Natural wonders abound in North Carolina, from the picturesque majesty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the beautiful beaches of the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands within the Outer Banks.
These waterfalls are less than a three-hour drive from Charlotte, offering spectacular drops, unique overlook points, and chances for swimming and sunbathing away from urban crowds.
1. Looking Glass Falls
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Looking Glass Falls is a little more than two hours from Charlotte, located along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway within Pisgah National Forest, and is one of the state’s most popular and scenic waterfalls. As one of the few roadside-accessible waterfalls in the state, it’s a perfect trip for visitors with mobility concerns or families in tow. The 45-foot waterfall is named after nearby Looking Glass Rock, which freezes over in the winter and reflects sunlight in a mirror-like fashion. Viewing platforms offer easy access to overlook the waterfall, while steps lead down to the nearby creek for close-up views.
US-276, Brevard, NC 28712, Phone: 828-877-3265
2. Log Hollow Falls
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Log Hollow Falls is one of four waterfalls within Pisgah National Forest that is accessible via the Log Hollow Trail, along with Upper Log Hollow, Logging Road, and Discovery Falls. The falls are located approximately two and a half hours from Charlotte and are the perfect natural excursion for hikers traveling with kids in tow, as they are accessible via an easy 10-minute hike from the parking area with no significant trail obstacles. Many hikers consider the 30-foot falls to be a hidden-away gem in a less traversed part of the forest. Visitors should note that leaning trees in front of the falls make for difficult photography angles, but wading near the base of the falls is permitted for better photo angles.
North Carolina 28761, Phone: 828-877-3265
3. High Falls
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High Falls is one of the most impressive sights of DuPont State Forest, flowing at a height of 150 feet within the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River. The falls are a two-hour drive from Charlotte, accessible via the forest’s High Falls Visitor Center. Visitors have the option of two access trails to reach the falls, including the moderately steep and strenuous two-mile High Falls Loop trail, which also provides access to nearby Triple Falls. At low water times, a close-up view of the falls is accessible via rock hopping on the river bank, and at high water times, the full force of the fall makes for great photo opportunities. In the winter, the falls are often covered with spectacular ice formations, making for even more beautiful sights. More Day Trips from Charlotte
Staton Road, Cedar Mountain, NC 28718, Phone: 828-877-6527
4. Elk River Falls
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Elk River Falls is Pisgah National Forest’s most impressive falls by water volume, located approximately two and a half hours from Charlotte near Beech Mountain and the city of Elk Park. The 50-foot waterfall and its pristine oval base pool are easily accessible without a hike, with a steep footpath providing access to the bottom of the falls. Flat rock boulders provide perfect spots for picnicking and sunbathing at the top and bottom of the falls, and swimming and wading permitted at a section of the base, though visitors should be aware that some areas of the river are very dangerous and that a number of deaths have occurred at the site due to strong currents.
Elk River Rd, Elk Park, NC 28622, Phone: 828-733-9573
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5. Sliding Rock
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Sliding Rock is not technically a waterfall, but a natural water slide that is fueled by 11,000 gallons of water per minute. The Pisgah National Forest attraction is a top family excursion on hot summer days, located nearly three hours from Charlotte near the city of Brevard. Visitors can slide down the rock’s 60-foot slope into its resulting seven-foot pool, with lifeguards on duty at the site during the summer months. Two observation platforms are also provided at the site, along with restroom and changing room facilities. A nominal admission fee is charged during the peak season, with children under six admitted free.
7851 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768, Phone: 828-885-7625
6. Rainbow Falls
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Rainbow Falls is one of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ most spectacular sights, named for the misty rainbow that forms near the falls on sunny days. The 150-foot waterfall is located adjacent to Gorges State Park, approximately a three-hour drive from Charlotte, and is one of a series of waterfalls along the Horsepasture River. It is accessible via a moderate three-mile hike embarking from the Grassy Ridge parking area, with much of the return hike traveling uphill. Side trails allow for views of the waterfall from the base and the top, though visitors should be advised not to climb the falls’ rock face or wade into its upper portion, as several deaths have occurred at the falls. More ideas: Beaches Near Charlotte, North Carolina
976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774, Phone: 828-966-9099
7. Second Falls
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Second Falls is one of three falls located at Pisgah National Forest’s Graveyard Fields valley, which was named for its high population of tree stumps that resembled tombstones. The falls is located approximately two hours and 45 minutes from Charlotte and is accessible via a moderately difficult steep but short stair-heavy 0.6-mile hike that embarks from a parking area directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The falls tumble 70 feet over several rounded tiers and are a popular photography spot. Sunbathing and swimming are permitted at the falls with caution, and a newly-constructed boardwalk serves as an observation point.
