James Richardson Photography | Ten Best Waterfalls in the Southeast

Ten Best Waterfalls in the Southeast

November 04, 2014  •  Leave a Comment


            What makes a good waterfall? What makes a great waterfall? What is a "best" waterfall? For that matter what makes for the Ten Best Waterfalls? These are questions that we are going to attempt to answer. If you read my previous blog port, you will see my ten "best" waterfalls in the U.S. This will be an extension of that list.

First of all, what is ‘best’ to one person may not be best to another. I should point out that the opinions expressed in this article is my own. I welcome any comments about my waterfall selection and any waterfalls that I do not include.

            What is a "best" waterfall? I had to arrive at a definition for a "best" waterfall before I could compile my list. These are many good waterfalls in this part of the country and I wanted to give all an equal chance. "Best" is not a word that can easily be used to describe waterfalls. "Highest", "widest", "largest", "highest volume", "prettiest", or "most photogenic" are adjectives that are more commonly used to describe waterfalls, but I chose to use "best". For this article I am saying that my "best" waterfall is a combination of these elements: largest, highest, visible all year, and uniqueness. Uniqueness played the major part in selecting some. Likewise for largest and tallest. Again, this list is mine and anyone can disagree. But I would hope no one will.

            One of the main reasons for this article is to inform readers of the location of some of the Southeast's most magnificent waterfalls. Waterfalls are always a great destination for travelers in general. -- hikers and photographers in particular.

The Waterfalls

I will begin with number ten best waterfall and work my way down to number one to add an element of suspense. I decided to list Looking Glass Falls in Western North Carolina as the number ten best waterfall. Looking Glass is an easily accessible waterfall located in Pisgah National Forest just north of Brevard on US Highway 276 in Transylvania County, which boasts of hundreds of waterfalls. Looking Glass Falls plunges about sixty feet but flows year-round. The fact that Looking Glass is roadside does not take away from its beauty and magnitude.

Looking Glass Falls NC SW230Looking Glass Falls NC SW230

DeSoto Falls in the North Alabama Mountain Lake Region gets my vote for the number nine best waterfall. DeSoto Falls is located about 12 miles from Fort Payne on County Road 89 off Alabama Highway 35. Follow the signs to the falls from Highway 35 about 5 miles beyond the entrance to DeSoto State Park. Its source is the Little River and the falls, visible from the parking lot, drops 104 feet. There is a dam at the edge of DeSoto Lake with water flowing over it. A short walk allows anyone to see the first falls below the dam. Farther along the walk one can see the large falls which is also easily accessible.

Another Western North Carolina waterfall to make my ten best list is Dry Falls. Its name is not an indication of the amount of water flowing over the falls, but the condition of the waterfall-seekers that admire this waterfall. ‘Somewhat dry’ would be more appropriate during the spring when the flow is greater. There is a walkway behind the falls that viewers can stay "dry" when admiring Dry Falls. Dry Falls is located along Highway 64 between Highlands and Cullasaja in Macon County. Its height is 80 feet and its source is the Cullasaja River in the Nantahala National Forest of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Dry Falls along US 64 (34).JPGDry Falls along US 64 (34).JPG

Linville Falls makes number seven on my top ten list. Linville Falls is also in waterfall-rich Western North Carolina. It is made up of two stages. It cascades over several sections of rock, then flows for about fifty feet, then drops seventy feet into the Linville Gorge. The total height of the falls is about one hundred fifty feet. Linville Falls has the largest volume of water of any waterfall on the northern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway near mile marker 316.5. From the parking lot take one of three trails to view different sections of the falls. The shortest trail is eight tenths of a mile one way.

Temporarily getting away from the Western North Carolina monopoly of waterfalls, Little River Falls in Northern Alabama takes the number six spot in the top ten best waterfalls. The Little River Canyon is also located in the North Alabama Lakes Region of the state and the waterfall is at the headwaters of the canyon. Little River Falls is a relatively wide falls and plunges about 45 feet. To get to the waterfall from I-59 take Exit #218 to Fort Payne, drive east on Alabama Highway 35. Follow the DeSoto State Park signs through town. Continue on Alabama Highway 35 and visitors will see signs for Canyon Rim Scenic Drive and the Little River.

