Road Trip No. 14

Road Trip on the Scenic North Carolina Waterfall Byway

140 miles. 25 Waterfalls. This road trip explores the North Carolina Waterfall Byway. Are you ready to go for a drive?

Written by

Jason Barnette

on

January 31, 2020

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It’s difficult to pick a single favorite waterfall along the North Carolina Waterfall Byway. The thunderous Looking Glass Falls? Maybe Dry Falls with a trail behind the falls that keeps you anything but dry? Could it be the 411’ tall Upper Whitewater falls? Instead of trying to pick a favorite I decided to design a road trip on the scenic North Carolina Waterfall Byway to help you see them all.

The North Carolina Waterfall Byway is a 98-mile scenic byway along U.S. Highway 64 between Murphy and Rosman. The route stretches across the five western most counties in the state including Transylvania County, locally called the “Land of Waterfalls” because, well, you can figure out why when you get there.

Click to enlarge.

When sitting down to plan the itinerary for a road trip on the North Carolina Waterfall Byway I realized the official byway ends too soon in Rosman, leaving out many of the waterfalls of Transylvania County. The route of this 140-mile road trip begins in Murphy, passes through Brevard, and ends with a little loop through DuPont State Recreational Forest and into Pisgah National Forest, ending at the Sliding Rock Recreation Area.

The itinerary includes information on 25 waterfalls you’ll pass along the way, but there are many more to see if you are truly interested. The local visitor centers always have handy maps and directions to local waterfalls, especially once you reach Brevard.

Downtown Murphy was peaceful and pretty.

1. Murphy

As the seat of Cherokee County, the small town of Murphy is the western most incorporated town in North Carolina. The town is located in a gorgeous narrow valley at the intersection of U.S. Highways 64 & 74 about ninety minutes from Interstate 40 in Waynesville.

The Hiawassee River flows west from downtown Murphy, eventually creating Hiawassee Lake behind a Tennessee Valley Authority dam. Beyond that is the 1100-acre Appalachia Lake, another creation of the TVA. Both lakes offer pristine opportunities for kayaking and canoeing with very little shoreline development.

Begin your exploration of town at the Cherokee County Historical Museum to learn about local Native American and early frontier settler’s history. Take a walk along Unicoi Turnpike, the main street through town, past many locally owned restaurants and retail shops.

If you feel a bit hungry head over to ShoeBooties Café for an interesting take on Cajun and seafood or give Downtown Pizza a try with their all you can eat buffet. The Daily Grind & Wine is a great place to grab some coffee to go on your road trip.

Visit Cherokee County, NC 20 Tennessee Street, Murphy, NC | 828-557-0602 | https://visitcherokeecountync.com/

Did You Know

Just 30 miles west of Murphy along U.S. Highway 64/74 in Tennessee is the Ocoee Whitewater Center. The recreational center was built for the 1996 Summer Olympics, hosted in nearby Atlanta, for the slalom event. Today it is part of the Ocoee Scenic Byway, a 30-mile route stretching into Cleveland, Tennessee.

Drive to the top of Bell Mountain for breathtaking views.

Detour: Bell Mountain in Hiawassee, GA

The road to the summit of Bell Mountain was one of the most terrifying drives of my life, but it came with one of the most rewarding views. When the town of Hiawassee was granted the land after the death of the owner they immediately set to building a paved road to the top and a wooden observation deck. From the bald summit visitors can look down onto Chatuge Lake and the small town below.

READ MORE: The Stunning Views at Bell Mountain Park in Hiawassee, Georgia

It’s only a 25-mile detour to visit Bell Mountain Park. In Hayesville turn right onto SC Highway 69/GA Highway 515 and follow it to US Highway 76. Take the four-lane highway through town to Shake Rag Road to the summit of the mountain. On the return turn right onto GA Highway 75/SC Highway 175 to return to US Highway 64.

Shooting Creek Scenic Overlook

It doesn’t take long on U.S. Highway 64 to get into the countryside of North Carolina. Shortly after passing through the small unincorporated community of Shooting Creek the road begins a long and curvy climb up the mountains.

After a few of those curves you’ll see the Shooting Creek Scenic Overlook on the left. This little knob has a gorgeous view of the valley you just drove through and mountain peaks in the distance.

