Drive under a waterfall? Walk behind a waterfall? Sound fun? If you have a love of nature and a desire for fun family adventure, then your family (like mine) would love the North Carolina Waterfall Byway.
On a recent vacation to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we did a portion of this drive and it was a HUGE HIT with everyone in our family (including preschoolers, school-age children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents).
This scenic byway is 97 miles of curvy mountain roads. Traveling with children, we chose to drive what is often said to be the most exciting 20-mile stretch of this byway located between the towns of Franklin and Highlands. This short stretch of road features four waterfalls, some fun driving curves, and lots of pretty scenery. We found that the most convenient places for us to access our preferred section of the Waterfall Scenic Byway was in the North Carolina towns of either Franklin or Hendersonville.
I highly recommend starting your North Carolina waterfall tour from Franklin so that you are heading east on Highway 64. When driving in this direction, you will find both, waterfalls and small pulloff areas, on the right side of the road. This allows you to avoid walking across the narrow winding highway in order to view these sights. Thus, I think it is the safest option for you and your family.
Here are the details of our adventure while chasing waterfalls along the North Carolina Waterfall Byway:
After picking up the Waterfall Byway in Franklin, we traveled east along highway 64. We quickly spied Callasaja Falls only 8 miles past Franklin. Watch for these magnificent falls along the right side of the road. Although there is no sign, the Callasaja Falls are super easy to spot from the road. A convenient pulloff area for roadside parking is also on the right side of the road. This 250-foot waterfall is quite spectacular; the children and adults were all impressed with it.
About 2.5 miles further down highway 64 is a pulloff on the right side of the road for Bust Your Butt Falls. It is fairly easy to spot while driving. While considerably smaller than Callasaja Falls, this waterfall is very popular for a number of reasons. My kids thought the name itself was hilarious, and that made it worth the stop just to hear them snicker. Apparently, it is also a popular swimming hole with visitors actually sliding down the falls on their bottoms. (I assume sliding down it can be a little painful at times, and that is probably how this waterfall earned its name.) It was a cold spring day when we went on our excursion so we did not witness any water play ourselves.
Keep traveling east on highway 64 for another 3.5 miles, and you will find Dry Falls. Again, this stop will be on the right side of the road. The attraction is clearly marked, has a good-sized parking lot, and nicely kept trails. Follow the short trail downward to walk behind this 75-foot waterfall while staying mostly dry. What a fun and unique adventure for your family! Also, there is a fully accessible observation area for anyone in your group who doesn’t want to make the jaunt down the trail. We discovered a couple of picnic tables by the parking lot. So we took this opportunity to enjoy a picnic lunch before continuing our drive along the NC Waterfall Byway.
After visiting Dry Falls, it was only one more mile down highway 64 to Bridal Veil Falls. Watch for this drive-behind waterfall along the left side of the road. There is a rather large pulloff area on the left side of the road and the 45-foot waterfall is easy to find as it is literally right by the main road. Drive under the falls, and then, park the car so you can get out and snap a few pictures. This was a big highlight of our trip for my children. They still tell people about the “one time we drove right under a waterfall.”
We found this first 20-mile stretch of the scenic byway to be the most exciting for our children. After driving behind Bridal Veil Falls, the children quickly lost interest in looking at scenery and started pulling out their reading books/video games. Thus, we made a beeline for Hendersonville in order to catch a convenient route back to our vacation rental near Asheville. However, we did attempt to hike a little further down the road at Whiteside Mountain. (Read more about our hiking experience in the bulleted list below.)
If your children are willing to tolerate more scenery and some walking, you may want to also consider these other stops along the Waterfall Byway:
- Highlands – Less than 5 miles past the Bridal Veil Falls turnout is the quaint little town of Highlands. Its historic downtown area is said to be beautiful and a great place to window shop.
Whiteside Mountain – Five miles beyond Highlands is Whiteside Mountain. It boasts of a moderate 2-mile hiking loop trail with gorgeous views. We attempted this hike but the first portion of the trail is steep and boring. My littlest kids became unhappy very quickly, and while we made it to some pretty views, we did not make it to the most exciting parts of the trail. We stopped at the first plateau, took some pictures, and then headed back downhill to the parking lot. From what I could see of it, the remainder of the trail looked like some uneven rugged terrain. I think it would have proved to be too difficult for my group which included a four-year-old and a grandparent with a recent knee replacement.
- Cashiers – Further down the byway is the town of Cashiers. This cute little town calls itself the Heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While there, you may want to check out the Village Green – a 12-acre park featuring a beautiful outdoor sculpture, several walking paths, and pretty garden areas.
- Silver Run Falls – Just four miles south of Cashiers along NC107 is Silver Run Falls. Watch for its sign and the small roadside parking area on the left side of the road. It’s a short .25 mile hike back to this cute 25-foot waterfall. This is a popular swimming area because it offers a small beach area along the calm waters at the foot of the falls.
- Panthertown Valley – A couple miles beyond Cashiers is Panthertown Valley, an area that has been referred to as the Yosemite of the East. It features several waterfalls – two of these falls can be seen from the Waterfall Hike, a two-mile loop trail. Follow some of the many other hiking trails to discover a host of other natural wonders including granite domes, valleys, gorges and high-altitude bogs.
- Gorges State Park –Gorges State Park is just off of highway 64. My kids thought I called it “Gorgeous” State Park when I told them about this place, and I admit that it sounds like gorgeous may also be a very appropriate name for this 7,500 acre park. Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls are the most popular attractions at this park. Also, the eco-friendly nature center sounds like it would be interesting for both kids and adults.
- Upper Whitewater Falls – At 811 feet, Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the rockies. You can find the Upper Whitewater Falls just a few miles off highway 64 by heading south on NC 281. It is only a .25-mile walk from the entrance to view the upper falls (which drop an impressive 411 feet).
- Toxaway Falls – Toxaway Falls are easy to miss because the highway goes right over top of this 150-foot waterfall. I barely caught a glimpse of it as we drove by. According to the directions I had written ahead of our road trip, you should look for parking on the westbound side of the road at the bridge below the dam. After parking, you can cross the road to find a walkway along the bridge for a nice view from atop the falls.
- Dupont State Forest – If you have a Hunger Games fan in your family, you must stop at Dupont State Forest. Do you remember the scene where Katniss nearly steps on Peeta who was lying camouflaged on the ground during the games? That scene was filmed at the base of Triple Falls in Dupont State Forest. Other scenes were filmed at the park’s Bridal Veil Falls. And, these are only two of 4 impressive waterfalls in this beautiful recreational area.
- Hendersonville – Hendersonville is a lovely mountain town with a neat historic downtown district. It’s also a convenient place to pick up Interstate 26 in order to exit the NC Waterfall Byway. If you have small children with you, you may want to check out the Hands On! Children Museum in Hendersonville.
For more details about the North Carolina Scenic Byways including the Waterfall Byway, you can download the official state guide (PDF).
Our family had so much fun searching for waterfalls during this excursion. Chasing waterfalls may be our new favorite pastime.
Where should we go next to find some amazing waterfalls?