We love North Carolina. Like really really love it. Like talk about one day having a house in North Carolina. We love the mountains and rivers and winding roads. North Carolina is beautiful any time of year, and the mountain air always feels so refreshing.
We also love all the fantastic hiking North Carolina has to offer. And while some trails may seem intimidating for the whole family, we’re here with 5 family-friendly hikes that take you to beautiful waterfalls. All of these hikes are kid-friendly (although some are more difficult than others, so know your kid’s comfort level with hiking), and all of these hikes lead to absolutely STUNNING waterfalls, some with fun swimming holes at their base!
Before we get started, a couple of hiking disclaimers about North Carolina:
- North Carolina is home to black bears. It is unlikely you will encounter one on a popular hike like these, but know that they exist and be aware of your surroundings. (Here are some bear safety tips.)
- Speaking of, also watch out for snakes, especially when you are near water or it has been raining recently.
- Always bring snacks and first aid with you. Also know that your cell phone service will be weak in many of these areas. But because these are popular hikes, you will most likely always see someone else out on the trails if you need help, especially on the weekends.
- Wear bug spray, sunscreen, and comfortable hiking shoes.
- Hike and swim at your own risk.
So, now that we have that out of the way, here are our favorite family-friendly waterfall hikes near the popular destination of Highlands, North Carolina.
Dry Falls isn’t so much of a hike as it is a paved walkway (with several sets of stairs) that leads to the mid-section of a huge waterfall. And the most fun part of it is YOU CAN WALK BEHIND IT! Yes, that’s right, you can take the path right behind the waterfall! You will get a little wet, but this feels great on a hot day.
There is fencing for safety, but I would still keep small kids close to you and hold their hands.
Dry Falls is a popular attraction in the Highlands, North Carolina area, so be aware that it does tend to get crowded.
Dry Falls Hike Information
Total distance is .3 miles there and back (.15 miles one-way). The walkway is mostly paved, although underneath the waterfall it is more of a dirt path. There are stairs as well.
How to Get to Dry Falls
Dry Falls is located 3.6 miles Northwest of Highlands, NC on US-64. There is a parking lot just off the road, and there is a self-serve payment station to get a pass. The cost is $3.
Silver Run Falls
The trail to Silver Run Falls is more hike-like, but it’s still extremely short and kid-friendly. It also has a great little swimming area the whole family can enjoy, with some shallow areas for kids.
Silver Run Falls Hike Information
This short hike is .2 miles out and back (.1 miles one-way). The trail is pretty flat, with a bit of a climb over some tree roots as you get closer to the falls.
How to Get to Silver Run Falls
Silver Run Falls is located on NC-107 about 4 miles south of Cashiers, NC. The parking area is a gravel pull-off on the side of the road. There is not space for very many cars though, so be prepared for that.
Glen Falls is a more difficult waterfall hike, but it still felt family-friendly to us because it is a well-kept trail with many overlooks. You start at the top of a 3-section waterfall and make your way down. There are views at each section of the falls, so you certainly don’t have to climb all the way down to enjoy this waterfall. Just remember though…whatever you climb down you are going to have to climb up later! A lot of the incline has been made into steps.
Glen Falls Hike Information
Glen Falls is 2.4 mile out and back hike (1.2 miles one-way). But remember, you can hike a much shorter version of this by not going all the way to the base of the falls. The great thing about Glen Falls is you don’t have to get to the end to enjoy the waterfall; you basically start at the top and hike down the side of the waterfall, so you can see it at various points the whole way down. In fact, we didn’t even make it all the way down because it was a good amount of climbing and we were perfectly satisfied with the views we saw on the first half of the trail.
How to Get to Glen Falls
Glen Fall is located on Glen Falls Road about 3 miles west of Highlands, NC. The road to get there and the parking lot are gravel.
Secret Falls truly does feel like a secret! This was a waterfall hike that made me feel like maybe I was in an Indonesian rainforest instead of in North Carolina! The trail can be a bit muddy, and it’s steep at the end. They have tried to make stairs to help you down, but a lot of this has been washed out, so little kids will likely need a bit of help.
But when you get to the bottom there is the most gorgeous waterfall along with a family friendly swimming hole!
Secret Falls Hike Information
Secret Falls is a 1.3 mile out-and-back (.65 one-way) trail. Many parts are flat, although when you get closer to the falls the inclines is steep and children may need help. It is definitely do-able though!
How to Get to Secret Falls
Secret Falls is located on Big Creek Road and is 6.5 miles south of Highlands, NC. Big Creek Road is a gravel road. Secret Falls can also be accessed via Walking Stick Road, Southeast of Highlands.
Rufus Morgan Falls
Rufus Morgan Falls might be one of my favorite North Carolina waterfall hikes (it probably helps that we hiked it during a rainstorm). The hike is not difficult at all, although parts of the trail are only wide enough for one person and there is a bit of a drop off on the side, so hold the hands of your littlest kids.
This is a beautiful hike through a peaceful forest and across hidden streams and mini-waterfalls that ultimately leads you to the huge Rufus Morgan Falls. This hike is a loop, with one steeper there-and-back section at the end leading to the base of the falls. There is no swimming here, but spend time sitting at the bottom of the falls and soaking up that peaceful forest feeling.
Rufus Morgan Falls Hiking Information
Rufus Morgan Falls is a 1 mile loop trail. You’ll hit Rufus Morgan Falls about halfway. Be sure to go up the little trail to the falls to get a better view. The hike is easy, although some parts have some moderately steep drop-offs, so be sure to watch your kiddos and hold hands if necessary.
How to Get to Rufus Morgan Falls
The trail to Rufus Morgan Falls is located off of gravel road off of Wayah Road. Once you turn off Wayah Road you will drive for 2 miles on a gravel road before you come to the parking area. This hike is a bit more out of the way from Highlands; it’s 13 miles west of Franklin, meaning it is about an hour away from Highlands. But it is one of our favorites because the hike is so lovely.
North Carolina is absolutely brimming with beautiful hiking trails and waterfalls, and these are just a few of our family-friendly favorites. Get out there and explore!