Hiking & Biking
Amazing Hiking In The NC Mountains
The North Carolina mountains provide a wide selection of trails for both the inexperienced and advanced hikers. The national forests in North Carolina provide over 1,200 miles of primarily foot trails. Included in these are seven National Recreation Trails and over 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Additionally, coastal NC provides a unique landscape rich with nature trails for the adventure-seeker. Along Cape Fear Coast, the Fort Fisher State Recreation Park has several hiking trails including The Hermit Trail (.4 miles), The Basin Trail (1 mile) and The Marsh Trail (.6 miles). Jockey’s Ridge, rising at 110 feet is the tallest active sand dune on the east coast and hikers can enjoy NC’s coastal beauty and wildlife at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head.
Camping is permitted along all trails. The Appalachian Trail in the mountains has shelters at various locations for the convenience of campers. During the late spring and early fall these shelters are usually crowded; and they are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Hikers are encouraged to consider using some of the numerous other trails provided on the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.
A selection follows:
Andrews Bald (5,920 ft.)
One of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GRMNP). Easy family trip through forests for spruce and fir to delightful grassy bald with good views. Especially nice when rhododendron and azaleas bloom in late June. From US 441 at Newfound Gap take Clingman’s Dome Spur Road (7.6 miles to end). Marked hiking trail begins W of parking area. After 1,000 ft, trail forks, go L to Andrews Bald; R to Silers Bald. On return, watch for sign marking R. Turn back to parking area. Easy roundtrip – 4 miles.
Art Loeb Trail (6,030 ft.)
A linking of outstanding trails in Pisgah National Forest to memorialize the late Arthur J. Loeb, officer of the Carolina Mountain Club and executive of Olin Industries who was held in high esteem by associates in hiking, conservation and industry. The trip offers an ideal venture for Boy Scouts or anyone seeking an extended hiking experience. Shelters and other refinements have been provided. The entire trail is marked with direction signs, yellow blazes and silhouette of hiker. Section I (12.3 mi.) starts on US 276, 1 mile W of US 64. Climbs to Neil Gap behind Davidson River Campground, W to Chestnut Knob, S of Cedar Rock, to Gloucester Gap. Section II (7.2 mi.) goes from Gloucester Gap via Pilot Mountain through Farlow Gap, across BR Parkway at Shuck Ridge, across Silvermine Bald to Black Balsam trailhead. Section III (6.8 mi.) climbs to Black Balsam Knob, across Tennet Mtn, entering Shining Rock Wilderness at Ivestor Gap, crosses Flower Knob, Shinning Rock, Stairs Mtn, and Cold Mtn (6,030 ft.). Section IV (3.8 mi.) drops down from Deep Gap, below Cold Mtn. to Daniel Boone Scout Camp off NC 215. Strenuous 30.1 mile hike with camping. Sections I,II, and III are part of Mountain-to-Sea Trail.
Balsam Corner (6,040 ft.) and Cataloochee Mtn. (6,122 ft.)
From Round Bottom: The trail goes through cook spruce and balsam forests in GSMNP. Spring water and shelter near Balsam Corner. Treat or boil all raw water before drinking. Hike starts at Round Bottom parking area beside Straight Fork, beautiful stream. From Hwy 441 at the Park entry, turn on to the Big Cove Road. At 9 mi, immediately across concrete ridge, turn R onto gravel road. Follow this for 5 mi. to Round Bottom parking area. Walk up road, cross concrete bridge. About 150 yds. beyond bridge to L onto faint Ledge Bald Trail. Make steady gradual climb to Balsam Divide. Continue N on ridge across summit of Balsam High Top until trail forks. Fork is Balsam Corner; R to Cataloochee Mtn. and Mt. Sterling; L to Tri-corner Knob and Mt. Guyot on AT. Strenuous round-trip 12 miles. Camping.
Black Mountain (4,286 ft.)
