Earlier this year, my family explored Northeast Tennessee’s spectacular waterfalls. Just over the state line, Western North Carolina boasts its fair share of family-friendly hikes and magnificent cascades.
Boone Fork Trail
Located at milepost 296 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Julian Price State Park, the Boone Fork Trail is a classic high country hike with something for everything. This moderate 5.5-mile loop also makes an excellent trail run.
Access the trail at the wooden footbridge in the picnic area. Start counter-clockwise, and follow the Boone Fork River. Don’t let the easy path and calm water fool you. Within the first mile, the trail narrows, and the river transforms as it tumbles over granite boulders. Take the spur trail to Hebron Falls for a worthy side trip; it’s a great place for kids and dogs to scramble and explore.
After re-joining the main trail, navigate a few ladders before beginning a steady ascent along Bee Tree Creek. With too many creek crossing to count, be ready to rock hop. Don’t miss the delicate wildflowers that dot the creek banks.
The trail tops out in an open meadow before descending to Price Creek Campground. Here, brilliant wildflowers stretch tall in the forest, reaching for sunlight.
Tucked away in the Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest, spectacular Douglas Falls drops 70 feet from an overhanging cliff. While you can access the falls via a short and easy hike from Forest Service Road 74, those looking for a more challenging experience (approximately 8 miles round trip) can reach the falls from Craggy Gardens at milepost 364 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
From the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail south for approximately 1 mile to the intersection with the Falls Trail (also known as Carter Creek Falls Trail). From the junction, descend 3 miles through mixed hardwood forests. Cross the creek, and pass several cascades and a natural slide. After a very steep section, the trail ends at the base of Douglas Falls. Be careful as you explore the area: the rocks are extremely slippery. The water is freezing, but the bragging rights are well worth the icy plunge!
The return trip is a challenging climb back to the Parkway. When hiking in summer, start early to beat the heat and avoid afternoon thunderstorms. We made it back to our car just before the skies opened up.
Wolf Creek Falls
Sitting on the TN-NC border, Wolf Creek is a lightly trafficked, 7-mile round-trip hike to an impressive 30-foot waterfall. Early spring and fall are great times to visit, but be prepared for muddy sections of trail. Summer is hot, humid and buggy. This moderate out-and-back also makes a great trail run.
From the trail head, follow the forest road, and quickly encounter two creek crossings before the trail narrows. After approximately 1.5 miles of easy hiking along the creek, cross again and begin a moderate climb. After another mile, cross the creek a fourth time, and begin the steepest section of the hike. When you reach the top, take the steep side trail to the base of the falls. You can also continue to the junction with a forest road to reach a campsite and top of the falls.
Bonus Hike: Roan Highlands
Not a waterfall hike, the breathtaking Roan Highlands are still an absolute must if you’re hiking in Western North Carolina or Northeast Tennessee. At Carver’s Gap, the Appalachian Trail dips down to straddle the TN-NC state line and continues east over sun-drenched summits.
The longest stretch of grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains, the Roan Highlands offer exceptional 360-degree views and sublime sunsets. The rhododendrons set the mountains ablaze in mid-June, but there really isn’t a bad season to hike the highlands. Pack layers and be prepared for changing conditions on the mountain.
Nicole’s idea of a perfect vacation involves hiking, trail running, SUP and exploring secluded beaches with her husband and two daughters. She writes about travel, raising KÜHL kids and her obsession with outdoor apparel for KÜHL.