Inside Passage Falls

Inside Passage Falls

The upper section of the waterfall. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 24mm, f/11, 0.5 second, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

Beauty Rating:
Trail and creek scramble
Ledbetter Creek
River Basin:
Little Tennessee
2,200 feet
Type and Height:
Sliding, free-falling, and cascading falls in two main sections, with an overall height of about 40 feet
Nantahala National Forest, Cheoah Ranger District
Hike Distance:
About 0.3 mile
Hike Difficulty:
Photo Rating:
Waterfall GPS:
Trailhead GPS:
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Driving Directions

The trailhead is the same as for Bartram Falls, Ledbetter Canyon 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. A left turn on Bartram Trail is the route to Bartram Falls and Handpole Branch Falls. For Inside Passage Falls, Ledbetter Canyon Falls, and Notch 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.


Beginning at about the 2,720-foot elevation, Ledbetter Creek plunges through a deep, narrow canyon called “The Notch.” The upper section is a true slot canyon, with extremely steep sides. The canyon widens in the downstream portion, but it’s still deep and difficult to traverse. Inside Passage Falls, at 2,200 feet in elevation, marks the downstream end of the more extreme portion of the canyon.

You can’t see all of the falls from below. You can see only the lower section, where the creek tumbles down a jumble of boulders. In high water, it’s impressive, but not much to look at during normal flows. To see the upper section, you must ascend through a narrow passageway between the rocks on river left. You won’t question how the waterfall got its name when you climb through the chasm.

The upper section is very scenic, beginning as a gentle slide and ending in a short free fall onto mossy rocks. Unfortunately, a log is lying over the falls, ruining any chance of a good overall photo. It looks like it will be there awhile. However, you can shoot nice isolation shots.

From Inside Passage Falls upstream to Ledbetter Canyon Falls, the hike is tough, but doable for experienced creek walkers.

Inside Passage Falls

Isolation shot of the upper portion of the falls. Nikon D800, Nikon 28-300mm lens at 82mm, f/11, 5 seconds, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

Inside Passage Falls

Lower portion of falls at low water. The entrance to the passageway is on the right side of this photo. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm, f/8, 2.5 seconds, ISO 100, polarizing filter.

The passageway at Inside Passage Falls. Nikon D800, Nikon 17-35mm lens at 17mm, f/8, 8 seconds, ISO 100, polarizing filter.