From Cradle of Forestry: From BR Pkwy mi. 441.9 drive 4.0 mi. S on US 276 to Cradle of Forestry. Near E end of parking area, walk up graded road about 200 ft; just past gate, turn L (S) up Black Mtn Trail., following white markers 40 min. in steady climb to Club Gap; go L at gap, following white blazes up ridge that climbs Rick Mtn. to Buckhorn Gap and crosses between Clawhammer Mountain and Black Mountain. Descend past Hickory Knob and Little Hickory Knob to Forest Service depot on US 276. Views best in winter without foliage. Visit to Cradle of Forestry is recommended. Here in 1898, forestry in America was first practiced and first taught. Outstanding alternate trip after reaching Buckhorn Gap – follow blue triangle markers W to Avery Creek; then orange markers SW to White Pines Campground on US 276. Moderate 8 mile hike.
Cataloochee Valley (2,643 ft.)
Leave BR Pkwy milepost 458.2 on Heintooga Spur Road. Park in GSMNP at Paul’s Gap (or Poll’s Gap) 6.1 mi. N, take trail NE on old railroad grade about 2 mi. Turn R onto fine trail for Cataloochee Valley. At fork, take sharp R onto Caldwell Fork Trail and descend to ranger station in magnificent valley with many reminders of early settlers. Strenuous round-trip 14 mi. Can be combined with Pretty Hollow Gap described below.
Catawba Falls (2,400 ft.)
Popular family trip to impressive waterfalls on headwaters of Catawba River. At railroad station on US 70 is Old Fort, turn S onto Catawba Street; after .5 mi cross under I-40; immediately turn R onto exit ramp and go .05 mi. Turn onto SR 1274 on L go 3 mi. to bridge to end of road. Park. Cross bridge; walk up stream, passing abandoned powerhouse and dam. Easy ascent. When road runs out after 35 min. and becomes stream bed, walk on left bank 15 paces, then right bank for 55 paces. Next go sharply L (S) across stream, continuing S for 175 paces (keeping straight L at each junction) to base of lower Catawba Falls, graceful, cascading type. Note turn just made at stream; easy to go wrong on return. Upper falls, plunging into large pool, are reached in 30 min. on steep, slippery trail, climbing beside lower falls. Easy 3.5 mi hike. Private property.
Charlie’s Bunion (5, 560 ft.)
From Newfound Gap (AT): Remarkably fine family hike in GSMNP. Good all year, even in snow. Walk E on AT from US 441 at Newfound Gap. At 3 mi. pass Ice Water Spring Shelter. Descent, circling Masa Knob (named for pioneer photographer of Smokies and Blue Ridge, a charter member of Carolina Mountain Club). At 4 mi. reach bare rocks of Charlie’s Bunion, where in 1925 great landslides revealed rocky backbone underlying Smokies. Good views here of Mt. LeConte. Moderate round-trip 8 mi hike.
Cheoah Bald (5,062 ft.)
From Stecoah Gap (AT): Panorama from top is superb. Leave NC 28 in gap just W of Stecoah, go to Sweetwater Road (SR 143) for 2 mi. SW to Seacoah Gap, where AT crosses. Park, follow white blazes; climb SE very steeply on AT to crest of narrow ridge, where trail levels for about a mi. At 2.4 mi., descent into Locust Gap; water 200 yards. R. Continue to summit of Cheoah Bald at 4.3 mi. Strenuous hike of 8.6 mi. Primitive camp.
Clingman’s Dome (6,642 ft.)
Clingman’s Dome is highest mtn in GSMNP. Second highest in Eastern America., the highest point at AT. Observation tower provides splendid panoramic view above fraser firs. Drive SW 1.3 mi. to Indian Gap on Clingman’s Dome Spur Road from US 441 at Newfound Gap. Can be driven to within 1/2 mi. Park and go SW on AT, which passes through gap just W of spur road. Take trail for last 50 yards to tower. Strenuous round-trip 12 mi.
Crabtree Bald (5,320 ft.)
