Dupont State Forest Waterfalls and Hiking Trails: A Local’s Guide

Triple Falls is one of the most beautiful Dupont State Forest waterfalls in North Carolina.

Do you love chasing waterfalls? I sure do. I’ve been known to bushwhack down steep, muddy slopes for a good view of even the smallest trickle of water pouring over rocks. But no falls in the Carolina mountains can compete with the beauty and diversity of the Dupont State Forest waterfalls.

Dupont State Forest in NC contains more than 12,000 acres of protected lands, six major waterfalls, a set of low-altitude lakes, and nearly a hundred miles of trails. Most trails in the park are easy or moderate. This is one of the best places in Western North Carolina to access waterfalls if you are mobility-impaired, traveling with small children, or just not in the mood for a major hike.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how to visit all six of the major waterfalls in Dupont State Forest. I’ll share my local knowledge on how to beat the crowds and how to combine trails for longer hikes. Let’s dive in!

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When should you visit the Dupont State Forest waterfalls?

Triple Falls from another vantage point along the Three Waterfalls Hike.
You can visit Dupont State Forest year-round, but winter is a great time to beat the crowds.

Before getting into detail on the different trails, let’s talk about the weather.

The Carolina mountains have a mostly mild climate. Summers aren’t too hot, and spring and autumn are gorgeous. Winter can be bitterly cold, but it usually warms up quickly in the mornings. Snow and ice are rare.

Because Dupont State Forest is at lower elevation than most of the region, it’s a bit warmer. It’s also sheltered from extreme wind. Check the temperature in Hendersonville, NC for the best gauge.

Spring and summer are the best times to visit the waterfalls of Dupont State Forest. WNC gets lots of rain at these times, so the waterfalls are at peak flows. You can also swim at the base of a couple of the falls. However, warm weather brings bigger crowds.

Autumn is a popular time to visit for leaf-peepers. Crowds can be insane around the peak leaf weekend (usually late October), but generally aren’t too bad throughout the rest of this season.

My personal favorite time to hike in Dupont State Recreational Forest is winter. The icy waterfalls are spectacular — High Falls is especially lovely on frigid mornings. Plus, you’ll only have to share the trails with locals.

Regardless of which season you visit, try to go on a weekday, and the earlier in the morning, the better. Crowds around High Falls and Triple Falls can be nuts on weekends in high season by 10 am.

Trail etiquette for hiking in Dupont State Forest

Covered Bridge Road above High Falls
A glimpse of a typical example of Dupont State Forest hiking trails: wide, flat and gravel

One thing you’ll notice pretty quickly when you hit the Dupont Forest trails is they’re all mixed-use. As in, you’ll be sharing trails with hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

Generally this is fine — most of the trails to the waterfalls are more like wide gravel roads. But occasionally you’ll need to take smaller paths where a fast-moving mountain biker can sneak up on you really quickly.

The rule throughout the forest is that hikers and bikers must both yield to horses, and bikers must yield to hikers. But in practice, as a hiker, you’ll see the bikers much sooner than they’ll see you — it’s best to let them pass if you can safely do so.

Parents should keep an especially close eye on small children straying in bikers’ paths. And if you bring your dog to Dupont, keep it on the leash at all times, no exceptions. No biker wants to be chased by your ~very well behaved~ pup.

If you aren’t a fan of sharing trails with bikers (and I wouldn’t blame you — I hate it), the one trail to avoid at all costs is the Dupont Ridge Trail. Bikers FLY down that trail at breakneck speeds around blind turns. I did it at 11 am on a winter weekday and still had to leap out of the way of at least a dozen bikers.

Finally, some trails in Dupont State Forest close occasionally due to wet or muddy conditions, or due to overcrowding during COVID. While it can be disappointing to be unable to visit a waterfall you came to see, please respect the closures. Hiking on a dangerously muddy trail puts you at risk of injury, but it also causes trail erosion that increases the likelihood of permanent closures in the future. Friends of Dupont State Forest posts trail closures on their homepage.

