Take Business US 321 into downtown Blowing Rock. At the traffic light facing the town park (junction of Main Street and Sunset Drive), go a block south on Main and take the first right onto Laurel Lane. Go straight through the next stop sign at Wallingford Lane and immediately turn left into the parking area at Cannon Gardens.
The route of the Glen Burney Trail is reputed to have been a Native American pathway. The trail was formalized from Blowing Rock into this cascade-filled chasm in the late 1800s when the tourist trade first came to town. Early guests at landmark hostelries such as the Green Park Inn (still in existence) and Mayview Manor (now gone ) picnicked at Glen Burney Falls. It was used in the early 20th century by locals commuting back and forth by foot to work at logging operations below Grandfather Mountain. The stonework along this path was added by the Civilian Conservation Corps during improvements in the 1930s and expanded by trail rebuilders in 1991.
From the trailhead sign (that warns visitors to stay behind all barriers and use caution near the falls), head down the gravel road and turn right to cross stepping stones over New Year's Creek. The path stays level past vacation homes then descends a major switchback into the stream valley below.
The stone structure you pass at 0.4 mile was built in the 1920s, one of the first modern waste treatment plants in the mountains. It's not a very romantic "ruin" but it is rustic and scenic. From there, it's a consistent but not-too-steep downhill grade down to the stream. The trail crosses a bridge to the other bank where you descend steps that skirt the noisy waterfall of the Cascades at 0.8 mile (don't walk out on the rocks).
Keep heading down, and at 1.2 miles, turn right to a picnic table (a great spot for lunch!) and to an observation deck beyond with wonderful views above the slippery shimmering slab of Glen Burney Falls. Do not climb over this barrier-people have died falling from the cataract. Plentiful signs warn hikers to stay behind the rail.
Return to the main trail and head left back to your car (a 2.4-mile hike) or take a right, and at the next junction, go right on the descending trail down the next switchback. You'll descend stone steps to reach a junction at the bottom (a sign is at the left). Turn right on rocky stepping stones to the base of Glen Burney Falls. A rainbow is often visible in the misty spray. A left turn at that lower junction leads past a sign down to Glen Marie Falls, a little higher than Glen Burney, at 1.6 miles (a 3.2-mile roundtrip)
What goes down must come up! Take your time and the trek back out isn't too steep-though the hike must be rated as moderately strenuous overall.
(For more detail on these and other Boone area trails, pick up a trail guide by local outdoor expert Randy Johnson. He wrote this guide and was contracted to reopen the Glen Burney Trail in 1991.
Zoom in close on the map below (use the plus/minus signs and directional arrows at upper left), or repeatedly double click near, but not on, the map symbols. You can literally dive down to see the parking lots and landmarks for the Glen Burney Trail. Click any map symbol and information balloons pop up. In the trailhead parking map balloon, click "Directions," add your address or location, and step-by-step directions will guide you to the hike from wherever you are! "Terrain" view is active for this map-choose that to see topographic details.