Moore Cove Falls Trail: Top waterfall hike in Pisgah National Forest

The Moore Cove Falls trail leads to the base of the cascade.

The Moore Cove Falls trail is one of the most beautiful waterfall hikes in Western North Carolina. This family-friendly hike takes you to a unique cave waterfall that you can walk behind. It features incredible wildflowers in springtime. And it has a few hidden gems that you can explore using side trails.

As a local to the Carolina mountains, I’ve visited countless waterfalls — and Moore Cove Falls still tops my list. Read on for all the details about how to hike to this cascade!

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How to get to the Moore Cove Falls trail

You'll pass Looking Glass Falls two miles before the trailhead coming from Brevard.
Looking Glass Falls makes a great pit stop on your way to the trailhead. It’s two miles before the parking area.

Moore Cove Falls is on Route 276 outside Brevard, North Carolina. It’s about halfway between the main junction in Brevard and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Coming from Brevard, turn right on 276 and follow the road past Looking Glass Falls. Note where your odometer is and continue two miles further. You’ll see a large parking area on the right, with a sign at the trailhead — pull in there.

Coming from the Parkway, the parking area is 8.2 miles down Route 276. It’s a very steep and windy drive, and in winter it gets quite icy. You’ll cross an old stone bridge immediately before the parking lot.

It can be hard to find parking during peak weekends. Arrive by 9 am or after 4 pm between May and August or during leaf season. If the lot is full, you can use one of the other pull-offs nearby and walk along the road to reach the trailhead. This is a better solution than parking in the shoulder — Transylvania County cops love to ticket cars with out-of-state plates who are even a quarter inch over the white line.

The Moore Cove Falls hike

The Moore Cove Falls hike in Pisgah Forest.
Moore Cove Falls at low flow. What it lacks in power, it more than makes up for in atmosphere.

Pick up the Moore Cove Falls trail at the wooden sign in the parking area. You’ll cross Looking Glass Creek and find the wide, mostly flat trail on the other side.

The hike meanders through Pisgah National Forest’s iconic mid-elevation slopes. In the spring, you’ll see wildflowers galore — trillium, mountain laurels, rhododendron, and dozens of smaller variety. Huge fern fields fill in the forest bed. The whole ecosystem is impossibly green, and it really pops on rainy or foggy mornings.

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After 0.6 miles you’ll reach the waterfall itself. The main viewing platform is at the base of the falls. You can also climb down to the pool below.

One thing that makes Moore Cove Waterfall so unique is that you can walk behind it! Be careful on the slippery rocks, and don’t venture into the cave in icy conditions. Unless the falls are at very low flow, you’ll get a little wet walking behind it, so protect your camera carefully.

Enjoy the view of the waterfall from all angles. In winter you’ll see an “ice volcano” at the base. In the spring, it’ll be at peak flow. In summer and autumn the cascade slows to a trickle, but that just makes the surrounding environment appear all the more beautiful as a backdrop.

Once you’ve fully explored the area, turn around and head back the way you came for a total hike of 1.2 miles. The total elevation gain is only about 160 feet — this is an easy, family-friendly and (leashed) pet-friendly hike. The only downside is it can be extremely muddy, even when it hasn’t rained recently.

Smaller sister waterfall nearby

Extend your hike to the smaller sister cascade on the next creek over.
Little Moore Cove Falls is an easy off-trail adventure.

Intrepid hikers can find a few other gems at the end of the Moore Cove Falls trail. You can bushwhack to two additional waterfalls in the area. If you find them, you’ll almost surely have them to yourself. These “bonus” falls are the main reason this is my favorite waterfall hike in NC.

A word of warning: these hikes involve exploring off-trail, in unmaintained areas. This is permitted in Pisgah Forest. But as far as safety goes, you are on your own. You should only attempt these hikes if you have extensive backcountry experience. And remember: The bushes should always whack back!

The first off-trail cascade is relatively easy to reach. Walk behind Moore Cove Falls and follow the visible manway across the creek. You’ll pass a campsite (note: camping is illegal here due to proximity to the waterfall). Go around it and continue to head toward the sound of falling water.