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Waterfalls in Dupont State Forest – and how to reach them

There are six major falls in the area. Three of them are in one cluster immediately accessible from Hooker Falls Parking Area (which has restrooms). The others require longer hikes. You can bike to all of them, but you’ll sometimes need to dismount your bike to reach certain viewpoints.

These are some of the best easy hikes near Asheville!

Hooker Falls

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Hooker Falls is the most modest waterfall in the forest — but that’s not to say it’s boring. This 11-foot cascade is a popular swimming area in summer and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in early morning light. It’s also striking during peak leaf season.

The falls is just 0.3 miles on a flat trail from Hooker Falls Access Area. You can also reach it on a half-mile hike from High Falls Access Area. Both use the Hooker Falls Trail (not to be confused with the Hooker Falls Road, immediately next to it).

The trail is single-track (i.e. you walk single-file on a dirt path). It’s extremely easy to follow. In terms of difficulty, this is more like a short stroll through the forest than a mountain hike. It would be in just about anyone’s ability level, including some folks with mobility impairments. (You could do it with a walker or cane but I wouldn’t try it with a wheelchair.)

Along the way to the falls, you’ll walk through beautiful pine forest. The river — impossibly blue on sunny days — runs to your left along the trail.

You’ll approach the falls from the top before the trail gradually descends to the base. This is the only area safe for swimming. Do not swim above the falls, where the current is extremely strong. When you’re done, simply return the way you came!

Hooker Falls hike details:

  • Trail Length: 0.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Almost none
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Best Time To Go: Summer if you want to swim

High Falls

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High Falls is the crown jewel of Dupont State Forest waterfalls. It drops 120 feet into a deep pool below. This is the kind of waterfall that you can hear and feel well before you see it through the trees.

This waterfall is 0.5 miles from High Falls Access Area. You can also reach the top on about a half-mile walk to the Covered Bridge. Finally, you could park at Hooker Falls Access Area and hike up, although this is much steeper.

Most of this trail is on gravel roads shared by hikers and mountain bikers. It starts out fairly gradual, but the trail drops steeply when you reach the falls. You’ll lose about 120 feet of elevation (and then you’ll have to climb back up on the way back).

The best viewpoint is about 30% of the way down the trail, when the trees open up. This view is especially epic in winter, when the tree immediately to your right ices over from the falls’ spray.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of that view, continue down the trail until you reach a sign that says “base of the falls.” Follow the short (less than 0.2 mile) single-track down the hillside and through the mud, out to the rocks below the falls. It is safe to swim here as long as you stay in the immediate vicinity of the rocks. Just remember that Triple Falls is less than half a mile down-river and the current picks up well before then.

High Falls hike details:

  • Trail Length: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Best Time To Go: Anytime, but I’m partial to winter

Triple Falls

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The third easy-access waterfall on Little River in Dupont Forest is Triple Falls. This cascade has three levels that total 120 feet. You may recognize this one from the move Last of the Mohicans, which was filmed here!

The waterfall is about halfway between Hooker Falls Access Area and High Falls Access Area, a short (0.2 mile) walk beyond High Falls. There are two main viewing areas: a wooden boardwalk and a lookout on the trail. The boardwalk offers the best views of the top two drops, but you’ll need to walk down the trail to see all three. If you come from High Falls it’s mostly downhill. Coming from Hooker Falls you’ll have a steep (but short) climb.

The trails in both directions are gravel/dirt and wide. Both go up and down a little bit before you reach Triple Falls. This is the hardest of the three main waterfalls to hike to. You can also ride a mountain bike on this trail.

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The boardwalk involves a lot of stairs — all going downhill on the way to the falls. You’ll come out on a large flat rock in the middle of the river. There’s a roped-off viewing area. Don’t venture beyond the ropes. The boardwalk is sometimes closed in winter, when it’s too icy to safely walk out onto the rocks.

Triple Falls hike details:

  • Trail Length: 0.75 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Best Time To Go: March-December. In January and February, the boardwalk often closes due to ice.

Dupont State Forest Three Waterfalls Hike

If you’ve been reading closely, you might have noticed that all three waterfalls I’ve mentioned so far are in the same rough area. You can easily combine them into one 4.5-mile waterfall hike.