From the summit can be seen all 49 mountains in Western NC over 6,000 ft. high. Take NC 209 for 6 mi. N from US 19 at Junaluska. Turn R onto SR 1503 near Crabtree-Ironduff School. Go 2 mi.; turn L onto Bald Creek Road. SR 1505. Go 3 mi.; park where Indian Branch crosses under road. Cross pasture gate on L, walk up paths and jeep trail to ridge line. Go SW on crest to Crabtree Bald, identified by antenna on top. NC 209 also accessible from Fines Creek exit on I-40 if coming from W. Moderate 7 mi. round-trip. Private property –contact owner in advance.
Grandfather Mountain (5,964 ft.)
Located in Linville area and has a mile-high swinging bridge which connects 2 peaks. Grandfather is the highest mtn in the Blue Ridge range and spectacular alpine-like ridge-top hike is found here. The highest peaks can be reached only by trail in and undeveloped 5,000 acre area. Two of the key mtn’s 7 trails have been designated by US Department of the Interior as a national recreation trails. Located within 10 mi. of 6 ski resorts, Grandfather is one of the snowiest spots in North Carolina and a popular winter backpacking and hiking site. From the E, the Daniel Boone Scout Trail reaches Calloway Peak, the mtn’s highest in 3 mi. The Boone trail begins on the W side of US 221, 10.8 mi. N of the US 221 and Hwy 105 jct. in Linville and 1.5 mi. S of the BR Pkwy and Halloway Mtn. Rd. jct. with US 221. Other trails on the mtn. reach Indian House Cave, one of the East’s highest archeological sites and Black Rock Cliffs Cave, a 6-room cavern. Three new trails on Grandfather Mtn. form a national recreation trail day or multi-night backpacking circuit over Calloway Peak. Camping is permitted at many backcountry campsites and there is a shelter located on the Boone Trail near Calloway Peak. A hiking permit is required and a fee is charged to support trail maintenance and the monitoring of the permit/registration system for safety. Permits are available at the Grandfather Mtn. entrance on US 221 in Linville, Invershiel Texaco at Shanty Spring Trail at NC 105/184 jct.; Grandfather Mtn. Country Store at Holloway Mtn. Rd. and US 221 jct.; and Foot Sloggers in Boone and Edge of the World Outfitters in Banner Elk. For more information contact the Backcountry Manager, Grandfather Mountain, Linville, NC 28646; 828-733-2013 or 828-733-4337.
Linville Gorge (2,600 ft.)
One of Eastern America’s most scenic and rugged gorges. It is also reputed to be the wildest and most treacherous area in the Blue Ridge, but the risks on the graded trails described here are no greater than elsewhere in the wilds of the Southern Appalachians. The area has been set aside as a wilderness by the US Forest Service. Babel Tower Trail begins at sign on E side of old NC 105, 2.8 mi. S from NC 183. The trail descends into gorge and follows Linville River down to: (a) Sandy Flats Trail, primitive, which climbs W side of gorge precipitously back to old NC 105; and (b) Conley Cove Trail, which climbs W side of gorge on graded path back to old NC 105. None of these is a circle trip, but NC 105 can be followed back to starting point 1 mi. from end of (a) for 2.9 mi from end of (b). The combination of Babel Tower Trail and Conley Cove Trail makes a hike of 8 mi. Before starting into gorge, it is desirable to drive to Wiseman’s View recreation site on old NC 105, 1.5 mi. S of start of Babel Tower Trail. Here the gorge can be scanned from overlook which orient the hiker. Moderate 8 mi hike with camping.
Mt. Mitchell (6,684 ft.)
From Black Mtn. Campground in the Pisgah National Forest, Mt. Mitchell is highest point in Eastern America. Lookout tower with great panoramic views on summit. While an auto can drive nearly to the top, the most rewarding approach is to hike from Black Mountain Campground on South Toe River. Campground is reached by turning off BR Pkwy 33 mi. N of Asheville at Deep Gap, milepost 351.9. Gravel road leads N 4.9 mi. to campground, where marked trail to Mt. Mitchell starts in NE corner of camping area L of road. Near top, path goes through dark, green forest of fraser fir. Strenuous 11 mi. round-trip with camping.
Pilot Mountain (5,151 ft.)
Views from summit in all directions revealing majesty and wilderness of this section of Pisgah National Forest. In mid-May, slopes of mtns are covered with overwhelming display of pinkshell azalea in full bloom. From US 276, turn W, R onto Davidson River Road (Forest Service Road 475) 9.8 miles S of Wagon Road Gap, mi. 411.9 BR Pkwy (or 5.25 mi. N of junction NC 280 & US 64); go 6.2 mi. to Gloucester Gap, keeping L at junctions; park near 5-ft. stone slab standing at junction with Cathey’s Creek Road. (Forest Service Rd 471). Climb NW, R on Art Loeb Trail following yellow blazes and silhouette of hiker. Frequent switchbacks makes ascent moderate. Reach summit in 1.5 hrs. For different return route, continue N from summit, descending opposite side of mtn. of jeep road (Forest Service Road 229), which can be followed R, S back to Gloucester Gap. Moderate roundtrip 6 miles with camping. Part of the Mountain-To-Sea Trail.
Pretty Hollow Gap (5,200 ft.)
From Cataloochee Valley, in GSMNP. Graded trail easy after climb first 2.5 mi. Much of route is high on gorge above beautiful stream. Take US 276 for 5.8 mi. N from US 19 at Dellwood; turn L onto SR 1395 (old NC 284) just before I-40 entrance. Go 7.9 miles, turn L onto paved road. After 2.9 miles turn L at bridge in Cataloochee Valley; drive 2 miles to bridge at old schoolhouse. Park near gate to dirt road, cross gate and head W. Follow trail signs up creek to Pretty Hollow Gap. Worthwhile to go 2 miles more to Mt. Sterling with magnificent views from tower. Strenuous trip can be combined with Cataloochee Valley described above. 12 miles round-trip.
Roan Mountain Gardens National Recreation Trail (6,286 ft.)
Loop trail winds through Roan Mountain Gardens – a natural garden of rhododendron, fir trees and grass openings. Peak of bloom in mid-June. Portion of trail is paved with viewing deck for the handicapped. Facilities include water, comfort stations, picnic areas, and information centers. Nearby Cloudland Trail goes to an observation deck. Take NC 261 to Carver’s Gap, turn L and follow rd. to summit and parking area. Trail begins with a visitor information center.
Sandymush Bald (5, 512 ft.)
Spectacular mountain pastures with extraordinary views of farm country in valleys far below. Park at Doggett Gap on NC 63 on divide 25 mi. NW of Asheville post office. Walk SW up farm road. At 3rd gate, enter sweeping pasture with shack to R and spring in ravine on L. Skirt L around small mountain ahead and sight Sandymush Bald., highest mountain to SW, reached generally following fence SW for 100 min. sticking to SW path at corners. Moderate 10 mi. roundtrip. Private property. Advance permission necessary.
Shortoff Mountain (3,000 ft)
Highly recommended trip. Moderate walk to lower end of E rim of Linville Gorge. (Trl 90) along series of cliffs offering unsurpassed views into gorge with Lake James as a backdrop in distance. Exit from I-40 at Nebo-Lake James Exit. E of Marion. Go N 2.8 miles, turn W, L for .3 miles; next turn N, R onto NC 126, which leads around Lake James. After 10 mi, cross Linville River, go 1.2 mi farther; turn onto first road on L, Wolf Pit Road (Forest Rd 117). Take road 2.4 miles to turnaround at dead end. Park. Walk 12 min. more, reach another junction – go either R or L. In 13 min. reach third junction; take woodland footpath straight ahead W between two small gashed pine trees (gashes are old), avoiding main road which climbs steeply R and side road L which goes steeply downhill (watch this point on return; it is easy to go downhill on wrong road.) In 7 min, arrive first observation point on cliffs. Walk N as far as desired along edge of cliffs on tiny trail through rhododendron, laurel, and sand myrtle. Moderate 5-7 mile roundtrip. Camping.
