Waterfalls - 18 min read

20 Best Waterfalls near Franklin, NC (Highest & Most Beautiful)

Lauren Abbott

Lauren Abbott, Updated September 26, 2022

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North Carolina’s city of Franklin is nicknamed the “gem capital of the world” due to its rich history of mining precious gems. However, the area’s natural beauty provides various “gems” for adventure seekers and families.

Home to the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and many others, outdoor activities are plentiful year-round in North Carolina. A variety of artificial and natural waterfalls add to its beauty. A few of the state’s most breathtaking scenic waterfalls near Franklin include Glen Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Toxaway Falls. 

North Carolina has an abundance of natural and man-made waterfalls to add to its beauty. Read on to discover some of the best waterfalls in the Franklin area that will add many memorable experiences to your visit.

1. Glen Falls 

Credit: Jeff Burcher / Flickr


Glen Falls is one of the most popular falls in the Franklin area. It is a triple waterfall located near Highlands in the Nantahala National Forest. 

There are four stopping points along the way to view the gorgeous waterfalls. Pet owners should note that dogs are welcome on the trail, however they must be on a leash at all times. 

The 2.4-mile round trip hike to view the waterfall can be somewhat challenging. There are multiple switchbacks, large tree roots, and inclines that can be slippery when wet. Hikers should be sure to wear sturdy shoes with good grip. 

Nature’s beauty abounds in the surrounding forest with flowers, trees, and lush vegetation. Fall is especially photo-worthy with the leaves in full color, however any time of the year is a good time to visit Glen Falls. The entire hike typically takes about an hour and a half.

Address: 1091 Glen Falls Rd, Highlands, NC 28741
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Moderate

2. Whitewater Falls 

Credit: Gordon Magee / Flickr


Also located within the Nantahala National Forest, Whitewater Falls is another interesting location in the Franklin area. It is known for being the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. 

With picnic tables and restrooms available, this is a great stop during a road trip or destination for a planned day outdoors. The 811-foot falls are viewable just a short walk from the parking lot. Guests can travel further to view the water up close. 

There is a 154-step wooden staircase to the bottom to see the entire waterfall. In this short hike, you’ll be rewarded with views of Lake Jocassee, neighboring mountains, and colorful wildflowers.

The hike itself can usually be completed in about ten minutes. It is well worth it for those looking to experience the forest’s beauty in just a short trip. Leashed dogs are welcomed to accompany you on this trail. 

For those seeking a bit more adrenaline, there is easy access to an additional half-mile trail. This trail is rocky and can get very slippery. Adventure-seekers should keep in mind that this trail is intended for experienced hikers only.

Address: Cashiers, NC 28717
Cost Of Admission: 
$3 per vehicle for 7 passengers or less, $1 per additional passenger
Difficulty To Access: Easy

3. Bridal Veil Falls 

Credit: gtchaos / Flickr


Bridal Veil Falls is another gem nestled in the Nantahala forest. This 120-foot beauty freezes in the winter and showcases rainbows on sunny days. It’s a nice place for a quick stop or a full day amongst the trees. 

The nearby road previously ran behind the falls, making it convenient to drive up to the water. However, after recent renovations, cars are now prohibited. A walkway was left behind for pedestrians to access and explore the falls on foot. 

The water flow on this waterfall is fairly small in comparison to many others in the area. As a result, it is generally considered to he a safe place for children. This makes Bridal Veil Falls a friendly destination for family outings. 

Bridal Veil Falls are safely accessible to all who wish to view them. The hike is easy with minimal obstructions or switchbacks. 

This location is best visited during warm, dry months. After a heavy rain, it is best to avoid going behind the falls on foot to avoid slipping. In the winter, guests should be careful of slick pathways and watch for falling ice.

Address: Staton Rd, Cedar Mountain, NC 28718
Cost Of Admission:  Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

4. Toxaway Falls 

Credit: Jeff Heard / Flickr


Toxaway Falls is a gorgeous scenic waterfall located near the Gorges State Park. It was created over 100 years ago as a result of a natural disaster. 

The massive rainstorm destroyed the nearby Toxaway Dam in the year of 1916. It was previously situated west of Brevard near the state park. 

