Waterfalls in Western NC With Kids

Nestled within the breathtaking landscapes of Western North Carolina, a world of wonder awaits families seeking outdoor adventures. With its lush forests, winding trails, and an abundance of cascading waterfalls, this region of the country provides the perfect playground for kids to connect with nature.

Four young kids sit on a rock in front of a waterfall in NC

Even though I’m relatively new to the area, I’ve spent the past year exploring the beauty of Western NC with my kids, and have been so thrilled to find so many family-friendly hiking trails that lead to spectacular waterfalls in Western NC!

A group of kids splash underneath a waterfall
Moore Cove Falls in Pisgah National Forest is the perfect outdoor playground for kids in the summertime.

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Safety and Other Considerations for Chasing Waterfalls with Kids

Hiking to waterfalls with kids can be a really wonderful and adventurous experience. But it’s important to prioritize safety since exploring wild water can introduce a new set of potential dangers. Remember to take basic precautions when hiking with your family, such as wearing sun protective clothing and sturdy, comfortable water shoes (among others, we really like Keens for summertime hiking), carrying water and snacks, and being aware of any safety guidelines or restrictions in place.

Psigah National Forest information sign at a trailhead.

A few other things to consider are that waterfalls and other types of rushing water can take kids (and sometime adults!) downstream quite quickly. For littler ones or unsure swimmers, pack in a life jacket for them to wear when we’ll be exploring wild water that is fast and deep, even if they aren’t planning to swim.

Most PFDs (life jackets) are easy to secure to the outside of your backpack, and I’ve found there are some life jackets my kids don’t usually mind keeping them on while playing (check out our tips on getting kids to wear life jackets if you are having trouble!)

Five kids lean over a railing looking at a waterfall.

Getting close to waterfalls can be tempting, but it’s crucial to emphasize the importance of not swimming or playing near the waterfall’s edge, especially ones that are powerful and swift, or when you are exploring near the top of a falls. Rocks near waterfalls are often slippery too, but good shoes with traction and not running can prevent falls.

Pisgah National Forest Waterfalls in Western NC

Pisgah National Forest surrounds Asheville, NC, the largest city in Western North Carolina. With over 500,000 acres to explore, families can find a wide variety of landscapes from rocky ridges, whitewater rivers, miles upon miles of trails, and an abundance of waterfalls.

Moore Cove Falls

Found near Brevard, Moore Cove Falls is a gentle, family-friendly hike that takes you to a beautiful 50-foot waterfall. The trail is only 0.7 miles long and meanders through a lush forest, making it ideal for younger children. The elevation change is slight and the trail is wide, so even small kids can hike this one on their own.

A family is hiking down a trail to a waterfall.
The quick hike to Moore Cove Falls is gentle and wide, perfect for beginner hikers or kids who prefer to not wear shoes (like mine!)

At the end of the hike, everyone is rewarded with amazing views of a waterfall that plunges 50 feet down the side of the hill. What’s so great about Moore Cove Falls is how safe it is for little ones to explore. There is no rushing water at the base of the falls, just a small, shallow stream. The only real danger is the slippery rocks, but as long as kids aren’t running, they should be fine to walk around and explore.

A group of kids and adults play underneath a rushing waterfall.

Parking can be tricky, especially on warm summer days, so be prepared to park further down the highway and walk up to the trailhead. Keep a close eye on kids as cars speed fast around the sharp mountain curves.

Looking Glass Falls

Another one near Brevard and quite close to Moore Cove Falls is Looking Glass Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in Western North Carolina. It’s easily accessible from the parking area, with a short staircase leads to a viewing area where you can see where the water cascades down a massive granite rock face. Once down to the base of the falls, kids can wade and splash in the shallow pool created by the falls as well as downstream over the rocks. The mist from this waterfall feels fantastic on a warm day!

A kid with long hair and a blue t-shirt walks down a staircase to a waterfall in the distance.
One vacation to Looking Glass Falls (prior to moving to Western NC) was a chilly and rainy day. The falls were still stunning, just not as refreshing as on a hot summer day!