Rufus Morgan Falls

Rufus Morgan Falls is a hit-and-miss charming cascading waterfall. The trailhead is located on a Forest Service Road that is frequently closed so you might either need to skip this waterfall or add an additional four miles roundtrip to the hike.

Turn left onto Wayah Road and continue along the two-lane road about six miles to Forest Service Road 388. If the gate is open, continue along this bumpy gravel road about two miles to an unpaved parking area. The 1-mile loop trail has an almost 300’ total climb but is still an easy to hike.

Visit the Wayah Bald Lookout Tower during the early summer and you’re likely to find Appalachian Trail thru-hikers hanging out.

Detour: Wayah Bald

At this point you’re so close to Wayah Bald it would be a shame to miss one of the most breathtaking overlooks in Western North Carolina. At 5,342’ Wayah Bald is one of the highest peaks in the region with views as far as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Rabun Bald in Georgia.

There is a large parking area and a restroom with privy toilets near the summit of the mountain. Take the short, paved trail to the 53’ tall old stone fire tower at the summit. Climb the steps to the top for gorgeous views in all directions.

On the way back down be sure to stop at the Wilson Lick Ranger Station. Built in 1913 it was the first residence for a forest service ranger in the Nantahala National Forest. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds of the ranger station.

Inside Tip

Forest Service Road 69 leading to the summit of Wayah Bald is closed seasonally from January through March. Although it’s possible to hike the Appalachian Trial to the summit during those months, there is no safe place to leave your car at the bottom of the mountain.

Main Street in Downtown Franklin points toward the mountains.

2. Franklin

Also known as the “Gem Capital of the World”, Franklin’s gem mining history stretches back to the late 1800s when miners began searching for rubies and sapphires. For an authentic modern experience with gem mining head out to the Cowee Gift Shop and Mason Mountain Mine where you can sift for your very own treasures and keep what you find!

When you return to town stop at the Gem & Mineral Museum of Franklin to learn about the gem mining heritage and get a peek at various local minerals. The Macon County Historical Museum delves into the history of the Cherokee who lived in this area long before the first settlers appeared. The most interesting museum in town is the Scottish Tartans Museum, a unique museum displaying the history of Scottish settlers.

When it comes time for dinner take a stroll along Main Street and enjoy the stunning view of the mountains in the distance. Just around the corner Frogtown Market is a great place for a seafood meal while Rockin Rollie Pollie’s has a traditional American menu. After dinner head down the street to Lazy Hiker Brewing Company to try their craft beers named after great local hikes.

Looking for a perfect evening? Check out a performance at the Smoky Mountains Center for the Performing Arts or take the family next door to The Factory, a gargantuan indoor entertainment park with arcade games, go kart racing, and casual dining.

Discover Franklin 98 Hyatt Road, Franklin, NC | 828-524-2516 | https://www.discoverfranklinnc.com/

Where to Stay in Franklin

One thing sorely missed in Franklin is a bevy of great hotels. There are a couple of good ones, but Franklin is mostly a town to pass through. I would actually recommend spending the night in Highlands on this road trip, but if this is as far as you made it here are a couple options.

The Microtel Inn & Suites is always my favorite as a solo traveler. The rooms are small, but cozy. They also have rooms with two queen beds if you’re traveling with the family. The Microtel Inn is located beside the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts and The Factory.

Another option is the Comfort Inn located on the other side of town. This comfortable hotel has rooms with a king bed or two queen beds so it’s perfect for any kind of traveler.

Cullasaja Gorge

Leave Franklin behind as the road trip continues on the two-lane U.S. Highway 64 as it winds toward the mountains. Shortly after passing Walnut Creek Road you’ll enter the 7.5-mile long Cullasaja Gorge, a scenic route with a narrow road along the river.

There are five waterfalls and a national forest recreation area along the Cullasaja Gorge, making it an immensely popular drive during the summer months.

The only view of Cullasaja Falls isn’t bad, if you can get to it.

Cullasaja Falls

The 250’ tumbling Cullasaja Falls is easy to miss and hard to return to. There is only a narrow view from a pull-off along U.S. Highway 64 heading toward Highlands. The view is spectacular, but it’s difficult to actually enjoy it.

The pull off only has enough room for two personal vehicles; RVs and people with travel trailers should not attempt to pull over here. The only way to access the pull-off is heading toward Highlands. If you’re heading the opposite direction continue a couple miles to a church where you can turn around and head back.

