My Top 10 Waterfall Hikes

Updated 01-12-2023

My favrorite hikes tend to combine several elements. The first is they all include more than one waterfall. All of the ones on this list are among the most difficult hikes I’ve done, with most being river/creek walks. The other element I like is distance.

1 – Steeltrap Creek Falls 

Hike Summary: We call it the Road to Nowhere hike. It starts at Clingman’s Dome and ends at the Road to Nowhere Tunnel in Bryson City. Rockslab Falls, Steeltrap Creek Falls, Upper Bear Creek Falls and Bear Crek Falls. Twenty miles of fun in the Smokies!

What to expect: a mile long creekwalk, steep, rocky terrain at the start, and 2.5 miles of uphill to finish the day.

Difficulty: 10 out of 10

2 – The Toxaway River (shuttle)

Hike Summary: A daylong adventure on the Toxaway River. The trek begins at Twin Falls and includes the Toxaway Narrows, Upper Wintergreen Falls, Land Bridge Falls, Wintergreen Falls, Chub Line Falls, Step Around Falls and during the 3-mile uphill road walk to the shuttle car you can stop at Maple Springs Branch Falls, Auger Hole Falls and Double Drop Falls..

What to expect: River walk, wading, swimming, elevation change

Difficulty: 10 out of 10

3 – Dismal Falls – Panthertown Valley Hike #5

Hike Summary: This is difficult hike due to the elevation gain and loss to get over Dismal Ridge. The waterfalls are great but you need to go after some rain or Dismal Falls looks kinda pitiful. There are 5 waterfalls and a massive rock wall known as the Great Wall of Dismal: Aunt Sally’s Falls, Trailside Falls, Rhapsodie Falls, Lower Dismal Falls, Dismal Falls

What to expect: creek crossings, long steep ascents, rope descents, difficult scrambles

Difficulty: 9 out of 10

4 – Dark Prong

Hike Summary: This is one of my summer favorites. I have done it 4 times now, and I would do it agian in a heartbeat. You get 3 waterfalls, a dozen swimming holes, numerous slides, and lots of colorful rock. You also get three waterfalls: Upper Dark Prong Falls, Serpentine Falls and Lower Dark Prong Falls.

What to expect: creek crossings, slippery rock sections, poorly defined scramble to get started in the creek

Difficulty: 9 out of 10

5 – Lichen Falls – Panthertown Valley Hike #3

Hike Summary: The tour of the Tuckasegee River with six waterfalls. It makes for a long but rewarding day, and it is best done in the summer due to the river walk to get to Lichen Falls. You get Warden’s Falls, Jawbone Falls, Riding Ford Falls, Elbow Falls, Red Butt Falls and Lichen Falls which is tucked up on a rock shelf accessed through a narrow opening in the rock. One of my favorite paces to hang out.

What to expect: creek crossings, slippery rock sections, poorly defined trail, steep scrambles

Difficulty: 9 out of 10

6 – Thee Creek

Hike Summary: One of the more rugged and steep creek walks you’re going to do. Coming up from Rock Creek, you get six waterfalls, the last two both in excess of 50 feet high. Each waterfall presents it’s own challenge to navigate around. This is only for the lower section of the creek

What to expect: rock scrambles, steep bushwhacks, boulders, wades.

Difficulty: 10 out of 10

7 – Campbell Creek Falls

Hike Summary: This is saying a lot, but possibly the hardest hike I’ve done. There is no trail, and it is a long arduous descent along a rocky creekbed. The rhodo are thick when you get close to Campbell Creek Falls, and finding the narrow way down on river left is like threading a needle.

What to expect: steep scramble, cliffs, loose rocks, thick rhodo, 1800 feet of descent which means…

Difficulty: 10 out of 10

8 – Flat Creek Falls

Hike Summary: This is a 7 mile round trip hike to a single waterfall. The hike to the falls is 3.5 miles downhill. The return is all uphill. The trail system is very confusing and to get to the upper portion of the falls there is a dangerous rock ascent.

What to expect: creek crossing, steep scramble, slippery rock section, confusing trails, long uphill stretch

Difficulty: 8 out of 10

9 – Ledbetter Canyon

Hike Summary: The first time I did this one I was intimidated by it, but after four visits, this is by far the easiest of the ones on this list. You get two waterfalls, Inside Passage and Ledbetter Canyon Falls. To get to past Inside Passage you have to climb the waterfall which is inside a cave.

What to expect: huge boulders, tricky rock climbs

Difficulty: 7 out of 10

10 – Bonas Defeat

Hike Summary: A two mile canyoneering adventure on the Tuckasegee River, walking the river bottom becasue the dam limts the flow. The enormity of the boulders defies description and the massive potholes burrowed into the bedrock are unique. It makes for a long day, and a full body workout

What to expect: Huge boulders, rock climbing, narrow keyholes

Difficulty: 10 out of 10

All distances are calculated to the most distant of the waterfalls on this hike