Mingo Falls is probably hands down the most scenic waterfall in the vinicity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (at least based on our research of the waterfalls in the park and our field observations).
This tall waterfall (said to be 120ft) had a strandy appearance during our visit in Autumn. Thus, I’d consider the condition of our visit to be either normal or below normal because I have seen photos showing the falls in a widened state without segmenting.
There was a footbridge over Mingo Creek where we were able to get the views that you see on this page (which I think would satisfy most visitors). There were some later-arriving people who scrambled on the creek to get closer than the bridge, but I don’t think that’s necessary to get good photos or a good waterfalling experience here.
We showed up early enough in the morning (around 9:15am) so the sun was still behind the cliffs over which the water leaped. Plus there was only one other guy (a photographer with some serious equipment; possibly professional) who was already there.
Had we come later in the morning, then the sun would’ve breached the cliffs and we would’ve been looking directly against the sun (not good). Moreover, we would’ve contended with a lot more people as we noticed at least three groups (mostly families it appeared) approaching the falls as we were headed back to the car park.
The short walk to Mingo Falls is said to be 0.4 miles (I think that’s round trip) as it started off by going up several stair steps before flattening out and eventually terminating at the footbridge over Mingo Creek. We only took about 20 minutes to do the walk, take photographs (being mindful and respectful of the professional photographer who happened to be there when we got there), and return to the car.
At first we followed our GPS, but I think it got confused so we got confused, and we ultimately had to retreat to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to ask one of the rangers there to set us straight.
The key was to use the town of Cherokee as the starting point. From there, we took the Hwy 441 north to Big Cove Rd on the right (1.4 miles south of the Oconalufee Visitor Center or 2.2 miles north of the US 441 and US 19 junction in the town of Cherokee). After about 0.2 miles, we crossed a bridge then turned left to continue heading north on Big Cove Rd.
We would continue on Big Cove Rd (entering the Qualla Indian Reservation section of the Cherokee Nation) for about 5 miles. Towards the end of this five-mile stretch (past the KOA campground area), we passed a sign that said something like “Mingo Falls 0.5” with an arrow pointing to the right.
The sign was a little confusing in that it really meant “turn right after 0.5 miles” as opposed to “turn right immediately then go 0.5 miles.” We actually ended up going into someone’s driveway thanks to us mistakenly taking the latter interpretation. It was kind of like a Monty Python and the Holy Grail when two guards had trouble understanding their boss’ instructions about guarding the prince.
Anyways, as we kept going forward on Big Cove Rd, there was another sign pointing to the right for Mingo Falls where we were supposed to make the right turn. After crossing the bridge at this turn, the car park and the stairs next to it was easily seen straight ahead.
As for getting to Cherokee from Asheville, we did this in a couple of different ways. First, we did this via the Blue Ridge Parkway (which is subject to closure when there’s snow) and then we returned going a different, all-weather route. Therefore, I’d imagine that these were the two main ways of getting from Asheville to Cherokee.
From the I-40/I-240/I-20 interchange in West Asheville, we drove west on the I-40 for about 21 miles. We then took the off ramp for US74 west, which connected with the US19 (Great Smoky Mountains Expressway) in about a mile. Going west on the US19, we followed this road for about 16 miles (going through the town of Maggie Valley), which then connected with the Blue Ridge Parkway on the right. We then took the Blue Ridge Parkway to the US441 junction at the parkway’s very west end. Turning left on the US441 (south), we then drove 1.4 miles to the Big Cove Rd turnoff on the left.
If you’re going to Cherokee via the all-weather route, follow the same directions as above to the US19 from West Asheville. Then, continue on the US19 through the town of Cherokee and turn right onto the US441 (28 miles or 12 miles past the Blue Ridge Parkway turnoff). Go north on the US441 for 2.2 miles to reach the Big Cove Rd turnoff.
As for some geographical context, Asheville was 35 miles (under an hour drive) north of Brevard, 63 miles (about 90 minutes drive) north of Greenville, South Carolina, and 130 miles (over 2 hours drive) west of Charlotte, and 247 miles (4 hours drive) west of Raleigh.
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