Inside Tip

There is no trail, official or otherwise, leading to the bottom of this waterfall. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to reach the river far below. Emergency personnel conduct a few rescues here each year for people who get stuck or injured trying. Please don’t be one of those people.

The rope has changed over the years, but its purpose has not at Bust Your Butt Falls.

Bust Your Butt Falls

I almost missed this my first time driving the North Carolina Waterfall Byway. There are no signs marking the location of Bust Your Butt Falls, but there is plenty of parking on both sides of the road to give you a clue. Hop out of the car and you’ll find a popular swimming hole at the base of a cascading waterfall.

Getting out to the Cullasaja River here can be quite tricky with no paths or stairs. Stake out a large boulder along the river for yourself and enjoy a break. If you’re brave enough, and have a firm tailbone, you can slide down the slippery rocks and splash into the water hole below.

I found really, really quiet trails at the Cliffside Lake Recreation Area.

Cliffside Lake Recreation Area

The Cliffside Lake Recreation Area is a day-use park in the Nantahala National Forest. The heart of the park is the small lake used for fishing and swimming. A bathhouse nearby makes changing easy. The day I visited was dark and gloomy with periodic rainstorms moving through the area. I took advantage of the unused covered picnic shelter to enjoy a break during a storm.

Ranger Falls

Ranger Falls is a 35’ waterfall on Skitty Creek. That’s not a typo. It’s actually called Skitty Creek.

The Ranger Falls Loop Trail is a 2.4-mile moderately difficult hike from the parking lot in the Cliffside Lake Recreation Area. When entering the recreation area drive past the parking lot at the lake and continue about 1.2 miles to the second parking lot to access the trailhead.

Can you see the rail of the trail leading behind Dry Falls?

Dry Falls

The theory behind the name for Dry Falls is that visitors can walk behind the waterfall along the trail and not get wet. In reality a fine mist created by the churning water will get you damp, giving you chills in the colder months and cooling you off during the summer.

The small paved parking area has room for about a dozen vehicles, but no RVs or trailers. There is a restroom building with privy toilets; I always recommend using the restroom before visiting a waterfall because as soon as you hear that churning water I bet you’ll have to pee.

The hike down to the waterfall is one of those classic easy down, not so easy coming back up scenarios. The concrete path descends several steps to a view about midway down the waterfall. There are plenty of benches within site of the waterfall so you don’t have to go all the way down.

The trail continues behind the waterfall for a rather unique experience. On the other side of the waterfall it continues a couple hundred feet to a scenic overlook.

Bridal Veil Falls spills over a side road along U.S. Highway 64.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is the easiest waterfall to view on this road trip. It’s literally directly beside U.S. Highway 64 and can be viewed from the comfort of the car. The waterfall, when there is enough runoff water, pours over a ledge and into a drain beneath the highway.

Vehicles used to be able to drive behind the waterfall along the paved road, but that road has been blocked off for a few years now. There is plenty of room to pull over, though, so you can still enjoy the sight.

Lake Sequoyah Falls isn’t really a waterfall, but it is falling water and it’s pretty and you should see it.

Sequoyah Falls

Although not quite a waterfall, at least not a natural one, Lake Sequoyah Falls is the runoff over the concrete dam that creates Lake Sequoyah at the edge of Highlands. There is a small gravel parking lot near the dam with a nice view of the waterfall.

Glen Falls

Glen Falls is a rather gorgeous triple waterfall just a few miles from Highlands. The 2.4-mile out and back Glen Falls Trail includes a nearly 800’ elevation change so it can be quite challenging. There is an observation deck at the upper waterfall at 0.5-miles from the parking lot and another observation deck at the middle falls at 0.75-miles.

It’s a 3.2-mile drive from the middle of Highlands to the parking area. The drive starts on Dillard Road near the west end of Main Street. A little less than two miles down the road you’ll see Glen Falls Road on the left. From there it is another one-mile drive to the parking area.

Franklin is a beautiful mountain town.

3. Highlands

Sitting on a plateau at 4,117’ above sea level the town of Highlands stays pretty cool even during the warmest of summer days. The small town has fewer than a thousand full-time residents but that number swells during the weekends and holidays. But even on the busiest of days Highlands is a relaxing, charming town to visit on any road trip.

