Land of Waterfalls by Reid Northrup
In my article The Many Faces of Eastatoe Falls, I wrote a comprehensive piece about my favorite waterfall in North Carolina. But with hundreds of waterfalls in this region, surely there must be others worth my consideration? The answer is a resounding yes.
In the nearly five years I have lived near Asheville, I have been blessed with visiting about 80 waterfalls so far. Each different and each great in their own individual way. Some waterfalls are on private land and are inaccessible for the most part. Some are extremely difficult and dangerous to get to as well. But there are so many that are within reach of most people.
For this article, I wanted to share some of my favorite waterfalls in western North Carolina including some key information about each of them, like their location, hiking trail, the best time to photograph, etc.
Eastatoe Falls - Rosman, NC
In my opinion, there is no more photographically beautiful waterfall in North Carolina than Eastatoe Falls. While it may not be impressive in its size, it makes it up abundantly in personality. It offers countless quality compositions to photograph, from full height views to side views and tight isolations, which include the green moss. Black and white photos can work very well here as well.
On a good day, you can spend hours here. Personally, I love compositions that include the triangular lower section of the waterfall. Eastatoe can look great with a higher water flow as well as during dryer periods. Seasonally, Eastatoe does not change much except after a rare snowfall. During autumn, you could get some colorful leaves at the falls base but it is not what I would call a favorite fall opportunity like other waterfalls.
You can photograph Eastatoe up until mid-morning even on a sunny day as the sun will not get high enough to shine on it. Early evening is also a good time when the sun gets lower in the sky. Bring a wide range of lenses from super-wide, mid-telephoto to a 300mm telephoto to capture all the composition Eastatoe offers.
Eastatoe is located on private property but the owner is kind enough to let the public in to see it. Therefore, if you visit, please take care to act respectively so others may continue to enjoy it in the future. Eastatoe is located just south of Rosman, NC on US178.
You can find it by driving 3.5 miles on US178 from its intersection with US64 about 15 minutes west of Brevard, NC. Turn right when you see two ponds on the right side of the road and park behind the house.
Dry Falls – Highlands, NC
In autumn, Dry Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls to photograph. It is located just over three miles west of Highlands on US 64. Get there shortly after sunrise to have a bit of time by yourself to photograph the falls without a lot of people. Dry Falls is easy to get to and is very popular with tourists. By 9 am, it can start getting crowded.
Dry Falls is unique as there is a walkway on the left side that goes behind the waterfall and offers some unique compositions. If it has not rained in a while, the waterfall could look a bit weak so try to catch it after some reasonable rainfall to get the best-looking water flow.
This is a roadside waterfall so there is no hiking required and this helps increase its popularity. As you can see in the photo below, autumn is really the ideal time to visit Dry Falls. The colors really enhance photographs. There are many great compositions available here so keep your eyes open for your unique opportunity. Super wide-angle lenses work best here.
Linville Falls – Blue Ridge Parkway
If you are up for a bit of a difficult hike, Linville Falls fits the bill. Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 316.5 just a mile north of US221, this beauty definitely earns points toward one of the best waterfalls in North Carolina.
There are plenty of photo and hiking opportunities here. Once at the Visitor Center, you have two primary options. To the right, the trail is a moderately steady climb to two overlooks. The first is a view from the top of falls. While it is a beautiful view, I do not think it is particularly a good spot to set up your camera. Continuing further uphill you will reach Erwin’s View, which provides a great view of the Linville Gorge and a distant view of the falls. In autumn, this could be a wonderful composition. I have always opted to skip this location and head down into the gorge myself. I may have to change that later this year.
If you take the trail to the left from the Visitor’s Center, you will have two options for great photographs. First, if you take the trail the full .6 miles you will arrive at the Plunge Basin Overlook, see below. This is a small overlook that gives a bird’s eye view of the falls. In mid-May, as seen here, when the Catawba Rhododendrons are blooming, you can get some beautiful photographs. But to get this view, I had to shimmy upon a rock and be pretty close to the edge of the rocks. If you have a fear of heights, stick to the main overlook. The hike to this overlook is pretty easy and you should have it mostly to yourself much of the time.
If you want to get to the base of the falls, you will need to take the Plunge Basin trail which is on a left spur off the main trail about 0.3 miles from the Visitor’s Center. Then it is another 0.4-mile hike down into the gorge. The trail is rooty, rocky and steep in several locations. This part of the hike is on the difficult side.
Once down in the gorge, Linville Falls will be off to your right. There are numerous photographic compositions here. Some from a more distant view while others are pretty close to the falls themselves. Caution is urged when water levels are up. There may be no safe way to manoeuvre around the boulders to get close to the falls. If water flow is lower, then you have to climb around on many boulders and get across a bridge of a fallen tree. But if you are careful, it should not be too difficult to negotiate.
