The Land of Water
Western North Carolina is affectionately known as the "Land of Waterfalls" and boasts more than 200 waterfalls and cascades (bonus points if you know the difference). Many of them are nearby in Sapphire, Cashiers, and Highlands and within a short drive from the cottages. In addition to the many spectacular waterfalls, the area also is famous for endless miles of hiking, crystal clear lakes, and rushing rivers and streams. We've highlighted many of our favorites below so be sure to take notes and add these to your itinerary.
Be sure to click on the links for additional info and driving directions.
The shorter of the two waterfall trails in Gorges State Park. The Bearwallow Falls trail head starts at the Visitors Center and is about 1.5-mile round-trip. This is a fairly moderate, kid-friendly hike that ends at a large viewing platform that overlooks Bearwallow Creek and the namesake falls.
Bridal Veil Falls near Highlands has been famous for generations as the only waterfall in North Carolina you can drive behind. However, the section of road behind the falls is now blocked off from automobiles for safety. This allows you to walk behind and enjoy it more. Catch this one on your way to Dry Falls. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
This popular swimming hole and natural slide on the Cullasaja River along US Highway 64 near Highlands is also known as Quarry Falls. It's a short walk over some rocks from a couple of pull-offs for parking. For added excitement, there is a "jump off" rock for diving into the chilly waters. With all the slippery boulders, be extra careful! And check out the depth of water before diving since levels can vary depending on rainfall. The many large rocks also make a great spot for watching, picnicking and sunning. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
Big falls at 250ft and considered to be one of the most picturesque falls in western North Carolina. This fall is the first seen from U.S. 64/28. The falls are spectacular and this wavy strip of U.S. 64/28 is a paved marvel of highway. A real hang onto your hat kind of road but well worth the drive. Directions: Located on U.S. 64/28 between Highlands and Franklin. Minimal parking- please click the link to learn more.
Dry Falls, a popular waterfall located a few miles outside of Highlands, gives you the rare treat of walking safely behind a waterfall. This 75-ft. tall waterfall in the Nantahala National Forest flows over a cliff, allowing you to walk behind the falls and stay dry (hence the name). During rainy spells when the water volume is higher, the spray will prevent you from staying totally dry. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
Glen Falls is a triple waterfall near Highlands with four great scenic stops along the roughly 2-mile round-trip hike in the Nantahala National Forest. The upper and middle cascades are the most beautiful. From the parking area, take the woodland trail downhill. We suggest not stopping until you get to the middle section (photo at top) since it's downhill all the way. Then you can stop at the upper section and other vantage points as resting stops on your hike back uphill! (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
This is an amazing hike and waterfall experience! Kristen affectionately refers to this one as "Stairway to Heaven" due to the (literally) hundreds of steps down to a blissful riverbed at the base of the waterfall. It almost feels and looks like a scene out of the movie Avatar. This one is not for the faint at heart and is a pretty rigorous workout to get back up all those steps to the trail above. Park at the Pines Recreation Area across from the north end of Lake Glenville, just past the dam.
While not a scene-stealer on its own, this 15-foot waterfall, a nearly vertical drop from Frolictown Creek, makes for a great stop on the Great Wall Trail, or the path leading to Granny Burrell Falls and Wilderness Falls. It’s just one point in the constellation of spectacular Panthertown Valley sights. Don't forget to take a map of Panthertown Valley with you **warning** the trails are NOT well marked so take cautiona as to not get lost. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
Looking Glass Falls (pictured above) is one of the most popular and beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina. And it's perhaps the easiest to view (one of the few accessible roadside waterfalls, making it perfect for folks with mobility and walking challenges). The name "Looking Glass" comes from Looking Glass Rock, where water freezes on its sides in the winter and then glistens in the sunlight like a mirror or looking glass. Looking Glass Creek, which flows past the rock, is also named for its impressive natural structure. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
The beautiful Narrows waterfall is located on the Horsepasture River in Sapphire Valley.
Enjoy the scenic trails that lead you to different sections of the river! This one is just five minutes from both Once Upon a Stream and Twice Upon a Stream and located directly across Hwy 64 from the entrance to Holly Forest 4.