Start at the High Falls Access Area and follow the directions above to reach High Falls and Triple Falls. Then, continue below Triple Falls and walk along the river for about half a mile. You’ll cross a bridge right before reaching Hooker Falls Access Area, where you can pick up the Hooker Falls Trail. Return to the base of Triple Falls and follow signs for the High Falls Loop to get back to your car.

The trail is mostly downhill on your way to Hooker Falls, and mostly uphill on the way back. I’m not going to lie — it’s a bit of a climb. It won’t be too bad if you’re in shape, but I would not recommend doing the full hike if you’re mobility impaired or if you have trouble hiking uphill. The trail is wide gravel (and shared with mountain bikes) the whole way.

Three Waterfalls hike details:

  • Trail Length: 4.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Best Time To Go: Anytime — winter is less crowded.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls was featured in the movies Last of the Mohicans and Hunger Games
One of the best Dupont State Forest hikes is the 4.7-mile walk to Bridal Veil Falls.

If you’ve seen The Hunger Games, you’ll recognize Bridal Veil Falls instantly. But even if you haven’t this unique waterfall is worth the hike. The “falls” are more like a gradual drop that sheets of waterfall flow over.

You can reach Bridal Veil Falls from High Falls Access Area or from Fawn Lake. I’ve only done the former, but either way it’s a 5-6 mile round-trip hike.

Starting from High Falls Access Area, cross the covered bridge above High Falls. You’ll come to an intersection almost immediately — take a right. It’s a long, flat walk on a well-maintained gravel road from here to the turnoff for the falls. You’ll cross the river one more time. In spring and summer, the wildflowers along the trail are gorgeous. You’ll see lots of bikers through here but the trail is plenty wide for everyone.

After almost 3 miles, you’ll see a turnoff to Bridal Veil Falls Road, to the right, next to a large barn. Take this turnoff. Another 0.2 miles or so later, you’ll see signs to the waterfall (another right turn). Here the trail turns to single-track and you might have to dodge a couple bikers.

You’ll quickly reach a small viewing platform with the best (although admittedly not great) full view of the cascade. Stop here for photos before continuing to the base of the falls at the end of the trail. You can get an obstructed view from land, but the better views require a quick-and-easy rock-hop into the middle of the river.

It looks fairly easy to climb the rocks the waterfall passes over, and you will see people doing it. But I wouldn’t recommend it. The current is strong and the rocks are very slippery. Stick to swimming in the pool below the falls instead.

When you’re done exploring, return the way you came.

Bridal Veil Falls hike details:

  • Trail Length: 4.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Best Time To Go: Anytime

Local tip: There are two Bridal Veil Falls in Western NC. The other one is roadside on Highway 64, in Nantahala National Forest. Make sure you know which one you’re going to when you put it in your GPS!

Grassy Creek Falls

Grassy Creek Falls is one of the more off the beaten path waterfalls near Asheville.
Can you spot Grassy Creek Falls, below and to the left of me? It’s not the most iconic of the waterfalls in Dupont State Forest, but you’ll have it to yourself.

Perhaps the least-visited of the Dupont State Forest waterfalls, Grassy Creek Falls is full of character. This cascade resembles Bridal Veil Falls in that it drops along a shallow granite slope. But it’s much smaller than its cousin and gets a fraction of the tourist traffic.

Given how off the beaten path it is, you might be surprised to learn that this is one of the easiest Dupont State Forest hikes! Starting from High Falls Access Area, walk across the covered bridge and go straight at the intersection. You’ll come to another small bridge and another intersection, where you take a slight left. Shortly after this you’ll see a sign to a small path for Grassy Creek Falls.

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You’ll come out at the top of the falls, which is also the best view. If you’re feeling brave, you can also hike down to the base — just continue on the (steep, narrow, muddy) path. When I last hiked it in December 2020 there were a few big blowdowns and it was quite overgrown. The views from the bottom aren’t all that exciting so don’t feel bad if you can’t make it down this rough trail.

You should not swim at Grassy Creek Falls. The only options for swimming holes would be too close to the falls or in places where the river’s current is dangerously strong. You can mountain-bike to the turnoff where it becomes single-track, but you cannot take your bike down the trail along the waterfall.

