Glen Falls is in Nantahala National Forest just outside of Highlands, North Carolina. It’s easy to access and, as far as waterfalls go, is a fulfilling experience. You take a gravel road off of HWY 106, and the trailhead is at the terminus. There’s a well-graded gravel parking lot, so you shouldn’t have any problems parking. This trail can get crowded during peak tourist season, so you might be better off visiting on a Sunday morning when the world is asleep or at church.
As far as hikes go, this is not too bad if you’re in shape and you take breaks. The trail is usually wide and well worn, but it’s pure elevation. In fact, much of the trail is made up of stairs. To get an idea of what you’re in for, imagine taking the elevator to the top of a 65-story building. Then imagine walking down the stairs to the lobby and back up to the roof. That’s Glen Falls. Your thighs will burn on the way down the trail. Your calves will be screaming on the way back up. But the view is worth it. Just think of it as leg day and you’ll be okay.
The falls break in stages as you descend the trail. There are small, alternative trails all over the place, but you want to follow the sound of Overflow Creek. There are three wooden viewing platforms. The first overlooks the top of the falls, but you can’t really see anything because of the dense growth. The second gives you a great view of the first waterfall, which drops 70 feet. The third gives you a view of the second stage of the falls, which drops 60 feet. If you keep going down the path, you can see the third stage of the falls, which drops 15 feet.
Frankly, I don’t think this stage is worth the punishment. Much of the remaining pathway is covered in tree roots. To someone like me with flat feet, it might as well be made of hot coals for all the pain it causes. But the third stage of the falls has a placid area that’s good for swimming if you’re into that. It’s about a mile from the trailhead to the third and final stage of the falls, but it feels much longer.
Overall, this is a fun hike if you’re in the area and you can make it as easy or hard as you want. I definitely recommend bringing trekking poles to help with going up and down the stairs. Your upper body strength is wasted without them.
I should add that this is spelled Glenn Falls in the signage at the parking area, but it’s spelled Glen Falls everywhere else. They are the same attraction. I learned about this hike from North Carolina Waterfalls: A Hiking and Photography Guide.
I revisited Glenn Falls just after Christmas 2016, 8 months after originally posting this. I remember being exhausted when I first made this hike. I’m in much better shape now. I’m stronger and 20+ pounds lighter. I did this second hike for speed. I made it down and back up from the third cascade of the falls in under 45 minutes. And that’s with several stops to take pictures in the beds of the falls.
I remember my flat feet killing me last time. Since then, I’ve finally stumbled upon (pun intended) a shoe system that works for me. I experienced zero discomfort on this hike.