*Our Best Hikes original post updated Summer 2019*
Going on a hike is really just a walk through the woods of varied length, intensities, and altitude changes. So why does it seem that there’s a barrier to entry for this activity? Many have a perception that you have to be a nearly-professional outdoorsman to enjoy a good hike. Although having the proper gear (especially shoes… learned that one the hard way as a I slipped and slid down an especially steep trail) is important, hiking is a great “gateway drug” to other rewarding outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, climbing, and more, and doesn’t require much more than an appetite for adventure.
Whether you’re a seasoned trail veteran or a newbie, we are in a prime location for plenty of fun, challenging, scenic, and varied hikes in the North Carolina high country with 3,000+ miles of free, public hiking trails within 100 miles of Asheville. Many use Asheville as their basecamp for mountain excursions, and for good reason. It is a culturally rich and thriving oasis in the hills with world-class live entertainment at The Orange Peel, a wealth of art galleries to peruse, and well-known and loved restaurants like Rhubarb and Curate. Check out the great area options from RomanticAsheville.com and plan your perfect hiking trip with your reward of choice at the end of the day.
Here are a few of my favorite hikes and more that are on my hiking to-do list. Looking for waterfalls? Check out my post here.
A popular hike in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area on the Jonas Ridge Trail because of the payoff at the top. You’ll be winded as you climb 700 feet to the 4,009 foot summit with a few options for different routes. I suggest taking a different path up than you do down to take in as much of the Linville Wilderness beauty as you can. At 1.5 miles, the elevation change is the real challenge here so allow yourself plenty of time to reach the top. Once you do, linger a while. The views are nothing short of breathtaking and some of the furthest-stretching in the area. The unpaved service road (1264) in Pisgah National Forest is closed January through March, so plan your trip accordingly. There are some gorgeous homes on the ridge leading to service road 1264 in which I always fantasize about staying- drinking coffee on the deck overlooking the valley in the morning as the mist burns off before heading down the road for a hike… ugh, yes please! This is about an hour from Asheville, but worth the side trip. Linville Falls is a popular destination in the Gorge as well. On a hot summer day, you can see why. Check out Scoop’s guide to area waterfalls here!
Sitting Bear Mountain
If you’re itching for more after your Hawksbill hike, Sitting Bear Mountain is nearby, less crowded, and has similarly stunning views. Careful, this hike has some of the steepest climbs I’ve done although the overall elevation of the summit is slightly less than that of Hawksbill. Your ascent will bring you to a view of Hawksbill Mountain and Table Rock that will make you want to sit and stay a while. The cost of a sparsely populated trail is a bigger challenge, but the reward is few moments of quiet, solitary appreciation of the expansive gorge below. Better yet, stay the evening and camp at one of the primitive camp sites along this trail.
From .75 to 1.3 miles in length, the hiking trails at the North Carolina Arboretum are a great intro to hiking. Not only are they well-maintained and accessible, but you can take in some of the man-made beauty of the gardens post-hike. Each of the 3 trails winds through areas dense with wildflowers, ferns, and various tree species.
With thousands of acres to explore, Biltmore is more than just the colossal former escape of one of America’s wealthiest families, it also offers a rich variety of hiking, biking, and other activities to stretch your legs and get some fresh air after touring the home, shopping a little, or tasting wine from their winery. Since there is a price for admission, the 22 miles of trails are far less crowded than free public trails and are maintained at a level you’d expect from Biltmore- nothing short of pristine. The Deer Park Trail takes you through rolling pasture land with sweeping mountain views and new vantage points of the side and back of the house. Adding the Lagoon Trail will extend your trip. Although there are some hilly sections, this is not a steep climbing hike.
With the first bald only .5 miles from the parking lot, Black Balsam Knob gives you huge bang for you buck. Thanks to the networks of balds, there are consistently stunning views of the area as you hike as little or as much as you’d like along this trail. It easy to make your own custom route based on whatever distance you’d like to achieve. Since there are no insulating trees, be sure to bundle up as it can get quite chilly. If you’re looking for an accessible hike for younger children or older adults, this is one of the least challenging but most rewarding around.
