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Western North Carolina is a wonderland of waterfalls. This photo guide of nine North Carolina waterfalls, by Harrison Grothoff, and Charlotte on the Cheap, will inspire you to go on a day trip to explore one or two of these natural beauties.
Harrison Grothoff has previously shared a photo guide for hiking eight North Carolina State Parks with us. You can see more of his photography and write-ups, at HikingWithHarrison.com.
You also might also be interested in these three mind-blowing hikes within an hour and a half from Charlotte, by photographer and avid hiker Jim Ogden.
Important Note: Serious accidents occur each year on and around North Carolina waterfalls, and they’re almost always associated with not following posted guidelines. All of the waterfalls on this list offer a perfectly safe, gorgeous view without having to go off the trail or in harm’s way.
Do not attempt to swim in areas around a waterfall unless it is clear that it is safe to do so. Always pay attention and follow posted guidelines.
Also, any of these areas might be closed due to weather or trail conditions, so make sure to check the website before setting out.
Little Bradley FallsHolbert Cove Road, Saluda, NC 28733(1 hour, 45 minutes from Charlotte)
This 50-foot, 4-tiered waterfall and the swimming hole it empties into is the magnificent reward for a 1-mile hike. The hike is not long, and there are no huge ascents, but it’s tricky. For one thing it’s not marked. For another thing there are plenty of obstacles. Lots of downed trees that you have to make your way over or under, a pile of boulders you have to navigate, and two rivers you have to cross. Consider bringing water shoes for the river crossings, because the second one will definitely get your feet wet. This trail is rated as moderate, but it’s a tricky moderate trail. Use AllTrails or another map app.
Carter FallsPleasant Ridge Road and Martin Byrd Road, Elkin, NC 28621(1 hour from Charlotte)
You can thank the Elkin Valley Trails Association for your easy access to this waterfall. They’ve done incredible work on the trails throughout the town of Elkin. You can park at the corner of Pleasant Ridge and Martin Byrd Roads, and take a very easy half-mile hike to arrive at the falls. You will also see some interesting remnants of this area’s industrial past. Or start at Grassy creek Vineyard and Winery, 235 Chatham Cottage Circle, State Road, North Carolina, for an immensely pleasant 2.2 mile hike (each way.) Learn all about this Elkin hike and Carter Falls.
South Mountains State Park3001 S Mountain Park, Connelly Springs, NC 28612(1 hour 20 minutes from Charlotte)
One of the closest waterfalls to Charlotte, High Shoals Falls, is 80 feet tall and located in South Mountains State Park. The trail follows the Jacob Fork Creek from the lower parking lot, and to reach the top of the falls, quite a few steps must be climbed.
To the falls and back is a 2.4-mile hike, or you can continue from the top of the falls around a 5-mile loop that takes you further into the forest. South Mountains State Park is usually quite busy, so it is recommended to arrive early in the morning to get a good parking spot and experience the hike without too much distraction.
Linville FallsAlong Blue Ridge ParkwayLinville Falls Visitor Center, Warrior Ln, Marion, NC 28752(2hr 2 min from Charlotte)
Linville Falls is likely the most visited of all the falls on this list. It is easily accessed along the Blue Ridge Parkway with a large parking area / visitors center and a well established trail down to an observation deck for the upper falls.
There are a few other trails that lead to upper and lower access to the falls. These trails are recommended for avoiding the bulk of the crowd and getting a better view of the waterfall. Swimming in the Linville River is not allowed and is very dangerous due to high currents.
Crabtree FallsAlong Blue Ridge Parkway39000 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Marion, NC 28752(2hr 19 min from Charlotte)
Also along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Crabtree Falls is for those up to a more strenuous hike. The waterfall is well worth it, but the trail is steep and rocky throughout the entire 2.5 mile loop.
The trail follows the crabtree creek and offers a variety of views including an upper view of the waterfall and surrounding mountains.
Elk River Falls3716-3984, Elk River Rd, Elk Park, NC 28622(2hr 25 min from Charlotte)
A very short hike leads to this popular swimming destination near the Tennessee – North Carolina border. Take extreme caution if swimming, as the top of the waterfall is off limits and the bottom of the fall is not recommended due to strong currents.
The rock face that sticks out into the plunge pool makes for a great place to sit and enjoy the waterfall atmosphere.
Looking Glass FallsUS-276, Brevard, NC 28712(2hr 17 min from Charlotte)
Located directly off of US 276, this waterfall is viewable from a wheelchair-accessible viewing deck or directly down a quick but steep staircase. Swimming is allowed. Just exercise caution near the base of the falls.
This is a great place to bring kids where they won’t have to hike for a while to reach the destination. Parking is limited and will fill up quickly. May not be the best choice during peak times.
Hanging Rock State Park Falls1790 Hanging Rock Park Rd, Danbury, NC 27016(1hr 53 min from Charlotte)
Hanging Rock offers beautiful, natural waterfalls and mountainous terrain closer. Hikes vary from extremely easy to strenuous, depending on the level of challenge desired, making this park a good option for families.
The waterfalls are not quite as grand as the rest of this list, but the variety the park offers and the location makes this a great choice for a camping or day trip.
Catawba Falls3074 Catawba River Rd, Old Fort, NC 28762(1hr 49 min from Charlotte)
Please note that at the time of publication, this area is temporarily closed. Keep it in mind for a future visit, and keep checking the link above to see if it’s re-opened.
Located along Highway 40 nearing Asheville, a moderate 2.5 mile uphill hike will bring you to the 100 foot Catawba Falls, that is made up of several smaller cascades.The trail passes stone foundations along the Catawba river from an early 1900s dam used for power generation.
The trail was developed more recently, and there is still no safe access to the top of the falls.
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