Explore the “Land of Waterfalls” with these classic hikes around Pisgah National Forest.
Pisgah National Forest is the oldest of its kind in the eastern United States and home to some of the best hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The forest is divided into three districts: Pisgah, Appalachian, and Grandfather, all of which are connected by the Blue Ridge Parkway. Affectionately referred to as the “Land of Waterfalls”, this guidebook showcases a handful of classic waterfall hikes within an hour of Asheville. Everything on the list is family friendly, including those of the four-legged variety.
Closest to downtown Asheville, start with Greybeard Falls in the Montreat Wilderness. The trail is built and maintained by the conference center and is not technically part of Pisgah National Forest – though anyone would argue it’s just as beautiful. The Greybeard Trail connects the conference center to a quaint overlook atop its namesake peak, with a stifling 2000’+ climb. While the trip to the summit provides a rewarding vista, you only have to venture 3 miles up to access Greybeard Falls. A well-marked spur trail leads to the picturesque waterfall, a perfect destination for day hike.
Not far up the road, the easy hike to Catawba Falls showcases the deep history of the forest and provides a perfect short hike for the entire family. Its proximity to the highway and large parking area make it a popular option for travelers. According to local trail runner Brendon Voelker, “Much of the path is an old two-track originally used to access a hydropower dam that powered nearby Old Fort in the early 1900s. Today, only remnants remain, offering a glimpse into the areas rich history”. Even more interesting, Brendon states how few people realize “Pisgah National Forest was the first official National Forest under the 1911 Weeks Act”. Not far away on Curtis Creek Road, you can find a placard commemorating the first official tract of land to become part of the National Forest system.
For those in Brevard, Daniel Ridge Loop trail contains a massive and extremely underrated waterfall. The 4.5-mile hiking loop also parallels a river with several small cascades and plenty of opportunities for overnight camping. If you want to skip the loop, a sign at the trailhead leads to the waterfall and is just a short walk from the trailhead.
Not included as a hike this guidebook, the iconic Looking Glass Falls is located along a roadside pull-off just 15 minutes from Brevard. An observation deck makes this one of the most visited waterfalls in Pisgah. Follow US-276 a couple of minutes north of the intersection with Davidson River Road. There is plenty of parking and a turn-around for larger vehicles.
Heading up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields is a high mountain valley with two gorgeous waterfalls. It’s beauty, ease of access, and cooler temperatures make it a popular summer hike. Know that overnight camping is prohibited in the area due to bear activity over the past several years but according to locals, the likelihood you will encounter one is slim. You can find restrooms at the trailhead as well, a commodity not often found along remote stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Further down the river and just a short drive away, Skinny Dip Falls is a popular swimming hole hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Several pools, including one about 6’ deep make it a favorite even among locals. This hike begins at milepost 417, also known as the Looking Glass Rock Overlook. Should the parking area be full, an unpaved overflow lot can be found just beyond the overlook.