When the storm subsided, the massive 240-foot cascade was left behind. The falls are lovely to view in all seasons, including winter when the water turns to ice. 

The east side of the waterfall is included within the boundaries of Gorges State Park. With the property line directly in the middle, the west side is privately owned and closed to the public.

There is a pull-off along the US-64 highway where the falls can be easily viewed in the distance. If one look isn’t enough, guests can grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant directly across the street. 

Address: U.S. Route 64 & N-C Highway 281, North Carolina 28747
Cost Of Admission:  Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

5. Courthouse Falls 

Credit: Mark / Flickr


For a refreshing adventure on a hot day, adventure-seekers are encouraged to try Courthouse Falls in Pisgah National Forest.

After a 45-foot drop, the falls open up into a deep natural pool. Guests are welcome to cool off in the waterfall mist or enjoy a brisk swim below the falls. 

The hike to the falls is short, totaling only about one fourth of a mile. There is direct access to more trails at the bottom of the waterfall as well. 

While it is a relatively easy hike, the trail is often slippery and muddy from the water. Guests should use caution after it has rained in the area.

The access road is frequently closed due to unsafe conditions as well, which is something to keep in mind before visiting. 

Leashed dogs are welcome on this popular trail. Those who are seeking more of a workout on their adventure can access the falls from the Sumney Cove trailhead instead. This offers an additional 2.7 miles of trail before reaching the falls at the end.

Address: Balsam GroveNorth Carolina 28708
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

6. Rainbow Falls 

Credit: Doug Bradley / Flickr


Rainbow Falls is a must-see destination when visiting waterfalls near Franklin. The lovely 125-foot drop comes from the Horsepasture River above. 

The location of the waterfall is positioned to get lots of beautiful sunlight. On a sunny day, you are likely to see a rainbow through the mist. 

Rainbow Falls provides visitors views from the top, bottom, and sides. Although the hike can be challenging, it is very rewarding once you reach the falls at the end. 

Experienced swimmers can take a dip in the refreshing water underneath the stream. It is a popular site for jumping and rock sliding. 

Guests should use caution when swimming in the water. Its current can be strong and the rocks within can also be dangerous.

After cooling off in the water, you can continue on the trail for another three miles and experience nearby Turtleback Falls. This location was also a popular slide area until injuries became too numerous. It is still a beautiful view nonetheless. 

Address: Rainbow Falls Trail, Lake Toxaway, NC 28747
Cost Of Admission:  Free
Difficulty To Access: Moderate 

7. Cullasaja Falls 

Credit: novasdtr / Flickr


Cullasaja Falls is nestled west of Highlands in Nantahala National Forest. The drive along this stretch of highway before reaching the waterfall  is especially beautiful. Perfect for a scenic drive, visitors can take a moment to pull over and catch the stunning view. 

US-64 has a small pull-off with room for two or three cars for this reason. It can easily go unnoticed by those who don’t know it’s there, however. First-time guests should keep a careful eye out for this section while traveling down the highway. 

Across the guardrail of the freeway is a short, unofficial walking trail for those who wish to get up close. The pathway has a steep incline that can be rocky, slippery, and uneven in some areas. Only very experienced hikers should attempt to hike down to the base of the waterfall.

Address: Nantahala National Forest, Bryson City, NC 28713
Cost Of Admission:  Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

8. Sliding Rock 

Credit: John Cothron / Flickr


Sliding Rock Falls in the Pisgah National Forest is an ideal location for family fun near Franklin. There are plenty of activities to enjoy upon arrival at the falls. 

Guests can plunge into an 8-foot deep natural pool after sliding down a 60-foot smooth rock water slide. Water shoes are recommended for optimal safety and comfort. 

This popular summer spot fills up quickly on hot days. Peak hours should be avoided when possible. The entire family can come along for a day of adventure, as leashed dogs are welcome.

Lifeguards are present during the open hours of 10 am to 6 pm from May to September. Restrooms and changing rooms are also available during these times. While it’s best to bring your own, flotation devices are available for rent.

Sliding Rock Falls is open to guests year-round except during periods of heavy rainfall or dangerously high water. There is no charge for visitors after open hours. However, it should be kept in mind that no lifeguards are present and the restrooms will be locked.

