Spring break is among us! Looking for some amazing destinations other than those crowded beaches that everyone seems to go to? Don’t worry, I have you covered. Whether you live near Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, or North Carolina, there are tons of wonderful waterfalls to occupy your spring break. I have put together a few of my favorite waterfalls from each of those states that surround us in the Southeast.
As a little side note, most of these waterfalls are very popular for good reasons. If you want them nearly all to yourself, go in the early hours of the morning or late afternoon closer to sunset. Not only are there fewer people ruining the experience, but the light can make the view that much more enjoyable.
I have provided links to all of the trails in hope to make your job finding them easier. Enjoy!
To begin the adventures, I invite you to my home state of Tennessee. My top spots for exploring waterfalls are Fall Creek Falls State Park and Cummins Falls State Park.
Fall Creek Falls State Park
Located near Spencer, TN, it is no more than a 2 hour drive from Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. This is one of the most popular parks in the state. Don’t go expecting to have it all to yourself during the day, especially on weekends, but don’t let that hold you back from visiting. It is visited by so many for a good cause. I mean, it’s my favorite waterfall in the state. If you want to avoid the crowds, go during sunrise or sunset, my favorite times to capture some epic photos. The park offers 2 amazing waterfalls. My favorite is Cane Creek Falls. This waterfall is accessible by a short cable trail near the parks nature center. It is rated as difficult, but if you take your time and think before you move, you should be fine. I have gone down and up it in the dark with a head lamp.
From the same parking area, you can hit the trail leading to Fall Creek Falls, where you will see an amazing cascade flowing under the swinging bridge and a lookout of Cane Creek Falls. If you take the correct turn, you can find the famous rocky ledge looking out over the gorge. Once you get to the part of the trail leading to the base of Fall Creek Falls, be sure to stop by the rest rooms and refill your water bottle. There is also a parking area at this section, so if you don’t want to hike from the parking at the nature center, you can start here. The trail has a big elevation change, therefore the climb back up is tiring. You’ll want to take a break about half into the trail at a section of rock wall that produces a cool breeze.
Cummins Falls State Park
The next waterfall on my Tennessee list is Cummins Falls State Park. Located in Cookville, TN, this park is another heavily trekked trail. During the summer time, it is a very popular if not the most popular swimming spot in TN. Although, since it is still March, I don’t think many people will be visiting in the hopes of splashing around in the water. That being said, if you would like to visit the base of the waterfall, you will need to hike along the river bed and cross the river about 2 times.
I went back in November and crossed one section that is about knee-deep and another that was calf deep. From what I hear, the water is cold year-round, so as long as the outside temperatures aren’t too low, you shouldn’t have problem spending a minute or two in the water. I also noticed while I was there last November that some people avoided crossing the second time by walking along the river side through some brush and big rocks. I personally think it’ll be easier just crossing the second time, I mean you already did it once only a few minutes prior. The end destination at the base of the falls is, in my opinion, well worth having to walk through some cold water. Take some water shoes or Chaco’s to switch into before you cross the water and if weather permits, shorts.
Next up, we have the state of Georgia, which may have some of the best kept state parks I’ve been to! These state parks a beautiful, but there’s a price for the beauty. It costs $5/car to enter the parks, or you can buy an annual pass for $50. I believe that your money is well spent when visiting one of Georgia’s State Parks, and that the annual pass is a great deal if you live anywhere within 1-2 hours of North Georgia. My 2 recommended parks to visit are Cloudland Canyon State Park and Amicalola State Park.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
Cloudland Canyon State Park is within 30-40 minutes of Chattanooga, TN and roughly 2.5 hours from Atlanta, GA. This park provides an amazing view of the canyon near the parking lot, and with a moderate hike from the canyon overlook, you will come by not one, but two waterfalls. The first waterfall you come to will be Cherokee Falls, but I suggest skipping it, and continue on towards Hemlock Falls. Why skip a waterfall you might ask? Well easy, the hike back up to the parking area is nothing but stairs. As a young fit individual, even I get tired before I have made it all the way to the top, so if you skipped the first waterfall on the way down, you can use visiting it as an excuse to take a break from the stairs.
Both waterfalls are beyond excellent for photos, but I personally prefer Cherokee Falls. Once you get to Hemlock Falls there will be a way down to the bottom of falls, it is quite obvious how to and as far as I know, it is allowed. I’ll leave it up to you to find it. Somehow, I missed it the first time I visited the park, but at that time I never even knew about it. Lastly, just a little bit further down the trail from Hemlock Falls is a nice cascade that is definitely worth the extra 100 yards or so.
Amicalola State Park
There isn’t much to say about Amicalola State Park. It can be summed up in a few words: beautiful, partially accessible to handicap, and more stairs than you want to count! Amicalola Falls is, I believe, Georgia’s tallest/longest waterfall. The very top of the falls is the most popular sections because it is where the free fall section of the falls are, but as you hike down from the top, there are fantastic spots to capture some photos of, for lack of better works, “baby waterfalls”. The waterfall trail isn’t terribly long, but no matter what section of the trail you do you are bound to get tired whether on the steep paved path or flights of stairs. Bring water and a snack, just make sure to take care of your trash properly!