East Fork, NC 28716, Phone: 828-257-4200
8. Triple Falls
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Triple Falls is internationally-recognized for its appearance in the film Last of the Mohicans and is known for its stunning three-tiered drop, traveling at different angles and spanning a total height of 125 feet. It is located within DuPont State Forest, approximately a two-hour drive from Charlotte, and is accessible from both the Hooker Falls and High Falls Access parking lots. An easy 0.3-mile hike provides access to the falls, and a level rock platform allows visitors to stand in the middle of the waterfall for unique views. Waterfall visitors should note that the portion of the trail providing access to the viewing overlook is steep and should be advised to stay on dry areas for safety.
Little River, NC 28739, Phone: 828-877-6527
9. Upper Falls
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Upper Falls is one of three waterfalls within the Graveyard Fields valley and is a three-hour drive from Charlotte, located within Pisgah National Forest. The falls are accessible via a 2.9-mile moderately rough hike that is not advised for beginner hikers due to more difficult portions toward the end of the trail. The 50-foot falls and its viewing area are known for their beautiful surrounding atmosphere, which gives visitors a true taste of the region’s natural wonders. Nearby, Second Falls and Yellowstone Falls also offer chances for waterfall viewing hikes, while Yellowstone Prong provides opportunities for wild trout fishing.
East Fork, NC 28716, Phone: 828-257-4200
10. High Shoals Falls at South Mountain State Park
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Hikers who are up for a challenge should definitely pay a visit to the High Shoals Falls located in the stunning South Mountain State Park. It is situated in one of the most rugged locations in the state, but its ruggedness is what makes it absolutely breathtaking. The waterfall itself is 80 feet tall and is surrounded by idyllic mountain streams. To get to the falls, adventurers will have to traverse a strenuous 2.7-mile trail loop which is characterized by steep paths and a river crossing. For hikers who want to enjoy a bit more than just the hike to the falls, there are also camping grounds nearby to enjoy.
3001 South Mountain Park Avenue, Connelly Springs, North Carolina 28612
11. Stone Mountain Falls
Say hello to one of the coolest and most popular attractions in Stone Mountain State Park – Stone Mountain Falls. Standing at 200 feet tall, this majestic waterfall is the tallest in the entire state park and inspires awe and wonder with its mighty deluge of water. For those who aren’t hiking, the falls are accessible via a mammoth set of wooden stairs built by Stone Mountain State Park’s stewards. Meanwhile, for hiking and outdoor enthusiasts, there is a great hike to take via the Upper Trailhead or the Lower Trailhead. The Mountains to Sea Trail is also another great path to take to get to the falls. Be sure to stop along the way and enjoy fantastic viewpoints and attractions like the Hutchinson Homestead, and the New Stone Mountain viewpoint.
3042 Frank Parkway, Roaring Gap, North Carolina 28668
12. Catawba Falls
A stone’s throw away from the Old Fort is the Catawba Falls. The 100-foot-tall waterfall is the main feature of Asheville’s Pisgah National Forest. To get to the falls, adventurers will have to trek through mossy grounds, navigate a covered forest valley, and pass a river crossing. The bonus? Trekkers will pass a number of beautiful waterfalls along the way which is dotted along the Catawba River. All in all, the trail to Catawba Falls is 2.7 miles long with a moderate level of difficulty and a dog-friendly environment. The trail starts at the Old Fort single trailhead and visitors who don’t necessarily want to cross the river the old-fashioned way can make use of the relatively new metal span bridge.
3074 Catawba River Road, Old Fort, North Carolina 28762
13. Crabtree Falls
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What does it take to get to a massive and breathtaking waterfall? Well, when it comes to Crabtree Falls, it takes about 2.5 hours and the willpower to make it past a difficult and steep climb up rocky terrain and strenuous paths. Located right along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is located just a little bit north of Asheville, the Crabtree Falls’ trailhead is easy to find. The 2.5-mile loop will take hikers from the campground entrance through a forest full of oak and hickory trees and will also have individuals navigating through a rosebay rhododendron thicket. Once hikers get to the 60-foot waterfalls, they’ll be greeted by a steep and rugged stone face, wildflowers and ferns growing in the falls’ hollows, and a cooling spray from the waterfall. More ideas: Zoos near Charlotte, NC
39000 Blue Ridge Parkway, Marion, North Carolina 28752
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14. Wintergreen Falls
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Wintergreen Falls is located within the 10,473-acre DuPont State Forest, approximately a two hour and 15 minute drive from Charlotte. The waterfall was named for the prevalence of natural evergreen ground cover at within the nearby Grassy Creek Gorge area and showcases a water drop of 25 feet. It is accessible via a moderately strenuous 3.1-mile hike from the forest’s Guion Farm parking lot which takes about 40 minutes to complete round trip and is easily accessible for dogs, horses, and mountain bikers. Visitors should note that there are several wet areas along the falls’ trail and that a mild amount of rocky terrain must be climbed in order to reach the falls’ viewing point.
Wintergreen Falls Trail, Hendersonville, NC 28739, Phone: 828-877-6527
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