Panthertown Valley features a U.S. Forest Service designated trail system with more than 30 miles of rugged, primitive non-motorized backcountry trails and U.S. Forest Service roads on Nantahala National Forest for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and others to explore. Each trail offers different conditions and challenges. The trailheads can be accessed from Top of the Rock and the Bald Rock Community, as well as public entrances near Cashiers.(courtesy Friends of Panthertown and Romantic Asheville)
Rainbow Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfall settings in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. This 150-foot tall waterfall is impressive, especially after rainy weather that swells the Horsepasture River, its source. The best feature of Rainbow Falls is the ability for visitors to experience the falls from the front, bottom, side, and top! Access the 3-mile (round trip) hiking trail to Rainbow Falls from Gorges State Park. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
Among the many hikes and waterfalls in Panthertown Valley, Schoolhouse Falls is one of our favorites. This moderately easy hike takes you to a beautiful waterfall cascading into a swimming cove. This is a great spot to bring a picnic and relax in the sun. Be sure to take a map with you into Panthertown Valley- the trails are NOT well marked.
This is an absolute must-see so be sure to add this to your itinerary. Just moments from the Cashiers crossroads, and a few miles south on 107. Access the falls via a short and enjoyable hike from the gravel parking area along the road. Take your swim trunks! You'll want to jump into the amazing swimming hole at the base of the falls. You can even swim up underneath the pounding water.
This is a MUST DO in the summer months and a favorite of the locals! Near Cashiers is another "Sliding Rock", created by the Chattooga River gliding over a 10-foot high rock face. It's a popular local spot during the summer because the water is quite cool. You can slide down the rock, cannonball into one of the potholes or just wade in the pool below the rock. Directions: From the intersection of NC 107 and US 64 in Cashiers, follow NC 107 south for 1.9 miles to Whitesides Cove Road. Turn right onto Whiteside Cove Road and follow it 2.8 miles to the bridge over the Chattooga. Park and follow a short trail to the river. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
At Sliding Rock each summer, thousands of children and adults slip and slide down this favorite natural mountain waterfall in Pisgah National Forest, near Brevard and Asheville, North Carolina. Sliders patiently line up and wait their turn as one-by-one they ride the chilly water (50-60 degrees!) down the 60-foot flat, sloping boulder. They make a splash in an eight-foot deep pool and swim a few strokes to the shore, get in line, and do it all over again. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
Turtleback Falls, Sapphire/Lake Toxaway- Gorges State Park
Accessed from Gorges State Park- hike beyond Rainbow Falls. These falls offer a 20-foot drop over a curved rock face into a pool that can have strong currents. At lower water levels, it's a popular spot to go sliding and swimming. You should be a good swimmer, since there are no lifeguards. The rocks and currents can make it dangerous if inexperienced. Do not attempt to slide when water is high, since the rushing water can take you down river over Rainbow Falls (150 ft drop so do not get too close!). There are several great vantage points to enjoy the falls - and the people sliding. Not to kill the vibe, but people die here almost every year so PLEASE be smart and careful! (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
Be sure to do this on a clear day! A landmark in the Nantahala National Forest, Whiteside Mountain rises to an elevation of 4,930 feet. It's located between Cashiers and Highlands, North Carolina, on US Highway 64. The mountain’s cliffs look like sheets of ice draped across the mountain. Geologists believe Whiteside to be one of the oldest mountains in the world at 360 to 490 million years old. A "moderate" two-mile loop trail takes you on top of sheer 750-ft. high cliffs (plenty of railings for safety) with outstanding views to the east, south and west. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)
Whitewater Falls, Jackson County (near the SC/NC state line)
Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, falling 811 ft.! The Upper Falls plummets 411 ft. and is 60 miles from downtown Asheville in the Nantahala National Forest. It's on the Whitewater River in the Jocassee Gorge area of North Carolina - in Jackson County. The 400-ft. Lower Falls can be accessed from a different location in South Carolina. (courtesy Romantic Asheville)