Like Mississippi, most people don’t think much of Arkansas as a place for great hikes and waterfalls, but for those who live there or who have visited, know the truth. Arkansas is called the Natural State for many reasons, and the hiking opportunities and waterfalls are some of those reasons. I myself never thought anything about exploring in Arkansas until my friend moved to Little Rock, and he quickly let me in on how wrong I and many others are. My top spots for waterfalls are actually the only two I have visited. The first area for waterfalls is Petit Jean State Park and the second is Richland Creek Wilderness.
Petit Jean State Park
Petit Jean State Park is home to Cedar Falls. The hike itself is absolutely gorgeous if you go while the flowers begin to bloom. I went last year during spring break and there were a few trees blooming a bit earlier than the rest, so you may get lucky around the same time this year. Once you make it to the waterfall at the end of the trail, you won’t regret your decision to skip the beach this year. There are also a few other hiking trails in the park that are worth a few extra hours exploring.
Richland Creek Wilderness Area
If you want to see some of the bluest/green river water you’ve ever seen, check out Richland Creek Wilderness Area located in the Ozarks. The trail I hiked led to Richland Falls and Twin Falls. This hike was the longest and most difficult one I have done in search of a waterfall. The elevation change isn’t to bad, but for good portions of the hike you are walking along narrow trails with a drop off to the water below. Also, sections of the trail aren’t perfectly marked, but thankfully I was able to use the app “Alltrails” to keep me on track. Speaking of phones, there is almost no cell services in the area, and that includes a good portion of the drive.
To reach the first waterfall, Richland Falls, you’ll have to cross creek at least once. The seconds crossing can be by passed with a somewhat hidden section of the trail if my memory is correct. After you stop at Richland Falls, you’ll have to cross the creek at least one more time through deeper water, depending on the water levels. I actually never did this due to time constraints and not wanting to risk submerging all my camera equipment in the water, but from all the photos I have seen, it would have been well worth the crossing if I had come better prepared with water shoes and waterproof bag.
The great thing about Richland Creek is that if you have the time and take the right road, there are tons of little waterfalls you can visit along the drive. Be sure to do your research before going to this area. With no cell services and in the wrong conditions the water can get dangerously high, its best to do a bit of extra planning, unlike me.
To end this waterfall journey, I take you to my favorite state for escaping into the mountains, North Carolina! The Blue Ridge Mountains have a special place in my heart not only for its’ beautiful drives, but also its’ hikes, lookouts, and waterfalls. My top 2 waterfalls would have to be Crabtree Falls and Linville Falls.
The hike down to Crabtree Falls is a moderate trail that takes about an hour to complete, minus the stop to take in the beauty of the waterfall. This is one of the waterfalls that you don’t need to worry about visiting during sunrise or sunset. The trees overhead don’t block out sky completely, but the beautifully lit skies probably won’t add to your viewing pleasure. I suggest going early morning or late afternoon, especially if you plan on taking photos. This is one of those waterfalls everyone tries to get real close, so if you go before the crowds you can get some better shots. Also, unless you have overcast skies, the sunlight shines harsh light on the falls starting late morning. I usually capture sunrise at a spot nearby, like Craggy Gardens, then head for Crabtree Falls.
Linville Falls has a few different views, and two ways to access the trail. The first and most common is to start at the visitor center right off the parkway. The other way is down a dirt road that leads you to Wisemans View, which I highly recommend for sunrise. I assume sunset is good as well, but the only time I went for sunset I had nothing but dense fog.
My favorite trail is the Plunge Basin Trail leading to the base of the falls. A good portion of the trail is easy, until you get to the first overlook of the falls. A little bit after that you get into the more difficult section of the trail where you must hike down steep rocky terrain. The views at the bottom are well worth the hike.
The other trail leads to Upper Linville Falls and some overlooks of Linville Gorge and Linville Falls. This trail is accessed from both parking areas mentioned above. I’d say go for it if you have the time, but take the trail leading to the base of the falls first. To me, the view at the bottom is better than the overlook view from this trail. This trail is also much less difficult, so if you think you can’t make it down the rocky section of the Plunge Basin Trail, do this one instead.
As a little bonus, splitting off from the Plunge Basin Trail, there is a trail leading to Duggers Creek Falls. This little waterfall is very calming and serene. The hike is the shortest of all 3 trails, and it tends to be the least crowded.
If I have changed your mind to take a beach trip this year, I have linked the locations to each of the waterfalls and parks below. If you have visited one of these waterfalls or plan to, let me know in the comments below! Don't forget to share this with anyone you think might benefit from some quality time exploring waterfalls.