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The Wonderful NC Waterfall Byway (and 17 Awesome Stops!)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on July 16, 2024.

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The NC Waterfall Byway is our pick for your next road trip. This NC travel guide covers 17 stops from east to west. 

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.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation designated this scenic road because of the 200-plus waterfalls surrounding it.

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 17 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.

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

Where is US-64 and the Waterfall Byway?

US 64 Murphy to Manteo Manteo Sign

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.” That’s because you can travel US-64 from the mountains to The Outer Banks.

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.

You can visually plan your travels to these NC Waterfall Byway stops with the following maps that we’ve created with Google Maps:

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops in Transylvania County and Jackson County (Land of Waterfalls)

The NC Waterfall Byway starts from the east in the town of Rosman, Transylvania County.

Side note: Transylvania County markets itself as the “Land of Waterfalls,” which is spot on considering the number of waterfalls in the area.

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 into Jackson County. There, the first few of our favorite stops await.

Read More: 25+ Beautiful Waterfalls near Brevard (Within 1 Hour)

Panthertown Valley

NC Waterfall Byway

Panthertown Valley is a 6,300-acre wilderness area and bear sanctuary with 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

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Toxaway Falls

Toxaway Falls is a 150-foot waterfall with a remarkable 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. Toxaway Falls is in a busy section of the Waterfall Byway.

If there’s no space, we recommend coming back another time.

Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)

Whitewater Way (Bonus Scenic Road)

Turtleback Falls NC Gorges State Park Pisgah National Forest
Turtleback Falls.

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.

Read More: Sunburst Falls (How to Find this Amazing Roadside Waterfall!)

Gorges State Park (Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls)

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Rainbow Falls

Rainbow and Turtleback Falls are accessible via the same trail that starts inside Gorges State Park. You’ll leave Gorges State Park and enter Pisgah National Forest to reach these waterfalls.

You can find the trail by turning onto Grassy Ridge Road from NC-281 or entering the address 976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774, into your GPS.

The trail is 1.5 miles one-way and has some uphill stretches, so be prepared for a somewhat strenuous hike. However, the views are completely worth it.

Read More: All North Carolina State Parks Sites (and Things to Do in Each One!)

Upper Whitewater Falls

Hikes near Asheville NC 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

Cashiers

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Cashiers
The Village Green.

The Jackson County town of Cashiers is an inviting mountain town with lots to see and do! The beautiful Village Green awaits, along with many boutique stores, restaurants, and breweries.

We recommend taking some time from your road trip to check out Whiteside Brewing, which welcomes kids with a fun fire engine outside!

Read More: Bear Lake Reserve (Everything You Need to Know about this NC Mountains Getaway)

Side Trip to Silver Run Falls

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops 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 rock face 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!

Read More: 50+ Great Things to Do With Kids in Asheville (and Nearby!)

NC Waterfall Byway Stops in 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 contains winding curves and quick pull-offs, so use extra caution when driving.

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)

Highlands

Old Edwards Inn Highlands NC Waterfall Byway
Old Edwards Inn.

Highlands is the highest mountain town on the East Coast at 4,000 feet. As we mentioned, the town is surrounded by stunning waterfalls and scenery.

Of course, 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!

Read More: 25+ Excellent Things to Do in Sylva and Dillsboro (+ More Nearby!)

Lake Sequoyah

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Highlands

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.

Read More: Gorgeous Waterfalls near Cherokee (Within 2 Hours)

Bridal Veil Falls

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls along the Waterfall Byway is not to be confused with the Bridal Veil Falls in DuPont State Forest. However, this roadside waterfall is just as pretty as its better-known compatriot!

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!

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

Bust Your Butt Falls

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops 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.

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

Dry Falls

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Dry Falls

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.

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

Cullasaja Falls

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!

Franklin

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Franklin

Framed by the picturesque Smoky Mountains, Franklin is an adorable town rich with history, culture, and a great downtown.

The mountain town is a popular stop for Appalachian Trail hikers with both Wayah Bald Tower and Wesser Bald Fire Tower nearby.

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.

Read More: The NC Museum of History (+7 Things We Love About It!)

NC Waterfall Byway Stops in Clay County

As the Waterfall Byway crosses over into Clay County from Macon County, the drive starts climbing over mountains and past one of our most beautiful lakes, some great small towns, and a wonderful cultural stop.

Hayesville

Hayesville NC Fort Hembree Historical Marker Image by NC Tripping

Hayesville is a nice Waterfall Byway Stop to get out, stretch your legs, grab food, shop, and learn.

The Clay County seat is not to be overlooked, whether you’re headed to Lake Chatuge (see below), looking to drive the entire Waterfall Byway quickly, or going to Arizona via US 64.

Previously, the Cherokee town of Quanassee, Hayesville, recognized its history with a marker commemorating Fort Hembree. The actual fort is nearby but not open to the public.

The two-mile Quanasee Path connects multiple Cherokee heritage sites in Hayesville and is a nice way to mix exercise with learning about this area’s past.

A walkable collection of shops surrounds the Fort Hembree marker and the beautiful Historic Clay County Courthouse. Our favorites are Tiger’s Department Store, Angelo’s (great pizza!), and an awesome NC brewery (Nocturnal Brewing).

Just outside downtown Hayesville is the Peacock Performing Arts Center. A fun season of events awaits here, and it’s definitely worth adding to your calendar if you’re in Hayesville or nearby.

Chatuge Dam Reservation Trail

Chatuge Dam Reservation Trail Clay County NC Image by NC Tripping

The Chatuge Dam Reservation Trail sits about 2 miles off the Waterfall Byway and south of Hayesville. The 1.5-mile trail is managed by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in a partnership between the Federal Government agency and Clay County Park.

It’s open to walkers, bikers, hikers, and runners, and is a flat, paved trail from start to finish. The trail takes you over Chatuge Dam and presents wonderful views of Chatuge Lake and its surroundings.

Lake Chatuge

Lake Chatuge NC Waterfall Byway

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!

Read More: Fontana Dam (How to See NC’s Tallest Dam in Person!)

NC Waterfall Byway Stops in Cherokee County

The last few Waterfall Byway stops aren’t actually waterfalls, but are still worth exploring.

Brasstown

Brasstown is an unincorporated community on the Clay County and Cherokee County line. The county line runs along Brasstown Creek in this area.

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.

Murphy

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Murphy

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, which is 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.

Read More: How to Enjoy Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort (15 Tips)

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.

Also, remember to share your NC Waterfall Byway adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group.

More Scenic Roads (Beyond the NC Waterfall Byway)

We’ve featured other scenic road trips in North Carolina and here are a few examples.

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