Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on November 6, 2023.
The North Carolina Waterfall Byway Scenic Drive (in short, Waterfall Byway) refers to the 98-mile stretch of US-64 between Rosman in Transylvania County (near Brevard) and Murphy in far-Western North Carolina.
In addition to those waterfalls, this Byway takes you through Nantahala National Forest, some of the best mountain towns, and more attractions. In this guide, we’ll cover 15 stops along the NC Waterfall Byway, from east to west, that you should explore on your next road trip.
We’ve broken the guide down into sections, so you can break up your trip.
- US-Highway 64 in North Carolina Background Info
- Land of Waterfalls (Transylvania County and Jackson County)
- Macon County (Highlands, Dry Falls, and Franklin)
- Clay and Cherokee Counties (Lake Chatuge, Murphy, and More!)
Of course, you can drive the entire Waterfall Byway in a day and still enjoy most of it. Let’s get started with some background info US-64 before heading west from Rosman to Murphy!
Read More: 50+ Beautiful Waterfalls near Asheville
US-64 Background Info
US Route 64 (US-64) runs east to west for 2,326 miles from Nags Head in the Outer Banks to its western terminus in Northeast Arizona.
Because it’s the longest road from east to west in North Carolina, US-64 is responsible for the saying “from Murphy and Manteo.”
The town of Murphy is also the westernmost Waterfall Byway stop that we’ll mention. We’ll start from the east, as you’ll see in the next section.
Read More: Things to Do on the Outer Banks
North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops (Land of Waterfalls, Transylvania County and Jackson County)
The NC Waterfall Byway starts from the east in the Transylvania County town of Rosman. Shortly afterward, US-64 intersects with the NC-215 section of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, which we also recommend.
For now, we’ll stick to the Waterfall Byway, which quickly crosses over into Jackson County. That’s where the first few of our favorite stops await.
Panthertown Valley is a 6,300-acre wilderness area and bear sanctuary that has numerous waterfalls and hiking trails. Most notable is Schoolhouse Falls, a popular 20-foot waterfall that falls into a pool safe for wading and swimming.
The Valley is notorious for poor cell signal, so have your GPS or Waterfall Byway directions ready beforehand.
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Toxaway Falls is a 150-foot waterfall with a cool history. Nearby Lake Toxaway had a dam that collapsed in 1916, causing 5-billion gallons of water to rush down.
The dam was eventually rebuilt in 1960.
From US-64, you’ll only be able to see the very top of this waterfall, but it’s a nice view regardless.
There’s a small area to pull over but be careful when doing so. Toxaway Falls is in a busy section of the Waterfall Byway.
If there’s no space, we recommend coming back another time.
Whitewater Way (Bonus Scenic Road)
Before entering Cashiers on the Waterfall Byway, you’ll intersect with NC-281, which runs between Sapphire and the South Carolina border.
This 9-mile scenic road is also known as “Whitewater Way.” Before you reach the border, you’ll pass entrances to Gorges State Park (home to Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, and more) and Upper Whitewater Falls.
Gorges State Park (Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls)
You can find the trail by turning onto Grassy Ridge Road from NC-281, or putting this address in your GPS: 976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774.
The trail is 1.5 miles one-way with some uphill stretches, so be prepared for a somewhat-strenuous hike. The views, however, are completely worth it.
Upper Whitewater Falls
Upper Whitewater Falls is located further down on NC-281 and has a short hike that takes you to an observation deck. This 411-foot waterfall is often called the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies, but there’s some dispute about that title.
Regardless, it’s a beautiful sight.
Read More: Interesting Facts About North Carolina
The Jackson County town of Cashiers is an inviting mountain town with lots to see and do! The beautiful Village Green awaits, along with a plethora of boutique stores, restaurants, and breweries.
We recommend taking some time from your road trip to check out Whiteside Brewing, which also welcomes kids with a fun fire engine outside!
Side Trip to Silver Run Falls
Silver Run Falls is a short six-minute drive from Cashiers along NC-107. Silver Run Falls cascades down a 25-foot rockface into a pool ideal for wading and swimming.
It’s usually pretty quiet, but it gets busy on hot summer days as people come for the cool water.
Parking is somewhat scarce here, as the lot only fits five cars. There’s some parking up the street, but it’s tight.
Be careful when pulling over because oncoming traffic does not slow down!
NC Waterfall Byway Stops (Macon County)
After Cashiers, you’ll cross over into Macon County. More waterfalls await, book-ended by the wonderful small towns of Highlands and Franklin.
Along with some gorgeous waterfalls that include Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, you’ll pass through the Cullasaja Gorge. This section is full of winding curves and quick pull-offs, so use extra caution when driving.
Highlands is the highest mountain town on the East Coast at 4,000 feet in elevation. As we mentioned, the town is surrounded by stunning waterfalls and scenery.
