The quaint mountain town of Highlands is a haven for outdoor recreation and relaxing evenings. It’s easy to spend days shopping on Main Street, delving into the local cuisine, and enjoying the nightly entertainment. But if you’re anything like me you also need to get out and stretch your legs. One of my favorite ways is to hike to a waterfall.
These seven waterfalls are within a thirty-minute drive of Highlands. Some require only a very short walk while others are at the end of a rather strenuous hike. Here is everything you need to know about the seven waterfalls near Highlands, North Carolina.
This one almost doesn’t qualify as a waterfall. That is unless you define a waterfall as “water falling over an object”. At the west end of Highlands is the dam that creates Lake Sequoyah. Each time I have visited Highlands a steady wave of water has flowed over the top of the dam. I think it’s a particularly beautiful site, much more so than modern concrete dams.
Hiking There is no hiking required to see this waterfall.
Getting There Sequoyah Falls is located 2.2 miles from the center of Highlands along US Highway 64.There is no formal parking to seeing the dam but rather just a simple gravel lot on the side of the road. There is a bit of a drop off, though, and I have scraped the bottom of my vehicle both times I have visited.
Bridal Veil Falls
This waterfall became popular when people started posting photos of driving behind the towering curtain of water on a paved road. However, that road has been closed for a few years now for safety reasons. Still, it’s a neat waterfall to stop and see.
It’s located literally on the side of US Highway 64. The water pours over a rocky outcropping and into a gully that disappears beneath the highway. The best time to see this waterfall is late spring or after a few days of heavy rainfall.
Hiking There is no hiking required to see this waterfall.
Getting There Bridal Veil Falls is located 2.7 miles from Highlands along US Highway 64. There is parking for about 3-4 vehicles on either end of the road that used to pass behind the falls.
I have always enjoyed the irony of the name for this waterfall. I asked a local once why the waterfall was called Dry Falls and her response was, “Because you can walk behind the waterfall without getting wet.” That is mostly true. On a dry day. Without any wind. Actually, it’s not true at all.
The 75’ Dry Falls is one of the most beautiful and popular waterfalls in the area to visit. It’s an easy drive from Highlands or Franklin to get there and a relatively easy walk alond a concrete path to see it. The path continues behind the waterfall beneath the rocky ledge. Continue along the path to the other side to a scenic overlook.
While you’re behind the waterfall you can stay completely dry if you hug the rock wall and stay far away from the gushing water. However, as the Smith family from Minnesota learned, if you get too close to the water you’ll get soaked. They asked me to snap a family photo leaning against the wooden railing directly behind the waterfall. I snapped two photos as quickly as I could but their backsides had already become drenched.
Hiking From the parking lot there are a series of concrete steps leading down 100’ in elevation. There is a solid handrail in case you need it while going up and down the steps. It’s only about a quarter mile hike to the waterfall and back.
If you don’t want to walk all the way down you can go as far as a large bench about halfway to the waterfall. From there you get a pretty good view of the waterfall without having to walk down another series of steps.
Getting There The parking area for Dry Falls is located 3.5 miles from Highlands and 15.7 miles from Franklin along US Highway 64. The parking area is administered by the National Forest Service. There is a $3/vehicle parking fee. There are about a dozen parking spaces for personal vehicles but no spaces for trailers or RVs.
Bust Your Butt Falls
I found this waterfall while perusing Google Maps the night before I was set to drive through the area. At first I thought it was one of those things someone added to the maps that didn’t actually exist (I used to be able to find Bruce the Shark in the Atlantic Ocean). Well I can say this waterfall definitely exists and the name could not be more accurate.
Bust Your Butt Falls is exactly that: a place for you to bust your butt while sliding down the cascading waterfall. There is a rope attached to a tree on one side of the waterfall. I don’t know if that is a permanent feature or just left over from previous visitors. Either way I watched a group of people use the rope to climb up the slick rocks and then slide down.
At the bottom is about a 3-4’ deep swimming hole. There are plenty of larger boulders surrounding the swimming hole for you to lounge if you don’t want to go for a swim.
