The rolling, mountainous terrain 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.
In Asheville’s mountainous and river-filled terrain, these tumbling marvels 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. (Short on time, or looking for a great kid-friendly hike? Check out our favorite Asheville waterfall hikes under two miles.)
Pack a picnic and hit the road: it’s time to chase some beautiful cascades.
Waterfalls near Asheville: our favorite hikes
3.9 MILES, ROUND TRIP
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 & MAPSSchoolhouse Falls
2.6 MILES, ROUND TRIP
Filled with sheer-walled mountain summits, deep-carved valleys and tumbling waterfalls, Panthertown Valley is often referred to as the ‘Yosemite of the East’. Hike this scenic adventure to Panthertown’s most popular falls, descending from Cold Mountain Gap into a valley filled with lush rhododendron. The hike visits Schoolhouse Falls, catching views from a shallow pebble-lined basin just below the falls.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSCatawba Falls
2.7 MILES, ROUND TRIP
Our favorite waterfall hike near Asheville crosses several shallow river fords and treks through a shady valley to a century-old hydroelectric dam and several exceptionally beautiful falls set in a mossy, rocky forest.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSBridal Veil Falls
4.6 MILES, ROUND TRIP
This outstanding hike at DuPont State Forest visits an enormous cascade deep within the park, scoring some serenity at one of DuPont’s lesser-visited (but ultra-beautiful) falls. Hike across a covered bridge over the towering High Falls, visit the banks of the glassy Lake Julia, and then view the unique drops, veils and tendrils of Bridal Veil Falls from a viewing platform and the blocky outcrops at the base of the falls.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSCrabtree Falls
2.7 MILES, ROUND TRIP
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.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSLinville Falls
2.2 MILES, ROUND TRIP
The Linville River makes a dramatic entrance into Linville Gorge, spilling down through a steep-walled rocky wonderland in a multi-tiered cascade. 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.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSDuPont State Forest Three Waterfalls Hike
4.5 MILES, ROUND TRIP
Hike to three incredibly beautiful cascades in less than five miles on this ultra-scenic adventure. This three-trail combo at DuPont State Forest explores three of Western NC’s most beautiful and popular cascades: Triple Falls, High Falls, and Hooker Falls.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSSkinny Dip Falls
.9 MILE, ROUND TRIP
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.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSGraveyard Fields
3.3 MILES, ROUND TRIP
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 cascades. Hike a relatively easy three-miler to the upper and lower Graveyard Fields falls, and trek through some incredibly beautiful terrain.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSMoore Cove Falls
1.2 MILES, ROUND TRIP
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.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSDry Falls
.25 MILE, ROUND TRIP
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 enormous 65-foot plunging cascade, offering a unique behind-the-falls view.
VIEW TRAIL INFO & MAPSWhitewater Falls
.6 MILE, ROUND TRIP
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 & MAPSHiking gear list: our favorite, trail-tested gear
WHAT TO PACK?
Ready to hit the trail, but wondering what to pack? Our hiking gear list features our favorite, trail-tested hiking gear for day hikes on local trails and in the backcountry. We print and stitch our Asheville Trails shirts and hats locally in Asheville and Atlanta, and they’re our favorite for trail adventures all over the South. And no matter what you pack in, pack it all back out. Please leave no trace and help preserve the beauty of Western NC.
OUR HIKING GEAR LISTWaterfall photography
Love taking photos of your favorite falls, 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 water droplets in mid-air.
Mount your DSLR, mirrorless camera or point-and-shoot camera with exposure controls on a sturdy, lightweight tripod. Frame the falls 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 the 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 falls, check out this great guide.
Waterfall hiking: safety
Hike safely: since the rocks surrounding a cascade 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 river can be dangerous (and when raging, often loses some of its magical, photo-worthy beauty). 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.
And don’t drink the water, as fresh and refreshing as it may look: rivers and streams may contain harmful bacteria and parasites.
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.