If there’s one thing North Carolina has an abundance of (besides unrivaled natural beauty), it’s incredible geologic history. Woven into the very fabric of our landscape, the turbulent coast-meets inland collisions that formed our gorgeous state eons ago have resulted in striking mountains and incredible rock formations that are unlike anywhere else in the country today.
On the surface, the lush green beauty of North Carolina from atop a panoramic overlook is gorgeous all on its own. But there’s something just as breathtaking about getting up close and personal with the rocky foundation of our picturesque summits – and diving deep into the beauty that lies beneath the surface. For a slice of ancient state history and stunning views, the rocky Chimneys Trail/MST in the Linville Gorge Wilderness offers some of the most unique rock formations and scenery in North Carolina. Let’s get hiking!
Winding through the Pisgah National Forest, Linville Gorge is one of western North Carolina's most spectacular natural wonders. Here, carved deep into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the ruggedly scenic gorge plunges over 2,000 feet to the Linville River in a series of steps, falls, and rocky trails.
The river itself is a true North Carolina treasure, and the 12,000-acre Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is a precious and unique ecosystem - one of only three wilderness regions in the entire southern US!
Dozens of trails meander their way through, around, and along the base and rim of Linville Gorge, including the treasured Linville Falls/Linville Gorge Trail. But perhaps no path better showcases the incredible geologic fabric of the area than the stunning Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
The MST is our state's official trail, running over 1,100 miles across the state from Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks, connecting hundreds of smaller trails and showing off snapshots of all the natural beauty that makes North Carolina so stunning. However, the 11-mile section of the MST that runs along Linville Gorge is particularly special.
Here, the Chimneys create a unique, rocky spine along the gorge rim. Larger-than-life formations, as well as rugged overhangs and natural walls, make the area well-loved by rock climbers.
The towering formations are stunning to marvel at and photograph, but the history is just as impressive! Truly, this is a geologist's dream as you get up close and personal with the ancient history of the Appalachians.
Native Americans once called the gorge
Eeseeoh, which translates to mean, “river of many cliffs” - no doubt a reference to the number of sheer rock outcroppings that form the gorge's rim. But even the rocks themselves have history.
An iconic American landscape, the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains are thought to contain the oldest rocks in the state and are said to be the result of the ancient collisions and tectonic plate uprisings that formed the eastern portion of the US eons ago. The result? Folded, sheet-like slabs of crust stacked and molded into fascinating shapes.
The Chimneys are just a snippet along the larger Linville portion of the MST. Nevertheless, this ridge hike is well worth a visit, either as a part of the longer trail or as its own adventure destination.
You'll find your starting point at the main Table Rock Mountain parking lot.
Set against the picturesque views of Table Rock, Shortoff Mountain, and more in the distance, the rugged scenery is truly breathtaking.
It's not all rocks here, though. You're sure to find plenty of gorgeous, delicate wildflowers in spring as well!
Following the main trail can prove a bit of a challenge, as the area is crisscrossed by rock climbing trails. However, you can follow the white blazes or look back across the exposed ridge to see where you came from.
Keep in mind that while the initial part of this trail offers tree cover, the Chimneys themselves are highly exposed to sun and the elements. You will also be navigating steep drops and narrow ledges, so please make safety and awareness a priority.
Although the trail is short, an extra dose of gumption and skill will be needed to navigate the rocky path along the rim.
Nevertheless, moderately seasoned hikers with a tolerance for heights will find this rocky journey through the Chimneys an absolute must-do. The short hike is one step towards conquering the Grand Canyon of the East!
And the views are hard to beat.
Can't get enough of this beauty? Extend your hike! Table Rock is an excellent add-on to the Chimneys, or you can simply continue beyond the Chimneys to reach Shortoff Mountain. With so many trails to choose from, you can pick your own adventure here. Keep in mind that permits are required to camp in the area. Happy hiking!
North Carolina’s Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is absolutely packed with towering summits, gorgeous waterways, lush forests, gleaming lakes, and cascading
waterfalls. Every inch of the gorge exudes mystery and adventure! What’s your favorite way to experience the gorge or hike the Blue Ridge?
The best hikes in North Carolina aren’t always grueling backpacking trips – we have plenty of short and sweet trails to choose from! Here are some more of our favorite must-do hikes in the Tar Heel State.
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Table Rock Mountain, North Carolina 28655, USA