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The 20 Best Hikes to Take in North Carolina

North Carolina Hiking

North Carolina has a coast along the Atlantic Ocean, and it is bordered by Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. There are multiple natural landmarks in the state, including Piedmont and Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Appalachian Mountains, and Mount Mitchell. The diversity of the landscape makes the state a fantastic place to explore the outdoors, and one of the best ways to do this is to hike. Here are the 20 best hiking trails in North Carolina.

20. Huckleberry Knob Trail, Lake Santeetlah

The Huckleberry Knob Trail in Lake Santeetlah is an easy hike that takes you along the Scenic Cherohala Skyway. It is a 1.77-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 295-feet. This short hike takes you across two beautiful balds. At the second bald, there are wonderful views of the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. As it sits at 5,560-feet above sea level, Huckleberry Knob is the highest point in the Cheoah Ranger District.

19. Pinnacle Park Trail, Sylva

As the name of Pinnacle Park suggests, the main feature of the park is the Pinnacle, which is a craggy peak at the edge of the Plott Balsam mountain range. It is the highest point in the park, as it is 4,700-feet above sea level. The hike to the Pinnacle is 5.98-miles long, and it has an elevation gain of 2,142-feet. The terrain along the hike is varied, with some flat sections and other parts with steep inclinations. Once you reach the peak of the Pinnacle, you are rewarded with breathtaking views across Pinnacle Park.

18. Lower Cascade Falls, Walnut Cove

If you like short hikes with interesting natural features to see, then a good option is the Lower Cascade Falls Trail in Walnut Cove. The waterfall is in the Hanging Rock State Park, and the cascade falls 35-feet. To get to the falls, enjoy a short stroll along the 0.75-mile, out-and-back trail. It is an easy trail that meanders through a forest of hardwoods and pines, and you might see turkey or deer along the way. The first half of the trail is gravel and dirt, while the second half is wood and stone steps.

17. Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls in Gorges SP, Lake Toxaway

For many people, waterfalls are some of the most beautiful natural sights. If you take this 3.91-mile out-and-back hike in Lake Toxaway, then you are treated to the beauty of two separate waterfalls. Rainbow Falls is considered one of the most scenic waterfalls in North Carolina, and it sits amid the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is fed by the Horsepasture River. If you continue your hike for half a mile past rainbow Falls, then you will find yourself at Turtleback Falls. You will also catch sight of Drift Falls, although these are on private property.

16. Wesser Bald Fire Tower Trail, Franklin

Wesser Bald Fire Tower Trail in Franklin is 1.36-miles long and has an elevation gain of 807-feet. This easy out-and-back trail offers impressive views of Little Tennessee River Valley, Fontana Lake, and the Nantahala National Forest. However, the most outstanding element of the trail is the unique 300-foot tall fire tower. It is from the vantage point at the top of the tower that hikers can enjoy the most amazing views of the surrounding area.

15. Andrews Bald Trail, Bryson City

Andrews Bald Trail is one of the best hikes if you are visiting Bryson City. It is a 3.55-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 1,200-feet. The beginning of the trail is at the Clingmans Dome parking lot, just to the left of the main Clingmans Dome Trail. There are several splits in the trail, so you need to follow the signposts carefully. Most of the trail goes through a dense, moss-covered forest, and then you cross a wooden plank pathway to an area that opens out to views of Fontana Lake and the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

14. Shortoff Mountain Summit Trail, Linville

There are various views to enjoy from the summit of Shortoff Mountain, including spectacular sunsets and views across the Linville Gorge. The trail begins at Wolf Pit Road by Lake James, and at the summit, there are some smaller side trails to explore that lead to cliffs that overlook the gorge. If you just stick to the main trail, the out-and-back trail is 4.64-miles long, and it has an elevation gain of 1,178-feet.

13. Rough Ridge Trail, Linville

If you only want to hike a quick trail to enjoy looking at the beautiful scenery of North Carolina, then a good option is the Rough Ridge Trail in Linville. It is only 0.5-miles long and has a gentle inclination to reach an elevation gain of 92-feet. One of the highlights of the trail is the Lion King Rock, which is a point where many hikers stop to take a photograph. The ridge is known for being an excellent place to enjoy sunsets and sunrises.

12. Clingmans Dome, Bryson City

Clingmans Dome is the highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so the summit offers 360-degree views of the mountain range. The 1.23-mile trail starts at the parking lot on Clingmans Dome Road, and most of the trail is paved. There are several other trails that begin on this road, including the Appalachian Trail.

11. Art Loeb Trail, Brevard

A hike for experienced hikers who are accustomed to covering long distances is the Art Loeb Trail. It is a 30.07-mile trail with a significant elevation gain of 7,467 feet. The point-to-point trail involves a trek across four balds, and it is considered the most scenic trail in the Pisgah Ranger District. You will climb to the summits of Cold Mountain and Shining Rock Mountain, both of which have spectacular views. The trail begins at the Davidson River Campground and finishes at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp.

