Hiking & Biking
Mountain Scenic Hiking Trails
More than 900 miles of trails link hikers with adventures of their choosing in North Carolina’s mountains. Whether it’s climbing the highest peak in the East - 6,684-feet tall Mount Mitchell, strolling a paved trail to view rhododendrons explode in color or something in between that opens to spectacular views, you will find a reason to lace up your boots.
Home to the state’s newest park, Grandfather Mountain, which rises to 5,946 feet, is a unique blend of private and public preservation efforts that offer hikers spectacular views from both moderate- and strenuous-rated trails.
For experienced hikers, the two-mile Grandfather Trail makes its way through patches of spruce and fir and across rock outcrops with the help of ladders and cables. For hikers seeking a less strenuous adventure, try the Black Rock Trail. Starting at the Grandfather Mountain attraction, the trail offers panoramic views of several surrounding mountain peaks, including MacRae and Attic Window.
Can’t decide which of the 11 trails to hike first? Browse the free Backcountry Trail Guide offered with your admission ticket or hiking permit. You can also spend some time at the attraction, which includes a museum, gift shop and the Mile High Swinging Bridge that spans an 80-foot gap at the top of Linville Peak.
The entrance to the park is on N.C. 221, two miles east of Linville, NC.
Originally purchased and protected by the Morse family as a public attraction, the area, including Chimney Rock – elevation 2,280 feet - was purchased by the state of North Carolina in 2007 as the focus of Chimney Rock State Park.
The area is known for its flora and fauna – as well as some semi-famous scenery. Explore both as you take one of the five hiking trails that lead to Hickory Nut Falls, which plunges 404 feet down a sheer rock face. It and other locales here were used as background in the 1991 film “The Last of the Mohicans” starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
One of the unique aspects of Chimney Rock is the 26-story elevator that operates inside the towering pillar of igneous rock that gives the park its name. Once at the top, inspiring 360-degree views from the summit are yours for the taking.
The park is located about 25 miles southeast of Asheville, NC, on U.S. 74.
It took him a couple of trips, but Dr. Elisha Mitchell proved his point. Today, Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi, is named after the University of North Carolina professor whose calculations revealed its towering height.
Drive your car to the summit parking area and take the trail to a stone observation platform where your view of more than 80 miles will be filled with Blue Ridge Mountains. Just remember to pack a jacket. The high altitude is chilly, even in summer.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway, take N.C. 128 near Burnsville, NC, to reach Mount Mitchell.
Naturalists have journeyed to the 6,327-feet high Roan Mountain for more than two centuries to study its diversity of plant life.
The Roan Mountain – Rhododendron National Recreation Trail features an easy, one-mile hike through the popular rhododendron gardens, which explode in color between mid-June and early July each year, drawing visitors from around the world. To time your visit with the bloom, visit roanmountain.com for updates.
The trail is divided into three loops, each suitable for hikers of all ages. The first loop is a paved, handicap-accessible interpretive trail with 16 stations keyed to information in a free brochure explaining the exotic and rare plants found on the mountain.
The trailhead is in Carvers Gap, NC, located on the North Carolina/Tennessee line.
More than just a hike, this easy two-mile trek is a journey back to a time when vast forests were untouched by human hands. Located in the largest tract of virgin hardwoods east of the Mississippi, it inspired soldier-poet Joyce Kilmer to pen “Trees.”
The trail features two loops - the 1.25-mile lower loop and the .75-mile upper loop, which showcases the largest trees in the forest. Both loops converge at the Joyce Kilmer Memorial.
If you can, try going on a weekday as it’s a popular spot on weekends. The trail is about 17 miles from Robbinsville, NC.
This moderate four-mile trek is perfect for hikers who long to get a little farther off the beaten path. Trails in this part of the wilderness are unmarked, so use a detailed map and a compass to avoid getting lost.
The first mile of the trail takes you down an old forest road with inspiring views of Hawksbill, Table Rock and Babel Tower. Forests of oak and maple highlighted with rhododendron and orchids provide rich habitat for birds and animals. Higher up, you’ll hike across lichen covered rock outcrops.
This gravel and soil trail features one of the more dramatic settings in the North Carolina mountains. But its steepness makes it better for experienced hikers.
Sheer white cliffs rise 400 to 750 feet along the sides of 4,930-feet tall Whiteside Mountain, providing a clear landmark for miles around. A two-mile moderate loop trail to the summit features inspiring views from the ridge tops.
To get here, take U.S. 64 from Highlands, NC, or Cashiers, NC, and turn left onto SR 1600 approximately four miles south of Cashiers.
Stone Mountain State Park features more than 16 miles of hiking trails that wind through forests of oak, hickory and pine before going over and around a massive granite dome that rises 600 feet above the valley floor.
Besides hiking, you can climb certain cliffs. Specific rules apply so check with the ranger station before climbing. If you’re less adventurous, spend time at the historical exhibits, which include a log cabin and blacksmith shop, complete with original furnishings and tools. Bring your fishing rod, too. Twenty miles of Wild Trout Waters are at the park, offering you a shot at a fish of a lifetime.
Take I-77 to Elkin, NC, then go north on U.S. 21 and turn left on SR 1002.
Once upon a time, this area of the Shining Rock Wilderness mirrored its haunted name. Rapacious logging practices prior to 1925 left behind moss-covered stumps. Then raging fires in 1925 and in early 1940s left a wide swath of scorched earth and smoldering stumps.
Today, Graveyard Fields is one of the Mountains’ most popular hiking spots. The three-mile loop will have you hiking down paved portions of trail, across bridges and up wooden stairs.
One major reason for the popularity is the succession of three spectacular waterfalls that plummet through the area: Upper Falls, Second Falls and Yellowstone Falls. All three of the falls are fed by the Yellowstone Prong. Another reason is the rich variety of flora and fauna that have re-carpeted and repopulated the once desolate landscape. Yellow birches, mountain ashes, Fraser firs, flowering dogwoods and red spruces have replaced the once-abundant American chestnuts while wildflowers grace the valley floor.
Graveyard Fields can be accessed from a parking area located at milepost 418.8 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
by Peter Anderson
by Peter Anderson
added: July 27, 2009
updated: February 18, 2011