Of course, we think you can easily spend a day, weekend, or week exploring Highlands’ charming downtown. If you do, stay at The Old Edwards Inn and thank us later!
One of our favorite sections of the Waterfall Byway is the part between Highlands and the town of Franklin to the west. Lake Sequoyah is a great introduction, with crystal blue water framed by towering trees.
Add in the misty fog on a sunny morning and Lake Sequoyah is truly one of the most breathtaking scenes around.
Bridal Veil Falls
If you’re coming from the east, this is the first of a string of waterfalls between Highlands and Franklin, sitting barely 20 feet from US-64.
What sets this waterfall apart is that you can walk behind it. The road is currently closed or else you could drive behind it, too!
Bust Your Butt Falls
Like Bridal Veil Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls is also visible from the road and there’s space for you to pull over to make the short walk over.
Kids and adults alike will have lots of fun here, as it’s a natural slide with a swimming hole. It’s become so popular that there’s a swinging rope for extra fun.
There is also lots of natural seating for relaxing and picnicking.
Four miles west of Highlands is Dry Falls, a 75-foot roadside waterfall that can be easily seen from the roadside observatory. You can continue down a short and well-maintained path even closer to the falls.
Dry Falls is unique in that you can walk directly behind it, all while staying fully dry, thus giving the falls its name.
Dry Falls is probably one of the best family-friendly hikes in the area and along the North Carolina Waterfall Byway. It’s easy, short, and paved, with incredible views that visitors of all ages can appreciate.
The winding Cullasaja River and surrounding forest are visible from the North Carolina Waterfall Byway, with the 300-foot Cullasaja Falls more emphasized when the trees have thinned in the winter.
Located in the Cullasaja Gorge, it’s a truly stunning stretch of US-64, but if you’re looking to pull off, we recommend exercising caution.
US-64 will pass through the Gorge and one of the most dramatic sections of road in all of NC. The road will curve sharply here before the parking space for Cullasaja Falls, so be careful and prepared for that. There’s no sign indicating the pull-off, so drive with the intent to pull over.
It’s easiest to pull over when you’re traveling eastward from Franklin since the pull-off is to the right. However, if you’re coming from Highlands, you’ll have to make a slow turn in the midst of the curve.
Once you have parked, you can descend a steep 0.2-mile path to reach the falls. There are ropes to help you down but proceed with caution
Regardless of if you pull over or not, Cullasaja Falls and the Gorge are visible from the road, so soak in the beautiful sights!
Framed by the picturesque Smoky Mountains, Franklin is an adorable town rich with history, culture, and a great downtown.
While in Franklin, you can’t miss the Scottish Tartans Museum commemorating Highland dress and culture or the Lazy Hiker for a beer.
If you’re looking to turn your exploration of the Waterfall Byway and the surrounding areas into a multiple-day excursion, then Franklin is a great place to stay a night.
NC Waterfall Byway (Clay and Cherokee Counties)
The last few Waterfall Byway stops aren’t actually waterfalls, but are still worth exploring.
Brasstown is an unincorporated community that sits between Clay and Cherokee County. Just outside Brasstown is the John C. Campbell Folk School, a cool place for visitors to learn the arts, music, dance, and trades like pottery and weaving.
The Folk School was founded in 1925 as a way to maintain and teach about the folk arts and culture of the Appalachian Mountains.
Just before reaching Murphy, there’s a pull-off point for Lake Chatuge (or Chatuge Lake), a lake that crosses the border into Georgia. The sprawling lake is framed by trees, miles of shoreline, and towering mountains.
It’s a picturesque place with lots to do, such as fishing, water sports, boating, and more!
Murphy is one of the westernmost towns in North Carolina, situated just before the Tennessee border. It marks the end (or beginning!) of the Waterfall Byway, so all of the falls on this list are also included in the best waterfalls near Murphy NC.
The town is nestled among beautiful mountains and has a lovely downtown.
Attractions in Murphy include the Cherokee County Historical Museum, Fort Butler (an 1800s-era frontier fort), and the Field of the Wood, a representation of the Ten Commandments. The town is also known for its courthouse made entirely out of marble from a nearby quarry.
There’s also a Harrah’s Casino in Murphy, in case you’re seeking some table game fun during your drive.
Ready to Drive and Enjoy the North Carolina Waterfall Byway?
We love driving the Waterfall Byway, especially the Cullasaja Gorge section between Highlands and Franklin. Personally, I think you could spend days exploring the awesome stops along this road.
Of course, there are so many wonderful things to do in North Carolina. We understand if you don’t want to spend forever on this road before moving on to other attractions.
If you have driven on the Waterfall Byway, we’d love to know which are your favorite stops. Tell us all about them in the comments section or by email.
Before you do, here are some more guides to our favorite scenic roads in NC.