READ MORE: Exploring, Shopping, and Dining in Downtown Highlands, NC

The Highland Hiker makes a wonderful alternate visitor center for the town. Owned by locals Chris and Hilary, the outdoor shop sells everything you need for hiking, fly fishing, and lounging in the mountains. The 1.4-mile trailhead to Sunset Rock is located just up the road from the shop, leading to a breathtaking view for, well, sunset over Highlands.

Take a stroll along Main Street and explore the local retail shops. With flower baskets hanging from every light pole and comfortable benches it’s easy to take a load off and enjoy a break from driving.

Favorite Coffee in Highlands

The owners at Calders Coffee Café, Clay and Leigh Hartman, are recent transplants to Highlands who could not be happier to own this little coffee shop. They offer delicious coffee of all kinds and breakfast sandwiches in a cute and comfortable shop.

Getting hungry? Mountain Fresh Grocery is a former grocery store turned into a shopping mall style of restaurant with a few serving stations cooking up made to order meals. Madison’s Restaurant is a great choice in Highlands with their outdoor Wine Garden and savory menu. My favorite place in town is The Ugly Dog Pub, a short walk from Main Street. Photos of furry friends adorn the walls for you to admire while finishing off a burger, tater tots, and craft beer.

Highlands Chamber of Commerce 108 Main Street, Highlands, NC | 828-526-5841 | https://www.highlandschamber.org

Where to Stay in Highlands

Thinking of making a night of it in Highlands? 200 Main is a fantastic place to spend a couple of nights. Be sure to ask for a room in the new section of the multi-building hotel. Old Edwards Inn and Spa is a real treat with a day spa, whirlpool, fireside lounge, and café for their guests to enjoy.

Detour: Whiteside Mountain

After leaving Highlands behind you’ll have a final chance to enjoy a stunning view from the Highlands Plateau. Just before a big bend in the road turn right onto Whiteside Mountain Road and drive about one mile to a parking area for the Whiteside Mountain Trail.

The 1.9-mile loop trail is moderately strenuous as you ascend 500’ to reach the top of Whiteside Mountain. The exposed granite surface offers stunning views to the southeast across the mountain landscape.

Cashiers

Cashiers is a wonderful mountain town to roll through on road trips through western North Carolina. The town is surrounded by gorgeous places to stay like High Hampton Resort and Sapphire Valley Resort. A second location for Highland Hiker and The Ugly Dog Pub gives you a second chance in case you missed it back in Highlands.  

The second chair from the right was mine for about an hour as I enjoyed this view at the Gorges State Park visitor center.

Gorges State Park

Turn right onto NC Highway 281 at the Sapphire Country Store Gas Station and continue about one mile to the entrance to Gorges State Park. The 7,500-acre park is the western most state park in North Carolina, located in a beautiful area surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, and hiking trails.

The visitor center is a testament to gorgeous architecture in the mountains. Pick up a trail map, browse the gift shop, and take a walk through the museum with exhibits on life in the mountains and local geology.

With about a half dozen trails in the park it is the most popular activity. Most of the trails are accessed from the Frozen Creek parking area, including the Canebrake Trail and Foothills Trail. But the park’s three waterfalls are accessed from the main entrance.

Gorges State Park 976 Grassy Ridge Road, Sapphire, NC | 828-966-9099 | https://www.ncparks.gov/gorges-state-park/home

Bearwallow Falls

Bearwallow Falls is a tall cascading waterfall at the end of a 0.5-mile out and back trail. The trail is pretty strenuous with a steep climb coming back from the observation deck above the waterfall. Park at the White Pines Picnic Area to access this trail.

Rainbow Falls & Turtleback Falls

This 3-mile out and back trail leads to Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls, the most popular waterfalls at Gorges State Park. The hike is definitely part of the adventure along a barely maintained trail involving a couple of creek crossings.

After a rapid descent from the parking area the trail follows the Horsepasture River to Rainbow Falls. About another quarter mile beyond is Turtleback Falls. The entire hike is strenuous involving almost 900’ in elevation change and muddy conditions.

Did You Know

This trail leaves Gorges State Park about halfway to Rainbow Falls and enters the Pisgah National Forest. Backcountry camping is allowed in the national forest and there are several defined primitive sites. Can you imagine camping all night beside a waterfall?

