This 70-foot waterfall near Asheville cascades across an overhanging cliff, creating a rare treat of walking behind the ribbon falls. While the water flow is usually on the low side (except after a big rain), it's a beautiful setting and an easy hike in the Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest about 33 miles from downtown Asheville in northern Buncombe County. The last 9 miles is winding scenic drive through the forest with 10 roadside cascades along the way, including Walker Falls.
Since this remote road goes up to 4,300 feet elevation, sections of the road are usually closed in the winter months (December-March). There's a gate at the beginning of FS (Forest Service) Road 74 and another about a mile before the end. The unpaved one lane road (with two way traffic) is well maintained, so you don't need a truck or four-wheel drive. It's one of our favorite "car hikes" for folks who want to experience our lush forests and cascades but are not able to hike. While the 8.9-mile road is narrow as it hugs the ridge, you don't have to worry about meeting a lot of oncoming traffic. In fact, we did not meet any cars or see another hiker on our last visit.
At the end of FS74 is the parking area for the trail to Douglas Falls. Look for the trail at the far end. It's an half-mile gently downhill hike to the waterfall through an old growth forest, so it's an easy hike for families and most fitness levels. There's one section that stays wet, so just be careful of slippery rocks and ground. At the waterfall, enjoy the view from the front or carefully follow a trail behind the waterfall (see pic above). Depending on the water flow, you'll usually stay dry. Unless you can want to get a little wet. There's not a swimming hole.
During your hike, you'll notice many dead Eastern Hemlock trees that are sadly victims of the Wooly Adelgid insects. Some of these are falling and may temporary block the trail. Douglas Falls is supposedly named for William O. Douglas, a Supreme Court Justice and author of Of Men and Mountains.
Stop along the way to enjoy the many cascades on the left side of the road. About four miles up the road is Walker Falls, the most impressive one (pic above). Read more about it. A few cascades have a place to pull off the road, so some nice spots for a tailgate picnic. Also find roadside camping spots along the way. When leaves are off the tree, you see the ridge ahead that is home to Craggy Gardens and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Nearby in Barnardsville, ride the zip lines at Navitat Canopy Tours.
Directions from Asheville: Take 19/23 North (Future I-26 West) about 12 miles to exit 15. At the end of the exit ramp, turn right toward Barnardsville and drive NC Highway 197 about 6 miles. When you enter the tiny town, turn right on Dillingham Road past the fire station. Follow the paved Dillingham Road 5 miles. This road will end at Pisgah Forest (Big Ivy sign) and the unpaved FS74 begins. It's 8.9 miles to the end.
Watch our video of Douglas Falls