Best Hikes in North Carolina

North Carolina is a beautiful Southeastern state, perfect for outdoor adventure. From panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains to relaxing beaches along the coast, there is something that will pique your interest. With so many options to choose from, it’ll be hard to keep you from adventuring all weekend. To help you find a place to start, we’ve compiled a list of our Top 10 hikes that North Carolina has to offer. 

A few things to note: Always plan ahead before heading on the trails. Pack plenty of water and enough food for the hike you plan. Try to either download your maps or bring a physical one, so you won’t get lost. Lastly, wherever your adventures lead, be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles and leave the trails and/or your campsite better than you found it. 

A family hikes together.

Pickens Nose Trail 

  • Location: Franklin  
  • Length: 1.5-mile round-trip, out and back  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate  
  • Dogs: Leashed 

A chunk of rock sticking out of the side of the mountain shaped similar to a bird’s beak, known as Pickens Nose. From the start of the trail, you immediately start going up a steep incline path covered with rocks. The trail is covered by dense rhododendrons, sometimes you’ll pass through a tunnel of trees. As you near the top, peek through the foliage to get ready for the incredible view you are about to encounter. Once you reach the summit, it exceeds all expectations. If time allows after Pickens Nose, continue down the trail for only a few more minutes, to find multiple pull-off paths where you can see the landscape from different angles. However, don’t be so mesmerized by the scenery that you take a tumble: The drop-off is very steep up top.  

Wiseman’s View Trail 

  • Location: Linville Gorge Wilderness Area 
  • Length: 0.4-mile round-trip, out and back  
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy  
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Wiseman’s View is stunning at all times of the day but especially rewards a sunrise or sunset hike. It overlooks the Linville River that runs through the canyon of mountains above, and is usually referred to as the “Grand Canyon of Eastern America.” The hike is fully paved and wheelchair accessible, with two viewing areas at the top. The trail is mostly shaded by trees and starts to clear once you can see the viewing platform in the distance. There are benches at the top, so you can sit back and enjoy the scene. High-clearance vehicles are recommended for reaching the trail, as the road to the parking lot is roughly paved.  

The Chimneys Trail 

  • Location: Jonas Ridge 
  • Length: 1.7 miles one-way, out and back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

The Chimneys Trail is a great way to grab some stunning photographs of the Linville Gorge while experiencing a fairly moderate hike. This trail starts at the Table Rock Mountain parking lot. Over the course of the 1.7-mile route, you will be introduced to the exposed, jagged rock formations that give the trail its name. A few climbs around the chimneys allow you to get to some great overlooks of the gorge. Be mindful of the trail markings to avoid leading you off the trail. 

This trail also has access to Table Rock Summit, a highly recommended detour for those looking to see even more spectacular mountainscapes. 

Linville Falls via Erwins View Trail 

  • Location: Newland 
  • Length: 1.6-mile round-trip, out and back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

From the Linville Falls Visitor Center, there are two main hiking trails to view Linville Falls. Taking the Erwins View Trail, you are able to experience various angles of the falls with several overlooks along the trail. The first overlook on this path is located 0.5 miles into the hike, where you’ll be able to see the Linville River flowing over the upper fall area and begin its journey down toward the lower falls. After another 0.2 miles is Chimney Overlook, which starts to clear a path, and you get a glimpse of both the upper and lower falls.  

From there, the trail will then pick up some steepness and become a little more difficult. The next overlook you will come across is the Gorge View Overlook, where you can look out and watch the river flow into the Wilderness Area. Finally, at 0.8 miles out you reach the Erwins View Overlook, presenting you with a beautiful view of the upper and lower falls amongst the gorgeous background of the Linville Gorge. A great place to take a second and soak in the beauty! 

Mount Mitchell Trail 

  • Location: Montreat 
  • Length: 11.9-mile round-trip, out and back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River and offers a challenging trek for hikers looking for an adventure. The trail starts at the Black Mountain Campground and is a constant —but energizing!— uphill battle: You will gain 3,600 feet in total elevation in order to reach the summit. The views at the top make the heart-pumping workout worth it as you take in the surrounding mountains. Many people choose to do it in two days and camp at the top to avoid having to rush. However, if you have backpacking experience (and understand your fitness level) and want to do it as a day hike, start as early as possible to allow yourself plenty of daylight. 

Catawba Falls Trail 

  • Location: Pisgah National Forest  
  • Length: 2.7-mile round-trip, out and back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Please note: The trail is currently closed until Spring 2023 for maintenance updates.  

Catawba Falls is a popular trail that leads to a gorgeous waterfall within the Pisgah National Forest. This trail is considered to be a simple, moderate hike with only a total of 300 feet in elevation gain over the 2.7-mile trek. It is great for families because the path (which is wheelchair accessible) is wide enough to fit multiple people, it’s shaded by the forest and it runs along the Catawba River, giving the kids something to enjoy while on the trail.  

