While visiting Asheville, you and your friends or family discuss going for a hike. But you don’t want to spend all day climbing an arduous trail to gaze down at a valley. You want something short. Something kids or the elderly could enjoy. Plus, the hike needs to reward your efforts with splendor. If this strikes a familiar chord, then we have the adventure for you: Looking Glass Falls.
Looking Glass Falls is about 23-miles south of Asheville is. This popular waterfall is on US 276 North between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Brevard, North Carolina. Here’s the good part: you can see the falls from the road which means your roundtrip hike is less than a half-mile. Truthfully, you’ll probably have a long walk from your car than to the falls! As tempting as it will be to drive past snapping pictures, it’s well worth your time to park and explore this natural wonder.
George Vanderbilt is the former owner of the vast forest surrounding Looking Glass Falls. When he passed in 1914, his wife, Edith, sold the acreage to the government. Today, it is known as the Pisgah National Forest. Looking Glass Falls takes its name from nearby Looking Glass Mountain. Early explorers witnessed how the granite monolith reflected the sunlight, especially when wet, reminding them of a looking glass. The name has stuck ever since.
Looking Glass Falls is extremely popular, especially in the summer, since swimming is allowed in the pool beneath the falls. There are designated parking spaces along US 276, but these are limited and fill up fast. We suggest arriving early on weekdays when there are fewer visitors. Aside from avoiding crowds, mornings are when the fog and sunrise paint an ethereal photographic backdrop. Pack a breakfast and coffee and savor the serenity of the mountain waterfall.
Looking Glass Falls is not the tallest but is considered the prettiest waterfall in North Carolina. The waterfall cascades as a vast sheet of water to a pool below, and granite cliffs are its backdrop. The falls are 60-ft tall, and during heavy rainfall, can release a lot of water. During spring and summer, various types of lichen, moss, and flowers abound. Climbing on the cliffs and jumping from the falls is forbidden.
There are two viewing options. The easiest to access is the upper platform at street level. But we suggest heading down the stairs to the lower platform. From this position, you get a better view of the falls. For the adventurous, continue down the stairs to ground level. Here, you can wade in the pool, perch yourself on an outcropping of rocks, and have a closer view of the shimmering falls. Wear water shoes or other footwear with good traction since the rocks will be slippery.
With summer being the peak tourist season, you may enjoy visiting in the fall, winter, or spring. Many adventurers prefer the wintertime. There are fewer visitors, and the sun’s position in the sky illuminates the waterfall better than in warmer seasons. Add in snowfall and glistening icicles, and Looking Glass Falls becomes a winter wonderland.
In August 2021, Tropical Storm Fred doused the region with torrential rainfall. The result is a half-acre log jam perched atop Looking Glass Falls. The forest service cannot remove it and is waiting for it to fall, which will no doubt cause chaos below. Visitors can view the falls from the upper viewing platform, but the lower level and ground location aren’t allowed. Before visiting, check with the National Park Service for up-to-date information.