Insider Tips: Waterfalls
LOOKING GLASS FALLS
Pisgah National Forest
Because of its beauty and accessibility, Looking Glass Falls is quite possibly the most photographed waterfall in America outside of Niagara Falls. And, frankly, no visit to Transylvania County is complete without a stopover here. There is ample parking on the right side of the road leading up to the falls. From here, you can observe Looking Glass from a viewing area at the top of the stairs. But most folks take the steps down, where they have an option of viewing the falls from a lower platform or going all the way to the Davidson River.
Swimming is also allowed here, but The Adventurist recommends you exercise extreme caution. The rocks leading up to the pool are quite slick.
Directions: From intersection of US-276/US-64/NC-280, enter Pisgah National Forest. Go 5.6 miles on US-276. The falls (and parking) are on your right. Alternatively, if you’re coming from the Blue Ridge Parkway, proceed south on US-276 for 9.2 miles and the falls will be on your left.
BATSON CREEK FALLS
This waterfall was recently made much more accessible thanks to the purchase of property by Transylvania County. As a county park, it is kid-friendly and wheelchair accessible. A boardwalk takes you to a viewing area above Connestee Falls that offers up a nice long range view of Batson Creek Falls, a lovely 20-foot tall cascade.
Directions: From downtown Brevard, go south on US-276 for 5.8 miles. Turn right into parking lot at Connestee Falls Realty.
DuPont State Recreational Forest
Named for Edmund Hooker, who operated a nearby mill in the 1800’s, this waterfall has a lot going for it. For starters, the ¼ mile walk from the Hooker Falls Parking lot is flat and easy. Second, besides the aforementioned Mr. Hooker and his mill, the falls has an interesting history: it was featured in the hit movie, The Last of the Mohicans. Third, this picturesque ledge-style waterfall tumbles into a pool that’s darn near perfect for swimming. The flat sandy banks make getting in and out of the Little River a cinch.
Directions: From downtown Brevard, go south on US-276 for 10.9 miles. Turn left at Cascade Lake Road and go 2.5 miles. Turn right on Staton Road at the DuPont State Recreational Forest sign. The road descends to a bridge that crosses the Little River. The Hooker Falls parking lot is on the left just after the bridge.
At 411 feet, Whitewater has the distinction of being the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. While it’s indeed impressive, one of the reasons The Adventurist recommends it is the accessibility it offers to waterfall enthusiasts of every age. There’s a $2 fee to park in the lot, but the convenience is worth it.
Once parked, it’s just a short ¼ mile walk on a wheelchair accessible paved pathway to the first viewing stand. Here you’ll get a nice long range view of Whitewater as it stair steps its way down the Jocassee Gorge.
For a better view, descend a long series of steps to a smaller platform that’s ideal for taking pictures. From here, you can descend a half-mile spur trail that takes you to the base of the falls on the Whitewater River. This is also a dandy little spot to take a swim.
Directions: From downtown Brevard, go west on US-64 for 18.2 miles. Turn left on NC-281. Go 8 miles to the Whitewater Falls entrance, on your left.
FRENCH BROAD FALLS/MILL SHOAL FALLS/CATHEDRAL FALLS
Remote, yet requiring very little exertion, these waterfalls on the property of Living Waters Ministries are worth the journey. Pack a picnic and make a morning or afternoon of it. Because these waterfalls are on private land, The Adventurist asks you to tread lightly and respectively. And if you happen to see anyone from the Living Waters Ministries, thank them for allowing access.
French Broad Falls is a ledge fall that comes off a wide shelf and drops twenty feet. To its right Shoal Creek Falls tumbles down next to an old mill house. The water from both sources forms a pool at the base. From here, proceed south for a quarter mile on a trail that tunnels through thick stands of rhododendron and mountain laurel. Cut-out steps, walking stones and treaded boardwalks make the trip a breeze. Along the way, you’ll see several nice cascades, but they’re only a prelude to what you’ll discover at the end of the trail as it terminates at a sandbar next to the river. To your right, you’ll see the two tiers of Cathedral Falls, which is also known as Bird Rock Falls. The real attraction, though, is the massive granite outcropping that looms above the falls. Spread out your blanket on one of the smooth rock shelves and stake your claim to a little slice of heaven. This is a truly awe-inspiring destination and worth the effort to experience it.
Directions: From Brevard, take US-64 for 8.9 miles. Turn right on NC-215. Proceed north for 7.5 miles. Turn left into the Living Waters Ministries parking lot (but do not park here!) and reverse direction and turn back onto NC-215 headed in the opposite direction. Immediately pull over onto the shoulder next to the guard rail (making sure to get off the road entirely). Look for two broad stones and a short pathway down to the river.