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Hiking It’s not entirely easy to get out to Bust Your Butt Falls. You can see it from the side of the road but to get to the water requires climbing across several large, jagged boulders. It’s easy but you really have to watch your footing.
Getting There Bust Your Butt Falls does not have a street address so if you want GPS directions you will need to manually find it on your favorite GPS device. But even without GPS it’s easy to find. It’s about 6.8 miles from Highlands along US Highway 64. There is room on either side of Highway 64 for parking with room for maybe a dozen vehicles. These parking areas are in a bend in the road so be careful trying to cross.
At 250’ Cullasaja Falls is the largest waterfall in the area, but it’s also a waterfall with no official hiking trail and rather difficult to view. It’s located on the west side of US Highway 64 (left if you’re coming from Highlands and right if you’re coming from Franklin). As you’re driving along the two-lane curvy road you can catch a glimpse of it for a moment.
Hiking You should not hike to this waterfall. There is an informal and unofficial trail leading down from the small parking area. I’ve talked with a few locals and a couple of photographers who have hiked that trail to the river below and walked up to the waterfall.
It’s a dangerous trek and has resulted in several air rescues over the years. The local rangers strongly recommend not hiking to this waterfall but instead just enjoy the view from the road.
Getting There Cullasaja Falls (Cullasaja is a Cherokee word that means “honey locust place”) is 9 miles from Highlands and 10 miles from Franklin. The best way to see the waterfall is to come from Franklin. If you’re visiting from Highlands drive past the waterfall to Pine Grove Baptist Church and turn around. That is the first safe place you will be able to turn around on this road.
Coming from Franklin you have to keep an eye out because there will be no signs pointing toward the waterfall or very small parking area. If you see the Jackson Hole Trading Post you have gone too far. You can turn around at the trading post but the entrance is in a bend of the road and not the best place. Honestly I think the safest place to turn around is the Dry Falls parking area.
The most difficult part (even more difficult than getting there) will be finding a parking space. The small pull-off on the west side (same side as the waterfall) has enough room for 2-3 vehicles. It definitely does not have enough room for a trailer, RV, or more than one large truck at a time.
The parking area is narrow. With my camper van I never have enough room to open the door on either side. I always have to park as close to the stone wall as I can and wait until traffic has passed to open the driver side door. Be careful with this!
Glen Falls is a rather gorgeous triple waterfall to visit but also one of the most challenging to access in the area. The 2.4-mile out and back trail includes a nearly 800’ elevation change. Keep in mind one of the golden rules of hiking: what goes down must eventually come back up again.
Hiking From the parking area it’s about a 0.5-mile hike to the first observation deck and another 0.25-mile hike to the second. Chris Wilkes, owner of the Highland Hiker, emphatically noted the upper two waterfalls of Glen Falls are the best to view.
The trail is primitive but well maintained. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes for this little trek into the woods.
Getting There This is one of the times I strongly suggest having a dedicated GPS device like the Garmin I use. If this is your first time driving out to Glen Falls you’ll want directions but cellphone reception will be spotty.
It’s a 3.2-mile drive from the middle of town 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.
This is the most remote waterfall near Highlands but also comes with one of the greatest rewards: small crowds, a gorgeous waterfall, and a swimming hole! A short hike leads out to a 50’ cascading waterfall and a shallow swimming area. Do you think they’ll still call it Secret Falls after everyone reads about this?
Hiking The 1.3-mile out and back trail is a moderate hike with less than a 250’ elevation change. The trail is primitive and mostly maintained although it can get muddy at times.
Getting There The 6.5-mile drive to the Secret Falls parking area is a bit of a drive in the wilderness. I strongly recommend a dedicated GPS device if this is your first time out there.
Begin on South 4th Street at The Ugly Dog Pub. The road winds around Satulah Mountain. Turn left onto Rich Gap Road and then almost immediately right onto Big Creek Road. This is a dirt road but fairly well maintained. Cars should be fine as long as it’s done muddy. Watch out for other traffic, though, because this is a one-lane old fire service road.There is a small primitive parking area alongside Big Creek Road.