Linville Falls ranks near or at the top of any list of North Carolina waterfalls. It’s got powerful cascades, a large free fall, fascinating geology and history, and it’s in one of the most picturesque regions in the Southern Appalachians. It’s also one of the easiest accessible waterfalls on the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it heavily touristed during warmer months and during autumn. Lets explore what makes Linville Falls such a popular destination!
Linville Falls (as well as the river and gorge) is named after explorer, William Falls (or maybe his name could have been William Linville…yeah, that seems right), after he and his son, John, were attacked and killed by a group of Cherokee Indians (who originally called the waterfall “the Great Falls”) while camping near the base of the falls in 1766. After the Civil War, the area around the falls was used mainly for mining and large-scale logging. Land ownership changed hands several times throughout the years, with the final private owner selling the land (after intense public urging) to John D. Rockefeller Jr., who in turn, donated the land to the State of North Carolina. The state later turned the land over to the Federal Government, who then divided the land into two parcels. The upper portion, which includes the falls, was given to the National Park Service as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The lower portion was given to the United States Forest Service to be used as a designated wilderness area, which is now known as the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.
Located at Milepost 315.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway (or about 23 miles north of Marion, NC by way of US 221, and then NC 183), Linville Falls marks the beginning of the 12-mile long Linville Gorge (the ‘Grand Canyon of North Carolina’!). There are four distinct drops within Linville Falls, starting with the smaller upper falls, and ending in a 45-foot free fall. There are also five viewing areas spread out over two trails…the first being the moderately easy Erwin’s View Trail, and the second being the more strenuous Linville Gorge Trail, which takes you to the base of the falls. In this post, we’ll be following the Erwin’s View Trail.
By far the most popular route is the Erwin’s View Trail. This trail will take you to three different viewing platforms. After about half a mile from the start, the first viewing area will be for the upper falls. This section will offer views of two small waterfalls, and a look at the top of the larger falls as it snakes through a narrow canyon before forcefully plunging out the bottom. There are fences with warning signs instructing visitors to not climb over…and if you foolishly decide to ignore these signs, at least have the common courtesy to inform a forest ranger so they can go ahead and get a dive team ready to retrieve your body (it’s pretty dangerous…).
The next stop along the trail, and the first glimpse of the larger falls, will be the Chimney View. About two tenths of a mile above the upper falls, Chimney View offers a great look at the falls, as well as the Linville River as it begins to make its way through the gorge.
The final stop of the trail is Erwin’s View. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to see a more sweeping view of the falls, a bit of the gorge at the bottom, and the mountains behind the falls. This is a great spot during the fall, as the colorful leaves makes for a nice dramatic contrast to the falls.
If you enter through the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance, there will be paved parking and restrooms, as well as an information and visitor center. This area is open seasonally, April through October. Entering off of NC 183 will provide year-round access, but they don’t maintain the dirt parking area during winter. All trails are easy to find and easy to follow, as there are plenty of signs pointing you in the right direction.
Linville Falls also has a campground, and plenty of trails to explore throughout the entire Linville Gorge area. To learn more about the area, visit the official Linville Gorge Wilderness website by clicking HERE. There you will find maps, images, tips and safety reminders, and some other general information.