering falls to the more gentle cascades set in stunningly beautiful forest. With so many amazing falls, it was tough to choose ten, but we’ve carefully hand-picked our favorites, all under a two hour drive from the metro Asheville area. Pack a picnic and hit the road: it’s time to chase some classically gorgeous North Carolina waterfalls.
Rainbow Falls is a stunner, tumbling down over a towering, 150-foot cliff in a single, dramatic drop. Hike theRainbow Falls Trail from Gorges State Park near Cashiers, NC to a series of spilling falls on the Horsepasture River and abundant summertime wildflowers.
Three incredibly beautiful waterfalls, in less than five miles: it’s a falls-filled adventure. Hike a three-trail combo at DuPont State Forest near Brevard tothree of western North Carolina’s most beautiful and popular waterfalls.
The Linville River makes a dramatic entrance into Linville Gorge, spilling down through a steep-walled rocky wonderland in a multi-tiered waterfall. Hike theLinville Falls Trail to three overlooks of the falls, or the nearbyPlunge Basin Trail to an up-close view of the waterfall on the gorge floor.
Drop from the shores of Lake Glenville through a lush, green forest into a steep-walled gorge on theHigh Falls Trail, catching views of High Falls as it tumbles in a double-tiered waterfall.
Graveyard Fields, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, is a land of rolling meadows filled with wildflowers, wild blueberries and blackberries, and stunning waterfalls. Hike a relatively easy 3-miler on theGraveyard Fields Trail to the upper and lower waterfalls, and trek through some incredibly beautiful terrain.
Hike toSkinny Dip Falls, a multi-tiered waterfall that cascades into deep pools of crystal clear, chilly water. Framed in steep, angled rock and rhododendron, the falls are gorgeous, and it’s one of the most popular summertime swimming holes near Asheville.
At barely a quarter mile, roundtrip, it’s more of a roadside attraction than our typical definition of a hike. But it’s really, incredibly beautiful. TheDry Falls Trail wraps behind the 65′ waterfall, offering a unique behind-the-falls waterfall view.
Between Brevard, NC and the Blue Ridge Parkway,Moore Cove Falls tumbles dramatically in a single sheet from a tall rock outcrop in a beautifully forested cove. It’s a great, family-friendly hike nearLooking Glass Falls.
At just over a half mile, roundtrip, this hike packs a ton of scenic beauty into a short stretch of trail. Hike to two overlooks on theWhitewater Falls Trail to catch views of upper Whitewater Falls as it tumbles and cascades more than 400 feet, the highest waterfall in North Carolina.
One of ourfavorite waterfall hikes near Asheville, the Catawba Falls Trail crosses several shallow river fords and treks through a waterfall-filled, shady valley to a century-old hydroelectric dam and several exceptionally beautiful waterfalls.
Love taking waterfall photos, but struggle to get that great, wispy whitewater look? You’ll need to increase your camera’s exposure time, so your camera doesn’t freeze the action and suspend the waterfall’s water droplets in mid-air.
Mount your DSLR, mirrorless camera or point-and-shoot camera with exposure controls on a sturdy, lightweight tripod. Hike to a waterfall. Frame the waterfall in your viewfinder, switch to aperture priority mode, and then set a small aperture (f/16, f/22 or smaller) and a low ISO (100). This will help force your camera into a longer exposure, slowing waterfall to a blur, and the tripod will keep the other landscape details crisp.
For the best results, don’t shoot mid-day, or on sunny days. Shooting on cloudy days, at dawn or dusk, or adding a polarizing filter or neutral density filter to your lens will reduce the amount of available light, slowing the shutter speed and increasing the wispy-water effect.
**Waterfall hiking: safety
Hike safely: since the rocks surrounding a waterfall are often wet, they’re usually slippery too, so don’t climb, swim or hike on, around or over a waterfall. Falls can be fatal. And the best time to hike is usually not after a recent rain: a high-volume waterfall can be dangerous (and when raging, usually loses some of its magical, photo-worthy beauty).
Please help preserve North Carolina’s exceptional outdoor beauty. Pack out everything you pack in, and leave no trace. And don’t drink the water, as cool and refreshing as it may look: rivers and streams may may contain harmful bacteria and parasites. Some water sources may be safely filtered.
Written by Eric Champlin for Asheville Trails and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image provided by Asheville Trails