Since the water at the base of the falls is shallow and gently flowing, this is one where kids can really explore and play. At the same time, this actually waterfall is powerful, so definitely watch kids if they want to venture closer to the fall themselves and hold their hands so they don’t get knocked over.

A toddler in a red rainsuit stands in front of some rocks by a tall and rushing waterfall
A bonus to visiting Looking Glass Falls on a chilly, rainy summer day – no crowds!

Like Moore Cove Falls above, parking along the national forest highway can be tricky, especially on warm summer days when there are a lot of visitors to the falls. Be prepared to park down the road and walk carefully to the falls.

Sliding Rock

Along with the two waterfalls above in this section of Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, there’s also Sliding Rock. Sliding Rock is a bit different because it’s a maintained facility with lifeguards on duty during daylight hours in the summer months (and during this time, the entrance fee is $5/person, with kids 3 and under free). You can access it anytime, but if you go outside these hours, restrooms and changing rooms are closed.

Sliding Rock is fun because there are stairs up to the top of the falls, which you can then slide down into the brisk, deep water below. Lines can get long on hot days in the summer, but they usually go pretty fast.

Two kids stand with their grandpa near a stream
The first time my kids went to Sliding Rock back in 2017 with their grandparents. They refused to slide down because the water was so cold!

The pool at the bottom is 7-8 feet deep, so you must either know how to swim or wear a life jacket (the only flotation devices allowed are life jackets or puddle jumpers for younger kids). Kids under 7 are supposed to slide with an adult.

Graveyard Fields

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Pisgah National Forest, Graveyard Fields is one of my favorite waterfall spots, and it’s home to two falls: Upper Falls and Lower Falls (also called Second Falls on some maps). Upper Falls plunges around 50 feet, while Lower Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall that drops about 40 feet to a deep pool to jump in and swim.

A kid sits next to large waterfalls in western nc
The Lower Falls of Graveyard Fields provides a beautiful view and a deep swimming hole to cool off in the summer.

Both waterfalls are easily accessible from the Graveyard Fields parking area. The parking area is easy to find along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 418.8, about 1 hour from Asheville. The parking lot is pretty big, but it can get full in the summer months so plan ahead and try to arrive early. There are also vault toilets in the parking area which is convenient if you are traveling from farther away.

After descending down a steep set of stairs, there’s a steep but paved path down to Lower Falls. After crossing over a wooden bridge and down more stairs, you descend down to the falls. The wooden bridge and stairs have a lot of flood damage, so use caution walking down.

Not only does Graveyard Fields have amazing waterfalls, there is also spectacular hiking nearby, including vast fields of blueberries in the late summer. These trails would make for a wonderful evening hike after cooling off in the crisp water.

Setrock Creek Falls

If you are looking for a waterfall with smaller crowds, Setrock Creek Falls is a little bit less accessible from Asheville, so you’ll get fewer tourists. Located in Pisgah National Forest adjacent to the Black Mountain Campground, Setrock Creek Falls is found after a short, easy hike (3/4 mile) and boasts a 75-foot waterfall with the perfect area underneath for splashing around and exploring.

A kid in shorts and no shirt climbs on a tree brand close to a waterfall

I love this one because it’s easy to access and safe for kids to be fairly free-range since the water is shallow and the waterfall itself is fairly gentle. It’s also secluded enough you rarely get people around (unless you plan a camping trip with 50 people and you all hike together to the falls, as we did last April!)

People are standing in front of a cascading waterfall.

Crabtree Falls

Northeast of Asheville at the edge of Pisgah National Forest, you’ll find Crabtree Falls. This waterfall boasts a series of cascades and pools to explore. It’s another great one for kids since the pool is shallow and easy to navigate.

Crabtree Falls is near the Blue Ridge Parkway, close to the towns of Spruce Pine and Little Switzerland. The 2.5-mile loop trail meanders through a lush forest with lots of ferns and wildflowers in the spring and summer. Kids will love crossing the small streams with wooden bridges even before reaching the 60-foot waterfall to play in. Part of the trail can be steep, so be prepared to motivate kids with some trail snacks and treats!

