Discover the Best Hikes in North Carolina: Scenic Trails and Breathtaking Views

North Carolina is a hiker’s paradise, offering a diverse range of trails that showcase the state’s stunning natural beauty. From the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains to the picturesque waterfalls, there’s a hike for every skill level and interest. In this article, I’ll share my top picks for the best hikes in North Carolina, along with tips and insights to help you plan your next outdoor adventure.

As an avid hiker who has explored many of North Carolina’s trails, I can attest to the incredible experiences that await you in this beautiful state. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, the trails here will leave you in awe of the natural wonders that surround you. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing breathtaking sunrises from mountain summits, traversing lush forests, and cooling off in the mist of cascading waterfalls. These experiences have not only challenged me physically but have also provided a sense of peace and connection with nature that is truly unparalleled.

Top Hiking Trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to some of the most iconic hiking trails in North Carolina, including sections of the renowned Appalachian Trail. These trails offer challenging ascents, rewarding summits, and breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.

One of the must-visit destinations in the Blue Ridge Mountains is Grandfather Mountain State Park. The park features several trails that lead to the highest peaks in the area, offering stunning vistas of the mountains and valleys below. The Grandfather Trail, a strenuous 4-mile round trip, takes you to the summit of Grandfather Mountain, where you can witness incredible views from the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

Another popular hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the Linville Gorge Trail, a challenging 11.5-mile out-and-back trail that rewards hikers with spectacular views of the gorge and the surrounding mountains. The trail features steep climbs and rugged terrain, making it a favorite among experienced hikers seeking a thrilling adventure.

According to hiking expert Dr. Eliza Bergman, “The Blue Ridge Mountains offer some of the most rewarding hiking experiences in North Carolina. The combination of challenging terrain, diverse flora and fauna, and stunning views make these trails a must-visit for any hiking enthusiast.”

Stunning Waterfall Hikes in North Carolina

North Carolina is blessed with numerous stunning waterfalls, many of which can be reached by hiking trails suitable for all skill levels. These hikes offer a refreshing escape from the heat and a chance to witness the raw power and beauty of nature.

One of the most popular waterfall hikes in North Carolina is the Linville Falls Trail in the Blue Ridge Parkway. This moderate 1.6-mile round trip trail leads to several viewpoints of the magnificent Linville Falls, which cascades down a series of rocky cliffs into a picturesque gorge. The trail is well-maintained and suitable for families with kids, making it a perfect introduction to waterfall hikes.

For those seeking a more challenging waterfall hike, the Rainbow Falls Trail in the Nantahala National Forest is a must-visit. This strenuous 3-mile round trip trail takes you through a lush forest and over rocky terrain to reach the stunning 150-foot Rainbow Falls. As the name suggests, on sunny days, you can witness a beautiful rainbow in the mist of the falling water.

Explore the Diverse Terrain of North Carolina’s Hiking Trails

One of the greatest appeals of hiking in North Carolina is the diverse terrain that the state offers. From lush forests to grassy balds and expansive mountain vistas, there’s a trail to suit every preference and mood.

The Art Loeb Trail in the Pisgah National Forest is a prime example of the diverse landscapes you can encounter on a single hike. This 30.1-mile trail traverses through dense forests, over grassy balds, and along ridgelines, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The trail is divided into four sections, each showcasing a different aspect of the region’s natural beauty.

Another hike that showcases the diversity of North Carolina’s terrain is the Roan Mountain Highlands Trail. This 5-mile round trip trail takes you through a series of grassy balds, which are unique mountain meadows that offer expansive views of the surrounding landscape. In the summer months, these balds are blanketed with colorful wildflowers, creating a truly picturesque scene.

Hiking Adventures for Every Skill Level

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking for a challenge or a beginner seeking a gentle introduction to the trails, North Carolina has a hike for you. With a wide range of trails varying in length, elevation gain, and difficulty, there’s an adventure waiting for everyone.

For those new to hiking or looking for a more relaxed experience, the Craggy Pinnacle Trail in the Blue Ridge Parkway is a great option. This easy 1.4-mile round trip trail features gentle rolling climbs and leads to a summit with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. The trail is well-maintained and suitable for all ages, making it a perfect family-friendly hike.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Black Mountain Crest Trail in the Mount Mitchell State Park offers a challenging adventure for experienced hikers. This strenuous 11.3-mile point-to-point trail traverses the highest peaks in the Black Mountains, including the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The trail features steep climbs, rugged terrain, and exposed ridgelines, rewarding hikers with incredible views and a sense of accomplishment.

Discover Hidden Gems and Solitude on North Carolina’s Trails

While some of North Carolina’s hiking trails are well-known and popular, there are also many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. These lesser-known trails offer a chance to escape the crowds and find solitude in nature.

One such hidden gem is the Panthertown Valley Trail System in the Nantahala National Forest. This network of trails spans over 30 miles and features stunning waterfalls, serene forests, and breathtaking vistas. The area is often referred to as the “Yosemite of the East” due to its unique rock formations and diverse landscapes.

Another lesser-known trail that offers a peaceful hiking experience is the Dupont State Recreational Forest. This 10,400-acre forest features over 80 miles of trails that wind through lush forests, past cascading waterfalls, and along scenic lakes. The trails here are well-maintained and offer a variety of options for hikers of all skill levels.

Plan Your Next Hiking Trip in North Carolina

With so many incredible hiking trails to choose from, planning your next outdoor adventure in North Carolina is an exciting prospect. To make the most of your trip, it’s essential to do some research and preparation beforehand.

Start by consulting trail maps and reading reviews and photos from other hikers to get a sense of what each trail has to offer. Consider factors such as distance, elevation gain, difficulty level, and the type of terrain you’ll encounter. This information will help you choose a trail that aligns with your fitness level and interests.

If you’re planning a multi-day hiking or backpacking trip, be sure to research the available campsites, water sources, and any necessary permits or regulations. Some popular trails, such as sections of the Appalachian Trail, require advance reservations or permits, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Trail NameLocationDistanceDifficulty
Grandfather TrailGrandfather Mountain State Park4 miles round tripStrenuous
Linville Falls TrailBlue Ridge Parkway1.6 miles round tripModerate
Art Loeb TrailPisgah National Forest30.1 milesStrenuous
Craggy Pinnacle TrailBlue Ridge Parkway1.4 miles round tripEasy

As you embark on your hiking adventures in North Carolina, remember to practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the natural beauty of these trails for generations to come. Stay on designated trails, dispose of waste properly, and respect wildlife and fellow hikers. By being responsible stewards of the land, we can ensure that these incredible hiking destinations remain pristine and accessible for all to enjoy.

North Carolina’s hiking trails offer a wealth of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to connect with nature, challenge themselves, and create unforgettable memories. Whether you’re seeking breathtaking vistas, cascading waterfalls, or serene forests, there’s a trail here that will capture your heart and inspire your sense of adventure. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your backpack, and hit the trails – your next incredible hiking experience awaits in North Carolina!

Photo of author

Gary Osbi