Hiking to area waterfalls is a terrific way to get a little exercise, breathe some fresh mountain air, and spend some time with family and friends. In fact, this is just the type of outing of which memories are made.
Take a quick trip to Chimney Rock State Park in Chimney Rock, NC, and hike to the base of Hickory Nut Falls, all 404 feet of it! It’s well worth the effort to get to the foot of Hickory Nut Falls, one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. The falls can be reached by taking a gentle walk via the Hickory Nut Falls trail to a platform at its bottom.
One of the biggest and most popular waterfalls in the WNC is Linville Falls, located in Burke County, NC, east of Asheville). The Linville Falls Visitors Center is located at milepost 316.3 on the Blue Ridge Parkway; trails to the falls, ranging from easy to strenuous, begin here. Check the maps at the Visitors Center to decide which one is best for you and your party; most have several overlooks of the falls. Linville Falls itself is huge; it roars down the mountainside in several cascades, and empties into one of the deepest gorges in the eastern US.
If easy access is your goal, try Looking Glass Falls in Transylvania County. Located just off of US Highway 276 (5.5 miles into Pisgah Forest from the intersection of US Highway 64), head down a short set of stone steps from the small parking area, and you’re there at the base of the falls. These falls are magnificent, 60 feet high and 30 feet across.
If adventure is still on your mind following the trip to the falls, continue up Hwy. 276 for another couple of miles to Sliding Rock, nature’s answer to refrigerated water. At Sliding Rock, visitors who are willing to plunge their 98.6-degree bodies into 50-60 degree water can take delight in sliding down “the rock.” For those among us who have better sense, or, at the very least, are more cautious, can enjoy the swimmers’ antics from several different vantage points, both at the top and bottom of Sliding Rock. Swimmers should plan on wearing a pair of shorts over their bathing suits – the rock is smooth, but will still wear out a bathing suit in short order; some sort of water shoe is a good idea, too. There is a $3 parking fee; lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 10AM – 6PM.
Another terrific location is Graveyard Fields in Haywood County. There are three waterfalls at Graveyard Fields, the Upper Falls, Second Falls, and Yellowstone Falls. Graveyard Fields is south of Asheville, located at milepost 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Although this is a very popular hiking area and parking can get crowded, park your car in the large parking lot on the Parkway; depending on which waterfall you care to see, you will take a different path. In fact, you might want to check out the easy walk to Second Falls, and then head up the more strenuous path to the Upper Falls.
Most of the hike to the Upper Falls is very flat and pleasant, but the last part is a bit of a climb; it is worth the trouble. The head of the trails begins in an incredible rhododendron thicket, but changes as the topography changes. Some readers might be wondering how Graveyard Fields got its name (no, it’s not haunted). In 1925, this area experienced a devastating forest fire. After the flames were extinguished, what remained of the once lush, green forest looked like gravestones in a graveyard. The area is in the natural process of recovery; it is interesting to notice how far it has come in the 76 years since 1925.
As with any outing to any waterfall, please take great care with where you step and be watchful of your surroundings. The areas surrounding waterfalls are notoriously slippery, and visitors can lose their footing and end up in a nasty fall. The waterfalls mentioned in this article are in well marked, well maintained and much traveled, so most visitors never have anything but a great day. Take care in hiking to these glorious sights, and you will enjoy some of the most exhilarating scenery the mountains have to offer.