The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is often called “America’s Most Beautiful Drive” – a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. The curving two-lane road across the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains offers stunning vistas, opportunities to relax at scenic overlooks, and miles of trails to hike. But one aspect of the Parkway I enjoy the most are the waterfalls.
There is just something about standing at the base of a churning waterfall, the thunderous roar of water crashing on rocks, the gentle mist spraying your face that makes you want to stay there forever. Hiking to waterfalls is one of my favorite outdoor activities. While some of the Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls require a bit of a hike, others are quite easy to view with a leisure walk through the woods.
This list includes the one dozen waterfalls accessible from the Parkway itself and only those waterfalls. Eventually, I may write about the dozens – perhaps as many as a hundred – waterfalls you can easily access from the Parkway, but that will be a story for another day.
White Rock Falls
White Rock Falls is a small cascading waterfall near the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. An adventure to this waterfall can be an easy hike or a half-day adventure.
The quickest route to the waterfall is to park at the Slacks Overlook at Milepost 20 and hike the 1.8-mile out-and-back trail. However, the trail includes about a 600-foot elevation change that makes it moderately strenuous.
For the more adventurous route, park at the White Rock Falls Parking Area at Milepost 18.5. The White Rock Falls Trail is a 4.7-mile loop that connects the parking area, waterfall, and Slacks Overlook. The trail includes more than a 1,000-foot elevation change, so be prepared for a workout.
At first glance, Yankee Horse Ridge at Milepost 34.4 appears to be nothing more than a roadside exhibit about the logging industry. An interpretive sign explains the logging that once took place on the mountains, and a short walk features a recreated section of railroad track in the forest.
Wigwam Falls is hidden at the end of a 0.2-mile worn primitive path. It’s easy to miss the trail because it’s not exactly marked at all. The recreated railroad tracks cross a small wooden trestle over a creek – just follow the creek upstream to find the waterfall.
Apple Orchard Falls
Apple Orchard Falls is the most stunning waterfall experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia – and one of the best on the entire Parkway.
Park at the Sunset Fields Overlook at Milepost 78.4 and get ready for a hike. The 2.5-mile out-and-back trail begins with a steady descent – but remember the old saying about hiking on trails: what goes down must eventually go back up again. The trail includes a nearly 1,000-foot descent to the base of the waterfall.
The trail approaches the top of the waterfall and turns sharply to give you the first view – you’ll probably hear it before you see it. A wooden footbridge crosses at the base of the falls and gives you an outstanding opportunity to stand directly in front of the thundering waterfall.
The Fallingwater Cascades Parking Area at Milepost 83.1 will sneak up on you – it’s located in a sharp bend in the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s an unassuming parking area surrounded by towering trees, but you’ll see the small sign pointing toward the waterfall.
The 1.4-mile trail loops through the woods to the cascading waterfall. Nearly 100’ tall, the water bounces from one jagged rock to another, creating a cacophony of sound in the otherwise silent forest. The trail has about a 400-foot change in elevation and is usually well maintained, making it an easy day hike while exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway.
E.B. Jeffress Park at Milepost 271.9 is a pleasant place to visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A small parking area with a few picnic tables beneath the shade of giant trees, it’s a wonderful place to take a break from driving. But did you know there is a nearby waterfall to enjoy?
A 1-mile loop trail leads to the Cascades Waterfall and a pair of overlooks. The first is directly beside the churning waterfall – so close that the overlook is frequently sopping wet. A bit further down a set of stairs is the second overlook with a bigger view of the entire waterfall.
Dugger’s Creek Falls
Dugger’s Creek Falls is the most-overlooked waterfall on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway – but that’s because it competes for attention with the most-visited waterfall on the Parkway. The small waterfall is located near the parking lot at the Linville Falls Visitor Center.
From the far end of the parking lot opposite the visitor center, a primitive trail disappeared into a thicket of rhododendron bushes. It’s only about a five-minute leisure walk to a wooden bridge crossing a tiny ravine about six feet deep – just below Dugger’s Creek Falls.
You can view the waterfall from the footbridge, but the best view is to follow the path beneath the bridge and into the tiny ravine.