At 411′ tall you’ll hear Upper Whitewater Falls long before you can see it.

Detour: Upper Whitewater Falls

Ready for a detour to one of the most amazing waterfalls in North Carolina? At 811’ Whitewater Falls is the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. Upper Whitewater Falls, located in North Carolina about 8 miles from the entrance to Gorges State Park, is 411’ tall while Lower Whitewater Falls, located on Lake Jocassee in South Carolina, is 400’.

A short, paved trail leads from the parking area to a scenic overlook with a view of Upper Whitewater Falls. A long series of stairs leads to a lower overlook with a better view of the thunderous waterfall.

Toxaway Falls

I don’t know how many times I drove across the top of Toxaway Falls before I realized there was a waterfall just below the bridge! It’s a gorgeous and rather exciting waterfall because of its location, but also difficult to view.

When the earthen dam was built creating Lake Toxaway the cascading waterfall just downstream was saved. When U.S. Highway 64 was built through the mountains a short, curving bridge was built over the top of the waterfall.

The only way to view this waterfall is from the bridge. There is no pedestrian path, although there is about a 3’ buffer between the white stripe on the road and the edge of the bridge. Exercise caution if you want to walk on the bridge to view the top of the waterfall.

See the black line through the middle of the Sassafras Mountain observation deck? That’s the boundary between North Carolina and South Carolina.

Detour: Sassafras Mountain in South Carolina

Ready for another detour? This has nothing to do with waterfalls, but I couldn’t write a road trip itinerary through this area without throwing in a mention of Sassafras Mountain. 3,553’ above sea level, Sassafras Mountain is the highest point in South Carolina.

READ MORE: Visiting the Highest Point in South Carolina at Sassafras Mountain

The 30-mile roundtrip detour takes about 45 minutes to drive out and back. At the top visitors will find a one-story observation deck with uninterrupted views in all directions. On clear days visitors can see all the mountains driven across on this road trip and even as far as Rabun Mountain in Georgia.

Let’s play a game of Where’s Waldo, only I want you to find the white squirrel in this photo of downtown Brevard.

4. Brevard

Just 45 minutes from Asheville, Brevard is a bustling mountain town and fantastic weekend getaway. As the seat of Transylvania County the tourism folks call themselves the “Land of Waterfalls”, and for good reason. There are more waterfalls in this county than any other county in the United States.

Park anywhere on Broad and Main Streets for an easy walk to anything in town. Start at Highland Books for their wonderful selection of local books on history, tourism, and outdoor recreation. Across the street peak inside O.P. Taylor’s toy store. If you need any outdoor gear or clothing head over to DD Bullwinkel’s Outdoors.

The Ktchn may have a strangely vowel-free name but it does have fantastic burgers and brick oven pizza. The Falls Landing is a great place downtown to grab a savory seafood meal. Head around the corner to Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop for a classic diner feel with burgers, fries, and shakes.

Explore Brevard 175 East Main Street, Brevard, NC | 828-884-8900 | https://explorebrevard.com/

Favorite Coffee in Brevard

It is a super close toss-up between Cup & Saucer and Quotations Coffee Café. Both are located on Main Street within easy walking distance of downtown. Go to Cup & Saucer for peace and quiet, Quotations with friends or a large group, but either has fantastic coffee.

Where to Stay in Brevard

Just ten minutes outside of downtown, at an area locally called The Hub, are two great hotels for spending a night or two in Brevard.

Hampton Inn is located back from the road and surrounded by woods with a peaceful outdoor swimming pool.

The Holiday Inn Express also has an outdoor swimming pool on the property wedged between US Highway 64 and Ecusta Road.

Do you enjoy camping? The Davidson River Campground has 144 campsites ranging from $22-$56/night. It’s located along the river inside Pisgah National Forest fifteen minutes from downtown Brevard.

Connestee Falls is actually two waterfalls, and you can see them both from the observation deck where this photo was captured.

Connestee Falls

Connestee Falls is such a neat waterfall to visit for so many reasons. For starters it is handicap accessible and incredibly easy to visit. The waterfall is located just of U.S. Highway 276 near the entrance to the Connestee Falls gated community. The parking lot is beside a small realty building.

A wooden boardwalk leads a couple hundred feet through a thicket to an observation deck overtop of the waterfalls. Yes, waterfalls. There are actually two waterfalls here; Carson Creek spills over the rocky ledge directly beside the observation deck while another waterfall tumbles about two hundred feet ahead.