Address: 1001 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, NC
Cost Of Admission:  
$5 per person
Difficulty To Access: Easy

9. Looking Glass Falls 

Credit: Chris Berrier / Flickr


Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest is one of North Carolina’s most popular waterfalls. A very short walk from the parking lot off US-276 leads you to this photogenic beauty. 

During the cold months, the sides of the waterfall can freeze. This gives off the reflective quality this waterfall is named after. 

The family-friendly area is great for birdwatching or a leisurely stroll. The rocky Looking Glass Creek is perfect for wading or a cold swim.

Parking is limited, so guests should plan to arrive early. Leashed pets are permitted in the areas surrounding the waterfall. 

Address: US-276, Brevard, NC 28712
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

10. Dry Falls 

Credit: Reid Northrup / Flickr


The cliff setting of Dry Falls in the Nantahala National Forest gives them their unusual name. Visitors can walk behind the waterfall without getting wet during months with dry weather. 

A short walk from the parking lot is all it takes to view this 75-foot cascade. The easily accessible hike includes a bridge behind the falls. The entire walk usually takes about ten minutes in total. 

This waterfall is especially beautiful in October while the leaves are at peak color. Though the footbridge is closed in the winter, it is still a great time to visit and see the unique ice formations. 

Address: Nantahala National Forest, Bryson City, NC 28713
Cost Of Admission:  Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

11. Indian Creek Falls 

Credit: Shutterstock


Located about an hour from Gatlinburg, Indian Creek Falls provide a scenic hike the entire family can enjoy. Bicycles are allowed on the path, but pets are prohibited. 

The hike allows easy access to both Tom’s Branch and Juney Whank Falls. It is roughly 1.9 miles round trip, with benches available for those who want to savor the view. 

Guests should bring water and wear good hiking shoes. It is highly recommended to stay on the trail and avoid venturing out.

Black bears are often seen in this area. The hike is easily completed within one or two hours. It is a convenient location to add a visit to nearby Bryson City or Cherokee for shopping or additional sightseeing.

Address: Indian Creek Trail, Bryson City, NC 28713
Cost Of Admission:
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

12. Mooney Falls 

Credit: Shutterstock


Those in search of a short, remote hike near Franklin should try Mooney Falls. The trailhead can be found at the Standing Indian Campground in Nantahala National Forest. 

A brief walk downhill will bring you to a large boulder, providing a panoramic view of the two waterfalls. You may even feel the mist of the water from this distance. 

The larger waterfall is difficult to view in its entirety, though still a breathtaking view. Two trail sections allow you to see both falls conveniently. 

Guests should wear good shoes, bearing in mind that the trail is more rustic. It can be rocky and muddy in many areas. 

Parking is limited as well, which us another thing to plan for in advance. This destination is best visited in the warmer months, as all trails are closed during winter. 

Although this is a popular hike, you will find plenty of solitude on the trail. Typically, the hike can be completed in less than 15 minutes, and the ending is well worth the effort. 

Address: FR67, Otto, NC 28763
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

13. Quarry Falls 

Credit: Mark Frye / Flickr


The Quarry Falls’ name is derived from the quarry across the street. It is also known as the “Bust Your Butt Falls”. This fun and popular stop is a must-see in the Franklin area. 

Along a scenic stretch of US-64 known as the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, you’ll find one or two pull-offs for easy viewing from the car.

Access to view the falls up close is easy, only requiring a short walk from the parking lot. Adventure-seekers will find plenty of exciting activities upon arrival. 

The 20-foot waterfall provides a natural slide into a pool of water below. Guests should take caution, as currents can be strong with large rocks in the surrounding area. This pool is more intense than nearby Sliding Rock and is for experienced swimmers only.

Address: US Hwy 64 & NC Hwy. 28, Highlands, North Carolina 28741 
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

14. Tom’s Branch Falls 

Credit: Randy Scherkenbach / Flickr


One of the three waterfalls viewable along the Indian Creek Trail, Tom’s Branch is a quick and easy family-friendly hike. You will find this waterfall just steps from the parking lot.

The ten-minute hike will reward you with a lovely, relaxing break at the end. Benches are also available for seating and viewing the falls. Overall, the trail is flat and wheelchair accessible.