You will need overcast skies to have a successful day here. If you come very late in the day, the sun will set behind the falls and leave the falls in shade. Just leave time to hike up. Since Linville Falls is very accessible it is a very popular place for visitors and can often be crowded during peak summer months. If you go during the week during the offseason, you should have better luck.
Have a wide range of lenses with you during your visit as you will likely use anything between 16 and 300mm. If you visit after the area has had some recent heavy rains, check out Duggar’s Falls. Check-in at the Visitor’s Center to find the trailhead to this small but scenic waterfall.
Whitewater Falls – Lake Toxaway, NC
Whitewater Falls is among the tallest waterfalls in the East with a drop on nearly 400 feet. It is really a spectacular waterfall, especially in the fall. The falls are located about 9 miles from the intersection of US 64 and NC281 a bit west of Lake Toxaway, NC. From the parking lot, it is less than a quarter of a mile walk to the first lookout. If you go down the stairs there is another overlook. Just remember you have to walk up the 150+ steps.
Compositions are a bit limited here to either the full falls or the top half. You will need at least a 300mm lens as the falls are pretty far off and there is no way to get a closer view. Personally, the only time to get a really good photo of this great waterfall is in mid-October. Even though it is in the open, you can get a pretty good exposure during many parts of the day. This photo was taken on a bright sunny day.
If you plan to visit Whitewater Falls, check the internet as there are numerous very nice waterfalls within a very short distance.
Mill Shoals Falls – Balsam Grove, NC
Mill Shoals Falls has a bit of a love/hate relationship with photographers. I am more on the love side. The land is owned by Living Waters Ministry – a Christian Retreat Center. But even though it is on private property, the owners allow visitors to enjoy this beautiful waterfall.
Living Waters Ministry is located on NC 215 midway between the Blue Ridge Parkway and US 64, west of Brevard, NC. The falls are immediately behind the ministry building.
Most of the photographic criticism of the waterfall is that the old home takes away from the beauty of the area. The location still offers many good photographic compositions for those not wanting to include the red house. I actually think the home offers some unique possibilities for compositions. Be wary of water levels here as framing in the house usually requires wading into the water which can be dangerous at higher water levels. Your wide-angle lens will be the best to use here.
Since the waterfall has no covering trees, it is best to be photographed on a very overcast day. Otherwise, you will be fighting your “blinkies” on the falls. The best time is, of course, after a rain when the rocks are wet and saturated. But be very careful as the rocks are very slippery.
There is a bonus waterfall on the property as well, Bird Rock Falls. This can be found by taking the short easy trail you will see when you begin to leave the waterfall on the right side. Along the way, there are some other large cascades that are nice. Exercise caution here as the rocks are very slippery as I have personally discovered.
Located about midway between Brevard and Hendersonville, NC, in the DuPont State Recreational Forest, Hooker Falls is a rather small, yet photographically satisfying waterfall. Since it is located in a more populated area, it draws a lot of people to it. So, you need to visit it early, preferably on a weekday and when the sky is mostly cloudy. Mid-October is by far the best time to visit as the trees in the background change to vivid autumn colors.
The hike to falls is only 0.3 miles and is very easy. Depending on the water level, you can sometimes get near the base on the left side for some side compositions. If water levels are up, do not attempt this as the rocks are slippery and people have died at this waterfall. While you are visiting, take in nearby Triple Falls and High Falls and enjoy the hiking trails the park has to offer.
Selecting a few favorite waterfalls from the hundreds in North Carolina is a difficult assignment. There are just too many to choose from. But regardless of your age or physical condition, you will find dozens of beautiful waterfalls to enjoy throughout western North Carolina. A great resource in finding other waterfalls is Kevin Adam’s preeminent book, “North Carolina Waterfalls”, 3rd Edition.
But if you visit, please be cautious around all waterfalls as numerous people, generally, tourists from out of state, die each year. If you use common sense, you will come away with great memories of all the beauty North Carolina has to offer.
Reid Northrup is a landscape photographer living in western North Carolina outside of Asheville. While he always enjoyed photography, his interest really took off after a photo tour of the Grand Teton National Park several years ago. After retiring to North Carolina from a lifetime in the Midwest, he was able to truly develop his passion for landscape photography. North Carolina offers everything to the landscape photographer; from waterfalls, the grand vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, to the great ocean views of the Outer Banks. For now, Reid has focused much of his attention on hiking to and photographing many of the waterfalls and mountains in western North Carolina. Reid has ventured into the professional area of photography selling his work to local businesses and offering private and small group digital photography education and photo tours of western North Carolina.