Despite their gentle, green-glazed exterior, the Blue Ridge Mountains are among the most ancient land forms in the world.
Its some natural poetry that the oldest things on Earth are made smooth and peaceful as they age, as opposed to becoming embittered.
When you go hiking, listen to the wind; its that same wind which shaped these mountains, molded them like clay.
The rivers too played their part—in a way, a breeze and a brook are only separated by their weight. And like many things in nature, the wind and rivers are not antagonistic. They may wear down the mountains, but the mountains shape them too, and in some cases, create them. Case in point: waterfalls.
They’re a marriage of rock and river, the result of eons of transformation and preparation. Within an hour radius of Asheville lies a gallery of such natural beauty, hidden within the trails which lace the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thus, with your appreciation of waterfalls hopefully bolstered, I invite you to read on, and discover five of the best waterfalls near Asheville.
1: Upper Whitewater Falls
Nestled with Nantahala National Forest, the Upper Whitewater Falls are the highest east of the Rockies, standing at about 411ft.
In perspective, that’s equivalent to a stack of nearly 38 elephants. As impressive as that sounds, the waterfall is the more stunning of the two—it towers triumphantly over the surrounding forest, its black rocks shining under the sun.
In contrast, the aforementioned elephant-stack is but a calamity waiting to happen. The path to the falls and back runs at around 0.6 miles, and follows a paved path, winding up through forest. Alongside this path lies the not-infrequent park bench, perfect for sitting, sleeping, or picnicking on your way back from the falls.
Paired with restrooms at the trail head, Upper Whitewater Falls is one of the most domesticated waterfalls near Asheville—not to say the destination nor the journey are lesser for it.
Parking costs $2 per car, and the journey from downtown takes one and a half hours. If this distance seems egregious, I shall note that all waterfalls in Western North Carolina count as Asheville waterfalls, regardless of how close they are to Western South Carolina.
Experience Nature: Once you reach the Upper Whitewater, insult its height, and vow to grow even taller yourself. Your friends and family will call you a madman, but what is life without a purpose?
2: Looking Glass Falls
It may seem like this article has already topped out, having mentioned the tallest waterfall at the forefront.
However, much as in life itself, when it comes to waterfalls, height isn’t everything. Looking Glass Falls is named for the nearby Looking Glass Rock, a colossal, rounded rock face which turns reflective when covered by ice.
If you’re looking to impress your companions, point out that Looking Glass Rock is a kind of pluton monolith. Hopefully no-one will inquire further, as like you, I have no idea what that means—but it does sound cool.
Speaking of cool, just as Looking Glass Rock becomes enchanted by ice, Looking Glass Falls often freezes during the winter, resulting in spectacular crystalline formations—which will almost certainly make up for hiking through the cold.
That hike lies at 0.5 miles round-trip—short enough to make it to the falls and back with all your fingers and toes intact. However, due to all the complications which come with attempting to reach a waterfall in freezing conditions, I may suggest viewing the falls during the warmer months. Although you’ll have to imagine the ice-formations, you’ll be able to wade in the pools beneath the falls—a pleasant, and only mildly treacherous proposition.
Looking Glass is about one hour away from Asheville, as are all further waterfalls in this list. By this fact, it may be hard to distinguish one waterfall from the other. The solution, of course, is to visit all the waterfalls near Asheville.
Experience Nature: Visit Looking Glass Falls while its frozen and break off the longest icicle you can find. Declare yourself Ice King, and demand tribute from everyone else who wishes to visit the waterfall.
3: Skinny Dip Falls
No, you can’t go skinny dipping here. The name’s a misnomer; it’s a fraud, a deception, and a crusher of dreams. The falls themselves are pretty nice though.
Its structure is complex: a series twisting cascades, dropping over an array of shallow pools, many of them suitable for clothes-on wading. Although I was too cool to try swimming here when I visited as a brooding Middle-Schooler, I do suggest you give it a go.
Skinny Dip is probably the most popular of the Asheville waterfalls in terms of swimming; it entices great quantities of locals and non-locals alike. For this reason, there is some speculation as to whether Skinny Dip Falls has become too inundated for peaceful enjoyment.
In my opinion, Skinny Dip is still a must-see—its elaborate structure cordons of each wading pool, and so crowds are dispersed over the length of the falls. Even if you find the pools too crowded, Skinny Dip hosts an entrance to the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. This ambitious project aims to connect each end of North Carolina, and although unfinished, does allow for access to other waterfalls near Asheville, such as those at Graveyard Fields.
