The hills of upstate South Carolina and the western mountains of North Carolina shamelessly flaunt their spectacular abundance of natural beauty. Along rural roadsides and hiking trails, visitors delight in encounters with captivating wildlife, stunning views, and many other facets of nature’s generosity in the Carolinas.
Among the treasures to be found in the Carolinas is a seemingly endless supply of stunning waterfalls varying in height, intensity, and ease of access. Below is a small sampling of the wonders awaiting those who venture into the fairytale world of waterfalls.
1. Looking Glass Falls
When the weather is warm, you can wade or swim underneath the falls, then enjoy a picnic. Winter offers opportunities to see glimmering natural ice formations. Driving from Brevard, turn left on US 276 and continue to the falls
Pro Tip: Early morning lets you take advantage of the limited parking and fewer visitors. However, photography may be problematic, as the sun comes up over the falls. For the best photos, afternoon lighting is best.
2. Moore Cove Falls
A 15-minute drive through Pisgah National Forest, north of Brevard, takes you to Moore Cove Falls. This stunning 50-foot waterfall is not only pretty to look at, but you can walk behind it for an entirely different perspective.
An easy 0.75-mile walk — on a fairly level, well-maintained trail with a few steep steps to negotiate — will bring you to the falls. This path is ideal for families with small children, or those who prefer a gentle stroll to a challenging hike. Parking is limited, so arrive early.
A prolonged dry spell can reduce the falls to more of a trickle. But it’s at its most spectacular following a good rainfall. If you visit the falls in winter, you might see a large cone of ice form at the base.
Pro Tip: Beyond the falls, the trail continues steeply upward along the ridge to a much smaller waterfall. The trail can be hazardous and slippery. Only tackle this short but steep trail if you’re a highly-experienced hiker.
3. Cathedral Falls
Cathedral Falls — also called Bird Rock Falls — is located on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, NC Highway 215. The property is owned by Living Waters Retreat, which welcomes visitors. When you see the signs reading “Private Property, Enter at Own Risk,” park your car. Take the quarter-mile trail leading to the North Fork of the French Broad River. The trail will present a couple of somewhat shaky wooden bridges, so step carefully.
Cathedral Falls’ towering cliffs amplify the roar of the cascading water, making this 15-foot waterfall sound enormous. While on the property, you can also visit French Broad Falls and Mill Shoals, also 15 feet tall, but somewhat less thunderous.
Pro Tip: Since you will be on private land, show respect by refraining from removing anything from the property, or leaving anything behind.
4. Bearwallow Falls
Gorges State Park is where you’ll find Bearwallow Valley Trail, which will lead you to Bearwallow Falls. In Sapphire, take Highway 281 South to the Grassy Ridge Access entrance of the park. The trail is accessible from the Bearwallow and White Pines Picnic areas, or from the visitor center connector trail.
To reach the falls, take the 0.4-mile, steep gravel trail down to the Upper Bearwallow Falls observation deck. The trail is considered strenuous, and after viewing the falls, you’ll have to hike up the way you came.
Pro Tip: If you’re up for a challenging all-day hike in Gorges State Park, the trail that brings you to Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls will make all your efforts worthwhile.
5. Bridal Veil Falls
Located along US Highway 64, 2.5 miles west of Highlands in the Cullasaja River Gorge, Bridal Veil Falls is a treat everyone — even those in wheelchairs — can enjoy. You can admire the falls from the parking area, or take a short walk along a smooth paved path for an up-close view.
The falls cascade down a rock face for approximately 60 feet of its 120-foot height. It’s safe to walk behind the falls, even for children and parents with strollers.
Pro Tip: Winter brings large glimmering icicles. Although a joy to watch and photograph, they can suddenly detach from the rocks and become dangerous projectiles. Keep your distance.
6. Glenn Falls
For an excellent half-day triple waterfall experience, Glenn Falls offers a pleasurable outing in the Nantahala National Forest.
This 2-mile round-trip trail leads downhill and is moderately difficult. Consider continuing down until you reach the waterfall at the third viewing station. This way, you can save the upper section as a reason to stop and rest on the way back up. The second and third falls are the prettiest of the three. You can choose to turn back at this point or continue to a smaller waterfall farther down the trail.
To reach Glenn Falls, take US Highway 64 in Highlands. Travel south on NC Highway 106, and look for the sign to Glenn Falls Scenic Area. Take the gravel road that dead ends into the parking lot.
Pro Tip: The return hike is all uphill and is fairly strenuous.
7. Whitewater Falls
The highest waterfall east of the Rockies lies in Nantahala National Forest off NC 281, a short distance from the North and South Carolina state line. Whitewater Falls plunges 411 feet to the rocks below in a dramatic display of thundering force.
A quarter-mile paved walkway is wheelchair-accessible and leads to the upper overlook of the falls. For a better view, you can descend the 154 wooden stairs to the lower viewing gallery.
8. King Creek Falls
For an ideal family outing, spend a few leisurely hours at King Creek Falls in Sumpter National Forest — an easy-to-moderate 0.6-mile hike ending at a picturesque 70-foot waterfall. Bring a picnic, sit on a log sunning yourself, or cool your feet in the water pool.
To get to King Creek Falls, drive north for 10 miles on Highway 107, then turn left on FS 708. Drive 2.3 miles and turn left into the Burrell’s Ford parking area. Parking is free.
9. Wildcat Branch Falls
The Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway, SC 11, holds many pleasant surprises. One such gem is Wildcat Branch Falls. You can enjoy a decent eyeful from your car. But a small pullout along the road enables you to get out and explore all three waterfalls that await you in this wayside park.
When the weather is warm, take a swim, or cool your feet in the plunge pool. Spend a few minutes, or a couple of hours relaxing at this charming oasis.
10. Twin Falls
Pickens County is home to Twin Falls, a lot of natural eye candy for a little effort. An easy quarter-mile walk takes you to an overlook of the magnificent falls, making it possible for people with mild physical challenges to enjoy the view. More experienced hikers can choose to continue to the top of the trail for an even more spectacular view
From Greenville, at the intersection with Highway 11, drive north on US 178 for approximately 4 miles. Turn left on Cleo Chapman Road, travel 2 miles, and turn right at Eastatoe Community Road. In 1 mile, turn right onto Waterfalls Road, a narrow gravel road, and follow signs until the road ends at the parking area.
Pro Tip: Resist the temptation to go beyond the overlook and climb up on the rocks for a closer view. Those rocks tend to be extremely slippery. In truth, the view isn’t much better, and definitely isn’t worth the risk.
11. Falls Park On The Reedy
No list of must-see waterfalls is complete without mentioning Falls Park on the Reedy. Surrounded by 32 acres of fragrant gardens, lush green spaces, local art, and smooth walkways, this 32-foot waterfall is the jewel in the crown of Greenville’s delightful downtown area.
You’ll get your best view from the center of Liberty Bridge, a 345-foot-long marvel that curves around the falls. This one-of-a-kind bridge is supported by suspension cables on one side, creating an unobstructed view from above.
Pro Tip: April and October are the best months to chase waterfalls. Spring comes alive with nature’s rebirth. Fragrant blossoms and budding trees bring soft pastels and deep greens to the forests and parks. Fall brings cool breezes and fiery brilliance to the area. Both seasons offer a welcome break from summer’s heat and winter’s unpredictability. Also, you’ll find fewer crowds and bugs.
Experience the beauty of North and South Carolina: