Located just a few miles from downtown Highlands, Glen Falls is on the East Fork of Overflow Creek in one of the more scenic areas of the Nantahala National Forest. Consisting of three separate waterfalls spread out along a 700 ft descent, this is one of the bigger waterfalls in the region and a popular tourist attraction during the summer months. Viewed from overlook platforms along a 2.0 mile round trip hike, visitors will get a chance to explore the Overflow Creek Wilderness Study Area, tucked deep within the scenic Blue Valley. Reaching the Glenn Falls Scenic Area is easy due to its two distinct starting points at either the Upper Falls or Lower Falls Trailheads.
Glenn Falls Trail | 2.0 Miles Roundtrip
Glenn Falls Trailhead Location | Google Maps
The Highlands and Cashiers corner of Western North Carolina is considered a Mecca for waterfall chasers and non is more beloved than the massive Glenn Falls. A short drivings distance from Silver Run Falls, Whitewater Falls, Secret Falls, and the waterfalls of NC281, this would make a notable addition to any waterfall chasing trip in the area. This family friendly scenic area in the Nantahala National Forest features three separate drops (Upper at 70 ft, Middle at 60 ft, and Lower at 15 ft) that total nearly 200 feet in height. Tumbling down from its headwaters near the town of Highlands, this stream enters the northernmost portion of the Overflow Creek Wilderness Study Area, a newly proposed conservation tract within the Nantahala National Forest. Broken up along countless switchbacks as it makes its way down a 700 ft descent, this 1.0 mile moderate hike is gentle enough for most people to attempt as it contains several overlook platforms with benches to break up the trip
Entrance to Upper Glenn Falls trailhead.
Start of the very short 1.0 mile trail.
Upper Glenn Falls Trailhead
Heading west along Dillards Rd from Downtown Highlands, we veered off onto the gravel lined Glenn Falls Rd for a 4 mile drive to the Upper Trailhead for Glenn Falls. This is the easiest of the two trailheads to reach and a much more direct drive. A Lower Trailhead can also be reached from Blue Valley Rd along NC28, which shares its trailhead with Picklesimer Falls and the Blue Valley Backcountry Campground. An official Scenic Area within the Nantahala National Forest, Upper Glenn Falls also shares a trailhead with the 2.5 mile Chinquapin Trail which ascends the 4,205 ft peak of Chinquapin Mountain. There are no restrooms or services here so everything brought in must be packed out. As always, be sure to practice Leave No Trace Principles.
The very first overlook where Glenn Falls starts its 700 ft descent.
View of the initial slide above Upper Glenn Falls.
The Hike (2.0 miles roundtrip)
At only 1.0 mile one way, this is a deceptively challenging hike made easy by the way it was designed. While we’ll be descending the side of a 700 ft cliff, the gentle decline over countless switchbacks, steps, and platforms makes it a lot easier than one might expect. The trail starts off by heading downhill to meet up with the East Fork of Overflow Creek and the first of four viewing areas. The large platform found here overlooks the initial slide tumbling down to the precipice of Glenn Falls 1st waterfall. It is deceptively large and beautiful in its own right and for just a second I thought this might be the initial waterfall. Take precautions to stay on the platform and not venture down to the edge of the creek. Several people have died at Glenn Falls over the decades from accidental falls which prompted the Forest Service to build these platforms as a safety precaution.
Second overlook with distant views of the Blue Valley and Osage Mountain in the background.
Looking down over the precipice of Upper Glenn Falls.
Upper Falls of Glenn Falls (70 ft)
Continuing a little further down the trail I spot a second platform with a panoramic vista of the Blue Valley and the Georgia state line. Several distant peaks are also visible with Osage Mountain laying dead center and Little Scaly peaking in on the right hand side. The hillside on the right partially obstructing our view is the southern slope of Chinquapin Mountain. Glenn Falls is the northernmost landmark within the 3,901 acre Overflow Creek Wilderness Study Area. Containing forests with old growth characteristics, high elevation rock outcrops, cliffs, and waterfalls, this area has long been considered for preservation as a “Wilderness Area” by the U.S. Forest Service. Though much of it was logged for timber in the early 20th century, the areas unique natural ecosystems and abundant wildlife have steadily bounced back. From this platform we walk down a set of steps and round the corner to a large viewing area of Glenn Falls biggest drop.
