Top 11 North Carolina Waterfalls For Winter Photography
Okay, let’s be honest here. There’s no such thing as the 11 best waterfalls for anything. It’s all subjective. I’ve simply chosen 11 of my favorites.
I’m not a big fan of photographing waterfalls in winter unless there’s snow or it’s cold enough for the water and spray to freeze. Snow and ice just looks great, but it also has the cool (pun intended) trait of bringing order to chaos. A waterfall scene that might look too busy because of clutter (fallen trees and branches) or weedy growth along the banks can look good when covered in snow or frozen spray. In fact, most waterfalls look good in those conditions, regardless of what they look like in warmer weather.
Given that, you might think it would be hard to choose only 11, but other factors come into play that narrow the list. To make my list, a waterfall has to be relatively easy to access and be safe to maneuver into position for photos. It should go without saying that waterfalls requiring long, difficult hikes are not ideal to visit in snowy and icy conditions. And those that require a lot of scrambling around the icy base to get into positon for photos aren’t good either. All of the waterfalls on my list are relatively safe and easy for those who take extra precaution.
I especially like waterfalls on small streams that fall over bluffs, such as Moore Cove Falls and Picklesimer Rock House Falls. If you can walk behind a waterfall, you can bet it’s a good candidate to shoot in winter. Icicles form from the bluff and a volcano of ice forms at the base. The longer it stays below freezing, the bigger the volcano gets. I’ve seen a few waterfalls like this that had a volcano of ice from the base to the brink. Lower flow streams work better for this. Larger waterfalls can be good if they create a lot of spray, as it will freeze on everything it touches. Dry Falls and Rainbows are good examples.
Another thing I look for are the appropriate surroundings at a waterfall. Does it have good trees for catching snow? Can you get a wide-angle shot that includes a lot of the snow-covered surroundings? Linville Falls, for example, works great for this.
A link at each waterfall takes you to the main listing for that falls. The main listing provides complete details, including directions. It also displays many additional photos.
Why a Top 11 list instead of Top 10? I never could follow rules.
In no particular order, here are my choices.
1 Linville Falls
Linville Falls is hard to beat after a snowfall. I particularly like the view from Erwins View. From there, you have a nice view of the falls and a good portion of the gorge below. In addition to shooting the falls, I particularly enjoy photographing the hemlock forest along the trail. The Park Service has treated many of the larger hemlocks to protect against the hemlock woolly adelgid, so the forest remains a great photo subject, especially in snow. The access road off the Blue Ridge Parkway may be closed in winter, but you can access the falls via the Pisgah National Forest trailhead off Kistler Memorial Highway. Visit the main page for Linville Falls.
2 Schoolhouse Falls
Although the hike to Schoolhouse is longer than most of my winter favorites, it’s on a wide, gentle dirt road that is easy to hike. And the reward at the end is a superb winter waterfall that offers several vantage points. From in front you can include the huge pool, which often freezes completely over. My favorite vantage point in winter is from behind the falls, using icicles to frame the scene. Visit the main page for Schoolhouse Falls.
3 Looking Glass Falls
Looking Glass Falls needs a good snow or a prolonged period of below-freezing temps to look its winter best, but during those times, it’s very photogenic. There’s a great view a short distance downstream. From there, you can include a nice little cascade in the foreground. During long cold spells, the pool freezes nearly completely, leaving only a small open section directly under the falling water. A particularly good aspect of the falls is that it’s right beside the road, so no matter how cold and wet you get, you’re only a couple minutes from the car. Visit the main page for Looking Glass Falls.
4 Moore Cove Falls
This is among my favorites for winter. The trail is relatively short and easy and during prolonged cold spells the waterfall is a textbook example of a good winter photo subject. A huge overhanging bluff allows you to walk behind the falls and shoot from all angles. Icicles form from the bluff and the base of the falls freezes into a volcano, getting higher and higher the longer it stays below freezing. Visit the main page for Moore Cove Falls.
5 Slick Rock Falls
Easy access makes this a good one. It’s not hugely photogenic from a frontal perspective in winter, but it has a deeply recessed grotto behind the falls that offers unique compositions. Be particularly careful here. To get into position for some shots, you’ll have to scramble around on the ice. Visit the main page for Slick Rock Falls.
6 Rainbow Falls
Rainbow makes my top 11 list in most categories for North Carolina waterfalls, and especially winter. I like the treeless hillside in the spray zone that provides open views toward the falls. This open area is covered in weedy growth that doesn’t look particularly good most times, but during below-freezing temps, the spray freezes on everything it touches, creating a winter wonderland. A disadvantage is that it requires a 1.5-mile hike. But Turtleback Falls, another waterfall on the top 11 list, is a few hundred yards upstream, so you get two good falls for the price of a single hike. Visit the main page for Rainbow Falls.
7 Turtleback Falls
Only a few hundred yards upstream from Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, though much smaller, gives Rainbow a run for its ice in winter. That’s because you can photograph Turtleback well from three separate vantage points—from directly in front and from each side. The view looking downstream, with Turtleback in the foreground, is especially nice in winter as the trees look great covered in snow and ice. Visit the main page for Turtleback Falls.
8 Silver Run Falls
I love the easy access for Silver Run Falls. No matter how wicked the weather is, it’s quick and easy to check out the waterfall for photo potential. During long freezing periods, the pool freezes completely over and the rock on the sides of the waterfall are covered in ice. But my favorite time to shoot it is after a snowfall. Visit the main page for Silver Run Falls.
9 Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is the easiest water to see in North Carolina. It’s so easy you don’t even have to get out of your car to get wet from it. Well, in winter you do, because the road that runs behind the waterfall is closed because of the ice that accumulates on it. Before the bypass was built, Bridal Veil Falls created havoc during winter, with cars sliding off the road below the falls. For winter photography, it doesn’t get any easier or hardly any better. After a period of below-freezing temps, there are always nice icicles hanging from the bluff and a volcano of ice at the base of the falls. Visit the main page for Bridal Veil Falls.
10 Dry Falls
Dry Falls is unique not because you can walk behind it but because it is a large, powerful waterfall that you can walk behind. (You can walk behind many NC waterfalls, but most of the others are on very low-flow streams.) This presents good photo opportunities, both from shooting from behind the falls and from the immense spray that the waterfall produces. During periods of ice and snow, the Forest Service closes the short trail to the falls. I can’t advocate disobeying FS rules, so you’re on your own if you choose to go anyway. Visit the main page for Dry Falls.
11 Picklesimer Rock House Falls
This is the twin brother of Moore Cove Falls, although it requires a longer hike and a long drive on dirt roads that may be impassable during winter. It’s a good one for winter photography and you can bet you’ll have it all to yourself. Visit the main page for Picklesimer Rock House Falls.