Our Favorite 10 Waterfalls

by | Nantahala National Forest

Gazing upon a waterfall calms the mind and puts you at peace with the world. The roar of water as it cascades over the rocks releases power as it hits the creekbed below. The spray of cold water as it mists your face cools your body. These are the things that bring us happiness on a hot summer day. Western North Carolina has an abundance of waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest. Below are ten of Carolina Outfitters favorite waterfalls to visit.


Dry Falls

Dry Falls - a waterfall people walk under on a path. Cullasaja River in the Nantahala National Forest, NC

This is an easy waterfall to get to just off of Highway 64 near Highlands, North Carolina. Stairs go down to the waterfall where a trail leads you behind the falls. Since the path and rocks get wet, be mindful of slipperiness and use the handrails that are available. You may also get wet as you walk behind the waterfalls, but it’s a beautiful place to visit.


Glen Falls

Glen Falls waterfall with green trees on both sides, near Highlands, NC

Photo Credit: Highlands Chamber of Commerce 

Located in the Nantahala National Forest near Highlands, Glen Falls is a moderately challenging 2.4 mile in and out hike which takes about an hour and a half to finish. It’s highly popular with hikers and bird watchers. Going to the falls is downhill, so be prepared to walk uphill coming back. Several scenic views are an added bonus for this waterfall hike.


Secret Falls

Secret Falls, a waterfall in the mountains of NC

Near Highlands in the Nantahala National Forest lies a 50 foot waterfall. The trip is a moderate ½ mile hike one way.  Secret Falls is located on a remote unpaved road called Big Creek Road. The hike is fairly easy and mostly downhill. It’s a beautiful place to visit and well worth the trip. Once upon a time it might have been a secret waterfall, but now it has gained popularity and is no longer a secret. Secret Falls is also known as Big Shoals Falls.


Deep Creek Falls

Tom Branch Waterfall going into Deep Creek in bryson city nc

Deep Creek boasts three small waterfalls with easy hikes to get to:

Juney Whank Falls, Tom Branch Falls, and Indian Creek Falls.

There is a parking fee of $5 as part of Park it Forward in the Great Smoky Mountains. Juney Whank Falls is a slight uphill climb with steps down to the waterfalls. Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls are an easy hike on the main trail. Indian Creek Falls only has a slight incline near the end before you reach the falls. Deep Creek is a beautiful place to visit at any time of the year, and is very popular, so be prepared for other people hiking, biking, and horseback riding along the trails.


Cullasaja Falls
Cullasaja Falls with small waterfalls going into the Cullasaja River near Highlands.

This moderate short hike takes you to a pretty waterfall, with cascades below the falls. Cullasaja Falls is one of the most photographed in North Carolina. If you don’t wish to hike in, you can see the waterfalls from a pull-off on highway 64. The hike is difficult and steep, so we suggest that you view the falls from the road. Also, beware of the poison ivy if you decide to risk the hike down.


Mingo Falls

Tall Mingo Falls waterfall in Cherokee NC.

Photo Courtesy Bryson City NC – Swain County Chamber of Commerce / TDA

Mingo Falls lies just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Qualla Boundary on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. At about 120 feet, this is one of the tallest waterfalls in Western North Carolina. The hike is only about a quarter of a mile, but considered moderate in difficulty. You will climb 161 steep steps up to the falls, so be sure you’re in good enough shape to reach the top and enjoy this spectacular beauty of the Qualla Boundary. 

Nantahala Cascades

Nantahala Cascades and small waterfall on the Nantahala River in summer with green trees

Photo Courtesy Bryson City NC – Swain County Chamber of Commerce / TDA

You can see these waterfall cascades from your car as you drive up Wayah Road (the road where the commercial rafting put-in is located). There are places you can pull over and observe them, but there aren’t any true trails to get to them, so be cautious if you go down to the upper Nantahala River, because you’ll be climbing over boulders to get there. Ever so often, Duke Energy will release more water into the upper Nantahala section of the river. If you’re there at that time, it’s an extra treat to watch kayakers run the rapids. 


Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls sign on the Nantahala National Forest. Road goes under waterfall.

This is a drive by waterfall you can see from your vehicle. You can also pull over and walk behind the falls. The volume of water is low, making it safe to explore behind it. Some years there is more water than others, depending on the rainfall. Located just off of Highway 64 near Highlands, Bridal Veil Falls is an easy waterfall to get to and a delight to observe. So, if you don’t like to hike, Bridal Veil Falls is your best bet.


Soco Falls

Soco Falls in fall color in Cherokee NC

Photo Courtesy Bryson City NC – Swain County Chamber of Commerce / TDA

A beautiful double set of waterfalls, less than 10 miles from Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee, North Carolina and about 45 minutes from the Nantahala River, flows from the mountain top. Within a five minute walk from the road, you’ll reach a viewing platform. Another steeper trail leads to the bottom of the waterfalls where you can see other waterfalls. Use caution if you decide to proceed further than the platform.


Big Laurel Falls

Big Laurel Falls waterfall in autumn with leaves on the rocks.

Photo Courtesy Bryson City NC – Swain County Chamber of Commerce / TDA

This small but pretty waterfall is located in the Nantahala National Forest near Standing Indian Mountain. The hike is fairly easy on a forest service road. These are the headwaters of the Nantahala River where laurel bushes are in abundance, and it’s a beautiful scenic hike. This is a great hike for families and those staying at the Standing Indian Campground


Western North Carolina is host to several national parks and parkways, including Nantahala National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountains. Each are known for their beautiful scenery and is a wonderful place to get outdoors.  Hiking to one of our 10 favorite waterfalls is one of the best ways to enjoy our mountains. Or check out other hikes we favor in the area.

White water rafting with Carolina Outfitters  is a great way to cool off after an hour or two of hiking. Book Now for another great adventure with the rafting company who has the most fun on the Nantahala River!

Margaret Marr, is a local author of paranormal, mystery, and suspense laced with romance. She has written over 15 books available on Amazon. 


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