Along with our great ski slopes, waterfalls in the North Carolina mountains give our state picturesque winter scenes. Go way up high, and you’ll find yourself somewhere under the rainbow – Rainbow Falls – that is. Its colorful name comes from the constant mist that rises from the cascading water and sends rainbows vaulting toward the summer sun. During winter, the spray congeals on everything it touches, turning the trail icy and perilous. Rainbow Falls is on the Horsepasture River in the Brevard area.
More than 250 waterfalls are located near Brevard, many of them accessible off what is known as the Waterfall Byway, US Highway 64. A number of waterfalls along this route are visible from the road, making it possible to see the frozen falls in winter from the warmth of your car.
Begin in Rosman at the juncture of highways 64 and 215. Head west on 64, and soon you’ll be at Toxaway Falls. Pass through the town of Cashiers (pronounced CASH-ers), which borders the town of Highlands, and before long you’ll come upon the beautiful 60-foot Bridal Veil Falls. Less than a mile from Bridal Veil Falls is Dry Falls, which is easily accessed along a paved path from a parking lot. Both waterfalls are located inside Nantahala National Forest.
A very impressive cascade is 411-foot Whitewater Falls, the highest on the East Coast. No other waterfall in the East has this combination of water volume, height and visibility, and it’s been designated a North Carolina Natural Heritage Area. Get there by taking US Highway 281 south out of Cashiers. A short, handicapped-accessible trail makes the falls easy to access from the parking lot.
Linville Falls, one of the best-known waterfalls in the Appalachian Mountains, marks the beginning of Linville Gorge, often called the "Grand Canyon of the East." Its walls rise up nearly 2,000 feet in places. Reach it on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Milepost 316.4.
As you continue on the parkway, for your next stop, be prepared to do what countless others have done before you: Pull out your camera phone and take a picture of Looking Glass Falls. Because of its accessibility, it’s considered one of the most photographed waterfalls in America. Great views are offered at the top of stairs as well as a lower platform, where you can hop across rocks (be careful because the rocks can be slick). Get to Looking Glass on US Highway 276 from Blue Ridge Parkway, or on that highway through Pisgah National Forest.
During the winter season, please be aware of potential road closures along the Blue Ridge Parkway due to weather and travel conditions. Additionally, please exercise caution and obey all rules and warnings posted near waterfalls. The rocks around waterfalls are often slippery, and the currents can be very strong. See more waterfall safety tips from Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority.