We absolutely love the Great Smoky Mountains, and living just a few hours away affords us the luxury of going every year. However, some of the best attractions in the area are tucked just outside this famous park, including the stunning Mingo Falls in Cherokee, NC.
At an estimated 120 feet, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the area. It’s also one of the prettiest. Which is probably why we’ve revisited this southern Appalachian beauty a few times through the years.
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Where Are Mingo Falls?
Only 13 minutes away from the Smoky Mountains’ Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Mingo Falls is a really easy waterfall to see on a visit to the area. Though close to the Smoky Mountains, it actually sits in the Cherokee Indian Reservation, also known as the Qualla Boundary.
To find Mingo Falls, follow your GPS to Mingo Falls Campground along Big Cove Road. It’s just before you enter their facility at 71 Big Cove Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719.
Hike to Mingo Falls
The access area to Mingo Falls has a small parking lot. As the viewing area for the falls is quite small, we’ve never tried to go during peak times, like mid-day on a weekend in summer. So the parking lot has never been an issue for us.
Immediately the hike starts with an intimating set of stairs that goes up and into the distance. Rumored to have between 159 to 161 steps, though we definitely didn’t count them.
Don’t be intimidated, these are as easy as stairs get. The stairs have a low profile, so not a huge strain on the knees. Actually, if you are so inclined, the steps are low enough to run up.
The full hike is only .4 of a mile. Once you get over the stairs, you’re practically there. The path is narrow, with roots and stones to watch out for, but generally an easy walk.
Photographing Mingo Falls
A tripod is a must when photographing any waterfall. Unfortunately, the viewing platform for Mingo Falls is a small wooden bridge. As people walk on it, it shakes, ruining any chance for a steady shot.
We got lucky on our last visit as there was only one other couple. I just waited until they finished, then had the bridge to myself for a bit.
We have seen people climb below the bridge to get photos, which seemed to work for them.
As for lighting, the top of the waterfall can get very bright. The light also doesn’t evenly extend to the lower half of the falls. If you have a graduated neutral density filter, this may be a good time to pull it out.
Careful If You Climb Up Next To The Falls
We’ve also seen folks climb right up to the waterfall. Personally, I can’t recommend making the climb for two reasons.
- I find it extremely selfish to ruin others photos and view.
- It’s extremely dangerous.
During one of our previous visits, these two ladies climbed up to the waterfall. They really struggled coming back down. We thought they were going to slip and seriously hurt themselves.
We would have preferred to move on with our day, but felt obligated to stick around as no one else was there if they got hurt. I was so glad they didn’t get hurt, but also very annoyed they put us in that position. They clearly weren’t experienced.
Are Dogs Allowed At Mingo Falls?
Very few trails within the Great Smoky Mountains allow dogs. However, Mingo Falls is technically not in the Smokies, it’s on the Cherokee reservation. Though we can’t find official guidance allowing dogs, we also can’t find anything that restricts them.
On our visits, we have seen people with dogs on leads which didn’t seem to cause any issues.
What Else Is There To Do Near Mingo Falls?
Not far from Cherokee is the small town of Bryson City, we personally find this a better area to stay, with more accommodation options. Plus it’s close by to a lot of attractions. Some of our favorites include (links go to our guides);
Where To Stay Near Mingo Falls?
Bryson City is less than 17 miles away from Mingo Falls, but is one of the better areas to stay on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. It has tons of options for accommodation and lots of attractions nearby.
What Are The Best Books On The Smoky Mountains?
If you are spending a few days in the Great Smoky Mountains, or plan on doing a few return trips, it’s worth picking up a book on the area. Here are a few suggestions:
- Travel Guide: Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hike, Camp, Scenic Drives
- Hiking Trail Guide: Falcon Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- History of the park told through historical images: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park