You will come across some impressive landmarks along the way, such as the remains of a stacked, stone powerhouse, before crossing over a fairly new metal bridge to the Catawba River. There are also sections of the trail from which you can see the river form mini waterfalls. From here, you’ll have the chance to take in the peaceful sounds of the flowing water.  

A mellow whitewater rapid smoothes its way over rocks with green trees in the background
Sliding Rock in Sliding Rock Recreation Area, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Pat Williams)

Paradise Falls Trail 

  • Location: Tuckasegee 
  • Length: 1-mile round-trip, out and back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Looking to cool off on a hot summer day? Paradise Falls is a fun spot to jump into the water and relax. This waterfall is within the Nantahala National Forest and is unique for its hidden beauty. This waterfall is roughly 100 feet tall and is tucked into a canyon slot. It pools into a refreshing swimming hole at the base. This will be a deserving reward after the strenuous hike to reach it.  

The trail is only half a mile long, but it is a very steep climb from start to finish. If that adventure bug is really biting at you and you consider yourself an experienced hiker, this is the challenge for you. There are ropes along the trail to assist you in your climb to the waterfall because this hike can be a bit dangerous if you are not cautious, especially under wet and muddy conditions. With careful footing, and a little bit of a scramble, you will reach the swimming hole and waterfall just in time to cool off.  

Be sure to download your map for your return trip, so you know that you are on the correct path down. A lot of times going down can be a little more tricky especially with finding your footing.  

Rough Ridge Trail 

  • Location: Linville 
  • Length: 1.2-mile round-trip, out and back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

No matter what time of the year you visit, Rough Ridge has incredible views of the Blue Ridge mountains. The Rough Ridge trail is a part of the larger Tanawha Trail, a 13.5-mile stretch that accesses Grandfather Mountain, but this short stretch gives you all the views you need to have that “wow” moment. The hike starts from an overlook parking lot past mile marker MP 302.8, where you begin climbing through the rocky terrain.  

After a short climb, you’ll go across a bridge to the left and continue to ascend through the trees and fairly steep, unsteady ground. A little over half a mile in, you’ll find yourself on a wooden platform along the trail and can begin to find a spot to take in the views. The trail has numerous staircases: The higher you go, the better the sights are. It’s highly recommended to get there for the sunrise because it is truly breathtaking! 

a family dressed in brightly colored puffy jackets walks on a paved path in the forest

Mingo Falls Trail 

  • Location: Cherokee 
  • Length: 0.3-mile round-trip, out and back  
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate to difficult 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

There is a fairly short but somewhat strenuous hike to Mingo Falls, an impressive waterfall near Cherokee, North Carolina. Standing at an amazing 120 feet tall, Mingo Falls is one of the tallest in the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains. To access the falls, you will need to travel to the trailhead at Mingo Falls Campground. From there, you will make your way to the set of 161 steep steps that lead up to a viewing bridge at the base of the falls. Although the trail seems short, this hike will definitely get your legs working overtime for the day.  

Rest assured, your efforts will be rewarded with a visually stunning water cascade down the rock-faced landscape. Expert tip: try to visit the falls after a heavy rainfall or during the fall and early winter months because that’s when you’ll be able to see a heavier water flow. Just be sure to use caution and maintain a steady footing as you step. 

Triple Falls Trail 

  • Location: DuPont State Forest 
  • Length: 2.9-mile loop 
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

If you are ever near the Hendersonville, North Carolina area, you have to add Triple Falls Trail to your itinerary. This well-known attraction is famous for (you probably guessed it) having three distinct waterfalls in close proximity. Fun fact, this attraction featured in two blockbuster films: The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans.  

The trail starts at the Hooker Falls parking area and, at about 2.9 miles round-trip, is not too difficult to complete, which hopefully gives you a better feeling about bringing the kids. The first waterfall you will find, about 0.4 miles in, is Hooker Falls. This fall has a nice, peaceful flow to it, only bearing a 12-foot drop. There’s even a pooling area where people love to hop in to cool off.  

From there, you’ll want to head to the Triple Falls overlook, which is a gorgeous 120-foot waterfall drop. When you see the beauty of this waterfall, you’ll start to realize that you made the right choice of coming to this trail. Last, you’ll head to High Falls, which is the tallest of all the waterfalls at 150 feet! (Talk about saving the best for last.) After seeing this waterfall, you can follow the loop back to the parking lot to continue your journey.  

For more North Carolina adventures, get involved with REI classes and events at your local store. Always stay on the lookout for local trips and tours in your area. 

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