When people park at the Linville Falls Visitor Center at Milepost 316.4, they want to see the titular waterfall. Crashing through several tiers into a wide gorge, Linville Falls is a spectacular sight year-round. But did you know there are five different ways to view the waterfall?
The 1.6-mile out-and-back Linville Falls Trail features three distinct overlooks for viewing the waterfall. Upper Falls Overlook offers a view of a small four-foot-tall waterfall above the central falls – although you can see the top of Linville Falls crashing below. Chimney View Overlook offers the best view of Linville Falls. Finally, Erwin’s View – the furthest from the waterfall – offers a fantastic view of the entire gorge and nearby mountains.
On the other side of the gorge, the 1.4-mile Plunge Basin Trail features two more ways to view Linville Falls. The Plunge Basin Overlook offers a view above the waterfall while the trail continues into the gorge below – and leads you directly to the base of the waterfall!
Crabtree Falls is second only to Linville Falls for the most beautiful waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But unlike the relatively easy hike to view Linville Falls, this waterfall will make you work for every step.
The hike begins at the Crabtree Falls Campground at Milepost 339.5. There are two different ways to hike to the waterfall on the same trail. The easy route is a 1.7-mile out-and-back hike on the loop trail to the waterfall. Although easier, it still includes a big elevation change that makes it moderately strenuous.
The 2.5-mile hike on the entire loop trail includes an even greater change in elevation. It’s a more rewarding hike with more scenery to enjoy along the way, but it’s a borderline strenuous trail that can take a few hours to complete.
When you pull off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Glassmine Falls Overlook at Milepost 361.2, you might start wondering where the waterfall is located. Beyond the overlook, on the other side of a wide ravine created by the North Fork of the Swannanoa River, Glassmine Falls tumbles nearly 800 feet.
It’s the only Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall that is not even remotely accessible for closer viewing. It’s also the only Parkway waterfall that almost requires binoculars to view. Although the entire length of the waterfall is nearly 800 feet, only about 200 feet is visible through the thick foliage of leaves on the other side of the ravine.
Skinny Dip Falls
No, Skinny Dip Falls is not a haven for swimmers without bathing suits. Sorry if that ruins the expectations, but this is a family waterfall!
The Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Milepost 417 offers a view of the stunning Looking Glass Rock, a geological formation with sheer rock walls frequented by area climbers. But if you notice the parking lot full of cars – some even parked along the Parkway – without people nearby, it’s because they’re at the waterfall.
The 0.9-mile out-and-back hike begins on the other side of the Parkway. You’ll hike a short section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail – a 1,200-mile scenic trail across North Carolina. It’s the only maintained portion of the trail that is otherwise nothing more than a well-worn path from thousands of visitors a year.
Skinny Dip Falls is a series of cascading waterfalls that pour into a shallow pool at the bottom. The crystal-clear mountain water is often cold – so I don’t know why anyone would go skinny dipping – but refreshing on a hot summer day.
Graveyard Fields at Milepost 418.8 features two waterfalls – one at either end of the geologically intriguing landscape. In 1925, a wildfire swept across the ridge and destroyed most of the area. Years later, high winds toppled the charred remains of the trees – leaving only stumps that resembled tombstones.
The 1.1-mile Graveyard Fields Trail loops through the area. After starting the hike at the restrooms, you will descend into a rhododendron corridor and cross a wooden footbridge across the Yellowstone Prong. Continue to the right, and soon you’ll see Second Falls.
You’ll get a nice view of the waterfall from the trail, but the best view requires a bit of a strenuous climb down the rocks to the riverbed. The large boulders are frequently claimed by day visitors reading books or taking naps. My favorite thing to do is hang a hammock from nearby trees and sleep the day away.
Upper Falls is located at the opposite end of Graveyard Fields from Second Falls. The 1.1-mile hike on the loop trail is easy – parts of the trail are a wooden boardwalk, and the only elevation change is near the end. However, the entire hike is out in the open without any tree coverage, which can be problematic on sunny summer days.
Upper Falls is not as spectacular as its sister waterfall, but it’s still worth the hike to see it. The cascading waterfall is a splendor to visit in the spring months when water flow is the highest or comes after a few days of heavy rain in the summer.