MOORE COVE FALLS
Pisgah National Forest
The Adventurist has made this little excursion lots of times. And while the falls themselves can be impressive (depending on the amount of recent rain), the best part might be the journey itself. The trail kicks off with a crossing of the Davidson River on a small wooden foot bridge. After a short climb, you wend your way through a valley floor carpeted with ferns. Rustic boardwalks placed in strategic locations transport you over the wetter, low-lying areas. It’s all quite enchanting — as are the falls themselves, which cascade like a thin veil over a rock grotto. Tip: walk behind the waterfall and get a beautiful view of this lush cove through the water.
Directions: From intersection of US-276/US-64/NC-280, enter Pisgah National Forest. Go 6.7 miles on US-276 to a narrow parking area on the right. An information sign provides additional information about the hike and Moore Cove.
CATHY’S CREEK FALLS
Pisgah National Forest
If you’re interested in exploring a waterfall that’s a little off the beaten track, check out Cathy’s Creek. The falls are only a 300 yard hike from the one-car pull off where the trail starts, but it’s steep and can be treacherous. The reward for going where few others dare is a picturesque 80 foot waterfall. Lush. Green. Tranquil. A perfect spot, The Adventurist thinks, for a quiet meditation on the magnificence of nature.
Directions: From Brevard, go west on US-64 for approximately 4 miles. Turn right at Cathy’s Creek Road. The road will split almost immediately — go left. A mile up the road you’ll pass the local water treatment plant. (FYI: this facility provides the drinking water for Brevard, treating 1.3 million gallons a day from Cathy’s Creek which is within a protected watershed). At this point the road becomes gravel. Proceed two more miles until you come to a one-car pull off (look for power lines crossing the road). The trail to the falls is on the right side of the road down a steep bank.
HIGH FALLS & TRIPLE FALLS
DuPont State Recreational Forest
In 2000, the state of North Carolina purchased the land encompassing these two spectacular waterfalls from a developer who planned to site houses along the Little River on either side of the falls. Instead of becoming a privileged playground for a few, these waterfalls are now protected in perpetuity for all to enjoy.
In terms of sheer holy-smokes visual impact, it’s hard to beat the one-two punch of Triple and High. In fact, both falls have been featured in a significant number of movies, including The Last of the Mohicans and The Hunger Games.
Begin by following the Triple Falls Trail that parallels the Little River. Small spurs off the main trail give you the opportunity to access the river and see glimpses of Triple as you climb. After a half mile, you’ll come to an overlook that affords a great view of each of Triple’s cascades. For a close-up view of Triple, continue a short distance further and access a series of platforms and steps that lead to a wide granite ledge below the top two cascades.
From here, pick up the High Falls Trail. After a short, steep climb, you’ll come to a second overlook that takes in High Falls and the covered bridge that crowns it. A second spur trail on the left leads down to the base of the falls. Above and behind the overlook is the High Falls Picnic Shelter. This covered pavilion has lots of tables and makes a great place to relax and enjoy the views of High Falls.
Directions: From downtown Brevard, go south 10.9 miles on US-276. Turn left at Cascade Lake Road and go 2.5 miles. Turn right on Staton Road at the DuPont State Recreational Forest sign. The road descends to a bridge that crosses the Little River. The Hooker Falls parking lot is on the left just after the bridge.
BRIDAL VEIL FALLS
DuPont State Recreational Forest
Bridal Veil features an overhanging ledge that you can walk behind (following in the footsteps of Daniel Day-Lewis in “Last of the Mohicans.”) After tumbling over the ledge, the water spreads out across a broad plane of granite, which accounts for the fall’s namesake appearance. At the base of the falls you’ll find a viewing platform and a small pool that’s great for cooling off.
There are several ways to get to Bridal Veil Falls. This is the quickest: from the Fawn Lake Access Area, walk the Conservation Road trail to the airport runway. Continue on Conservation Road trail parallel to runway as it bears right toward Lake Julia. Pass hangar on left. Take Bridal Veil Falls Trail to the falls. All in all, it’s a four mile round trip, but well worth the effort.
Directions to trailhead: from downtown Brevard, go south 10.9 miles on US-276. Turn left at Cascade Lake Road. Make an immediate right on Reasonover Road. Go 2.8 miles. Fawn Lake Access Area will be on your left.
Nantahala National Forest (with access from Gorges State Park)
Rainbow Falls is a beautiful 150-ft ribbon of whitewater that many enthusiasts consider to be the most striking in western North Carolina. When the river is running heavy, sunlight catches the mist coming off the falls and creates the phenomenon for which the cascade is named. From the parking area at Grassy Ridge in Gorges State Park, the well-groomed trail descends to the stunning Horsepasture River. When you reach the river, turn right. The trail becomes steeper, but the effort is worth it. The trail skirts around Rainbow Falls, offering up a great view. If you’ve got energy to burn, continue up river to Turtle Back Falls and Drift Falls — a waterfall trifecta!
Directions to trailhead: from downtown Brevard, take US-64 west toward Sapphire. Go 18.2 miles. Turn left on NC-281. The park entrance is .7 miles on the left. From the entrance proceed to the Grassy Ridge parking lot.