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Mingo Falls In Cherokee NC (a Great Waterfall + Easy Hike)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on March 12, 2024.

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Mingo Falls is an incredible waterfall in Cherokee and is one of our favorite places to visit 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‘s Smoky Mountains. This cascading masterpiece is worth the many steps you take to reach it! 

Mingo Falls bridge

While it’s a short hike to reach this amazing place in North Carolina, there’s quite a bit to know before you visit. Here’s how we’ve organized this guide:

  • Where is Mingo Falls? (Driving Directions)
  • More Mingo Falls Facts
  • Important Tips Before You Visit
    • When to Visit Mingo Falls
    • Leave No Trace Reminder
    • Safety Info
    • Why You Should Arrive Early
  • The Mingo Falls Hike (160 Stairs)
  • Nearby Things to Do

After reading, we think you’ll be ready to witness one of our absolutely favorite waterfalls in person.

Read More: Waterfalls near Asheville

Where is Mingo Falls? (Driving Directions)

Mingo Falls lower cascades

Mingo Falls is not far from the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Signage and cell signal are both limited, so we hope you’ll follow these directions to reach the parking lot.

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. 

Read More: How to See Elk River Falls (Trail and Safety Tips)

More Mingo Falls Facts

Mingo Falls
  • Mingo Falls is a 120-foot waterfall on the Cherokee Indian Reservation (Qualla Boundary) and means “Big Bear” in the Cherokee language.
  • It’s one of the tallest waterfalls in North Carolina and the southern Appalachian Mountains.
  • The waterfall rushes down granite boulders and is viewable after a short, 0.4-mile climb up about 160 stairs.
  • The hike to the waterfall is only 0.4 miles in length but is considered moderate in difficulty.

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Important Tips Before You Visit

These important tips will help you (and the next person) enjoy Mingo Falls for many years to come.

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!

Mingo Falls in the Fall
Mingo Falls in the Fall

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.

When it’s not frozen in winter, the falls may not be as spectacular due to the brown colors that surround them. However, we’ll take our chances by saying there is no bad time to visit Mingo Falls!

Read More: The Best NC Mountain Towns

Leave No Trace Reminder

While visiting Mingo Falls in Cherokee, we ask you to PLEASE leave no trace. Pack in, pack out, and please do not ever litter in our beloved public spaces.

If you’d like to lend a helping hand, bring a grocery bag of your own and pick up any trash that you see!

Safety Info

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. 

Why You Should Arrive Early

The closest parking lot for the trail is not very big and only accommodates maybe six-seven cars. However, there are quite a few parking spots nearby.

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

Read More: 80+ Great Things to Do in Asheville (The Asheville Bucket List)

The Mingo Falls Hike (160 Stairs)

Mingo Falls stairs

A steep set of about 160 stairs on the Pigeon Creek Trail and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views! Those 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.

Mingo Falls trail

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. 

Read More: 20+ Kid-Friendly Waterfalls In NC (Easy Hikes And Swimming Holes!)

Ready to Visit Mingo Falls?

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?

Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina

Nearby Things to Do


Small Towns in North Carolina Cherokee

Head into Cherokee, learn more about the history and culture of this area, and more. Learn more about the people and the history of the area here. The Oconaluftee Indian Village or the Museum of the Cherokee People are two great places to start.

Cross the street from the museum and walk through the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual. They have galleries featuring Native artists and the history of crafts in the region.

Many people come to Cherokee to experience Harrah’s, a massive casino resort and getaway all in one place.

The Oconaluftee Visitor Center

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. 

Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes

Bryson City

Bryson City Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

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.

Speaking of downtown, you’ll find that it’s walkable and home to quite a few great shops and restaurants. You can also embark on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from downtown Bryson City and we highly recommend it.

Another amazing thing to do in Bryson City is to visit Lakeview at Fontana. It’s possible one of the most romantic places in North Carolina. Don’t believe us? Try it and see!

Don’t forget about the wonderful Nantahala Outdoor Center, which is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream place. Enjoy rafting, paddling, ziplining, hiking, and more here.

Clingmans Dome

Clingmans Dome Observation Tower NC

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.

Maggie Valley

Bearwaters Brewing in Maggie Valey NC
Bearwaters Brewing in Maggie Valley.

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

2 thoughts on “Mingo Falls In Cherokee NC (a Great Waterfall + Easy Hike)”

  1. Could you please provide a photo of the steps leading to Mingo Falls? My husband has to wear a brace when walking so we need to know if this is something he can manage. Thanks.

    • Hi there, thanks for asking about a photo of the steps leading to Mingo Falls. I’ve added one to the post and hope that helps your decision of whether or not to visit.


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