You can see the outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains from most streets in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. For an even better view, many visitors reserve a table at a rooftop restaurant or bar. The vistas are breathtaking, and the region has always held an allure for tourists. According to the National Park Service, “Tourism in the region took off in the mid-19th century and earlier, although it was certainly reserved for the wealthy.”
Speaking of wealth, George Vanderbilt visited Asheville with his mother in 1888 when he was 26 years old. He fell in love with the natural surroundings and, over time, purchased 125,000 acres of land. He set about building a 250-room French Renaissance château, completed in 1895, with breathtaking mountain vistas from the porches and terraces. George made his home a retreat for family and friends to escape city life and take in the fresh air.
In Asheville, you’d be surprised how close to nature you are. If you want to pack your hiking boots, you can be at a national park in 30 minutes by car. Once you arrive at the trailhead, it won’t take long until the forest surrounds you. You’ll hear the sounds of singing birds, gently flowing water, and the peace and tranquility once reserved for the elite now open to anyone. Here are five easy to moderate hikes close (driving distance) to Asheville, with the nearest listed first. If you’d like more challenging treks, they are out there. Consult the Asheville Hike Finder to filter by distance from downtown, trail length, and difficulty level.
1. Catawba Falls
Catawba Falls is 25 miles from downtown Asheville. The trailhead has bathrooms, a parking lot and is well marked. This 1.5-mile out-and-back trail is easy to moderate, and even though the U.S. Forest Service added two new footbridges, there are spots where I had to rock-hop to get over a small brook. Other than that, it’s well worth the trip. You can hear water almost the entire hike, which is lovely and the trail is completely shaded. We passed an old, abandoned dam blocked off now for safety reasons. The dam, constructed initially to create hydropower, is not used today and is not for climbing. I was stunned when we reached the beautiful falls. A series of cascading waterfalls rose over 100 feet tall and looked like something out of a fantasy movie. The recommendation is to enjoy the falls from the base. Some who’ve climbed up to the top have fallen due to loose rocks and were seriously injured. The views from below are fabulous. The trail is dog-friendly, and foragers find mushrooms here.
Pro Tip: A fall foliage trek here would be incredible.
2. Looking Glass Falls
Along U.S. Highway 276 in Pisgah National Forest in Brevard, there’s a waterfall you can view from a roadside observation deck. Looking Glass Falls, with a 60-foot drop, is one of the most beautiful in the mountains, and it’s only a 45-minute drive from Asheville. Looking Glass Falls is one of the most photographed in the South. There is parking along the side of the road where you can access the observation deck and stairs to the base if you want to get a closer look. In warmer weather, people wade into the water to cool off. The falls got their name from nearby Looking Glass Rock, where water freezes on its sides in the winter and glistens in the sun like a mirror. If you are interested in a moderate to challenging hike with amazing views, the Looking Glass Rock hike is for you. Even though this waterfall is more of a view and doesn’t include a walk, it’s worth a visit and a drive into Pisgah Forest that everyone should take. There are no bathroom facilities at this location.
3. Moore Cove Falls
Moore Cove Falls is an easy hike that is a perfect multi-generational or starter trek to visit a gorgeous waterfall in Pisgah National Forest in Brevard. The entire walk is 1.4 miles and takes about 20 minutes each way. The elevation gain is minimal. The trail might seem difficult at first, but it’s wide and downhill into a forest with lots of shade almost the entire way. There are flowers, ferns, wooden bridges, and many babbling water sounds as you make your way to Moore Cove Falls. The hike ends at a wooden boardwalk viewing area that showcases a 50-foot waterfall dropping dramatically over a rock ledge. This setting is a photographer’s dream. In many descriptions, there are suggestions that you can walk behind the waterfall, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It seemed slippery because of the recent rainfall. Park services advise never to climb to the top of the falls as a fatality occurred there from a fall. Please take my word for it; the falls are spectacular right from the viewing platform. There are no facilities at this location and parking is available on the side of the road.
Pro Tip: Rainy weather creates slippery conditions. Going off-trail near Moore Cove Falls is not a good idea. If visiting in the fall, leaves can also cause slippery conditions.
4. High Falls
High Falls, at 150-feet, is one of four waterfalls that you can visit in DuPont State Forest, about 40 miles from Asheville. I hiked to both High Falls and Triple Falls in one afternoon, but if you have the time, you can visit all four in one day or make multiple visits. When you pull into the High Falls Visitor Center parking lot at DuPont State Forest, there’s a map at the trailhead, a visitor center, and bathrooms. A detailed map outside the center explains the multiple hike options, and there are free maps to take with you.
If you want to hike to High Falls, listed as easy, it’s a 1.2-mile round trip. You take the High Falls Loop to the falls and then backtrack to the visitor center. The chart says to allow 1 hour, but the timing is up to the hiker. The trail is dog-friendly but your pet must be on a leash.
Pro Tip: There’s a spur trail with signage that says “Base of Falls” if you hike toward Triple Falls. The spur trail is about one-third of a mile and adds to the length of your hike. If the water is low, you can rock-hop along the river bank for a closer view of High Falls. I don’t recommend it if you have mobility issues.
5. Triple Falls
DuPont State Forest is about a 45-minute drive (40 miles) from Asheville. Once parked in the High Falls Visitor Center parking lot, follow the High Falls Loop to High Falls and Triple Falls. There’s a short walk down Triple Falls Trail to a viewing area. To get back to the visitor center, stay on the High Falls Loop. The hike is 2 miles and the guides list this as moderate. The time for this hike is more extended and requires 2 hours, but it’s worth it. This gorgeous waterfall is 120-feet high and has three distinct waterfalls. You can take the staircase down to the flat rock between the falls and stand in the middle of the rock formations. It’s perfect for photos and thrilling to experience the rushing water close up. It’s also a famous spot as it’s been the backdrop for blockbuster movies like The Hunger Games and The Last of The Mohicans.
DuPont State Recreational Forest is free and has 86 miles of trails on 10,000 acres. If you want an easy to moderate hike to three waterfalls in 1 day, the Hooker, Triple, and High Falls hike is a great 3-mile round trip trek that combines to form a terrific hike. While Hooker Falls is a small, 12-foot waterfall, it’s a pretty setting and a wonderful way to spend the day. Bring a picnic and make sure to leave no trace behind.
Bridal Veil Falls is a 120-foot waterfall and a 4-mile round trip hike from the High Falls parking lot if you only want to visit Bridal Veil Falls. The combination — Triple Falls, High Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls — is 7.5 miles and guides list this as a moderate trip. If you’re going to make it a more extended day, skip Hooker Falls and add Bridal Veil Falls instead. Allow 4 hours for this hike. Bridal Veil Falls doesn’t drop dramatically; it rushes over a large rock slab. This beauty was also a backdrop for The Hunger Games and is popular on weekends. There are a lot of fans that love to scout the scenes from the film.
Pro Tip: Triple Falls is a popular attraction on the weekends, so try to visit during the week to experience it with fewer crowds.
There are so many waterfalls dotting the Blue Ridge region; it’s a beautiful excuse to get outside and find them. Make sure to have the proper shoes, water, and dress in layers for comfort and sun protection.