From US 221 near Linville Falls, drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway for 4.5 miles to Milepost 322. About 200 feet north of the milepost there is a space on the left (east) side of the road for a single car to park. If you can’t squeeze in there, continue south on the parkway for 0.1 mile where you’ll find places on the left to pull over.
I’ve been to English Falls three times. On each visit, I hiked to and from the falls by a different route. I still have more exploring to do, but I think I have the best routes pretty well figured out. Regardless of the route you take, you’re going to get a workout and you need to pay careful attention at a few spots if you want to come back unharmed.
You should also read the hike description for Upper English Falls. It will add more perspective and will be necessary if you wish to see both waterfalls on the same hike.
Begin the hike by walking along the parkway to the Milepost 322 marker, which is on the west side of the road. A guardrail is on the east side. You want to enter the woods at the start of the guardrail. There is no trail here. Supposedly, there is pink flagging tape along the route, but I found very little of it and none at the start. You need to head due east through the woods. Too far to the right (east-southeast) and you’ll come to a landslide scar and possibly miss the path. Too far left (east-northeast) and you’ll miss the path, come to the creek above the falls, and have to bushwhack beside it.
Along the river-right and river-left side of English Falls is a cliff. The river-right side (the side you’re on at the start of the hike) has a path running along the rim. It runs all the way from the creek to a point near the road. Near the road, it becomes too faint to follow. (It may be there, but I couldn’t find it.) So, the idea is to head due east through the woods until you run into the path. As long as you don’t stray too far off direction, you’ll definitely hit the path somewhere. Chances are, when you hit the path, you’ll need to turn left on it. (If you need to turn right, it’s because you hit the path very close to the creek and you’ll have figured out that you went too far to the left through the woods.)
The path is not graded and it twists around the rhodos, but you should be able to follow it easily enough. Pay attention. At one point, you’ll need to turn right off the path and descend through the cliff. The point is not obvious unless you’re staring right at it. There was a piece of flagging tape a few yards down the side path on my last visit. The GPS reading for the junction is N35.91327, W-81.96156 .
Taking this side path down through the cliff is the shortest route to the falls. But it’s also the most difficult. I didn’t know it existed when I made my first two trips. I knew the rim path was there because I followed it back from the falls on my first hike, but I had no idea that it was possible to get down through the cliff on the river-right side without ropes. Fortunately, Mark Oleg alerted me to a video that Brett Haas had posted where Brett had followed this route. Thanks guys!
Most of the descent through the cliff is easy enough for those used to butt sliding and hanging onto trees on the way down. And it should be easy enough to follow the correct route. I suspect that if you veer off the correct route, you’ll run into a dead end. With this said, portions of the descent are very steep and could be difficult for some. Also, near the bottom of the descent, you’ll have to make a short hop to reach the base. This could be tricky for some, and climbing back up this vertical section even more so. I recommend bringing a rope for this section.
Once at the base of the cliff, you’re nearly at the falls. It’s just few yards away.
If the river-right cliff descent is too extreme for you, you can reach the falls easier from the river-left side. Continue following the rim path down to the creek, cross, and then work your way up through the woods away from the creek. There are faint paths all over the place, but none obvious enough to follow well. I’ve found one spot where you can safely descend through the cliff. It is at a point well away from the creek. You can descend through a notch at the steepest section, and then bushwhack down along the base of the cliff to the falls. It’s tough, but much easier than the descent on the river-right side. Finding this notch to descend through is simply a matter of walking along the top of the cliff until you find the way down.
You can descend part of the cliff to the base of Upper English Falls. There is one spot where you can get through the cliff on river left, near the creek. It descends to a point very near the base of that waterfall. To find the spot, you’ll have to work away from the creek a bit, but not too much. Chances are, you’re just as likely to miss it and just descend down along the creek, which may be just as easy anyway. I don’t think you can safely access the base of English Falls this way, though.
For those who don’t want to have anything to do with descending the cliffs but still want to see the falls, the best suggestion I can make is to swing very wide away from the creek on river left. I’m assuming the cliff peters out at some point, where you can easily get around it. Forget trying this on the river-right side. I’ve done it and it’s just not a good way to go.
I suppose I’ll mention one other option, but only so I can dissuade anyone who may consider it as a shortcut. It is possible to climb the river-left side of English Falls to get between Upper English and English. On my first trip, I did this on the way back. But there’s a huge catch. There is a point near the top of English Falls where you have to maneuver around a projecting rock. If you fall, you die. I did this while carrying a photo pack and tripod. Beyond this point, you have to climb on the waterfall itself, crossing the creek in the process. While that is easier than maneuvering around the projecting rock, it’s still not advisable since you are literally crossing the creek on the waterfall.
I didn’t make any written notes about doing this and I couldn’t remember much about it, so when I hiked to the falls recently, I wanted to go this way again and record it thoroughly. When I reached that projecting rock near the top of the falls, I did my best impression of Indiana Jones on the rope bridge in The Temple of Doom. You know, “Oh shit!” I’d like to think that my mind is still as sharp as it was two years ago, even if my body isn’t, but all I knew for sure was that there was no way I was going to try this maneuver again. And I hope to goodness you don’t either. Skilled rock climbers will do the tango here. The rest of us may very well die.
