Photo Essay: 11 Wonderous Waterfalls of the Western Carolinas

One thing that I like almost as much as trains is waterfalls. I just love the sound and the sight of watching all that water rush over the edge, all somehow perfectly orchestrated by Mother nature.

wonderous waterfalls

I didn’t realise that the Western portions of North and South Carolina are geologically perfect for waterfalls – lots of rivers and streams, and lots of jagged/uneven land. Together makes this part of the world perfect for waterfall spotting – some of the most waterfalls per square mile, similar to the Finger Lakes.

Here are some highlights of the best waterfalls in North Carolina and the most fabulous waterfalls in south Carolina. Wowza.

Whitewater Falls

Whitewater Falls is the perfect daytrip from Asheville – the falls are a short drive west of Brevard, and just steps from the South Carolina border. They say these are the highest falls east of the rockies, but I have seen many falls make this claim.

Located on NC 281. From the parking area, the main lookout point for the falls is a short 15 minute walk, with some stairs involved.

Dupont State Forest: Hooker Falls

Dupont State Forest is also a do-able daytrip from Asheville, and it is the top of my recommendations list if you only have one opportunity to go hunting for waterfalls in North Carolina or South Carolina. That’s because in one 2-3 hour session, you can enjoy not one but three waterfalls, as well as a covered bridge and some other scenic walks.

Hooker Falls is the falls closest the main parking area in Dupont State Forest (you can’t miss the stop – there’s only one road in or out). It is lovely and reminds me of those weirs you find in some old city rivers that were used to control water flow for the mills. This one is au naturel, though there was a mill here, so some adjustments were made.

Dupont State Forest: Triple Falls

This is without a doubt my favorite falls at Dupont state forest, and probably gets my vote for one of the best waterfalls in North Carolina – there are so many spots for photographs and unqiue shots, because there are not just one but three main cascades, separated by large flat areas you can go out onto because there’s not entirely covered in water. Look for reflections, do some postcard shots for souvenirs, and just be careful not to slip!

Dupont State Forest: High Falls

High Falls is partially shrouded by trees from the main trail so for the best views you”ll want to hike down the steps and get a closer look, but I do like how the old covered bridge at the top of the falls makes its presence known as the water goes cascading off.

Raven Cliff Falls

Raven Cliff Falls is the tallest waterfall in South Carolina and is popular for leave peeping because the viewing point is actually across a gorge. These falls are in Ceasar’s Head State Park – check the park maps for trail details and instructions – making them the perfect daytrip from Greenville, SC.

Looking Glass Falls

Another hot candidate for the best waterfalls for daytrippers in Asheville, you can see that these falls are western North Carolina’s answer to a beach resort. You couldn’t ask for a better swimming hole, complete with a shaded area and the perfect spot to drown out the heat under the falls. It is a busy and popular spot, but well worth the trip – easy to take a peek as the falls are right off US 276.

(Note: the name refers to the fact that in winter the water freezes clear over the cliff face, creating a mirror/looking glass effect.)

Pearson Falls

Pearson Falls is one of the few private waterfalls on the list, but it is certainly worth the modest admission fee as this is one of the most romantic waterfall experiences in the Carolinas. The park is a private garden and the meandering trail down to the falls is relatively flat and you pass a number of brooks, bridges, and other charming spots.

Waterfalls are classified into 12 different types, based on how the water comes down from its height, as well a classes 1 to 10, based on the volume and strength of the water flow. Most of the waterfalls in the Western Carolinas are relatively low water volume, but you can find nearly all 12 types of waterfall in the area.

Falls Park, Greenville

Downtown Greenville has underwent a wonderful gentrification project, and Falls Park is the centerpiece of that mini-renaissance, including the beautiful falls – it is hard to believe these were once paved over and tucked away by our modern conveniences.

Greenville is actually a great base for exploring waterfalls in South Carolina – plenty of food and shops for you to come home to after a day on the trails. But don’t forget to enjoy the falls right here in town.

Rainbow Falls

Located in the Nantahala National Forest (near Gorges State Park), the Rainbow Falls offers you several vantage points to ensure you go home with plenty of fodder for your photography albums (or, er, your Facebook albums). As the name implies, rainbows are possible given the large amount of spray, but as with many things in life, your timing for this must be impeccable.

NOTE: There is a lot of old information on the web regarding this route. The main train is a 1.5 mile hike from the Gorges State Park Grassy Ridge Parking area.

Turtleback Falls

I love the name Turtleback (never a good opportunity to use that word in a sentence), and these falls do have a unqiue shape to them, making them quite photogenic. Actually these falls are not far from Whitewater Falls up above back in North Carolina. These falls are just past Rainbow Falls, making it a good two for one if you decide to make the trek.

Yes, you can slide/swim over that turtleback, but please use caution as the rocks can be slippery, and in strong currents taking a dip is NOT recommended.

Fall Creek Falls

I end with one of the toughest hikes in the list – you basically hike up a fairly safe and sturdy trail, up – up – up for about an hour. The trail deposits you midflow in this multi-tiered falls; the spot is safe to cross, if you want to keep going on this several-mile trail, but if you were like us, you’d rather just lay here under the spray and enjoy your accomplishment.

Fall Creek Falls is on the eastern edge of Jones Gap State Park. Basically, you follow all the sights in the park to the Palmetto Bible Camp, and just past the camp is a parking area where you head straight up.


Considering your own hiking trip to see the waterfalls in North Carolina and South Carolina? Why not talk to our travel concierge about a custom itinerary? It’s great to come during spring rains (slippery so be careful, but heavy fall flow), summer (take a dip midroute!), or for leaf peeping in the fall.

Photos Copyright Author except Ravens Cliff (nc_hiker), Rainbow Falls (Jim Liestman), Turtleback Falls (bobistraveling).

Photo Essay: 11 Wonderous Waterfalls of the Western Carolinas

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