Linville Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but most people don’t know there are actually two trails with scenic overlooks to enjoy the view. The most common, and easier, route is the Linville Falls Trail with three scenic overlooks. But the more strenuous, and rewarding, is the Linville Gorge Trail with a 600′ descent to the base of the waterfall. Which will you choose?
The waterfall is located at Milepost 316.4 on the Parkway, about 66 miles from Asheville and 26 miles from Blowing Rock. A short spur road leads past a very nice campground with 66 non-electric sites, restroom facilities, and drinking water. A little further down the road, on the left (heading in), is a small picnic area along the river. At the end of the road is a nice visitor center with a small gift shop, restroom facilities (open May-October), and trail maps.
Linville Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the state and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photographers love hiking out to the Chimney View overlook or spending half a day trekking down the Linville Gorge Trail for amazing views. Photo tip: get here early in the day for better position of the sun.
Linville Falls Trail
This trail begins by walking through the visitor center and restroom facility and crossing a bridge over the Linville River. The trail continues along the right side of the gorge to three scenic overlooks.
1. Upper Falls (.5 miles)
The easiest and shortest overlook to reach is actually right above the falls at the Upper Falls Overlook. The hike along the wide, relatively flat gravel path is pretty easy and only takes about 20 minutes at a leisure pace. The final spur trail leads out to a flat area on exposed boulders at the point where the river takes the first plunge to the gorge below.
It is neat to see the top of the waterfall from this position. Looking up river there is a small 6′ waterfall across the river. Looking down it’s possible to see the water rushing through a narrow channel as it begins the 90′ drop to the gorge below.
2. Chimney View (.7 miles)
Back on the Linville Falls Trail, turn left to continue to the Chimney View. It’s only about a 10 minute walk as the trail begins to ascend a little and gets a little rougher. The trail will continue to the right at the point where a wooden staircase leads down to the Chimney View Overlook. A small rain shelter here is convenient during the spontaneous summer thunderstorms, and also a great place to take a breather for a minute or two.
The climb down is strenuous. The initial wooden staircase gives way to a series of dirt steps held back by primitive retainers. The steps down are uneven and steep at times. It’s strenuous, but worth the effort.
This overlook gets the name from the two chimney-like rocky outcroppings with an observation area atop each. The furthest outcropping is larger and provides a better overall view of the waterfall and gorge below.
3. Erwin’s View (.8 miles)
At this point the Upper Falls and Chimney View overlooks have already provided really nice views of Linville Falls. There is no reason to continue unless you are a glutton for punishment, or just really want to see all three overlooks.
From here the trail becomes very steep. An 800′ ascent begins for the last 1/10 of a mile leading to Erwin’s View. It’s rocky, covered in roots, and narrow at times. But just keep one golden rule of hiking in mind: what goes up, must also come down. It’s an easy return once you leave the overlook.
Near the top a smaller overlook, the Gorge View, will be on the right. This overlook offers a great view of the winding gorge below. Continue up a series of steps to the left to find Erwin’s View. The large outcropping has a fantastic bird’s eye view of the waterfall and gorge. This observation area is also large enough to accommodate a large group if necessary.
Linville Gorge Trail
This trail begins behind the restrooms and along the left side of the gorge. This is definitely the most strenuous option available, but also with the greatest reward at the end.
4. Plunge Basin Overlook (.5 miles)
The trail begins with a gentle ascent of about a hundred feet before leveling off, and eventually descending the rest of the way. At a half mile from the visitor center the trail will split; stay right to visit the Plunge Basin Overlook. From here visitors are treated to a view at the same height as the Upper Falls overlook, just on the other side of the gorge.
The hike down to the Plunge Basin Overlook is steep, but short. It only takes a few minutes to reach the overlook and return to the Linville Gorge Trail.
5. Plunge Basin (0.7 miles)
The ultimate view, and hike, is to the bottom of the gorge at the base of the waterfall. Standing in the water with the thunderous falls in front, mist spray through the air, you can’t help but feel the power of nature. The sound of crashing water drowns out all other sounds leaving you surrounded, isolated, and comfortable.
But the hike to get there is certainly the most strenuous of all the options listed. After the trail splits toward Plunge Basin Overlook, it begins a steep 600′ descent to the gorge below. Several staircases make portions of the climb easy, but at times steep steps and climbs are required. The trail is well maintained and safe, but it will test your fitness and endurance (and will power to still want to see this bottom of the gorge).
The trail comes to the river just around a bend from the waterfall. You can’t see the waterfall from here, but it only takes a few extra minutes to get a much better view. Climb out onto one of the exposed boulders in the river (unless the water level is too high) or hike along the edge of the river to a rock outcropping and then cross over. From here you are treated to a breathtaking view of a large boulder in the middle of the river with the waterfall crashing behind.
This is by far the best view of the falls. Bring a packed lunch and have a picnic surrounded by the soothing sounds of the water. Swimming is not allowed because of the strong currents and if you decided to jump in you might find a ranger coming after you very soon. Instead just kick back by the river and enjoy the view, and be sure to wave to everyone at the overlooks high above you.
If you would like to view more photos of Linville Falls, please visit my photography site at photography.southeasterntraveler.com/National-Parks/Blue-Ridge-Parkway