North Carolina is home to some of the best hiking trails in the country. From easy, leisurely walks to strenuous multi-day hikes, there's something for everyone. It is rich in biodiversity and has a variety of landscapes, from the Appalachian Mountains to the coast. In this article, we'll share 20 of the best hiking trails in North Carolina.
20. Profile Trail (Banner Elk)
Located in the Grandfather Mountain state park, Profile Trail is a strenuous, but rewarding, hike. The trail has an elevation gain of 1,775 feet and is only 0.75 miles long. The trailhead starts at an easy, gradual incline and then becomes significantly steeper near the end. Any adventurer who's up for the challenge will be rewarded with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
19. Looking Glass Rock (Asheville, NC)
Looking Glass Rock is a popular destination for rock climbers and hikers alike. This hiking trail is located in Pisgah National Forest and has an elevation gain of 1,729 feet and a round trip length of seven miles. The trail is rated as difficult due to its steep inclines and rocky terrain. Six miles of the trail are considered strenuous with a few areas of scrambling required to reach the summit. The views from the top of Looking Glass Rock are well worth the effort required to get there.
18. Rainbow Falls Trail (Waynesville, NC)
Located in Gorges State Park, this trail is a moderate four-mile hike round trip with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. The highlight of the Rainbow Falls Trail is, of course, Rainbow Falls, a 400-foot tall waterfall. The best time to see the falls is after a rainfall when the water flow is at its peak. Along the way, you will find waterfalls, gullies, and other natural wonders that the Gorges State Park is known for. When it is raining, you will enjoy watching the water cascading over 150 feet from the top of the falls.
17. Hawksbill Mountain Trail (Waynesville, NC)
This trail is rated easy and has a total length of 2.1 miles. It is located in Linville Gorge Wilderness and has an elevation gain of 685 feet. It is a great choice for a shorter trek and has stunning views of the Linville River. Do not be tricked by the short distance because this hike is all uphill. As you approach the top, you will see a beautiful view of Table Rock to the south. You will also find two branching pathways that will take you to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain. The first option is a short but difficult hike that only takes about 30 minutes. The second option is a longer hike that takes about an hour and is more challenging.
16. Paradise Falls (Tuckasegee, NC)
Paradise Falls is a trail located in Tuckasegee. This is a fantastic waterfall hike that is great for all levels of hikers. The trail is only 0.75 miles long and is an out-and-back trail. This means that you will hike to the waterfall and then turn around and hike back the way you came. According to Lost in the Carolinas, the total elevation gain for this trail is only 220 feet but do not overlook that because the views from the top of the waterfall are incredible. The best time to hike this trail is in the spring when the waterfalls are at their fullest but the trail is still hikeable in the summer and fall. Hiking at this place during hot summer days is amazing because of the swimming holes here.
15. Grassy Ridge Bald (Asheville, NC)
The Grassy Ridge Bald trail is located in Pisgah National Forest and is a moderate to strenuous hike. The trail is 4.7 miles round trip and takes you to the top of Grassy Ridge, where you are rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The hike is mostly uphill but there are some flat sections where you can catch your breath. The parts of the course intertwine with the Appalachian Trail so you may see some thru-hikers on your journey. The trailhead is located near the Black Mountain Campground and can be accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail is open year-round but the best time to hike it is from April to November when the weather is cooler. There is no fee to hike the trail but you will need a valid North Carolina fishing license if you plan on fishing in the area.
14. Mount Mitchell Trail (Burnsville, NC)
Mount Mitchell Trail is located in Mount Mitchell State Park, which is the highest peak in the Eastern United States. The trail is a strenuous hike with an elevation gain of over 3,700 feet. It is 11.1 miles long and takes about six to eight hours to complete. The trial eventually gets complete at the highest peak of the Mississippi River. To get there, take I-40 west from Asheville, and take exit 27 onto NC-128 south for about 19 miles. The trailhead will be on the left.
13. Green River Cove (Hendersonville, North Carolina)
Located at the Green River Gameland in Hendersonville, North Carolina, the Green River Cove trail is a moderate to difficult hike that spans 6.5 miles. According to The OutBound, the trailhead has an elevation gain of 1,040 feet and takes hikers through a variety of landscapes, including hardwood forests, river crossings, and rocky outcrops with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trail is well-marked and suitable for experienced hikers.
12. Big Creek Trail (Asheville, NC)
Big Creek Trail is one of the best hiking trails in North Carolina for a few reasons. First, it's one of the most accessible; the trailhead is only a short drive from Asheville. It's incredibly scenic as it follows Big Creek through a lush, forested valley. Located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this trail is also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, deer, and wild turkeys. It follows the river all through its journey, making for some great fishing along the way. The elevation gain from this trail is 1,312 feet and is rated moderate. It is 10.4 miles long and out-and-back.
