Mingo Falls in Cherokee: Worth Every Step

Last Updated on April 13, 2021

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Mingo Falls is an incredible place to visit in the mountain town of Cherokee in Western North Carolina.

Meaning “Big Bear” in Cherokee and standing at 120 feet, it’s one of the tallest and most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina and the Southern Appalachians. This cascading masterpiece is worth the many steps you take to reach it! 

This post is part of our series on all the awesome waterfalls near Asheville, Brevard, and Cherokee

Mingo Falls in Cherokee NC

When to Visit

Early summer is a great time to visit the falls. That’s when it’s starting to warm up and the mountain laurel and rhododendrons are blooming, adding a pop of color!

We’ve also seen some spectacular photos of the falls completely frozen over in the winter. That’s why we included these falls among our favorite winter getaways.

It’s also why we’ll take our chances by saying there is no real bad time to visit Mingo Falls!

Arrive Early

The parking lot for the trail is not very big and only accommodates maybe six-seven cars, so that can sometimes impact travel plans.

Plan to arrive early if you want a parking spot, especially during peak leaf or travel seasons. 

If it has recently rained or the fog is heavy (which both lead to wonderful photos), the steps leading to the trail could be slippery. So allow for extra time to be more cautious. 

Getting There

Mingo Falls is not far from the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

To get there, take US 441 and turn onto Acquoni Road as it winds along the Oconaluftee River. You’ll pass the Saunooke Village Shopping Center before turning right onto Big Cove Road.

Five miles later and you’ll start seeing signs for Mingo Falls, and the parking lot will be to your right. 

160 Stairs

Mingo Falls Cherokee NC Image

A steep set of 160 stairs on the Pigeon Creek Trail and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views! The 160 steps are spread along half of a mile distance with a change in elevation of 140 feet.

It’s quick and most people can complete the trail in 30 minutes.

It’s a short, but uphill hike to Mingo Falls. However, if you glance over at the winding stream gushing over the exposed rocks surrounded by boulders, and you’ll find it’s worth the walk. 

At the end of the trail, hikers will be greeted with a sturdy wooden viewing bridge to snap that perfect photo. 

Nearby Fun


Head into Cherokee and check out the town, which is full of history and lots of outdoor adventure.

Learn more about the people and the history of the area here. The Oconaluftee Indian Village or the Museum of the Cherokee Indian are two great places to start.

The Elk Crossing

Things to Do near Cherokee NC Smoky Mountain Elk Image

If you drive to Cherokee from Asheville at the right time (early in the morning for us!), you might stumble across an awesome spectacle.

The elk of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were reintroduced to the area in 2001 to increase their population back. Take a right after the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and if you see cars parked, the elk are likely around. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Elk Crossing Image

Note: Do not approach the elk or attempt to interact with them! These beautiful creatures can weigh up to 700 pounds and have been known to charge if they perceive a threat. 

Bryson City

Mingo Falls is also not too far from Bryson City, which is the perfect small-town getaway! Many folks come here for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but spend some time in the quaint downtown. You’ll find there’s plenty to do, eat, and stay in Bryson City! 

Clingmans Dome

Speaking of the Smokies, the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is one of many places inside that great park that you HAVE to visit. It’s right near the North Carolina-Tennessee border and if you visit on the right day, you can see up to 100 miles away.

We wrote more about the awesome Clingmans Dome Observation Tower here.

Maggie Valley

Maggie Valley is well known for its ski resort and retro feel. Check out the Wheels Through Time Motorcycle and Car Museum, grab some breakfast at Joey’s Pancake House (arrive early!), and explore these other fun things to do!

Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!

Waterfall Hikes near Asheville NC Mingo Falls Image

We think Mingo Falls is the perfect short hike near Asheville (perfect for a day trip!) and other spots in Western North Carolina. It’s an easy-to-reach waterfall, easy to photograph, and absolutely worth spreading the word about! 

Have you ever visited this awesome waterfall? What did you think of it? If you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?

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