Instead of several waterfalls on one trail, Linville Falls Recreation Area offers three trails to one waterfall with a total of six different views. Hosting about 50,000 visitors annually, Linville Falls is probably the most famous waterfall in the Blue Ridge. It was designated a Natural Heritage Area in 1989.
Linville Falls is a double cascade with a vanishing act between the two falls. The upper falls is wide and gentle, pouring over several shelves for a total of fifteen feet. Here, the river is lazy.
Suddenly, the river disappears into a narrow, quartzite channel. Out of sight, it dives sixty feet through a winding chamber before reappearing as the lower falls, a thunderous forty-five foot drop. The force of this powerful river has shaped a large basin with towering cliffs. The river flows out of the pool, leaves the recreation area, and enters the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.
The headwaters of the Linville River are on Grandfather Mountain, and the river flows to the Catawba Valley through one of the most rugged gorges in the country. The sheer rock walls of Linville Mountain (west) and Jonas Ridge (east) confine the water for twelve miles while it descends two thousand feet. The difference in elevation between the rim and river is about fifteen hundred feet.
The Cherokees called the area “Eeseeoh,” which meant river of cliffs. Settlers called the river and the falls “Linville” to honor the explorer William Linville, who in 1766 was attacked and killed in the Gorge by Indians.
In 1952, John D. Rockefeller donated the cascadetract to the National Park Service. The 440-acre recreation area offers picnic sites, a small bookstore, and a park service campground with a camp store. Rangers conduct interpretive programs, including campfire talks and guided nature walks; and an information shelter provides a large map of the trail system directing you to the Falls Trail, the Gorge Trail, and the Plunge Basin Trail.
The Linville Falls Trail is the most popular route to view the falls. There are four overlooks along the rim of the gorge that present a variety of perspectives: First Overlook (upper falls), Chimney View (the chimney-shaped rock for which it was named and the first look at the lower falls), Gorge View (the river cutting through the mountains), and Erwins View (the spectacular gorge and a distant view of the falls).
The Linville Gorge Trail is my favorite becauseit goes to the bottom, face to face with this magnificent waterfall. Only from the river's edge can I fully appreciate the grandeur of any gorge.
The Plunge Basin Trail, which descends about one-third of the way into the basin, is the shortest route to view the lower falls. This unusual overlook is a rocky platform jutting out from the hillside—like balcony seats at a great performance.
Leave Linville and head south on US 221 to Pineola. Take NC 181 heading south for about 2 miles and access the Blue Ridge Parkway on the left. Travel south to milepost 316.5 and turn left onto the 1.4-mile spur road that leads to Linville Falls Recreation Area.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication