Florida Man on the Run

Brevard and The Land of Waterfalls

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If you’re looking for a town from which to base your explorations in Western North Carolina, you may initially overlook Brevard. It doesn’t particularly stand out on a map. The city doesn’t draw attention like Asheville, or the cities closer to the Smokies. What it lacks in recognition, it more than makes up for in the sheer amount of activities nearby. Whether its hiking, scenic drives, swimming and water sports, or craft brewed refreshments, Brevard offers it all. It sits in the heart of Transylvania County, the Land of Waterfalls, and is the perfect place to base yourself.

I’m writing this after having taken three trips to Western North Carolina. My first trip, in March 2017, was my honeymoon and serves as the primary information point for this post. My second trip, in June of 2018, was based closer to Asheville but I still spent some time in Brevard on that trip as well. The most recent trip to the Land of Waterfalls was back to Brevard for the White Squirrel Festival in May of 2019.

The City of Brevard

Brevard is a quaint little mountain town on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest. Downtown Brevard is centered on Broad Street (US 64) and Main Street (US 276). Centered on this intersection, you’ll be able to easily visit all of the shops by just walking the perimeter of the cross.

If you’re looking for a great exhibition of local art, check out Number 7 Arts. This gallery is co-operatively owned by more than 30 artists, all of whom show their artwork here. The gallery itself is beautiful and I loved the fact that all of the art was done locally. Places like this are the perfect place to get an introduction to the community.

Right across the street is O.P Taylor’s Toy Store. This huge toy store has an absolute wealth of toys, with over 6,000 square feet of space. If you wander in with your kids, be prepared to lose them for a while. Not only does this store have pretty much anything they could ask for, but probably some stuff you’ll want too. I was sucked in by the huge slot car track that you can play with right in the store! It’s almost as much attraction as store.

Brevard, NC
Entrance to Brevard Brewing Co.

For a more “touristy” attraction for the family, cross over Broad Street and head to the Crystal Mountain Gem Mine. Like most of the gem mines in the area, you’ll pay for a bucket full of sand and a few good stones. This is one of those things you do more for the experience and the kids will absolutely love it. However, you should stop by Vessel on Main Street to find a good selection of tumbled stones at a good price. They also have a coupon for $3 off any bucket at the Gem Mine.

My favorite little spot in all of downtown is Brevard Brewing Company. This local craft brewery serves up some of my favorite craft beers in the area. A simple bar and lounge space invites you to relax while you enjoy a cold one. With the brewery on-site, you’ll even catch some sniffs of the brewing action from the back. My personal beer of choice is the American Red Ale, but there are more than six to choose from including rotating seasonal beers. My wife prefers the Bohemian Pilsner, though the seasonal White Squirrel Wit was a close second! I recommend finishing your time downtown here, grabbing a couple cold beers and getting to spend some time with the locals. On our first trip the bartender was a real help in deciding where to take a few hikes.

Scenic Drive in the Land of Waterfalls

Having a love of road trips, I’ve always wanted to drive the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway. While that trip is still in the planning stages, Brevard was the perfect place to get my first taste of the Parkway. Sitting on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest, Brevard served as the launching point for my scenic drive through The Land of Waterfalls.

While there is an actual North Carolina Scenic Byway on part of this route, you’d never know that. The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway runs along NC 215 and US 276. However, there is almost zero signing indicating as such and honestly getting on the Parkway allows you to see more while shortening the drive.

Part 1- North Carolina 215

Starting in Brevard, we drove southwest along US 64. The highway eventually meets NC 215 and begins its ascent into the mountains and waterfalls. My first real taste of mountains roads, it was one of the more eye-opening experiences for a flat-lander. The road twists and winds into the mountain, before flattening out near Balsam Grove and your first waterfall stop. Look for Living Waters and stop on the side of the road. Just behind the house there are three wonderful waterfalls, which despite being on private property, the owners allow people to visit. Its extremely easy to miss so keep your eyes open for it.

As you continue along NC 215, there will be a gravel forest road about 2.5 miles north. This was closed due to poor conditions when I made my trip in March 2017. However, if it is open then you need to visit Courthouse Falls. The relative seclusion compared to other falls in the area mean you could very well be the only person there. If solitude in nature is what you’re seeking while visiting the Land of Waterfalls, it doesn’t get much better than Courthouse Falls.

Part 2- Blue Ridge Parkway

Fog was thick at the Devil’s Courthouse

After getting back on NC 215, you’ll come to the Blue Ridge Parkway after a few more winding miles. This section of the Parkway is jam-packed with great sights and hikes. The Devil’s Courthouse offers expansive views to the south, if you don’t go up in the fog like we did! The weather got the better of us on that one and we didn’t have the energy the next day to make a second hike.

Sam’s Knob has a simply gorgeous meadow followed by a “moderate” hike. Moderate is in quotation marks because if you aren’t a regular hiker or in good shape, its going to be more like a strenuous hike. That “moderate” marker meant we brought a picnic basket to have dinner up there, which while nice once there, was a horrible idea during the hike. Chalking that one up to being a complete amateur hiker. That being said, the sunset from here is amazing with nothing but the mountains for miles. Just make sure you’re prepared for a return hike in the dark.