The Upper Falls is the tallest section of Glenn Falls at 70 ft high.
The Upper Falls 70 foot drop is unique as it is made up of two massive ledges with a slide at the bottom. Even using a wide angle lens on my camera, it is pretty difficult to fit the entire waterfall in one frame. There is some argument as to wether the bottom slide counts, which would make this closer to 90 ft tall. Previously, visitors were allowed to hike directly into the splash zone, but safety concerns forced the Forest Service to close off access. Back in 2009, a teenager fell from the top of this waterfall after climbing the railing at the upper overlook. Luckily he survived. From where Overflow Creek crashes down at the Upper Falls, the stream quickly slides down about 40 feet to the top of its prettiest section, the Middle Falls of Glenn Falls. It is another short walk from here, down a set of switchbacks, to another viewing platform and staircase which leads to a view directly in front of Middle Falls.
Probably the most photogenic section of Glenn Falls. At 60 ft tall, the Middle Falls looks much taller than it actually is.
Middle Falls of Glenn Falls (60 ft)
Waterfalls don’t get much more photogenic than this. The multi-tiered, cascading drops of Middle Falls look similar to a tall wedding cake, with its narrow top opening up to wider plumes of water the lower it goes. Starting where the Upper Falls left off, this section has three main drops with over a dozen ledges in between. This style and shape of waterfall is what I typically associate with waterfalls in Western North Carolina. Directly in front of the viewing platform at the bottom basin is a deep pool that was once a popular swimming hole, but again this area is off limits. The space between Middle and Lower Falls quantifies the largest steady drop in all of Glenn Falls. A small viewing area in the middle of the stretch gives you a small peak at the slide, but for the most part all of this occurs out of sight. If you were to slip and slide down the waterfall at this location, it would certainly result in death.
Most of the Glenn Falls Trail looks exactly like this with one switchback after another.
Lower Falls of Glenn Falls (15 ft)
While getting to the first two overlooks was a breeze, the hike down to the Lower Falls is almost twice as far. Since the cliffs have their steepest pitch in this stretch, the trail must veer further inland in order to safely make the journey. It seems previous visitors have cut side paths bisecting the switchbacks in order to save some time, but the steep grade makes it a slow go, almost defeating the purpose of its intent. There is a sitting area midway down, which we will certainly use on the way back up. After roughly 0.30 miles from the last overlook, we reach a fork in the trail 0.15 miles long leading RIGHT towards the Lower Falls. The first two waterfalls of Glenn Falls are all about the drama, but the third one couldn’t be any more different.
Our initial view of Lower Glenn Falls through all of the deadfall accumulated near the beach area.
One of the more popular swimming holes in the area during summer.
At only 15 ft tall, Lower Falls splashes down through a narrow chute that fans out over a wide slide. If more of this waterfalls was visible through the thick brush surrounding it, I bet it would rival the breath of its upper companions. One large snag does crowd out a clean view of the falls making it difficult to photograph. Here the falls empties into a calm natural pool surrounded by a large sandy beach where visitors are able to and actually encourage to go for a swim. The downstream end of the natural pool does continue into another slide and series of cascades, but several downed trees act as barriers to keep swimmers from floating over the edge. Overflow Creek continues descending from this point for several hundred more feet creating smaller cascades and chutes, but those pale in comparison to the main three drops. After finishing up at Lower Falls, some visitors chose to go all the way down to the Lower Falls Trailhead and small backcountry campsite to check out more of the scenery. As for us, we’re headed straight back uphill to the start of our journey at Upper Falls.
Up close view of Lower Glenn Falls and part of the cascades above it.
Up next, we’re driving north on U.S. Route 64 to check out the waterfalls of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway in Western North Carolina. Containing one of the highest concentrations of massive waterfalls in the state, the Cullasaja River Gorge is home to Sequoyah Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls, and the 250 ft tall Cullasaja Falls. This very narrow, curvy stretch of highway between the towns of Highlands and Franklin is one of the most dramatic and scenic in the Nantahala National Forest. With only a handful of signs to hint at their locations, this is a trip worth researching to get the best experience. Stay tuned for this upcoming article and as always, see y’all on the trails!