Although water sports are not recommended here, you will likely see people tubing in the water below the falls. Pets are prohibited on the trail and around the waterfall. 

Address: Deep Creek Trail, Bryson City, NC 28713
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

15. Burningtown Falls 

Credit: Burningtown Falls / Facebook


These lovely and picturesque falls in western North Carolina begin in a 30-foot cascade over a rocky ledge. They are located on private property with no public access. However they are still viewable from Burningtown Falls Road for free. 

Burningtown Falls offers venues that are available to rent for weddings and other special events. The property includes a rustic barn and outdoor setting at the base of the falls. Photo possibilities are endless in front of the stunning backdrop.  

Address: Burningtown Falls, North Carolina 28734
Cost Of Admission: 
Free from Burningtown Falls Rd.
Difficulty To Access: Easy

16. Rufus Morgan Falls 

Credit: Lyle Scott Photography / Flickr


Rufus Morgan Falls are named after Albert Rufus Morgan, one of the pioneer builders of the Appalachian Trail. They are very popular among locals and travelers alike. 

The trail leading to the 70-foot falls, though moderately difficult, is a fun and family-friendly hike. Leashed dogs are also welcome to join in on the adventure. 

There is some incline on this narrow one-mile hike, so caution should be exercised with children. Exposed roots make for unlevel ground in some areas. However, the lovely cliff view at the halfway point is a great reward.

This trail is very pretty with flowers and streams along the way. It is another great area for bird watching as well. It can be damp and muddy on occasion, and guests will make good use of bug spray.

The hike can usually be completed in about 35 minutes. It may take longer upon arrival, as you will want to allow plenty of time to experience nature’s beauty!

Address: 5550 Wayah Rd, Franklin, NC 28734
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Moderate

17. Bull Cove Falls 

Credit: Jeff / Flickr


Those looking for a more challenging hike will be excited to see Bull Cove Falls in the Nantahala National Forest. This 2-mile hike has steep grades and multiple switchbacks leading to these beautiful, 2-tiered falls and scenic cliff views.

This trail is popular for hiking and running, but remains fairly uncrowded. If you are looking for solitude and beautiful scenery, Bull Cove Falls is ideal. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trail. At least three hours of time should be budgeted for this hike.

At the end of the trail, there is an option to continue further to the stunning High Falls. Adding this leg to your hike will include about two miles of fairly steep incline.

Address: Franklin, NC 28734
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Difficult

18. Juney Whank Falls 

Credit: Todd Martin / Flickr


This waterfall is believed to be named after Mr. Junalaska “Juney” Whank, who may be buried in the Great Smoky National Park.

It is also possible the name was derived from the Cherokee phrase “Juney Whank”, meaning “where the bear passes”. Regardless of the name’s origin, these falls are a worthwhile stop.

There is a footbridge leading to gorgeous views of the gigantic two-tiered waterfall. Though this hike is less than a mile, it can be difficult. It is fairly steep but well-maintained.

You’ll find plenty of shade and may even encounter some horseback riders. Remember to bring water and wear good shoes. The hike typically takes between 1 and 2 hours. Pets are prohibited on the trail.

Address: Juney Whank Falls Trail, Bryson City, NC 28713
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Moderate

19. Sequoyah Falls 

Credit: bobistraveling / Flickr


On your way toward Highlands and Nantahala National Forest to see any of the other four nearby waterfalls is the lesser known Sequoyah Falls.

You may find a small pull-off from US-64 on your journey. The fact that Sequoyah Falls is man-made sparks the debate of if it should be considered an actual waterfall. 

A dam built in 1926 created Lake Sequoyah and the aforementioned falls. While this cascade may not be a natural formation, it is still a worthy stop for scenic views and great pictures.

Address: 1896 Franklin Rd, Highlands, NC 28741
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

20. Big Laurel Falls 

Credit: Shutterstock


Big Laurel Falls is a kid-friendly hike in Nantahala National Forest. It is just over one mile out and back and can usually be completed in a half hour.

This scenic trail crosses several creeks and passes some small waterfalls. It is lush, green, and beautiful all the way. The trail is well maintained and a nice spot for a picnic or for the kids to explore freely. 

Address: National Forest Rd, Otto, NC 28763
Cost Of Admission:  
Free
Difficulty To Access: Easy

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