There are two more waterfalls along this stretch of the Parkway. The first comes during a pleasant little hike through Graveyard Fields to see Second Falls. We visited on the same foggy day and the waterfall in the mist was magnificent. There is another waterfall here, but it is a much longer hike to see so if you’re here for the drive you’ll need to skip it. As you can see, the Land of Waterfalls clearly lives up to its name.

Welcome to the land of waterfalls. Brevard, North Carolina is the perfect base for exploring Western NC and all its beautiful waterfalls.
Second Falls at Graveyard Fields

A little further along the parkway, you’ll come to Skinny Dip Falls. Despite its name, the falls aren’t clothing optional! In the chill March air we skipped taking a dip, but it is a relatively easy 1/2 mile hike from a Parkway overlook of the same name. In the warmer months, the area can get pretty popular so try and get here early if you’re wanting some peace. There are a number of great overlooks on this part of the Parkway so take advantage of them while up there.

Part 3- US Highway 276

You’ll get off the Parkway where it meets US 276. This is the main road through the Pisgah National Forest and it has three big attractions. As you’re coming down the mountain, the first one if the Cradle of Forestry. It is home of the first forestry school in the United States, Biltmore Forest School. Open seasonally from April to November, the school is a wonderful place to take the kids and admission is really a steal at just $6. While the land of waterfalls and Brevard are full of kid friendly attractions, the Forest School is educational too!

Further down the road is the biggest summertime attraction. If you’ve ever wanted to ride a waterfall but without the barrel, Sliding Rock is the place to go. The waterfall lies on a long gently sloping part of the river. It allows all of those brave enough to plop your butts in the ice cold water and take the plunge down its face to the bottom. It isn’t the smoothest ride, but it is a wonderful way to cool off on a hot summer day.

Welcome to the land of waterfalls. Brevard, North Carolina is the perfect base for exploring Western NC and all its beautiful waterfalls.
Looking Glass Falls surrounded by greenery

If riding waterfalls isn’t exactly your cup of tea, then you’ll want to keep heading south a little ways. Looking Glass Falls is the largest of the waterfalls on this scenic loop. Situated right off the road, there is a long stretch of parking. If you are coming South, you may need to bypass the falls and turn around depending on traffic conditions.

From the viewing platform at the top you’ll get a good view of the falls. There is also a steep set of stairs taking you down to the base of the falls. At the bottom you’ll be able to get an excellent view and if the water isn’t too high, you could even wade out onto the rocks. As the final waterfall on this loop, its a perfect finale.

Just before you make it back to US 64, you’ll pass the Pisgah National Forest Visitors Center. If you want to explore more of the falls and trails inside the forest, stop here. The rangers are all extremely helpful and there is a wealth of information about the forest. Plus, if you’re a pin or patch collector there are a few park specific ones here.

Beyond Brevard

Part of the reason why Brevard is a wonderful central point is the bevy of places to go around it. Though I find the scenic loop described above to be its best “attraction”, there is plenty within an hour of downtown.

To the south you can find even more hiking and waterfalls at Gorges State Park. When we came to the park, we enjoyed a nice picnic and then a hike to the Bearwallow Falls Overlook. If you’re a bit more adventurous, you take the longer walk to the gorgeous Rainbow Falls or take a swim at Turtleback Falls just beyond that.

Welcome to the land of waterfalls. Brevard, North Carolina is the perfect base for exploring Western NC and all its beautiful waterfalls.
Bearwallow Falls from the overlook

If you continue down NC 281, you’ll come to Whitewater Falls just before the NC/SC border. This is the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies. The 1/4 mile trail is easy and paved to the great overlook of the upper falls. This is a great place to make a quick stop if you decide to make a day of driving south to Devil’s Fork State Park in South Carolina. This state park lies just an hour south of Brevard. The park provides multiple trails, as well as wonderfully cool waters for swimming, scuba diving, or fishing.

Heading closer to Asheville, you’ll be able to find even more to do. The North Carolina Arboretum lies just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and is a good way to extend your scenic drive from Brevard. Dupont State Forest has more trails and waterfalls just south of the city. And one can’t forget that the Biltmore is just a short drive from Brevard towards Asheville if you want to spend a day in one of America’s castles.

An Annual Destination

Having made a trip to the area three years in a row, I can certainly say it is a wonderful place to visit. My second trip was based closer to Asheville, but I would wholly recommend staying closer to Brevard unless you’re going to be heading to the east of Asheville (or spending a good deal of time in the city). The weather in early June was a bit more predictable than in March, making outdoor activities easier. The foliage is also a wonderful shade of green instead of dull green or brown. On the flip side, the better weather and foliage means more visitors to deal with. No matter when you visit the land of waterfalls, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The Land of Waterfalls has become an annual destination for me. Brevard and Asheville are great destinations that I’ve come to really enjoy. I’ve made a return trip in 2019 to go to the White Squirrel Festival which was awesome! Don’t forget to check out my Great Asheville Brewery Tour as well while you’re here!

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