Waterfalls near Asheville: our top 10 favorite North Carolina waterfall hikes

Waterfalls near Asheville: our top 10 hikes in western NC

Hike to the most popular, most beautiful and most scenic waterfalls near Asheville on our top ten favorite trails in western NC.

The rolling, mountainous terrain of near Asheville, NC 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.

Waterfalls near Asheville: our top 10 favorite western North Carolina waterfall hikes

In Asheville’s mountainous and river-filled terrain, waterfalls are plentiful: there’s no shortage of great 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’s tough to choose just ten, but we’ve carefully hand-picked our favorites, all under a two-hour drive from the Asheville area. Pack a picnic and hit the road: it’s time to chase some beautiful waterfalls.

Waterfalls near Asheville: our favorite hikes

  • Hike the Rainbow Falls Trail at Gorges State Park to one of North Carolina's largest and most beautiful waterfalls

    Rainbow Falls Trail

    3.9 MILES

    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.
    VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPS

  • Hike the Crabtree Falls Trail, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville, to two gorgeous waterfalls set in a lush forest

    Crabtree Falls Trail

    2.7 MILES

    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.
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  • Hike DuPont State Forest to Triple Falls, Hooker Falls and High Falls, three of North Carolina's most beautiful and popular waterfalls

    DuPont State Forest Three Waterfalls Hike

    4.5 MILES

    Hike to three incredibly beautiful waterfalls, in less than five miles on this falls-filled adventure. Explore this three-trail combo at DuPont State Forest near Brevard to three of Western NC’s most beautiful and popular waterfalls.
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  • Hike to the Linville Falls waterfalls at Linville Gorge, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville

    Linville Falls Trail

    2.2 MILES

    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.
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  • Hike the High Falls Trail at Lake Glenville near Cashiers, NC to a stunning double-drop waterfall

    High Falls Trail at Lake Glenville

    1.4 MILES

    Drop from the shores of Lake Glenville through a lush, green forest into a steep-walled gorge, catching views of High Falls as it tumbles in a double-tiered waterfall.
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  • Hike to the Graveyard Fields waterfalls off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, NC

    Graveyard Fields Waterfalls Trail

    3.3 MILES

    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 three-miler to the upper and lower Graveyard Fields falls, and trek through some incredibly beautiful terrain.
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  • Hike the Skinny Dip Falls Trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway to this multi-tiered waterfall and popular summertime swimming hole south of Asheville, NC

    Skinny Dip Falls Trail

    .9 MILE

    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.
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  • Hike to Dry Falls, a towering walk-behind waterfall near Highlands, NC

    Dry Falls Trail

    .25 MILES

    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.
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  • Hike to Moore Cove Falls, a 50-foot waterfall that spills into a beautiful forested cove near Brevard, NC

    Moore Cove Falls Trail

    1.2 MILES

    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.
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  • Hike the Catawba Falls Trail near Old Fort, east of Asheville, to a waterfall-filled river valley

    Catawba Falls Trail

    2.7 MILES

    Our favorite waterfall hike near Asheville crosses several shallow river fords and treks through a waterfall-filled, shady valley to a century-old hydroelectric dam and several exceptionally beautiful waterfalls.
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  • Hike to Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, near Cashiers, NC

    Whitewater Falls Trail

    .6 MILE

    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, and simply stunning.
    VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPS

  • Hiking gear list: what to pack on day hikes, our favorite, trail-tested gear

    Hiking gear list: our favorite, trail-tested gear

    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.
    SEE OUR HIKING GEAR LIST

Waterfall photography

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.

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. And please help preserve North Carolina’s exceptional outdoor beauty. Pack out everything you pack in, and leave no trace.

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