10. Catawaba Falls, Old Fort

If you are in Asheville or a nearby location, then one of the best hikes to enjoy is the trail to Catawaba Falls. It is a relatively easy hike of just under three miles and with an elevation gain of around 400-feet. There is a campground close to the falls, so there is the option to stay overnight. The trail to the lower falls is the easiest section of the hike, and then it gets a little trickier leading to the upper falls as the terrain is rockier and a little steeper.

9. Grassy Ridge Bald Trail in the Roan Highlands, Bakersville

A moderate hike with views of hills is the Grassy Ridge Bald Trail in the Roan Highlands in Bakersville. It is a 4.84-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 932-feet. The trailhead is close to the parking lot at Carver’s Gap, and you will go through a forest before reaching the Roan Mountain Balds. The terrain is uneven and rocky, so it is a tricky hike, and appropriate footwear is essential.

8. Craggy Pinnacle Trail, Black Mountain

A short hike close to downtown Asheville is the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, which is an out-and-back trail that is just over a mile long and has an elevation of only 285-feet. At the top of the trail, there are 360-degree views across Asheville and the surrounding mountains. It is one of the least challenging trails on the list, so it is suitable for most people and is an easy walk if you only have a short amount of free time to enjoy the outdoors.

7. Paradise Falls Trail, Tuckasegee

Paradise Falls has earned their name for a reason, as this beautiful waterfall is surrounded by greenery and rocks in various shades of gray and brown. The swimming hole at the base of the waterfall is gorgeous and a popular place for people to take a dip in the summer months. It is a short out-and-back hike of just 1.5-miles, although there are some challenges along the way. The waterfall is close to Panthertown in an area known for its damned lakes and gorges.

6. Sam Knob Loop Trail, Canton

One of the most pleasant and least strenuous trails in North Carolina is the Sam Knob Loop Trail, which is 3.84-miles long and has an elevation of 807-feet. It is a scenic trail that takes you along brooks with wild trout, pretty waterfalls, and swimming holes where you can take a dip in warmer weather. The summits on the trail are excellent spots for watching the sunset and sunrise, and you can enjoy stargazing in the clear sky if you spend the night at this location.

5. Linville Falls, Newland

North Carolina’s most photographed waterfall is Linville Falls. Hikers can easily access the waterfall from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is one of the easiest hikes in the state, as it is under a mile long, and the elevation is a mere 177 feet. The trail begins at the park’s visitor center and takes you alongside the 90-feet waterfall. If you want to walk further, there are another four miles of trails surrounding the waterfall, so you can explore the surrounding area further.

4. Green Knob Trail, Canton

One of the best spots to watch the sunset is at Green Knob, so you should time your hike at this location so that you are at the summit for the sunset. The out-and-back trail is 9.08-miles long and has an elevation of 1368-feet. The beginning of the trail is shared with the Mountain to Sea Trail, and there are views of Mount Hardy and Middle Prong Wilderness. You will walk through forests, along a brook, and past waterfalls before heading across a meadow to the summit. When you are almost at the end of the Mountain to Sea Trail, take a right along a short trail that leads to Green Knob.

3. Deep Gap Trail at Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville

Most people who hike the Deep Gap Trail in Mount Mitchell State Park do so to enjoy walking along the ridges of the tallest peaks in the park and enjoying the surrounding scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is an 8.24-mile, out-and-back trail with an elevation of 2,310 feet. The trail begins at the summit of Mount Mitchell, then heads through a balsam fir and spruce tree forest. It then takes you along the ridge of neighboring summits, including Mount Craig, which is the second tallest peak East of Mississippi. There are significant ascends and descends, so it is one of the most challenging trails in the state.

2. Looking Glass Rock Trail, Brevard

A fantastic hike at any time of the year, the Looking Glass Rock Trail offers excellent views of the Appalachian Mountains. It is a 5.43-mile moderate out-and-back trail that goes along a cascading creek and through wildflower fields. There is an elevation of 1,572 feet to reach the summit, although this is not the best point to enjoy the views. If you carry on past the summit to the Upper Looking Glass Cliffs, this is the best point for enjoying panoramic views of the Appalachian Mountains.

1. Summit Calloway Peak in Grandfather Mountain SP, Banner Elk

According to The Outbound, the best hike in North Carolina is the Summit Calloway Peak in Grandfather Mountain SP. Summit Calloway Peak is one of the highest peaks within the Blue Ridge Mountains. The out-and-back trail is 6.31-miles long, and there is an elevation of 1991 feet. It is a challenging climb, but the reward is one of the best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One section of the trail joins the Daniel Boone Scout Trail. Along the way, stop at the Flat Rock View to enjoy the vistas. The steepest part of the trail is the steepest, but there are cables and ladders to help you complete the climb.

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Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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