Shut-In National Trail (5,000 ft)
The Shut-In Trail follows the historic route built by George Vanderbilt from the French Broad River to his Buck Springs hunting lodge. It was probably named for the many rhododendron thickets through which it passes. Beginning at the NC 191 off-ramp of the BR Pkwy. It parallels and criss-crosses the Pkwy to the Mt. Pisgah parking area, near mile post 408. The trail offers a moderately strenuous climb from 2,000 ft to 5,000 ft along its 16.3 mile length. It is part of North Carolina’s Mountain-To-Sea Trail.
Table Rock (4,000 ft.) and Hawksbill Mountain (4,017 ft)
Two well-known peaks with strange formations that stand out on the horizon from all directions. Near Marion, take US 221 to Linville Falls. Turn NE onto NC 183; go 4.5 miles to junction with NC 181 at Jonas Ridge. Turn R (S) onto NC 181; go 3 miles and make R turn onto Gingercake Acres Road, SR 1264. After 4 miles turn L at fork onto Forest Service Road 210 (SR 1265). Drive down ridge 3.4 miles to Hawksbill parking spot on L. From here walk W on trail. After 15 minutes, go sharp L (SW) uphill on side trail (leaving main trial which goes downhill and then climbs to grotesque monolith on Sitting Bear Mountain in 45 minutes.) Ascend 20 min. on the side trail to rocky summit of Hawksbill Mountain with spectacular view into Linville Gorge. Return to car, and resume drive down ridge or 2 miles, passing Spence Ridge Trail at 1 mi. On reaching Forest Service Road 210-B with sign reading "Table Rock", go R .9 miles to junction; turn R for 1.4 miles to dead end at Table Rock picnic area. Park and take trail up mountain to summit of Table Rock, an easy hike of 30 minutes each way. It towers high over the Piedmont, which spreads far below interlaced with the bays and coves of meandering Lake James. Easy 5 mile roundtrip hike.
The Hangover (5,249 ft.)
From Robbinsville, go N 19 miles on US 129 and SR 1116 and 1127 to the trail head parking area. Take graded trail on W side of area. Walk 5.1 miles to Haoe (A Forest Service Lookout once stood on this site.) Go N .3 miles to The Hangover where a spectacular panoramic view awaits. Primitive camping.
Yeates Knob (5,920 ft.)
From Balsam Gap. The trip to Yeates Knob (also known as Big Butt) offers beautiful forests, the best view of Mt. Mitchell, and huckleberries and blackberries in August. Trail begins on BR Pkwy on N side of cut 150 paces N of (below) the Balsam Gap parking area, mi. 359.9. The cut has a grassy slope and the trail will be found at the highest point. It starts in a descent and goes along the ridge generally N. Summit of Point Misery is about half way. The next ascent is the steep climb up Little Butt. The trail goes along a narrow ridge then around E side of Yeates Knob. It continues down to Cane River Gap on NC 197. A faint trail goes to summit of Yeates Knob, but views are from the trail N of Little Butt. Roundtrip is about 8 miles if Cane River Gap is destination. Moderate 14 mile hike with camping.
There are excellent hiking and nature trails in all state and national forests in North Carolina. For additional information, please feel free to contact:
Appalachian Trail Conference
P.O. Box 807
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
304-535-6331, 828-254-3708 (NC Office)
Blue Ridge Parkway
200 BB&T Building
One Park Square
Asheville, NC 28801
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Route 1, Box 675
Manteo, NC 27954
Cape Lookout National Seashore
131 Charles Street
Harkers Island, NC 28531
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Rd.
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
NC Division of Forest Resources
1616 Mail Service Center
Raleigh NC 27699-1616
919-733-2162 x 210
NC State Parks & Recreation
512 N. Salisbury Street
P.O. Box 27687
Raleigh, NC 27611
U.S. Forest Service
P.O. Box 2750
Asheville, NC 28802
added: December 23, 2008
updated: January 3, 2011