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In winter, you can easily spot Moore Cove’s smaller twin sister through the trees. The best views are from a bit of a distance, but it’s possible to bushwhack/slide through the mud and thorns straight to the base. (The latter is not suitable for children or pets.) In summer when the bushes have fully grown in, wear long sleeves or expect to get very scratched up.

The upper falls

The Upper Waterfall is small, atmospheric, and very difficult to reach
Don’t let this photo fool you – yikes is it a tough bushwhack to reach the Upper Falls.

The second secret waterfall is Upper Moore Cove Falls. This one is much more challenging to reach and should only be attempted in dry weather by experienced hikers comfortable pulling themselves up on your hands and knees.

The trail to the upper falls begins just after you walk behind Moore Cove Falls. (Do not attempt to climb the waterfall on the right side — it’s extremely dangerous.) You have a couple route options — the one to the right looks harder at first glance, but some brutally steep sections hide further up on the one to the left. Either way, remember that you’re directly next to the cliff that the waterfall drops down. If at any point it feels too steep, turn around.

At the top, the “trail” flattens out a bit. You’ll find the upper falls a short distance further, on your right. Do not enter the creek here — people have died falling from above Moore Cove Falls. When you’ve finished exploring, turn around. The descent is harder than the ascent.

Do not take children or pets on the Upper Moore Cove Falls trail. I did this hike in February and it was pretty dodgy in the snow and ice, but mud would be even worse.

To help you decide if this hike is right for you: I’ve done over 50 bushwhacks in the last year. This was one of only two that genuinely scared me. I can’t emphasize it enough: know your skill level and practice waterfall safety on this hike.

Other things to do in Pisgah National Forest near Brevard

There are tons of other hiking trails along Route 276.
After your hike, head to Cove Creek for this gem of a waterfall.

The national forest around Moore Cove Falls offers tons of additional hiking trails.

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Some of the best hikes include:

  • Looking Glass Rock
  • Daniel Ridge Falls
  • Cove Creek Falls
  • Pink Beds (in June when the rhododendrons bloom)
  • Big East Fork-Pigeon River
  • Shining Creek and Old Butt Loop to Shining Rock Summit

Read more about these and other hikes in my post on the best easy hikes near Asheville.

Additionally, Route 276 has ample picnic areas and opportunities for fishing and swimming. Just pull off into any of the parking areas and find yourself a picnic table! The creek/river can be quite swift in sections and totally calm in others — as a general rule, the closer you are to the Parkway, the sketchier the swimming will be. For a truly safe swim with lifeguards on duty check out the natural water slide at Sliding Rock.

A few other tips for hiking to Moore Cove Falls

  • Navigation on this trail is easy, but it never hurts to have AllTrails just in case.
  • Remember to practice Leave No Trace Principles in the outdoors. As a volunteer Waterfall Keeper, I’m the one who has to pick up your trash and dog shit when you leave it on the trails. Seriously, don’t be a jerk and carry out what you carry in.
  • There are no restrooms at the trailhead. (In fact, there are hardly any restrooms anywhere along Route 276.)
  • There are no water fountains or places to purchase food and beverages in the Pisgah Ranger District. Bring plenty of water and snacks. Brevard has plenty of shops where you can pick up supplies, including a Walmart right at the 276 junction.
  • Beware of copperheads and rattlesnakes, especially if you sit down on any of the rocks or fallen trees. Check trees before leaning against them or propping up your bag on them.
  • Oscar Blues Brewery is a great post-hike pit stop. It has food trucks as well.

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Hike to Moore Cove Falls near Brevard, North Carolina. This Asheville area waterfall trail takes you to one of the most beautiful cascades in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a short drive from the Parkway and other hiking trails in Pisgah National Forest. Don't miss it on your NC outdoors vacation. #hiking #travel

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Jamie Sharpe
1 year ago

I’m all about waterfall hikes, and I’ll need to hit this one up the next time I’m in the area. Thanks for sharing!

Krista
1 year ago

Any type of hike with a waterfall in it and I’m there! This looks like a great one to go on and there are a lot of nice spots for photos too.

Elizabeth
1 year ago

Hi, I hope you are doing well! It looks like you have been enjoying a lot of hiking in NC! This waterfall hike looks beautiful. It’s really cool that you can walk behind it. I would love to get back to the Asheville area and check out more of these hikes. You are a such a good source of information for hiking trails!

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