Waterfalls have long had an almost spiritual appeal among humans. Whether one is an avid outdoorsman or an occasional hiker, there is something special about making a gorgeous waterfall the destination for a hike.
Among the Cherokee Indians, rivers were known as “The Long Man” and special ceremonies were often held at waterfalls.
The following waterfalls are just a few of the more popular falls in the region.
Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is easy to get to and impossible to miss. If you are headed west from Highlands through the Cullasaja Gorge on U.S. 64, the falls will go over a small pull off road on the right. The falls isn’t nearly as impressive as the other falls in the Gorge, but after all, how often do you get the chance to drive your car under a waterfall?
Bridal Veil Falls is 2.3 miles west of Highlands on U.S. 64. You’ll see a pull off road on the right side of U.S. 64 under the falls.
Dry Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in Western North Carolina and an easy stop if you are seeing the other falls on U.S. 64 through the Cullasaja Gorge. Visitors can walk behind the falls and to the other side. The powerful waterfall is about 65 feet tall.
Dry Falls is in between Quarry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls about three miles west of Highlands on U.S. 64. There’s a small parking area on the left if you are headed west. Signs mark the falls on both sides of the road. If you come on a Saturday during peak tourist season, a parking space will be hard to come by. The trail to the falls is short with some steps.
Cullasaja Falls is the final waterfall on the Cullasaja River before leaving the Gorge. The falls, a 200-foot cascade, is powerful and beautiful. You can get a good view of it from the road, but it would be a hike to get to the base, and no trails lead down to it. The downside to Cullasaja Falls is that the pull off is small and is a dangerous place for traffic to stop.
Cullasaja Falls is about two and a half miles west of Quarry Falls on U.S. 64. The pull off is small and at a sharp curve. The small pull off fills up quickly during peak tourism days. You might have to drive past it a few times before you can get a spot. Heading west, the pull off is on the left side of the road. You might want to drive past it, turn around and approach it from the eastbound side of the highway.
On the Qualla Indian Reservation in Cherokee, you’ll find the popular Mingo Falls. A small creek falls about 150 feet over mossy rocks. Access to the falls is good – if you can handle lots of steps. A small bridge goes across the creek, giving hikers a face on view of the falls. People often climb around the bridge and on the rocks in front of the falls. Some of the rocks are very slippery, so be very careful if you choose to stray from the bridge.
Coming from Cherokee, head north on U.S. 441. You’ll turn right onto Acquoni Road. There will be signs telling you to turn there for Big Cove Road. In about .1 mile, turn left on to Big Cove Road. Again you’ll see signs pointing to Big Cove Road. Drive about five miles and turn right into Mingo Falls Campground. The parking area is straight ahead. The trail starts there, goes up a lot of stairs, levels out and comes to a bridge overlooking the falls. The trail is about 265 yards.
Soco Falls is one of the closest large falls to Waynesville. Two creeks flow over steep rock cascades at a right angle from each other. There’s a wooden platform that faces the higher of the two falls. The other falls is nearly impossible to see face on without going down to the base of the falls. There’s a really steep dirt incline that goes down there without a lot to hold on to.
From Waynesville, drive north on U.S. 19. You’ll pass under the Blue Ridge Parkway. After passing the Blue Ridge Parkway, drive 1.4 miles to a pull off on the left. At the corner before the pull off you want, you’ll see a large gravel pull off. This is actually a private driveway and not the way to Soco Falls. A sign on the right side of the road will tell you to go another half mile. You want a pull off with a guardrail.
A short, steep path goes down between the guardrails. Follow the trail, which leads to a wooden platform. The trail beyond the platform is steeper and more difficult but will take you to the top of one of the falls. A dirt incline leads to the bottom of the falls that you’d have to slide down. It looks like it would be a challenge to get back up.
There’s not much of a waterfall at Midnight Hole, but if you’re looking for a good place to jump in the water, this is it. Midnight Hole is very popular and crowded at times. There’s a rope that goes up one of the boulders so swimmers can jump off the rocks into the pool. The water is cold and crystal clear and feels wonderful after the hike on a hot, muggy afternoon.
Take I-40 Exit 451 in Tennessee. It will be the first exit after you cross the state line. Stay left after crossing the Pigeon River and follow the road two miles. You’ll drive by a power plant and community park. You’ll come to a stop sign at an intersection. To your right there will be a small hut with signs for honey, jam and fresh lemonade. Go straight through the intersection and enter the Big Creek section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Follow the gravel road 0.8 miles to a picnic area and campground entrance.
From the parking area, walk back up the road. You’ll see a sign on the left for the trailhead. The hike to Midnight Hole is about 1.5 miles. Stay on the main path and the hole is on the left. The hike is easy. We saw a family pushing a stroller up the trail, although they seemed to have a little trouble with some of the slightly rocky parts. Horses and their riders also frequent the trail.
Waterfall on West Fork Pigeon River
The waterfall on West Fork Pigeon River runs under an old stone bridge on N.C. 215. Although this waterfall isn’t one to plan a trip around, if you’re driving to the other falls on N.C. 215, it’s worth a stop. You can take shots from the road and the bridge but watch out for traffic.
The waterfall is under a bridge on N.C. 215, 4.2 miles from where N.C. 215 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s 13.6 miles south of where N.C. 215 intersects with U.S. 276.