At 60 feet tall, Rufus Morgan Falls is a beautiful cascade waterfall located deep in the Nantahala National Forest west of Franklin, North Carolina. This iconic waterfall was named after Albert Rufus Morgan, a conservation pioneer who helped to maintain large swaths of the nearby Appalachian Trail up until his death in 1983. An easy and family friendly 1.0 mile loop takes visitors to the falls while exploring the cove forest surrounding the Left Prong of Rough Fork. This off-the beaten path trail is rated as one of North Carolinas best wildflower hikes with its unique summer display of blooming flame azaleas, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons.
Rufus Morgan Falls Trail | 1.0 Mile Loop
Rufus Morgan Falls Trailhead Location | Google Maps
Approximate route of Rufus Morgan Falls 1.0 mile loop.
There are a whole bunch of little known waterfalls located off the beaten path in the Nantahala National Forest and Rufus Morgan Falls is amongst the easiest to reach. This was one of the main points of interests I hoped to explore along the Appalachian Trail just west of Franklin that included stops at Wayah Bald Lookout Tower, Pickens Nose, Mooney Falls, and Big Laurel Falls. To reach Rufus Morgan Falls we drove east on Wayah Rd a few miles past the entrance to Wayah Bald Lookout Tower (FR69) until reaching the gated Forest Road #388. The intersection is easy to miss as there are no signs advertising the falls, but we found Google Maps to have the trailhead accurately pinned so getting there was a breeze. After turning down FR388, it is a 2-mile drive down the gravel road to a small trailhead parking lot. You’ll know you’re there when you see the Rufus Morgan Trailhead sign. Please note that FR #388 closes seasonally from January through April.
Trailhead parking lot for Rufus Morgan Falls Trail. Check out the lower cascades of Left Prong of Rough Fork in the ravine just past this sign
After the initial ascent this easy and family friendly trail is a breeze to hike.
Rufus Morgan Falls Trail (1 Mile Loop)
Only 1.0 mile long, this easy and family friendly trail has a lot of bang for the effort depending on how much rain the area has received recently. One of the best ways to tell what Rufus Morgan Falls is going to look like on your hike is by taking a look at the cascades just to the left of the trailhead. This boulder filled ravine is part of the Left Prong of Rough Fork just downstream from the falls. If you plan on hiking the entire loop, the trail exits out from an old logging road onto FR388 just on the other side of this ravine. At the moment it is bursting at the seams which tells me we’re going to be in for a treat. For most of this hike, we’ll be walking up a steady 300 ft ascent into the forested cove surrounding Rufus Morgan Falls which emanates below the 4,728 ft summit of Sheep Knob. The waterfall itself is only another several hundred feet below the Appalachian Trails “Winding Stair Gap” section as it enters North Carolina from Georgia.
Can you spot the three different types of ferns in this picture? This is easily one of the best wildflower trails in the state during spring.
First small creek crossing on Rufus Morgan Falls Trail. Due to its high annual rainfall, the Nantahala National Forest is considered a temperate rainforest.
One of The Best Rated Wildflower Trails
After climbing the initial set of switchbacks into the forest above the parking lot, the trail levels out for the remainder of the 0.50 mile trek to the Rufus Morgan Falls spur trail. Near the very start there's a small, wet-weather stream crossing that you have to skip over, but nothing major. Being near the bottom of the ravine, there are all sorts of streams that run down the face of Sheep Knob especially after a heavy rain. The entire area is damp with moisture which is great news for the surrounding flora. While I knew that this was rated as one of the best wildflower hikes in North Carolina, I was completely blown away by the rich diversity of plants I saw surrounding this trail. Nearly overtaking the trail, ferns completely dominate the forest floor. Sweet smelling hay-scented ferns, dainty maidenhair ferns, large leafed sensitive ferns, and the towering fronds of interrupted fern can all be seen vying for every inch of exposed dirt. In all of this sea of green I can easily spot the colorful blooms of violets, trilliums, trout lilies, and bluets. Growing in thickets that block out the sun, flame azaleas, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons are budding up to put on a magnificent display towards the end of May through July.
Second creek crossing directly below Rufus Morgan Falls. The spur trail up to the falls is just to the left of this crossing.
Lower cascades of Rufus Morgan Falls with a 10 ft slide above. Reminiscent of the waterfalls found through the Great Smoky Mountains and most of Western North Carolina.
Rufus Morgan Falls
Up ahead, the sound of rushing water gets louder and louder as we approach a small bridge crossing over the Left Prong of Rough Fork. If you veer your gaze up the cascades, you can see the bottom slide of Rufus Morgan Falls off in the distance. The short spur trail up to the falls is just to the LEFT of this bridge. While hard to discern at first, a small dirt path leads up several stone staircases to the top of the hill above the cascades. Once you reach the halfway point, you’ll be right in front of the bottom slide of Rufus Morgan Falls with the main drop viewable through the trees. The trail is badly eroded here so you’ll have to scramble the rest of the way up the hillside to where the path continues to the falls.
Water, water everywhere! Due to some recent heavy rains, this waterfall had multiple cascades.
The 10 ft slide directly below Rufus Morgan Falls with the main drop just behind that.
As you approach Rufus Morgan Falls dead on, you’ll quickly get a sense of what makes this such a special place. Welcoming visitors with a shear 60 ft drop down the side of Sheep Knob, the stream disappears under some deadfall and a thicket of rhododendron to reemerge down another 10 ft slide to a further 30 ft long series of cascades ending at the bridge crossing below. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is and pictures barely do it any justice. As a matter of fact, you can’t even see where the waterfall comes from. It sort of drops down like the edge of an infinity pool and drapes the cliffs on its way down creating a tall veil. Absolutely beautiful! If you’re going to see a waterfall in the Franklin area, make it this one. After oohing and aahing at Rufus Morgan Falls, head back down the spur trail to the main trail near the small bridge crossing and you can either head back the way you came or turn RIGHT to finish off the loop. The path to the RIGHT continues past two small stream crossings, that may be difficult to pass after a hard rain, before reaching the trailhead parking lot.
This iconic waterfall was named after Albert Rufus Morgan, a conservation pioneer who helped to maintain large swaths of the nearby Appalachian Trail up until his death in 1983. The Appalachian Trail passes on the cliffs just a few hundred feet above us.
Easily one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area!
Up next, we’re skipping over to mark off a long awaited journey to one of the best preserved fire towers in North Carolina. The Yellow Mountain Fire Tower sits atop the tallest peak in the Cowee Mountains at 5,127 feet and features one of the most isolated lookout towers in the state of North Carolina. Its summit provides panoramic views of Panthertown Valley, Whiteside Mountain, Shortoff Mountain, and Rabun Bald. The only way to publicly access the tower is by the 6.2-mile Yellow Mountain Trail, but the tower has several shorter private access points that open up frequently throughout the year for the public to use. Stay tuned for this amazing adventure and as always, see y’all on the trails!