5. DuPont State Recreational Forest

The 10,000-acre DuPont State Recreational Forest is an interesting property of the state of North Carolina. It’s not quite a state park, but it’s also not quite not a state park. What the what?!

DuPont State Forest has one of the most fascinating origin stories with so many twists and turns it would make for an excellent day time soap opera. The first trail, leading to Triple Falls, opened to the public on December 17, 2000. Since then dozens of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails have been added to the four majestic waterfalls.

Begin your adventure at the DuPont State Recreational Forest Visitor Center on Staton Road. The visitor center has restrooms, maps to all the hiking trails and waterfalls, and a friendly staff always eager to help.

DuPont State Recreation Forest 1300 Staton Road, Cedar Mountain, NC | 828-877-6527 | https://www.dupontforest.com

Spring is always the best time of year to visit waterfalls, but my only visit to High Falls was in February. Not the best time to visit.

High Falls

The rushing water of Little River slides 120’ down an exposed granite rock face, creating High Falls along the way. It’s not quite a waterfall as the water never leaves the granite face, but it’s steep enough to pick up some speed and crash into the pool at the bottom.

High Falls Trail is a 2.05-mile loop trail beginning at the visitor center parking lot. The trail begins a gentle descent to a covered picnic shelter and overlook straight ahead of High Falls. A spur trail leads to the bottom of the waterfall.

On the way back from the waterfall be sure to take the short Covered Bridge Trail to the Covered Bridge on Buck Forest Road. This gorgeous covered bridge with a pedestrian path crosses the Little River just above High Falls.

Triple Falls

Triple Falls is a series of three cascading waterfalls on the Little River with a total 120’ drop. There is a covered picnic shelter and scenic overlook above the bottom of the cascades. A short spur trail leads to the rocky edges of the Little River at the cascades.

One way to hike to Triple Falls is to take the 2.05-mile High Falls Loop Trail from the visitor center. The overlook and spur trail to the bottom is about a tenth of mile beyond the loop.

The easiest way to hike to Triple Falls is to begin at the Hooker Falls Access parking lot. From here you will cross a pedestrian bridge over the Little River and hike 0.8-miles out and back on the Triple Falls Trail.

Hooker Falls only falls 12′, but it makes a big roar.

Hooker Falls

Of all the waterfalls in DuPont State Recreational Forest, Hooker Falls is the most accessible. The 0.8-mile Hooker Falls Trail is an out and back trail that follows the route of an old road. The trail is wide with very little elevation change until the very end, and even then it is a gentle descent.

Hooker Falls is my favorite place to hang out during summers in Brevard. The Little River spills over a 12’ drop at Hooker Falls into a wide, shallow pool at the bottom. It is a very popular swimming hole and active route for kayakers. My favorite thing to do, however, is bring a chair to sit on the rocky beach a couple hundred feet below the waterfall.

The Hooker Falls Trail begins at the parking lot at Hooker Falls Access. There are two parking lots so be sure to roll through them both before declaring there are no spaces. There is a rather nice restroom facility at this parking lot.

Bridal Veil Falls

Chances are good you’ve actually seen Bridal Veil Falls before. The scene from The Last of the Mohicans where the fleeing friends and family of Nathaniel take temporary refuge on a ledge behind a roaring waterfall was filmed here. Bridal Veil Falls drops over a ledge and then tumbled down an exposed granite face into a pool below.

The 4.6-mile roundtrip hike to Bridal Veil Falls is the most rigorous to a waterfall in DuPont State Recreational Forest. The hike begins at the visitor center along Buck Forest Road across the Covered Bridge. Turn right onto Conservation Road and continue until you turn right onto Bridal Veil Falls Road. The walk is fairly easy along the old gravel roads.

6. Pisgah National Forest

The 500,000 acres of Pisgah National Forest cover some of the most stunning vistas and thrilling outdoor recreation in North Carolina. The highest point east of the Mississippi River, Mount Mitchell, is connected throughout the national forest via the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The 16-mile stretch of US Highway 276 between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the intersection with US Highway 64 is one of the most exciting stretches to explore in the state. Begin this journey at the Pisgah Ranger Station and Visitor Center for maps, brochures, and information about the local waterfalls and hiking trails.

