Asheville waterfalls: top 10 hikes in western North Carolina
Hike to the most popular, most beautiful and most scenic waterfalls near Asheville: our top ten favorite trails in western NC.
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 a river meets towering rock, something seemingly magical happens, as water drops and spills 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.
REMINDER: Slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Do not climb, stand above, swim near, or jump from any waterfall. See more water safety tips.
Our favorite hikes to waterfalls in NC
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 gentle cascades set in a 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.
GORGES STATE PARK
Rainbow Falls is a stunner, tumbling down over a towering, 150-foot cliff in a single, dramatic drop. Hike this trail from Gorges State Park near Cashiers, NC to a series of spilling falls on the Horsepasture River and abundant summertime wildflowers.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY NORTH OF ASHEVILLE
Hike a moderate loop just off the Blue Ridge Parkway to the towering cascades of Crabtree Falls. The trail explores a lush forest filled with wildflowers, rhododendron and mountain laurel, loops to the Upper Crabtree Falls and trails beside a rocky creek.
DUPONT STATE FOREST
Three incredibly beautiful waterfalls, in less than five miles: it’s a falls-filled adventure. Hike this three-trail combo at DuPont State Forest near Brevard to three of Western North Carolina’s most beautiful and popular waterfalls.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY AT LINVILLE GORGE
The Linville River makes a dramatic entrance into Linville Gorge, spilling down through a steep-walled rocky wonderland in a multi-tiered waterfall. Hike the Linville Falls Trail to three overlooks of the falls, or the nearby Plunge Basin Trail to an up-close view of the waterfall on the gorge floor.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
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 two stunning waterfalls. Hike a relatively easy 3-miler to the upper and lower Graveyard Fields falls, and trek through some incredibly beautiful terrain.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Hike to Skinny 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.
NEAR HIGHLANDS & CASHIERS, NC
At barely a quarter mile, roundtrip, it’s more of a roadside attraction than our conventional definition of a hike. But it’s really, incredibly beautiful. The Dry Falls Trail wraps behind the 65′ waterfall, offering a unique behind-the-falls waterfall view.
PISGAH NATIONAL FOREST NEAR BREVARD, NC
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 near Looking Glass Falls.
NEAR HIGHLANDS & CASHIERS, NC
It’s not a long hike. But at just over a half mile, round trip, this hike packs a ton of scenic beauty into a short stretch of trail. Hike to two overlooks on the trail to catch views of Upper Whitewater Falls as it tumbles and cascades more than 400 feet. It’s the highest waterfall in North Carolina.
WHAT TO PACK?
Ready to hit the trail, but wondering what to pack? Our hiking gear list details our favorite, trail-tested hiking gear that we’ve used – and loved – over thousands of miles on the trails throughout the South. From backpacks to safety gear (and a few extras thrown in for fun), our gear list offers the essentials to help inspire your own packing list.
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). These camera settings 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.
For more info and tips on shooting waterfalls, check out this great waterfall photography guide.
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 visit is usually not after a recent rain: a high-volume waterfall can be dangerous (and when raging, often loses some of its magical, photo-worthy beauty).
And don’t drink the water, as fresh and refreshing as it may look: rivers and streams may contain harmful bacteria and parasites. Some water sources may be safely filtered: read more on backcountry water filtering and treatment.
Please help preserve North Carolina’s exceptional outdoor beauty. Pack out everything you pack in, and leave no trace.
Let’s hit the trail, Asheville! #ashevilletrails
Western North Carolina's beauty is simply stunning. From Asheville's urban biking and running trails to the curvy meanders of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and from the towering heights of Mount Mitchell to the shady, cool, waterfall-filled valleys of the Pisgah National Forest, there's a whole lot of outdoor beauty to be seen in Western NC.
Snap a selfie from a hike to your favorite mountain summit, a group shot of your favorite hiking buddies, or a morning sunrise from your trail run off the Blue Ridge Parkway... we'd love to see your adventures! Share your photos with us! Tag them #ashevilletrails on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We'll share our favorites, as well as our own favorite shots!