11. Rattlesnake Lodge Trail (Asheville, North Carolina)
Rattlesnake Lodge Trail is a moderate to strenuous hike that is great for a day trip. The trailhead is located just outside of Asheville on Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail is about 3.7 miles long and takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in North Carolina. The hike takes you through some of the ruins of one of the most famous Lodges that was once located in the area. The lodge was built in the early 1900s and was a popular destination for many years. The trail also offers some great views of the surrounding mountains.
10. Craggy Pinnacle Trail (Asheville, North Carolina)
The Craggy Pinnacle Trail is a short but strenuous hike to the top of Craggy Dome, the second-highest peak in the Craggy Mountains. Located on Blue Ridge Parkway, this trail is a 1-mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 242 feet. The best time to come here is during spring when the rhododendrons and mountain laurels are in bloom.
9. Lower Cascade Trail (Walnut Cove, NC)
Located in Hanging Rock State Park, this trail is an easy hike with a big payoff. The Lower Cascade Falls are some of the most beautiful in North Carolina, and the trail to get there is short and sweet. Just about a mile long and with an elevation gain of 91 feet, this is a great trail for young kids or those who want an easy day hike. There is a 35 feet waterfall along the way which is a great place to take a break and enjoy the scenery.
8. Stone Mountain Loop (Roaring Gap, NC)
The Stone Mountain Loop is located right in Stone Mountain State Park. It is a 4.5-mile-long loop that takes you up to the summit of Stone Mountain. According to Komoot, the elevation gain of this trail is 938 feet and it is rated as moderate. The views from the top of Stone Mountain are stunning and worth the hike up. Being the main attraction of Stone Mountain State Park, you can expect this trail to be crowded on weekends and holidays.
7. Hemphill Bald (Bryson City, NC)
Located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hemphill Bald is one of the most popular trails in North Carolina. The trail is a moderate hike that is about four miles round trip. The views from the bald are incredible and you can see for miles. The trail offers an elevation gain of 3,467 feet and has a 17.1 miles length. It is rated as hard and is great for experienced hikers. The trailhead is located at the Big Creek Trailhead and the parking lot is typically full on weekends. The trek begins following an old railroad grade that slowly climbs through the forest. The grade eases as you near the bald and then the trail levels out at the summit. From the bald, you can see panoramic views of the Smokies and the surrounding mountains.
6. Clingmans Dome (Bryson City, NC)
This is a 1.2-mile-long trail that has an elevation gain of 331 feet. This is a great trail for those who want to get a little bit of a workout in, but it is also great for people who want to take their time and enjoy the views. It is only about a mile east of the Mississippi River. While on top of the dome, you will enjoy stunning views of many mountains over the vast area.
5. Triple Falls Trail (Hendersonville, North Carolina)
This is a 2.9 miles trail that is located in the DuPont State Recreational Forest. The trailhead starts at the High Falls Parking Area. This is a moderate-level trail with some steep areas. The trail takes you to three different waterfalls, the first being Hooker Falls which is 120 feet tall. The second waterfall is Triple Falls which is 150 feet tall and the third waterfall is High Falls which is 100 feet tall. The trail has an elevation gain of 439 feet and is rated as easy.
4. Hanging Rock Trail (Danbury, NC)
This is a 2.4-mile out-and-back trail located in the Hanging Rock State Park. The trail is rated as moderate and features beautiful views of the park. The elevation gain is 603 feet and the trail is open to hikers of all levels. According to NC Tripping, the incline can be challenging at times, but the views are worth it. The trailhead is located at the Hanging Rock State Park Visitor Center. The geographical phenomenon that left the large chunk of granite rock hanging will blow your mind off.
3. Art Loeb Trail (Brevard, North Carolina)
This 30 miles trail has an elevation gain of 8,257 feet and is considered to be a hard hike. The Art Loeb Trail traverses some of the highest and most rugged peaks in the Eastern United States. The paths of this trail are intense with narrow and sometimes steep climbs. The scenery from the top is worth it, with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
2. Huckleberry Knob (Bryson City, NC)
Huckleberry Knob is a 2.2-mile trail that has a 344 feet elevation. It is located in Nantahala National Forest and is rated as easy. The pathway that leads to the knob is a wide, gravel road that is well-maintained. Numerous switchbacks make the hike a little more challenging. There is a fire pit that sits right on top of Huckleberry Knob and you can camp here.
1. Grandfather Trail (Banner Elk)
This is a 4.1-mile trail that is considered to be one of the most difficult in North Carolina. It has an elevation gain of about 1350 feet and takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the state. There are several waterfalls along the way, and you will get an amazing view of Grandfather Mountain from the top. This trail is rated hard as the pathways can be quite narrow in places. It is recommended that you wear proper footwear and bring plenty of water.
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Written by Liz Flynn
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