Hike a short, kid-friendly, quarter-mile trail to Dry Falls, a gorgeous walk-behind waterfall on the Cullasaja River near Highlands. It’s one of North Carolina’s most beautiful and easy-access waterfalls.
LOCATION:near Highlands, NC in the Nantahala National Forest
PACK:our Osprey day pack and our hiking gear list
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
It’s a waterfall hike that’s so short, it probably qualifies more as a short walk. But distance aside, this waterfall is exceptionally beautiful, all the same. Dry Falls is a towering, 65’ waterfall that plunges from an overhanging rock outcrop, creating beautiful white flowing water tendrils that dive into a rocky riverbed below.
There’s a viewing platform at the trailhead that’s wheelchair and stroller accessible, offering great views of the falls. There’s also a short, relatively easy paved trail that arcs down to the falls and dives behind the tumbling waterfall, exploring a small cave and catching some breezy mist from the falls. It’s a fun, kid-friendly hike – and on hot summer days, you’ll likely catch some cold spray to help tame the summertime heat.
The waterfall is one in a series of falls on the Cullasaja River in the Nantahala National Forest. It’s an easy-access waterfall located just off US Highway 64 between Franklin and Highlands, North Carolina. The drive to the waterfall is a scenic one, twisting and arcing through the Cullasaja Gorge. And while it’s not long, the hike is worthwhile, with a trek through a scenic, rocky forest, plentiful views of a spectacular waterfall, and the awesome experience of walking behind the falls.
Dry Falls near Highlands, NC: the hike
The adventure begins at a signed trailhead just off US 64 north of Highlands (view maps and driving directions). The paved trail descends stairs, dropping elevation towards the waterfall and trailing to the north. A tall, chiseled rock outcrop covered in vibrant green moss and gray, crusty lichen borders the right side of the trail.
The hike makes a sharp turn, veering south and following the Cullasaja River upstream. The enormous waterfall is suddenly in full view, as the river dives over an extended rock outcrop in multiple streams of wispy white. The trail arcs behind the falls, catching spray from the waterfall (and likely a few drops) – and a unique view from a shallow cave behind the waterfall.
The trail arcs to the river’s western bank, reaching the trail’s end. It’s a perfect place to take in the waterfall’s beauty or enjoy a quick snack, before doubling back to the trailhead.
The hike returns to the trailhead, making another walk behind the waterfall and a short but steady climb. The trail reaches the parking area at just under .25 miles, completing the quick – but definitely rewarding – hike.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
More top waterfall hikes near Highlands and Cashiers, NC
In the area, and up for some more waterfall chasing? Hike to the beautiful cascades at Upper Whitewater Falls, a multi-drop waterfall that tumbles more than 400 feet from a rocky, towering cliff. And don’t miss the ultra-popular 4-mile hike to Rainbow Falls, a stunning single-drop waterfall surrounded by rolling fields of wildflowers at Gorges State Park. And check out the full list of our favorite Highlands and Cashiers hiking trails for even more adventures.
And if you’re up for chasing some seriously epic cascades without a long hike, check out our favorite hikes to Asheville waterfalls under two miles. They’re all quite beginner-friendly and kid-friendly, and well worth the miles.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Dry Falls NC Trail Map, Directions & Details
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This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the National Forest Foundation. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!
$3 per vehicle at the trailhead, located on US Hwy 64 north of Highlands, NC.
35.068367, -83.238500 // N35 04.102 W83 14.310