Linville Gorge: A Hiker’s Paradise

Linville Gorge is not as often thought about, but it should quickly make its way near the top of your list of desired adventures. Use this local guide to plan your next trip to one of North Carolina’s most breathtaking hiking destinations.

North Carolina’s Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is roughly 30 miles south of Boone and spans 12,000 acres within Pisgah National Forest. It’s a popular destination for many different types of outdoor recreation, from hiking to rock climbing, and for good reason—this protected area is an outdoor lover’s paradise.  

A hike through Linville Gorge will leave you in awe of its incredible landscapes, which include waterfalls and some of the best mountain views North Carolina has to offer. After hiking in the gorge, you’ll undoubtedly be back to tackle more trails: You can’t just go once. 

Linville Gorge is open year-round but is subject to seasonal road closures. Planning is one of the most important factors for having a successful trip to the gorge. If you have time, go for a drive and do a few hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway as well while you’re in the area.  

Linville Gorge
Linville Gorge

Tips for Hiking in Linville Gorge 

Linville Gorge is beautiful, but it can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. The rugged terrain and lack of trail markers or maintenance (it’s a wilderness area, after all) can create added challenges for even the most experienced hikers. According to the U.S. Forest Service website, “Trails are signed at trailheads but are not signed or blazed once inside the wilderness. You should be able to read a topographical map and use a compass.” 

Therefore, preliminary research and planning are of utmost importance. These recommendations (which are written by someone who has hiked, backpacked, car camped and rock-climbed in the gorge) will help you prepare for your next adventure. 

Do Your Research and Plan Conservatively  

If you’ve never hiked in Linville Gorge, it’s best to err on the side of caution. There’s a saying that 2 miles almost anywhere else equals 1 mile in the gorge. The steep and rocky terrain can be unforgiving, and between the lack of cell service and the number of unmarked boot-path trails, it’s easy to get lost. Therefore, it’s best to start small and work your way up to longer, more challenging trails as you get to know the area better. Good starter trails include Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View (more on both below).

Utilize the Avenza Map 

While AllTrails can be a helpful tool for planning purposes, do not solely rely on it for navigation when hiking in Linville Gorge. Bring a good quality, detailed topographic map with you when hiking in the wilderness area. For online maps, we prefer the Linville Gorge Wilderness Avenza Map (both the Avenza app and the map itself are free). Not only does the Avenza map include hiking trails, but also it works offline and has markers for other helpful information such as water sources, restrooms and parking. Remember: Your phone battery will last longer in airplane mode

Join the Linville Gorge Facebook Group 

With over 20,000 members, the Linville Gorge Facebook Group is a great resource for anyone who plans to hike in Linville Gorge. You can find information about current conditions (or ask if you can’t find what you’re looking for), updates to the aforementioned Avenza map, road closures, photos and more.  

Download Offline Google Maps  

Cell service can be spotty in Linville Gorge. Therefore, it’s a good idea to download offline Google Maps. Offline maps will ensure you can pull up driving directions in the area if needed. This tool can be especially useful if you plan to tackle several hikes in one day and need driving directions to multiple trailheads.   

Pack the Ten Essentials 

As with any hike, make sure to pack the “Ten Essentials” when hiking in Linville Gorge—even if some things seem unnecessary for a quick day hike. These items could save you in the event of an emergency. The unfortunate reality is that there have been instances when hikers have fallen or gotten lost in the gorge on what seemed like simple day hikes. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for hikers unfamiliar with the challenging terrain to pack an insufficient amount of water. When researching, pay attention to the difficulty of the trail(s) you intend to hike and take more water than you think you’ll need. 

Follow the Leave No Trace Principles  

All visitors should adhere to the seven principles of Leave No Trace to protect Linville Gorge and preserve the land for generations to come: Environmental stewardship is part of being a hiker. 

Take a High-Clearance Vehicle 

You don’t need a high-clearance vehicle to get to every trailhead in the gorge, but there are some areas where extra clearance is necessary due to washboards and ruts along the gravel roads. This is especially true if you drive on Kistler Memorial Highway (commonly referred to as Old 105) along the West Rim to access trails like Babel Tower and Wiseman’s View. There are several patches of rough terrain, and the conditions of this road change constantly. (Yet another reason it’s so important to research ahead of time). 

The view of Tablerock Mountain from Shortoff Mountain

Hiking Trails in Linville Gorge  

Now that you know more about Linville Gorge, it’s time to talk about hikes. There are many options for day hikes on both sides of the gorge. Whether you’re looking for something short and simple or something longer and more challenging, you can find that in the gorge. When you download the Avenza map, you’ll notice that the list below is just the beginning. 

Linville Falls Overlook Trail 

  • Location: West Rim 
  • Length: 2 miles round-trip, out-and-back 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Linville Falls is located at the head of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. It’s a great starter hike for those looking to familiarize themselves with the area. There are several different ways to access Linville Falls. You can get there from the Blue Ridge Parkway or Old 105. Also, you’ll find that there are several hiking trails that will take you to various viewpoints of this spectacular 90-foot waterfall.  

The Linville Falls Overlook Trail is a great way to see the waterfall from a few different viewpoints. Linville Falls is one of the most heavily trafficked destinations in the area, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. 

