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With Charlotte’s proximity to both the mountains and the beach, Charlotteans really do have the best of both worlds. While the coast may offer stunning sunrises and sandy shores, the Blue Ridge Mountains offer peaceful views and outdoor adventures. And with those mountaintops come some of the most breathtaking waterfalls.
North Carolina’s prime spot for cascading waters is Transylvania County, better known as the Land of the Waterfalls. This area is comprised of several forests, is less than three hours away from the Queen City, and boasts over 250 scenic waterfalls!
Drive two hours and 30 minutes directly west of Charlotte and you’ll run into Pisgah Forest’s most popular natural water slide, Sliding Rock. During peak season (June through Labor Day), expect long lines and a $2 entry fee payable with cash or check. A parking area is positioned right next to this attraction, making it easily accessible and a great destination if you’re not feeling up for a hike. Once it’s your turn, step right up and enjoy the rush of that 60-foot slide. FYI: Sliding is allowed all year-round for those who don’t mind chillier temps.
We’ll answer the most obvious question right off the bat: no, clothing is not optional. Directly across from Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 417 marks the trailhead for Skinny Dip Falls. Follow the Mountains-to-Sea trail less than a mile until you reach a swimming hole and then… well, jump on in. Catch some rays on the boulders that edge these rushing waters, but be careful of slippery wet rocks. Fitt Tip: this swimming hole tends to get crowded by mid-day, so get there earlier for a little more room to splash around.
On your way back from the Sliding Rock, stop by for a quickie waterfall just two miles down the road. Looking Glass Falls is right off of US 276 and is one of the few accessible roadside waterfalls in North Carolina. Pull off the side of the road and enjoy the view from an overlook or take the steps down for a close-up. This waterfall is family friendly, wheelchair accessible and open all year-round. The waterfall gets its name from the Looking Glass Rock, about a six-mile hike away from the falls, whose appearance resembles that of a mirror during winter months when its frozen surface glistens in the sun.
Just a short walk from the parking lot off of DuPont Rd. in DuPont State Forest is the only waterfall area considered safe for swimming in this forest. The wide cascades of Hooker Falls drop into a pool of cool water for the perfect treat on a hot summer’s day. Look closely and you might see some figures hiding behind the rushing water… don’t worry — it’s not a figment of your imagination. There’s actually room in between the rock and falls for you to climb in and tune everything else out, if only for a moment.
Triple Falls, named appropriately for its three distinct cascades, is one mile farther down the trail from Hooker Falls. Make your way over to the flat surface of a distinct rock at the base of the falls for an adventurous picnic spot. Though, be careful not to slip in on your way over, as swimming is strictly prohibited due to the strong currents. Triple Falls is also where scenes from The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans were filmed, so bask in the cascades as you take in a piece of Hollywood history.
Continue hiking past Triple Falls and you’ll reach High Falls, the park’s highest waterfall (in case the name didn’t give it away). The 120-foot cascades are hard to miss as they rush down a slab of granite, changing constantly depending on rainfall and season. Carefully hop your way across stones to a large level rock at the foot of the main waterfall, but be prepared for some spray… and an awesome photo op. This spot is great all year-round — enjoy the cool waters during summer and spectacular ice formations during winter.
Start this 3.5-mile hike from Gorges State Park and end up at Turtleback Falls (similarly shaped to a turtle’s shell — us North Carolinians are straight shooters…). These 20-foot falls drop into a swimming hole only suggested for strong swimmers. Similar to Sliding Rock, the smooth dome shape of these falls creates a natural slide, but because of its higher drop and disorderly waters, kids usually stay away from this attraction. To help you climb up to the top of the falls—even if just for the view—is a rope that leads you up the slippery rock wall. Just be mindful: what goes up must come down, and if you opt out of sliding, you’ll have to use the rope and hit reverse.
If the name is suggestive, and by now we think we can safely say that it is, then you can imagine the beautiful sight that’s in store for those who visit Rainbow Falls. Less than half a mile downstream from Turtleback Falls lies this magnificent multi-view 150-foot waterfall. By multi-view, we mean you can observe these cascades from top, bottom, and front. As the water comes crashing down, it creates mist which then reflects light into the form of rainbows (cue the music). Major wow factor, majorly worth it.
Standing even taller than High Falls in DuPont State Forest, Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. It’s so tall, in fact, that it’s split into Upper Falls and Lower Falls. The Lower Falls traverse the South Carolina border and are accessed from a separate location. The 1.7-mile hike to the Upper Falls can be challenging going downhill, but there’s a short walk to a viewing area for easy access. Fitt Tip: the fee is $2 per person; however, it is possible to access for free if you’re willing to hike additional miles.