North Carolina August 04, 2017
If There Are Only 5 Hikes You Ever Do In North Carolina, Make Them These
From coastal pine forests to sweeping mountain vistas, North Carolina’s scenery is filled with abundant natural beauty best explored on foot. With so much to see and do, it can get overwhelming to decide which hikes are necessary ‘top list’ contenders. For a scenic experience, unique adventure, and fulfilling sense of accomplishment; these five hikes in North Carolina (in no particular order) are a must-do.
1. Roan Mountain
From feeling straight out of
to offering one of the most unique mountain landscapes found in the western region of the state, Roan Mountain is a must-see for any North Carolinian. Spanning five miles, this small mountain chain (referred to as a Massif) is home to abundant rhododendron and wildflower blooms in early summer, whimsical trails lined with dense spruce-fir forests, and sweeping, open fields atop mountain peaks. Easily accessed by a few various trails, and even with the Appalachian Trail interconnecting, an easy way to start your journey is by ascending via the Cloudland Trail.
The 1.5 mile Cloudland Trail takes you to the second-highest peak on the mountain. At 6,286 feet, Roan High Bluff greets you at the top with a drop-off vista and rocky outcropping. From there, explore the wide open fields found at the top of the mountain. You'll feel like you're in "The Sound of Music." A popular time to visit is in mid-June when abundant rhododendron and wildflower blooms dot the landscape.
For the more adventurous, other trails intersect and weave through the massif. The Appalachian Trail is one of the longest trails connecting various peaks on Roan and starts at Carver's Gap. The hike is a bit hard but worth it, ascending 400 feet in just .75 of a mile. The endpoint is more overflowing mountain views atop some of the best examples of grassy balds found in the Appalachian Mountains. This memorable hike stuns any seasoned explorer with wildly unique, ever-changing scenery.
For more information on Roan Mountain and other trails, read
our guide here.
2. Grandfather Trail
Sure, we might have labeled Grandfather Trail as one of
the most dangerous hikes
in North Carolina. While that is a tad exaggerated, the Grandfather Trail is a must-do for any seasoned adventurer looking to conquer new fears and gaining new experiences in North Carolina. Scaling Grandfather Mountain's profile, the trail (sometimes called the Crest Trail) spans 2.4 miles with the endpoint at Calloway Peak, one of the highest on the Blue Ridge at 5,946 ft.
The Grandfather Trail receives notoriety from the fact that in order to reach the top, you'll also have to climb the 16 ladders, some scaling rocky outcroppings with not much else below you. Some ladders reach a whooping 15 rungs while other parts of the trail are navigated with cables. One section, nicknamed "The Chute," has skilled hikers on hands and knees, navigating rocky outcrops during this stomach-dropping experience. Of course, if you have a serious fear of heights, Grandfather Trail might not be your cup of tea. For many, though, it's a bucket-list accomplishment with a fulfilling sense of adventure and pride at the endpoint. While difficult, the hike is great for intermediate-advanced hikers.
3. Linville Gorge
Referred to as the 'Grand Canyon of the East,' the rugged 39 miles of trails weaving in and out of the gorge make this a utopia for backpackers and hikers. Various trails throughout offer something a bit different for each type of hiker. If you're looking for an easy alternative with stunning views, the 1.2 mile Table Rock Summit Trail leads you to the 3,930 ft rocky overlook offer 360-degree views of Linville Gorge.
For backpackers looking for a long adventure that involves camping and weaving their way through some of the most scenic points on the Gorge, the Linville Trail is hard yet rewarding. Spanning 11.5 miles, the trail guarantees you at least two days in the wilderness, but sometimes that's exactly what we're seeking.
There's also the easier option of hiking 2.4 miles to Jonas Ridge. The hike takes you across the summit of Sitting Bear Mountain and onwards to Gingercake Mountain. If you want to see almost everything the Gorge has to offer, this is the trail for you with views of Table Rock, Hawksbill, and Babel Tower. While Linville Gorge is a place echoing adventure and mystery (hello, nearby Brown Mountain Lights) the rugged landscape also requires an edge of respect. Some hikers have perished within the gorge and steep outcroppings make it all the more important to watch your footing. If you consider yourself an adventurer ready for the next great challenge, conquer the Grand Canyon of the East.
4. Craggy Gardens
On the complete other end of the spectrum, the Craggy Pinnacle Trail at Craggy Gardens is one of the easiest on this list and easily accomplished by anyone from children to seniors. While the 1.5 mile climb might be a smooth journey, that doesn't diminish any of the beauty. Craggy Gardens feels as if you've stepped into an enchanted forest. Like something better out of a fairytale, in late spring rhododendrons line the trail while unique trees and plant life swirl and wind their way around the mountain scenery.
Jim Neal (used with permission)
Craggy Gardens is great for photographers as the gentle inclines and short distance allows you to carry equipment and set up shots with minimal hassle. Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway not far from Mount Mitchell, it's a great stop off to see both in one day. The Craggy Pinnacle Trail takes you to a stunning overlook at the top with two separate sitting areas to take it all in. Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge, you'll feel on top of the world.
For more information on Craggy Gardens, read
our article here.
5. Mountain-to-Sea Trail
When you're stuck on which hike to pick for the last slot, and truly can't choose just one, combine all North Carolina has to offer from the mountains to the coast and hop on the Mountains-to-Sea trail. Fairly new in terms of North Carolina hiking, the trail spans almost 1,200 miles from Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey's Ridge along the Outer Banks.
While Clingman's Dome might be one of the top
destinations for catching the solar eclipse
it's a great starting point for a grand adventure through North Carolina. The MST passes through 37 counties and four national parks, climbs both the highest peak east of the Mississippi and the highest sand dune on the east coast, connects to 10 state parks, includes two ferry rides and three lighthouses, and in total, takes 2,112,000 footsteps to complete.
While some might prefer an Appalachian Trail-style backpacking experience, the MST is also perfect for hop-on and hop-off exploration. As North Carolina's longest footpath, you'll experience high elevation in the Blue Ridge, rolling hills and sweeping farmland in the Piedmont, and coastal marshland and the otherworldly Jockey's Ridge along the coast. While various must-do hikes only present a glimpse into North Carolina's beauty, it's safe to say the MST is a bit of everything North Carolina. For more information,
shows you where the trail spans with numbers indicating what to see and do in various trail segments. There's also an
interactive Google Map
that prospective hikers can download to plan their journey.
Seems there’s a lot of future hikes to plan! What are some hikes in North Carolina you consider a must-do? Any on the list you’ve already completed?