 Wiseman’s View Trail 

  • Location: West Rim 
  • Length: 0.4 miles round-trip, out-and-back 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Wiseman’s View is on the north end of Old 105 along the West Rim of Linville Gorge. Please note that Old 105 is unpaved and can be difficult to manage. A high-clearance vehicle is highly recommended. This hike is on the shorter side at 0.4 miles out andback and offers incredible views of the Linville River, Hawksbill and Table Rock. At the end of the paved trail, you’ll find two different viewpoints. Both are accessible via a short flight of stairs, but there’s plenty of paved space at the top (no stairs required) for enjoying the views. 

There isn’t a bad time of day to visit Wiseman’s View, but the views at sunrise and sunset are especially spectacular. If you want to tack on some extra mileage, add Linville Falls to your itinerary. You’ll pass a parking area for Linville Falls on Old 105 as you make your way to Wiseman’s View if you’re coming from the north end. Or you could make your way over to the East Rim and hike Hawksbill Mountain or Table Rock for jaw-dropping mountain views. 

Hawksbill Mountain Trail 

  • Location: East Rim 
  • Length: 2.5 miles round-trip, out-and-back 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Many of the hikes in Linville Gorge offer amazing views, but the views atop Hawksbill Mountain are unparalleled. You’ll have to put in a bit of work to get there (expect around 700 feet of elevation gain), but the 360-degree views at the end are more than worth it. This is a popular hike, but there is ample space for everyone to spread out at the summit. Once you get to the top, you can go either right or left. Make sure to admire the views from both sides. And pack a picnic lunch for this one—you’re not going to want to leave. 

If you’re thinking about going on a weekend, plan to arrive early. Parking is limited at the trailhead, and there is no room for overflow parking. Pick an alternative option, such as Table Rock (which is just down the road), if you get to the trailhead and see that there aren’t any spots available. Do not double-park or park along the road. Another thing to note: You must drive along an unpaved, bumpy forest service road for several miles to access the trailhead.  

Table Rock Trail 

  • Location: East Rim 
  • Length: 1.4 miles round-trip, out-and-back 
  • Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

Please note: The Table Rock gate closes for winter each year. Check with the land manager for specific opening and closing dates. Visit the U.S. Forest Service website for more information on road closuresyou’ll find information pertaining to Linville Gorge under the Grandfather Ranger District.   

To get to the Table Rock Trail, you’ll drive along an unpaved forest service road for approximately 7 miles after turning off Highway 181 and continuing past a few residential areas. This gravel road tends to be in better condition than Old 105 on the other side of the gorge; however, it’s still not ideal for low-clearance vehicles. Unlike Hawksbill (which you’ll pass on your way to Table Rock), this trailhead does have restrooms and a picnic area.  

The hike to the Table Rock summit isn’t long, but it is steep and rocky. It’s not a bad idea to bring trekking poles to help you tackle this terrain. Be extra careful if it has rained recently as the rocks will be slippery if wet. Once you get to the top, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the gorge. You might even be able to spot a Peregrine Falcon, so keep your eyes peeled. 

Shortoff Mountain Trail 

  • Location: East Rim 
  • Length: 5.5-mile out-and-back 
  • Difficulty: Moderate/difficult 
  • Dogs: Leashed 

The hike up Shortoff Mountain is a steady climb with breathtaking scenery throughout. As you ascend, you’ll get unique perspectives of Lake James and Linville Gorge. This is the trail for you if you’re looking for endless views. There isn’t much shade, so pack sunscreen and extra water, especially if you’re doing this hike during the warmer months. 

As with many other trails in Linville Gorge, you must drive along an unpaved road to get to the trailhead and Wolf Pit parking area. The drive is bumpy but doable in a sedan, making it one of the better options if you don’t have a high-clearance vehicle. Note that parking is extremely limited and surrounded by private property, so plan to arrive early. 

A rock juts out over a forested gorge with rocky cliffs and forest in the background.

Backpacking in Linville Gorge  

Linville Gorge isn’t just a popular destination for day hikes—it’s also great for backpacking. All the same recommendations apply (use the Avenza map, do your research and plan conservatively, etc.), but there are some extra things to know about backpacking in the gorge. 

  • Black bears reside in Linville Gorge. Therefore, you need to familiarize yourself with best practices for camping in bear country
  • A permit is required for overnight camping on weekends (Friday and Saturday nights) and holidays from May 1st through October 31st. For more information, contact the Grandfather Ranger District at (828) 652-2144. 
  • Water sources are outlined on the Avenza map.  
  • There are no bridges in Linville Gorge. If your route takes you across the Linville River at any point, it is imperative that you check the water levels before crossing (make sure you’re checking the right area) to ensure that it’s passable. 

As far as routes go, options are limitless. You could spend a night at the summit of Hawksbill Mountain or Shortoff Mountain, which are more beginner-friendly options, but two popular loops for backpackers are the Is That All You Got (ITAYG) Loop and the Grand Loop. These routes are incredibly challenging as they involve bushwhacking, complex navigation, steep terrain and multiple river crossings. Only experienced backpackers who have completed extensive research and preparation should attempt these routes. 

No Comments