Little River Falls AL (11)Little River Falls AL (11)

The mountains of North Alabama contain several good waterfalls. Another one makes our top ten list. Noccalula Falls is an impressive waterfall. Adjacent to Alabama Highway 211, approximately three miles from US Interstate 59 in Gadsden is located one of Alabama's most beautiful parks and campgrounds. Noccalula Falls cascades over 90 feet into a beautiful ravine, which contains several interesting and historic sites: a historic gorge trail with caves and Indian carvings, an old aboriginal fort, and old abandoned dam, Chalybeate Springs Park, an old pump house site for Dwight Cotton Mill, Civil War carvings, plants and wildlife and very unusual rock formations. Also in the park are botanical gardens which include over 25,000 azaleas. These gardens surround the entire park which has other attractions besides the waterfall such as a Pioneer Village, a gift and souvenir Shop, a children's playground and picnic area, a campground and swimming pool for campers, a country store, two outdoor stages and hiking trails.

Noccalula Falls SP (1) AL 7637Noccalula Falls SP (1) AL 7637

Returning to Western North Carolina for the number four spot in the top ten list, Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall (616 feet) east of the Mississippi River. The Horsepasture River forms it. Just above Whitewater Falls in the Horsepasture are three other falls very close together. Rainbow, Drift, and Turtleback Falls are within a couple of miles of each other. None of these quite made my list, but would qualify for an Honorable Mention category. To get to Whitewater Falls from US Highway 64, take State Highway 281 between Sapphire and Lake Toxaway. Go south for approximately five miles near the South Carolina border. Follow the signs. Viewing the falls requires about a quarter mile hike to the uppermost platform. There are hiking trails into the canyon for closer looks.

Whitewater Falls NC SW236Whitewater Falls NC SW236

Eastern Tennessee is home of the next two top ten waterfalls. Number three is Fall Creek Falls and number two is Burgess Falls. Fall Creek Falls plunges 256 feet into a shaded gorge with hiking trails leading to the base of the falls. The state park is located in Bledsoe and Van Buren counties of Eastern Tennessee, 11 miles east of Spencer and 18 miles west of Pikeville. It may be entered from Highway 111 or Highway 30. 

Burgess Falls State Natural Area, located in Middle Tennessee near Cookeville, lies on the eastern edge of Tennessee's Highland Rim adjacent to the Cumberland Plateau. Sheer bluffs and narrow ridges characterize this natural area. The Falling Water River runs through the natural area providing breathtaking scenery and numerous waterfalls, the largest being Lower Burgess Falls at one hundred thirty feet. Burgess Falls is my number two ‘best’ waterfall of the Southeast.

Burgess Falls TN 3.jpgBurgess Falls TN 3.jpg

The “best” of the top ten best waterfalls is Cumberland Falls of Kentucky. Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is located in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Known as the "Niagara of the South," the waterfall forms a 125-foot wide curtain that plunges 60 feet into the boulder-laden gorge below. The mist of Cumberland Falls creates a moonbow, only visible on a clear night during a full moon. This unique phenomenon appears nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere!  Hence, the number one rating. Cumberland Falls is 20 miles southwest of Corbin, Kentucky. Take US Highway 25 west to Kentucky Highway 90. If traveling south on Interstate 75, take Exit 25. If traveling north on I-75, take exit 15.

Cumberland Falls, Cumberland Falls SP, KY (6).JPGCumberland Falls, Cumberland Falls SP, KY (6).JPG Cumberland Falls KY Moonbow (2)Cumberland Falls KY Moonbow (2)

Honorable Mention

            There are several falls that make my honorable mention list. Amicalola Falls in northern Georgia is a high 729-foot waterfall. The reason it did not quite make the ten best list is its water volume. Similarly, Anna Ruby Falls, also in northern Georgia, and Issaqueena Falls in Oconee County, South Carolina did not make the ‘best’ list. These are all pretty waterfalls but, in my opinion, are not quite full enough for the list. The three waterfalls along the Horsepasture River in Western North Carolina (Turtleback, Drift, and Rainbow) are all three good waterfalls and would make a great day-hiking destination.

            Brasstown Falls in northwestern South Carolina and Toccoa Falls on the campus of Toccoa College in Georgia were in close contention for the top ten list. There are many waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but none that I have viewed can compare to those on my list.

            I understand there are some great waterfalls in the Southeast that I have not mentioned and the readers may think I have overlooked a few. This is quite possible. If there are I would very much like to know about these waterfalls. I think these waterfalls are impressive and all would make for a good hiking and good photo ops.



The List of the Ten Best Waterfalls in the Southeast

1.      Cumberland Falls - Kentucky

2.      Burgess Falls - Tennessee

3.      Fall Creek Falls - Tennessee

4.      Whitewater Falls - North Carolina

5.      Noccalola Falls - Alabama

6.      Little River Falls - Alabama

7.      Linville Falls - North Carolina

8.      Dry Falls - North Carolina

9.      DeSoto Falls - Alabama

10.   Looking Glass Falls - North Carolina


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