DuPont State Forest Waterfalls

DuPont State Forest is an expansive forest near Hendersonville (about 40 miles south of Asheville). The state forest is free to enter and has plenty of parking areas and facilities, and an impressive 86 miles of trails.

Interesting tidbit: parts of the The Hunger Games were filmed in the forest! These scenes include some of the waterfalls, Hooker Falls and Triple Falls, detailed below.

DuPont State Forest High Falls and 3 Mile Waterfall Loop

If you want to get the best “bang for your buck” in waterfalls on a kid-friendly hike, look no further than DuPont State Forest. The forest offers several waterfall hikes where you can see multiple waterfalls in one loop. The 3-Mile Waterfall Loop takes you past Hooker Falls, High Falls, and Triple Falls, so there is a lot of water to splash around in and vistas to view the falls.

A gentle sloped waterfall sits among green trees and a blue sky filled with wispy white clouds

Bridal Veil Falls DuPont State Forest

Another great waterfall in DuPont for kids is Bridal Veil Falls. It’s less impressive in terms of sheer magnitude of the falls, but it’s a more gentle falls and has great pools to explore near the base of the falls. Note that even though it appears like it could be fun to slide down the falls (like Sliding Rock mentioned above!), it’s prohibited to climb waterfalls or swim at the top of the falls in DuPont for safety reasons.

A gentle sloped waterfall sits among green trees and a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds

The DuPont trails are very well-maintained and easy to follow – this is also a popular destination for mountain biking and can get crowded, so visiting midweek is best.

Waterfalls in the Smoky Mountains

Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country. The park itself has some of the most beautiful mountain peaks and widest variety of flora and fauna on the east coast. GSMNP also has the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, Clingman’s Dome!

Deep Creek Waterfall Loop

And last but certainly not least, is the Deep Creek area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Deep Creek is found near Bryson City, about an hour west of Asheville. Deep Creek is a super popular area for camping, tubing, hiking, and backpacking, so parking can be tricky on warm summer days. Plan ahead, or better yet, make a trip out of it and stay at the Deep Creek Campground or a backcountry site.

A waterfall flows under a bridge with people walking across it.
Juney Whank Falls along the Deep Creek Trail Loop

There are so many waterfalls, big and small, that run along Deep Creek. If you take the moderate 2.4-mile Deep Creek Trail Loop, you’ll pass three waterfalls: Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls.

A girl with teal glasses on leans over a sign for Juney Whank Falls.

The creek along these falls is generally fairly shallow and gentle, making it a great spot for kids to splash and explore in. The best one to splash around in is Tom Branch Falls.

A waterfall with a shallow creek
Tom Branch Falls in Deep Creek is a great spot to take kids to hike to waterfalls: the trail is not too strenuous or long and the water is gentle and shallow.

Although it’s free to enter GSMNP, this year they instituted a parking fee, so you’ll need to be prepared to buy an annual pass ($40) or pay the daily ($5) or weekly ($15) rate. Most of the major parking lots in GSMNP have kiosks to purchase daily or weekly passes, but for annual passes you’ll need to buy them online (and they will be mailed to you) or at one of the visitor centers or stores found on the national park’s website.

Hiking to Waterfalls with Kids

Hiking to waterfalls is a fantastic way to get kids outdoors and happy to hike. The rewards at the destination can’t be beat! The sights and sounds of cascading water, combined with the beauty of the natural surroundings, provide an immersive experience for kids to connect with nature. Plus, it’s just plain fun to play in wild water, especially on a hot summer day. So grab your backpacks, throw on some water shoes, and get out there and explore!

A kid in a cap and striped fleece jacket stands in front of waterfall

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Family-Friendly Waterfall Hikes in Western North Carolina

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  • Cait currently lives in Western North Carolina with her three kids, but they have bounced all over from Utah, Texas, Wisconsin, and Sweden before moving to their current home. She loves any and all outdoor activities, and spends a lot of her week hauling her kids around on an electric cargo bike and trying to convince anyone and everyone to go backpacking or climbing with her. She has a PhD in Sociology with an emphasis on Gender and Sexuality, and currently works full-time as a User Experience Researcher in the tech industry. She loves to talk all things feminism, gardening, car-free life, and the Danish political drama Borgen.

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