Hickory Nut Falls Hike

At A Glance

Easy 1.5 mi round-trip

Tread Condition: Some Obstacles
Climb: Climbs Gently
Lowest Elevation: 1760
Highest Elevation: 1900
Total Elevation Gain: 200
Configuration: Out-and-back
Starting Point: Lower parking area at Chimney Rock Park

Trails Used: Hickory Nut Falls

Synopsis

This moderate hike takes you out-and-back through a vibrant forest to the base of Hickory Nut Falls. This is a very high and neat waterfall. You'll travel along the base of the cliffs that form the edge of the Hickory Nut Gorge and the Falls. Trees along this trail are large and interpretive signs help you identify points of interest in the geography and the ecology. At the base of Hickory Nut Falls, enjoy a splash of cold mountain water on a hot day - or just relax in the beauty of one of the highest waterfalls in the East!

Directions

From Asheville, take I-240 East to US 74-A. Follow US 74-A to the Chimney Rock Park entrance gate and pay the entrance fee (more information about the entrance fee). Park in either of the top parking lots - the well-signed trail starts at the lower of the two.

Directions on Google Maps

Details

Hike Description

Note: There is a fee to enter Chimney Rock Park. Get more information on the park's web site.

Hickory Nut Falls is not only one of the tallest waterfalls in the region, but it was arguably made more notable by its appearance in the movie The Last of the Mohicans. Formerly called the "Forest Stroll" trail, the path leading to it has been more aptly named the Hickory Nut Falls trail since the park came under state ownership. And that's good, since the waterfall is its main destination - and one of the top destinations in the park!

View of Hickory Nut Falls from above, on a now-closed trail.
View of Hickory Nut Falls from above, on a now-closed trail.

That's not to say Forest Stroll was a totally inappropriate moniker, though, since that's what the hike to the falls entails. You'll enjoy walking through the mixed hardwood forest along almost the entire route.

Shortly after heading under the entrance sign and gate, you'll reach the intersection with the Outcroppings trail on the left, which takes the form of a sturdy, elaborate set of stairs (newly reconstructed in 2012). That "trail" goes up toward the main parking area and the Chimney. Keep straight on the Hickory Nut Falls trail.

Next you'll reach the Four Seasons trail on the right. As its name indicates, the trail is open all year long and can be used as a longer route to Hickory Nut Falls. Keep straight again here.

Passing through the next gate puts you solidly on the path to the base of the falls. There are no other intersections beyond the second gate.

Although the trail is not difficult, there are a couple of moderate climbs and at times the surface is quite rocky. Signs along the route explain various points of interest and depict the ecology of the environment through which you are traveling. Various plants are introduced and aspects of the geography are discussed, and there are plenty of wildflowers to be found, admired, and photographed (but not picked!) during the growing season.

Viewing area at the base of the falls
Viewing area at the base of the falls

One sign depicts a deep erosion gully as a natural factor in the shaping of this mountain. In general, it's true that erosion has resulted in nearly all of the topography we see today in the southern Appalachians. At the gully in question, however, it appears that when the old road was cut, it greatly exacerbated the rate of erosion on its uphill side, making it a somewhat man-made phenomenon. Nevertheless, this is an interesting spot with the deep, rocky ravine reaching up to the base of the sheer rock cliffs looming above you.

You can see plenty more evidence of how erosion factors into the creation of the surrounding topography. During a heavy rainstorm several years back, a major section of the trail slid away and a huge, beefy bridge was built to replace it. This bridge is sturdy and wide and can easily carry a loaded pickup truck. After the bridge, you'll round a small ridge, where you'll be near the base of the falls and begin to hear them.

The trail ends in a paved area with a picnic table, and a narrower path heads left up a set of steps to a viewing area at the base of the falls. It is relatively safe to rock-hop and explore the stream right at the base of the falls since it is flat there, but it is generally frowned upon and signs will admonish your decision if you do that. So stay very close to the base of the falls, since the stream has more tall cascades below the small flat area.

Once you're done exploring and marveling at the falls and huge cliff walls, return to your vehicle on the same path.

All Photos from This Hike

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Map

Green highlight indicates the route to follow within the trail network for this hike.

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