Bartram Falls

Bartram Falls

Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm, f/13, 0.6 second, ISO 200, polarizing filter.

Beauty Rating:
Ledbetter Creek
River Basin:
Little Tennessee
3,680 feet
Type and Height:
Short drop and long, steep, cascading drop; the main portion is about 30 feet high
Nantahala National Forest, Cheoah Ranger District
Hike Distance:
3.2 miles
Hike Difficulty:
Photo Rating:
Waterfall GPS:
Trailhead GPS:
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Driving Directions

The trailhead is the same as for Bartram Falls, Inside Passage Falls, Notch 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).

Hike Description

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 to Inside Passage Falls, Ledbetter Canyon Falls, and Notch Falls. Turn left on Bartram Trail. You’ll cross Ledbetter Creek on a sturdy footbridge in less than 100 feet. Take some deep breaths while admiring the creek. The huffing and puffing start now.

For nearly the next mile, the trail ascends steeply and continuously to gain a narrow ridge. The route to Handpole Branch Falls drops off the left side of the ridge here. Continue on the main trail for Bartram Falls. The ascent moderates as you follow the ridge. You’ll soon pick up an old road. The trail levels, then descends to Ledbetter Creek at about 0.7 mile from where you crossed over the ridge.

Follow the creek upstream to a crossing, which should be an easy rockhop in normal flows. In 0.4 mile, you’ll reach another crossing, this one also fairly easy. After this crossing, remain on the river-right side of the creek, climbing and crossing little side streams. A little over 0.8 mile from the second crossing, you’ll arrive at the falls.


William Bartram was the first educated naturalist born in America and the first to write a major collection of work. His comprehensive volume, Travels, which details his expedition through the Southeast from 1773 to 1778, is still in print. It’s a classic study of both the natural history of the region and the civilizations of the day.

Bartram Trail is a fitting memorial. It loosely follows Bartram’s route from near Rabun Bald in Georgia to Cheoah Bald in North Carolina. The section you’ll hike to Bartram Falls is the last leg of the trail. Bartram Falls is at about the midway point between Nantahala Gorge and Cheoah Bald. The section from Ledbetter Creek up to the ridge passes through a forest ablaze with mountain laurel blossoms in late May. The section between the two creek crossings passes through an open forest carpeted with spring wildflowers.

Bartram Falls is best viewed from the trail. You can’t see the base without climbing down the steep bank, but the view is no better from down there. Hike up the trail a few yards beyond the first view of the falls to see the upper drop. It’s small but more scenic than the lower section, in my opinion.

For the pure joy of hiking, the trek to Bartram Falls is superb, as is the remainder of the hike to the summit of Cheoah Bald. But for those interested only in seeing a waterfall, Bartram Falls is probably not worth the long, difficult hike.