Grassy Creek Falls hike details:

  • Trail Length: 2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy if you don’t go to the base of the falls. Hard if you do.
  • Best Time To Go: Anytime

Local tip: Wear orange in fall and winter in this area — hunting is permitted!

Wintergreen Falls

Wintergreen Falls is out on a limb in Dupont State Recreational Forest. Few hikers come here -- it mostly sees mountain biking traffic.
It’s more popular to mountain bike to Wintergreen Falls than it is to hike.

One of Dupont’s smallest waterfalls, Wintergreen Falls is off the radar of most visitors, far from the major access areas. It’s the only hiking destination in this part of the forest and you’ll often have it to yourself.

For this hike, it’s easiest to start at Guion Farm Access Area. Start on Tarklin Branch Road, a wide, flat shared path. You’ll start to descend slightly after about half a mile. Shortly after, you’ll come to an area where there’s a field in front of you and a questionable path through the field, or a trail to your left into the pine forest. Take the trail and continue to descend.

Another 0.5 miles on, you’ll come to a clear marking for Wintergreen Falls Trail. Take that path to the end, which has mountain laurel bushes all around. You’ll have to make your way through the bushes and rock-hop a bit to reach the falls. Return the way you came.

I wouldn’t recommend swimming at Wintergreen Falls. The pools at the base of the falls are small and rocky, and the river narrows so much that the currents are pretty swift. You also should not take the very visible manway up to the top of the falls — it’s not a maintained trail and you risk damaging the fragile ecosystem.

Grassy Creek Falls hike details:

  • Trail Length: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate.
  • Best Time To Go: Anytime. In winter, the mountain laurel bushes stay bright green and give the area a jungle-y vibe.

Practicalities for visiting the waterfalls of Dupont State Forest

  • Dupont State Forest is near Hendersonville, NC. It’s about a 45-minute drive from downtown Asheville.
  • The best place to park for most of the waterfalls and hikes in this guide is High Falls Access Area. Coming from Hendersonville or Asheville, the parking lot is on your left shortly after you pass Hooker Falls Access Area. I’d recommend putting Hooker Falls in your GPS and looking for the parking lot on your own (if you google High Falls Parking Lot, it takes you somewhere in Nantahala Forest instead). You could also park at Hooker Falls Access Area instead if you’re cool with a slightly longer hike.
  • Both High Falls and Hooker Falls Access Areas have restrooms/porta potties, dumpsters, and ample parking.
  • You are 100% required to park in one of the parking lots in Dupont. If you park on the street, you WILL get ticketed or towed. And on busy summer weekends they rope off the shoulders anyway, so there’s no way you could even pull your car off.
  • You won’t have cell service on the trails.
  • For navigation, use AllTrails Pro or take advantage of the excellent markings, signage, and posted maps at every trailhead.
  • Finally, always practice Leave No Trace principles when hiking in the forest. Stay on marked trails and carry out all your trash.
  • Keep a safe distance from wildlife — you may encounter bears on the trails if you visit early in the morning or late in the day.

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Dupont State Forest near Asheville, NC has some of the best waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hike, mountain bike or horseback ride the trails to High Falls, Triple Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and more. These cascades are just a few minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina and a day trip here makes for great easy hiking. #hiking #travel

Read more about Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains here

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Lisa
3 years ago

I live in NC and have had this on my bucketlist for years now! I’ve made plans to make the roadtrip here in February and can’t wait to experience some of these same hikes and waterfalls!!

Krista
3 years ago

I haven’t heard of this area before, but it looks like a stunning place to go hiking around!

Margie
Margie
3 years ago

We love to road trip and this is an area I have not explored in NC. Thanks for the tips!

Krista
3 years ago

I love coming across waterfalls when i’m hiking – they’re my favourite part of nature. This looks like a lovely area to spend a day at.

Josy A
3 years ago

Love it Carrie! Waterfall hikes are the best, but it is not often you found sooo many near each other! I love it when there are lots of mini trails like this, so you can do several on rainy days (or bail if it is just too soggy!)

Dunpont State Forest must be amazing in the spring when the waters are high!

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