Cashiers and Highlands

Glen Falls Trail

Hike the Glen Falls Trail to three stunning waterfalls near Highlands, NC, exploring an ultra-scenic stretch of the Nantahala National Forest.

trail info

1.7 miles
(round trip)
moderate
Dog-
friendly

LOCATION:near Highlands, NC in the Nantahala National Forest (maps & directions)

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack w/ our favorite hiking gear list and Canon 6D Camera

WEAR: Our ultra-soft Asheville Trails shirts and our favorite outdoor apparel

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map

The trio of waterfalls at Glen Falls plunge through a rocky forest filled with tunnels of rhododendron and towering hardwoods. It’s one of the most popular hikes near the mountain town of Highlands, NC – and for a good reason, thanks to its abundant natural beauty and relatively short length. It’s a moderately challenging hike that ventures mostly downhill for the outbound stretch, and then uphill for the return, making it a great workout. And while this small slice of the Nantahala National Forest is scenic in every season, it’s especially beautiful in autumn, when the hardwood forest explodes in a stunning array of fall leaf color.

Hike to three stunning waterfalls on the Glen Falls Trail near Highlands, NC

At just under two miles, round trip, this packs a whole lot of natural beauty in a short stretch, visiting a trio of waterfalls, catching stunning mountain views from the top of the upper falls, and exploring a mossy, rooty, rocky forest. The waterfall views are simply unforgettable, and some of our favorite in Western North Carolina.

Glen Falls: the hike

The adventure begins at a gravel parking area and trailhead just southwest of Highlands (view maps and driving directions). The trail dives into a leafy forest filled with rhododendron, descending steadily and meandering to the southwest. The sound of falling water fills the forest as the trail approaches the upper falls on East Fork Overlook Creek. The hike veers to the right at .2 miles, following a side trail to an overlook above Upper Glen Falls. Views extend to the nearby mountains of Chinquapin Mountain and Little Scaly, and beyond to the rolling peaks on Hurrah Ridge.

Hike to beautiful views above Glen Falls, stretching into the scenic mountains of the Nantahala Forest in Western NC

Departing the overlook above the upper falls, the hike backtracks to the main trail, and then resumes its descent into the forest. The trail ducks beneath a canopy of gnarly-branched rhododendron as sunlight dapples to the forest floor between their leathery leaves. Vibrant green moss, pungent-scented galax, and fallen pine needles carpet the sides of the trail.

Top hikes near Highlands, NC: follow the Glen Falls Trail to three waterfalls and explore an exceptionally beautiful forest on this hike under two miles

The descends to the southeast, and then arcs to the northwest, carving through a wide switchback. The hike reaches a wood-railed observation platform at just under .5 mile, catching beautiful views of the upper falls. The creek plunges over a tall rock outcrop, falling in tendrils of whitewater to the waterfall’s rocky base.

Top waterfalls near Highlands, NC: hike to three beautiful waterfalls at Glen Falls

Departing the upper falls, the trail resumes its descent, hiking southeast and curving through another broad switchback. The trail veers to the northwest again at .6 miles, descending to a wood-railed rock outcrop with stunning views of the middle falls. Several large boulders punctuate the creek’s flow as it continues the cascade through the valley.

Leaving the middle falls behind, the hike continues the descent, venturing southbound. The hike reaches a fork, veering right to hike to the trail’s third, but smallest, waterfall. The trail reaches Lower Glen Falls at just under a mile as the forest opens into a broad, sandy clearing below the waterfall. It’s an excellent spot for a mid-hike water break, and the cool, shallow pools below the falls make for a great swimming spot for four-legged hiking buddies.

Hike the Glen Falls Trail near Highlands, NC to three stunning waterfalls in a beautiful forest

Departing the lower falls, the hike turns to retrace its outbound route in reverse, and the workout begins. It’s a 500-foot climb in elevation back to the trailhead, softened by the trail’s many switchbacks – and a great chance to admire the stunning forest surrounding the falls. The hike reaches the trailhead at 1.7 miles, completing the adventure.

More of our favorite hikes near Highlands

In the area with daylight and energy left to burn? The Nantahala National Forest is a simply stunning area to explore. Hike to the tumbling cascades of High Falls at Lake Glenville, dropping through a gorgous, rocky gorge to the base of a towering waterfall. Climb to soaring heights from the steep-sided cliffs at Whiteside Mountain. And don’t miss the ultra-popular walk-behind waterfall at Dry Falls – at under a quarter mile, it’s an extremely short walk, but the waterfall is one of the finest cascades in the area.

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Glen Falls Trail Map, Directions & Details

Glen Falls Trail Map
Glen Falls Trail Map
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.

Driving Directions


Parking

Free parking is available at the Glen Falls trailhead.

GPS Coordinates

35.033283, -83.235850     //     N35 01.997 W83 14.151

Elevation Profile

Glen Falls Trail elevation profile
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Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails, Asheville Trails, and Trailful, digital magazines that highlight the South’s best outdoor adventures and top Southern-worthy outdoor gear. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.
 
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