I’ve long known this waterfall existed. I intended to include it in the second edition of North Carolina Waterfalls, but a landslide on the Blue Ridge Parkway forced a road closure before I made the hike. When I finally did hike to it for the third edition, the waterfall presented perhaps the most difficult challenge of any I’ve researched—not because of the hike difficulty but because of the challenge of deciding whether or not to include it in the book.
English Falls is among the most pristine waterfalls I’ve seen in North Carolina. Every square inch of everything is covered in thick, lush moss. A substantial spray-cliff natural community is behind the falls. On my first visit, I saw no footsteps or any indications of human presence whatsoever, although I know the waterfall is not a secret, especially to the locals. And for the first time at any waterfall, I saw a young box turtle sitting directly under one of the drops of the falls, as if it were a kid playing under a garden hose. I was so careful not to trample the moss and vegetation that I spent a couple hours photographing the scene, a task that ordinarily would have taken half the time.
I left thinking this one wouldn’t go in the book, as is the case with several other waterfalls I’m keeping secret for some of the same reasons. However, it wasn’t long before I saw a video of English Falls on Facebook, posted by a fellow waterfaller. I knew that once the hard-core waterfalling crowd got wind of it, it would be open season. So I decided to include it and appeal to the integrity of all who visit it. Please tread lightly. Is that shot really worth it?
My first visit was in June of 2015. I returned around mid-May of 2017. There were obvious indications of people visiting the falls, but it wasn’t alarming. But when I returned in mid-June 2017, there had been a significant change. In only a month, I could see a big increase in the trampling and soil dislodging and there was now a well-worn scramble path on the river-right side.
Of course, you can’t hike to a waterfall without stepping on the ground. My steps contribute to the trampling as much as anyone’s. The best way all of us can minimize the disturbance is simply to remain on the established path. Don’t stray from it for photos, even a few feet. You can’t do it without stepping on a mossy rock or loose, fragile soil. If we remain on the established path, English Falls will remain a beautiful, lush, nearly pristine waterfall for everyone who visits.
I’m often asked to name my favorite waterfall in North Carolina. I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you without hesitation which one is the most photogenic. In my opinion, it’s English Falls. I don’t know any other North Carolina waterfall that offers so many compositional options. It comes with a catch though. The waterfall needs water. The creek is very small, so you need to visit during wet periods. Also, for the best photos, you need to visit on an overcast day. I take that one step further and like to visit on rainy, foggy days. Some of the compositions that show the entire waterfall will necessarily have to show some sky as well. The white sky of an overcast day doesn’t look good in the photos, but on a foggy day, you can get away with it. The fog adds an ethereal affect that works well. While you may be tempted to scramble around looking for photo vantage points, I can assure you that it isn’t necessary. I made every photo shown here from the established path.
English Falls is named for the English family, who farm the land downstream from the falls.
Update as of 11/29/2018
I have seen many social media posts about English falls over the past several months. Some of them are factually incorrect. Until now, I have chosen not to respond, but the scuttlebutt has reached the point where I’m afraid it could negatively influence and impact the visitor experience. So, I am providing this update to clear up any confusion you may have as a result of these postings.
I will not comment on the motivation behind these posts, nor will I give any opinions about them, or address anything that doesn’t specifically relate to your hike. The notes I make below address specific comments made on social media that could cause problems with planning and completing a visit to English Falls.
- The Park Service is not planning to ban parking on the Blue Ridge Parkway within three miles in both directions from the trailhead. If this changes, I will let you know right away.
- There is no “illegal” trail to English Falls if you begin your hike from the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is Park Service property that has no special provisions. As such, it is open land for anyone to walk on. You are free to go wherever you like on your hike to English Falls.
- The Park Service does not like for people to install ropes along the path at English falls, or at any other waterfall. They view it as if they leave the ropes in place, it would be endorsing the route and it exposes them to liability. It is also considered maintaining an unofficial trail, as well as littering, both of which are citable offenses. However, if any ropes are in place, it is perfectly legal for you to use them.
- Hiking the path down the cliff on river right does less damage to the lush vegetation around the base of the falls than the bushwhack route on river left. The river left route drops you out directly at a good vantage point of the falls. The one on river left requires more scrambling around at the base.
- The path on river right is more susceptible to soil erosion, but as more people use the river left route, that one is becoming susceptible as well.
- The route on river left is far easier and should be achievable by most everyone who feels comfortable with bushwhacks. It is, however, more difficult to follow the route.
- The route on river right requires a very steep climb down the bank. In wet weather or when fallen leaves are on the ground, you will likely need to slide down on your butt. The final few feet require a jump. This route is not recommended for the casual hiker, even those who may be comfortable with light bushwhacks.
- English Falls is not “special” regarding its access, environmental situation, or Park Service policy. These situations apply equally to many waterfalls on Park Service property