Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on November 22, 2023.
Mingo Falls is an incredible place to visit within the Qualla Boundary of the Cherokee Nation 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!
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.
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Where is Mingo Falls? (Driving Directions)
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.
More Mingo Falls Facts
- 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.
Read More: Waterfalls near Brevard
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!
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!
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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!
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.
The Mingo Falls Hike (160 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.
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.
Ready to Visit Mingo Falls?
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?
Nearby Things to Do
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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!