The hike to Skinny Dip lies at about 1 mile round trip, plus however many you’re willing to put into the Mountain-to-Sea Trail.
Experience Nature: Gather flattish rocks of varied size and stack them into a waterside rock-tower. Its what I did rather than go swimming—and it was thoroughly entertaining. With luck, other people will have had the same idea, and you’ll be able to cooperate in your works.
4: Graveyard Fields
It is to my shame as a local that only recently did I discover that Graveyard Fields is not, in fact, haunted—so far as anyone knows.
The name refers to the many headstone-esque stumps which formerly dotted this flowered valley, stumps now buried under pounds of thick rhododendron. Primarily a series of trails, Graveyard Fields is a storied destination for many reasons aside from its waterfalls; locals come to pick blueberries at the end of summer, and when the leaves turn in fall, Graveyard Fields is a sight to behold.
However, this article is titled “Waterfalls Near Asheville,” not “Sights to Behold Near Asheville,” so I’ll get on to the waterfalls. Graveyard Fields boasts not one but two falls, ingenuously named Upper Falls and Lower Falls.
A visit to both, and back to the trail head runs at over three miles. I advise you take your time and enjoy the journey. Upper Falls is the more rugged of the two, and therefore more suited to viewing than touching. In contrast, the Lower Falls are relatively gentle, and offer opportunity for wading. In preparation for a trek through Graveyard Fields, I’d suggest visiting the bathrooms at the trail head—as my mother declares every time we drive past them: “They’re the only ones around for miles, you know.”
Experience Nature: Follow the path I once walked myself, on a Freshmen field trip. Begin by walking towards the Lower Falls, and at some point, accidentally venture onto a tangential trial. Wander on into the wilds for 30 minutes to an hour, as your teacher chaperone becomes more and more panicked (she has no idea where you are). At a time of your choosing, double back to recover any stragglers you’ve lost on the journey. Thereafter, attempt to take a shortcut, and become still further lost. Its at this point you should realize that you’re doomed and will more than likely end up haunting Graveyard Fields yourself.
5: DuPont State Forest
Graveyard Fields may seem impressive with its duo of waterfalls, but what if I told you there was a place with not one, not two, but three waterfalls?
Such a place indeed exists: its DuPont Sate Forest. With a round trip distance of almost five miles, an attempt to view all of DuPont’s falls is ambitious to say the least—but such ambition is rewarded.
Luckily, DuPont’s waterfalls are named in such a way that there should be no confusion as to what you’re hiking towards.
High Falls (the highest), lies about 20 minutes away from parking near Triple Falls. It may be advisable to visit High Falls first, and then venture back to your car to retrieve picnicking materials and take a break. The other two falls lie in proximity to each other.
Hooker Falls, although of moderate stature, descends into a deep pool, perfect for swimming.
Triple Falls bears the most striking rock formations of its fellows; it cascades three times, forming a series of tall, almost step-like structures.
If I remember correctly, there is a sign at Triple Falls which reads “Do not climb.” Unfortunately, I was 17 when I visited Triple Falls, and accompanied by female classmates, so climb the falls is exactly what I did. To clarify: I in no way endorse this course of action.
Several times, I very nearly slipped and fell to my doom, and was only saved by the previously mentioned classmates, who I may or may not have been trying to woo with my nonexistent climbing skills. Long story short: do not climb Triple Falls, nor any waterfalls near Asheville.
Experience Nature: Use your eyes and use them well. I visited DuPont with a sketchbook in hand, and less than an ounce of artistic skill. Today I attend an art school. Admittedly I study writing, but what I learned at DuPont has come in handy more than once. My point is that there’s a lot of beautiful things at DuPont, between the trails and the waterfalls. Even if you’ve never held a brush in your life, I’d say its worth trying to capture some of that beauty, in some way or another.
Upper Whitewater Falls Trial Access
Cashiers, NC 28717
Looking Glass Falls Parking
Unnamed Road, Brevard, NC 28712
Skinny Dip Falls Trail Head
Blue Ridge Pkwy, Canton, NC 28716
Graveyard Fields, Canton, NC 28716
Triple Falls Parking
Unnamed Road, Hendersonville, NC 28739