Linville Falls, NC – The Waterfall Trek Begins
Last fall I planned a trek down the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, to shoot, among other things, waterfalls. I have a bit of trouble walking distances and find uphill and downhill grades a challenge. I checked out several guidebooks and an amazing website I’ll discuss a bit later, to find waterfalls that were both photogenic and reasonably accessible.
I started with Nye Simmons Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This guide contains milepost-by-milepost information on attractions, points of interest, scenic overlooks, and waterfall photo opportunities. The guide includes some great full color pictures that get a photographer’s juices flowing, and photo notes that help get the shot. The guide also includes information regarding dining, lodging, and gasoline availability along the Parkway and in nearby communities.
Since I was starting out in Boone, NC and heading south, I decided to stop at Linville Falls and try to capture the classic “Chimney View” of the falls. This view provides opportunities for portrait shots of the upper and lower falls, wider shots showing a bit of the Linville River and the surrounding woods, and close-ups of the lower falls. The Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway suggested that the hike in from the visitor center would be a bit over 0.6 miles, but with no indication of difficulty.
I had also purchased an excellent guide to Hiking Waterfalls in North Carolina, by Melissa Watson, covering 113 waterfalls in North Carolina. For each waterfall, this guide provides an overview of the hike, miles and directions by tenths of a mile, and excellent trail maps. Each waterfall description is also prefaced by information on:
- Waterfall height
- Beauty rating
- Hiking distance out and back
- Difficulty rating
- Trail surface
- Approximate hiking time
In addition, for us aging photographers, there is a list of 25 roadside waterfalls, with great directions for finding them.
I also recommend Kevin Adams’ North Carolina Waterfalls – A hiking and Photography Guide. Although a bit more outdated than Hiking Waterfalls in North Carolina, this guide provides much more information for the photographer. It includes vantage points, time of day and seasonal lighting considerations, and recommendations for wide-angle or telephoto shooting perspectives.
A great website for researching North Carolina waterfalls, scenic drives, attractions, lodging, and dining is RomanticAsheville.com, an Asheville and North Carolina Mountains Travel Guide. The site has detailed information on many North Carolina waterfalls. There is a page with detailed information for Linville Falls you should check out.
For the location and directions to Linville Falls, see the Getting to Lineville Falls section at the end of this article.
I Hike Linville Falls and Make It Out Alive … Sort Of
The Hiking Waterfalls in North Carolina guide categorized the hike as Easy to Moderate, 0.7 miles through old growth forest to the Chimney View, for a total 1.4 mile roundtrip. I sometimes overestimate my ability and physical endurance, so I focused on the Easy rating and the relatively short one way distance. I figured that I could rest up while at the Chimney Falls overlook while shooting pictures, and make it out and back with relative ease. After all, I had a lightweight photo backpack and a set of trekking poles. If sections of the trail were “moderate,” how hard could they be?
I was wrong. The “easy” part of the hike was probably the first couple of hundred yards beyond the visitor center. The trail very quickly got steeper and steeper with long uphill and downhill sections over rocks and roots. After a while, it started to feel like a cardiac stress test.
As younger folks passed me by, I had to stop and rest several times before getting to the steps down to the overlook. The steps themselves were rough timber and rock, necessitating long hip-wrenching strides to make it down to the overlook. If it weren’t for my trekking poles, I couldn’t have made it out and back (I’ll post an article on trekking poles soon).
As you head down the steps to the overlook and look left, you will see the breathtaking chimney view of the falls. The trail and the overlook is not generally crowded, allowing you time to decompress, drink in the natural beauty of the setting, and hopefully make some great pictures
Linville Falls is magnificent, but if you have hip, knee, or endurance problems, this hike is probably not for you.
Part 2 will talk about two much more accessible waterfalls south of Asheville, NC and provide a tip for vehicle access for persons with disabilities.
My photo gear on this waterfall trek included a Nikon D7000 (now replaced by the D7100), a Nikon 18-300 mm stabilized zoom lens, a Nikon ML-3 wireless remote, and an Induro CT-214 carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head. All the gear was carried in a light weight Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L Camera Daypack. I also used a pair of Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles to negotiate the steep terrain.
Resources – Books
Resources – Gear
Getting to Linville Falls
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