Cedar Rock Creek Falls and Falls on Grogan Creek

The hike to these small waterfalls begins at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. There is ample parking here for day hikers and public restrooms are available.

The hike to the waterfalls begins along Cedar Rock Creek. It is a leisure 0.9-mile hike to Cedar Rock Creek Falls, located on a short spur trail. Falls on Grogan Creek is located another 1.2 miles from the first waterfall. The total 4.2-mile out and back hike includes about a 400’ elevation change and takes maybe three hours to hike.

Cove Creek Falls

Cove Creek Falls isn’t exactly a splendid, thunderous waterfall to view, but it is a remote and peaceful hike to get there. The 2.4-mile out and back hike follows the course of a stream with very little elevation change.

There is a small parking area along Forest Service Road 475 about 3 miles from US Highway 276 and 1.7 miles beyond the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.

Slick Rock Falls is small, but beautiful.

Slick Rock Falls

The cascading Slick Rock Falls is one of the easiest to reach but most difficult to view. Allow me to explain. Slick Rock Falls is located at the edge of Headwaters Road about 2.6 miles from US Highway 276 and 1.2 miles from the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.

You’ll hear the waterfall the moment you step out of your vehicle. A short and steep trail leads to a couple of different ways to view this waterfall. If you decide to walk out onto the rocks use caution.

Looking Glass Falls is just absolutely gorgeous and one of my favorite waterfalls to photograph.

Looking Glass Falls

Looking Glass Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the region. It also happens to be the only one with a handicap overlook. The thunderous 60’ free falling waterfall is one of the most gorgeous in the state.

There is a good amount of parallel parking along US Highway 276 heading toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. A sidewalk along the road leads to a scenic overlook above the falls. There is a handicap access to the sidewalk directly in front of the overlook, but unfortunately there is almost always a vehicle parked in front so you might not be able to access it.

From the scenic overlook a long series of concrete steps leads to a bottom overlook to the side of the waterfall. The pool at the bottom is only a few feet deep and makes a wonderful swimming hole in the summer. Visitors are allowed to walk across the rocks but please be careful.

Moore Cove Falls

Moore Cove Falls is one of the most unexpectedly beautiful waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest. It’s not very tall nor does it have much waterflow, even during the peak in late spring, but the free-falling waterfall is secluded and peaceful.

The 1.2-mile out and back Moore Cove Falls Trail hike is easy with only a 150’ ascent to the wooden scenic overlook at the base of the falls. It is possible to get behind the waterfall beneath the rocky ledge, but exercise caution with the slippery ground.

The trail begins with a footbridge across Looking Glass Creek from a parking area along US Highway 276. There is a good amount of parking on either side of the road.

Can you see the black handrail on the left side of Sliding Rock? This is how you climb to the top so you can slide down.

Sliding Rock Recreation Area

This road trip of waterfalls and scenic overlooks ends at Sliding Rock Recreation Area. Sliding Rock is not exactly a waterfall, but it’s a cool place to end the trip. Literally.

The creek flows across a wide, exposed granite rock face at a fairly steep angle. The stone, smoothed over from thousands of years of running water, is like a natural slide. A handrail on the opposite side helps visitors climb to the top of the rock face and slide down into the pool at the bottom.

Surrounded by thick rhododendron bushes and beneath the shade of massive trees, Sliding Rock is a very cool place to hang out in the summer. There are bench seats with a view of the slide and plenty of places to plop your own chair to watch the action.

Have you driven this road trip? Visited any of these waterfalls? Let me know! Leave a comment below telling me about your adventure!

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2 Responses

  1. You should have made the comment that it is illegal for RV and Trailers to be on US64 between Cliffside Lake Recreation Area and Highlands, NC. Also there are several decent places to stay in Franklin, NC. The two best hotels are Microtel and Hampton Inn. As well as campgrounds, many cabin and B&B rentals. There are also lots of things to do on Franklin particularly hiking, fishing, canoeing/tubing on the Little Tennessee River, and don’t forget the gem mining which is what gives Franklin their claim to the title “Gem Capital of the World”. Former resident (1965-2009)

    1. I had no idea it was illegal for RVs on US 64 in that area! Is that just between Cliffside lake and Highlands? That’s actually the straighter, wider part of the road haha. I would have though the stretch down to Franklin would have been worse for RVs.

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