The trailhead is the same as for Bartram Falls, Inside Passage Falls, Ledbetter Canyon Falls, and Handpole Branch Falls.
Nantahala Outdoor Center is located on US 19/74, southwest of Bryson City. From NOC, drive about 6.65 miles southwest along Nantahala River (heading upstream) on US 19/74 and turn right on a paved drive leading a short distance to a picnic area. If you’re heading northeast on US 19/74, the picnic area is on the left, 0.85 mile from Wayah Road (SR 1310).
Climb the steps from the parking area and follow the path beyond the picnic tables up to the railroad tracks. Cross the tracks to the obvious path and follow it 100 yards to a junction. The yellow-blazed Bartram Trail goes right and left, while another path goes straight ahead and follows Ledbetter Creek upstream. A left turn on Bartram Trail is the route to Bartram Falls and Handpole Branch Falls. For Notch Falls, Ledbetter Canyon Falls, and Inside Passage Falls, take the path straight ahead.
The path follows the creek upstream a short distance before petering out. From this point, the creek is the trail. You might see a faint route that climbs up the slope on river left to bypass some cascades early on, but you’ll soon have to drop back down to the creek and stay with it from that point on. When you reach the point where you can’t go any farther by staying in the creek bed, you’ve arrived at Inside Passage Falls.
To continue upstream, you must climb through the narrow passageway on the river-left side of the falls. You’ll come out at the base of the upper portion of the Inside Passage Falls. Continue heading upstream to reach Ledbetter Canyon Falls and Notch Falls. You’ll have to negotiate one section which might be a little dicey, but experienced creek walkers should make it okay. It is a little more than 0.1 mile from Inside Passage Falls to the base of Ledbetter Canyon Falls, but it will seem like a lot more.
The hike to this point is tough, but easy enough for experienced waterfallers. The hike from here up to Notch Falls is difficult for anyone. You can climb up to the base of the middle drop of Ledbetter Canyon Falls without too much difficulty, but going farther demands serious consideration. You’ll have to first climb the extremely steep slope (river-right side is easiest) to get around the middle drop of Ledbetter Canyon Falls. And you’ll have to go farther up the slope than it seems like you should so that you get above the steepest, exposed portion of the rock. The soil layer is very thin here and there are spots where if you slip, there’ll be nothing stopping you.
Once you make it back down to the creek, it’s easy going up to the lower section of Notch Falls. But the scenic upper section is hidden, so you’ll have to climb up beside the lower section. If the water is high, this will likely be impossible. Even in low water, it’s a little dicey.
If you do make it above the lower section, just around the corner is the main portion of the falls. Congratulations! You made it. Now, just think. You’ll get to do it all again on the way back!
I’m often asked what the most difficult waterfall hike in North Carolina is. The most difficult ones for me are those where I have to crawl through rhododendron with a full pack on my back and a tripod in my hand. You can remain upright nearly all the way to Notch Falls, so it’s not the toughest on my list, but it’s probably in the top five. And it probably would be at the top of the list for some people.
So is it worth it? For most people, including serious waterfallers, probably not. This one is for hard-core listers only. Those who do make the effort will be rewarded with a view of a beautiful waterfall in a true slot canyon.
Notch Falls is at the head of a long, deep canyon on Ledbetter Creek. Most of the canyon is fairly wide at the base, but with steep walls rising on both sides. Some of the slopes are bare rock, but most of it is vegetated. At Notch Falls, the creek flows through an extremely narrow slot, with bare rock walls rising nearly vertically from the sides. About 75 feet of the canyon is what I would call a true slot canyon. It’s no doubt how the canyon received the local name “The Notch.”
You can see Notch Falls relatively easily by hiking Bartram Trail to where it crosses Ledbetter Creek and then following the creek downstream. You’ll pass a few small cascades before coming to the top of the falls. The problem is that you can view it only from the top and it’s not safe to get close. Even if you do, the view is not that good as you can see only a portion of the slot.
On my visit, there was a rope hanging over the falls, attached to a log that was stretching across the creek. Experienced climbers could rappel the falls to the base. The rest of us have to turn around.
If you make it to the base of Notch Falls and decide you don’t want to backtrack, you might be tempted to climb out of the canyon on river right to reach Bartram Trail, high up the mountain. Yes, you could do that. A short distance downstream from the falls is a tiny gully on the river-right side. You could climb it and eventually reach the trail. But that climb will be more difficult and potentially more dangerous than just following the creek back down. Trust me. I’ve done it and it wasn’t pleasant.
Oh, I guess I should also mention that the slopes on both sides of the canyon are covered in poison ivy. Yeah, just wonderful.