Earthshine Top Ten: Waterfalls!

Rainbow Falls at Gorges State Park

Transylvania County is known as the Land of Waterfalls. With over 250 falls in the area, visiting every one of them is a multi-year if not lifetime project. For a more attainable goal, here are some of our favorites. From the well-known to the hard-to-reach, each waterfall offers something special.

Courthouse Falls

Courthouse FallsThis beautiful waterfall is tucked into a deep cove for cooling off on a hot summer day, and the short trail makes it a great little getaway. Turn right onto FS 140 off of NC 215 just north of the community of Balsam Grove to get to the trailhead. Driving directions to trailhead off of FS 140. Note: FS 140 is sometimes closed. An alternative route takes you up Summey Cove trail, a 2.7 mile hike (5.4 mile round trip) from NC 215 up to the falls. This trailhead is about ¼ mile up the road from the turnoff for FS 140.

Rainbow and Turtleback Falls

A massive waterfall along the Horsepasture River in NCA very popular out and back hike punctuated by two beautiful waterfalls. If you time it right, the mist from thundering Rainbow Falls might actually produce a rainbow! Drive south from Gorges State Park Visitor Center to the Grassy Ridge parking area. Follow the Rainbow Falls Trail 1.5 miles (keeping right at junction with the Raymond Fisher Trail) to the base of Rainbow Falls. You can continue up the trail to Turtleback Falls, less than ½ mile upstream. These falls can be deadly, so enjoy from the shore! Directions to trailhead.

Frolictown Falls

Frolictown Falls

We love Frolictown not only because it’s one of many falls on an all-day Panthertown Valley tour, but because it’s just so darn beautiful! If you just want to see these falls, you can get there from the Salt Rock Trailhead, about an hour’s drive from Earthshine, but if you want to explore more, we recommend heading out from Cold Mountain Gap, just 20 minutes up the road from Earthshine. Starting from Cold Mountain Gap, you’ll also get to see the next waterfall on our list …


Schoolhouse Falls

A favorite of many Earthshine families and folks who just want to hang a hammock and read a book, or splash around in the sunny pool beneath the falls. The hike to this waterfall is a very easy downhill walk on an old road (Panthertown Valley Trail), followed by a short left turn onto Little Green Trail (just after crossing the Greenland Creek bridge) to the base of the falls. 2.5 miles round trip. Spending a full day in Panthertown? Check out our Panthertown blog for more info. Trailhead directions.

Moore Cove Falls

Moore Cove Falls in PisgahAmong the MANY waterfalls along US 276 out of Brevard/Pisgah Forest, this one is super-accessible (1.5 miles round trip), but typically less busy than Sliding Rock or Looking Glass falls. We love that you can hike all the way up behind the falls! Driving directions.

Skinny Dip Falls

Waterfall hike to skinny dip fallsThis used to be a locals-only secret, but the secret’s out, and with it, the carefree, no-clothes attitude that gave it its name. But it’s still worth the drive and hike, since we think it’s one of the most enchanting waterfalls and swimming pools we’ve ever seen. Be careful, or you may end up shedding your worldly possessions and joining the wood nymphs and fairies who call this little corner of WNC mountain magic their home. Trailhead coordinates. Hike description. You can also reach Skinny Dip by following the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST) southeast from Graveyard Fields, but it’s a much longer out-and-back than the hike from the Looking Glass Rock overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Wintergreen Falls

Wintergreen Falls in DuPont State ForestDuPont State Forest is a super popular waterfall destination, but this waterfall takes a bit of walking, so it’s usually quieter than the others you’d hike to from the Hooker Creek parking area. We suggest hiking downhill to the falls from Guion Farm parking area, taking Tarkiln Branch Rd. south toward Wintergreen Falls trail. Turn left onto Wintergreen Falls trail and stay left to visit the falls. If you’re on two wheels, you’ll need to leave the bike at the final turn-off for the falls – the last little scramble isn’t bike-friendly. However you get there, bring your lunch and a swimsuit. Three miles round-trip.

French Broad and Cathedral Falls

Waterfalls along NC 215Another lesser-known pair of falls in the community of Balsam Grove, this one is actually on private property owned by Living Waters Ministry, but they’re very gracious hosts. A very short walk from NC 215 in Balsam Grove, this makes a good alternative to Courthouse Falls if you’re short on time or aren’t up for a bigger hike. Trailhead directions.

Daniel Ridge/Tom Spring Falls

Daniel Ridge Tom SpringKnown by both names, this falls is right along the trail on an easy uphill walk along a forest road from the parking area. The falls is quite impressive, as it tumbles over 100 feet. You can hike uphill on Daniel Ridge trail (just downhill from the falls) and reach the top of the falls where the trail crosses. Viewing the tumbling cascade from below should scare you away from exploring the top too closely! While you’re in the area, check out one of our favorite falls/swimming holes …

Cove Creek Falls

Cove creek falls

Start this hike from the Cove Creek group camping area just upstream from the Fish Hatchery. Note that if the group camp is occupied, you’ll want to detour around it using the Caney Bottom trail, but if empty, you can follow Cove Creek upstream past several deep swimming holes, a mini-sliding rock, and other cascades before reaching Cove Creek Falls. For more detailed descriptions of the varied ways to enjoy Cove Creek click here.

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