At 30 miles roundtrip, this hike is not for the faint of heart and should be broken up over a few days. Camping is available in the pine forest about a mile or two beyond Flower Knob- great for hanging hammocks from tree to tree. Rhodenderon and azaleas cover this area in the spring a bring a flash of purples and pinks against the Carolina blue sky. Shining Rock is also on this trail beyond Black Balsam and has a wilderness area as well as an overlook and rock outcropping. Topped with dazzling quartz formations that give the rock it’s name, this is a unique hiking destination and a great option for a day hike. Flowers and pretty stones- what more could a girl want in a hike?
Cold Mountain and Deep Gap
Yes, “The Cold Mountain” from the book and film is also part of Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest and a tough 10-mile hike up 3,000 feet brings you to the summit. Part of your hike will be through the narrows and requires ridge walking (AKA clinging to the side of the mountain for dear life) for about 5 miles. Along this path, there are great spots for climbing on top of the rocks for your very own mountain top views. Strenuous but worth it! The sunrise from Cold Mountain is incredible and overlooks the town of Asheville from afar. With a hike this length, consider camping or park at Cold Mountain and hike to Deep Gap for a shorter trip.
A bit of a hike (ha) from Asheville at 70 miles east of town, 40 miles of trails and an 80 foot waterfall are well worth the drive. Hiking up to the falls is 2.7 miles in the most gorgeous woodland paradise you can imagine. The Hemlock Nature Trail is even wheelchair-accessible with boardwalks along a .75 mile route while Chestnut Knob is a bit more challenging and clocks in at 4 miles roundtrip.
Also known as the Black Mountain Crest Trail, this 2 mile round trip hike brings you to the summit of Mt. Craig, the second highest peak in the eastern US and only 37 feet lower than #1, Mt. Mitchell. Although you will definitely climb, this isn’t an excessively strenuous hike. Be prepared for colder temps and fog at this altitude.
The famous Hickory Nut Falls from the film The Last of the Mohicans is located in Chimney Rock State Park. A quick .75 mile hike will bring you to it’s base with the top 404 feet above you. Waterflow depends on the recent rainfall and can range from a trickle to roaring. Take advantage of the other trails in the park and enjoy the view of Lake Lure from the top of Chimney Rock while you’re here which, fun fact, was also made famous in film. You might recognize some of the Lake Lure scenery from Dirty Dancing. [Insert joke about not putting Baby in the corner.]
Not as creepy as it sounds, the name comes from tree stumps toppled by high winds hundreds of years ago that look like gravestones. A 1925 fire is to blame for the starkly different landscape from the surrounding areas as the landscape is still recovering. The Graveyard Falls Loop is about 4 miles and starts from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway passing 2 of the areas waterfalls along the way. What a great place to get out and stretch your legs after cruising the parkway!
You don’t have to have a killer hike to get killer views. This short mile-long loop off of the Blue Ridge Parkway has several rock platforms 4,340 feet up to take in the mountain. You can even see Grandfather Mountain from the western summit. If you wanted a longer hike, you could add Tanawha Trail to the Linn Cove Viaduct and Rough Ridge as part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Big/Little Bradley Falls: Saluda, NC.
One of my favorite escapes for a little Tour de France-style biking (ha, kidding… it’s much more of a struggle bus than a peloton), Saluda is also home to fabulous hiking. At 200 and 70 feet tall, respectively, both falls mean business. Both are inaccessible without a guide, so check out Green River Adventures for a waterfall trek or, if you’re feeling extra spicy, a day of canyoneering/rappelling.
Harper Creek Falls: Pisgah National Forest.
Harper Creek feeds Wilson Creek- an excellent area for a mellow dip in cool mountain water or even an afternoon of tubing- check out Scoop’s tubing guide here. Follow the trail to Harper Creek Falls and you’ll be met with a sight that, at first, is far from mellow. Huge falls with tall rock walls surrounding a swirling pool will take your breath away. If you have breath left in you, there are various ropes and scramble trails that will lead you to a different vantage point of the falls. Proceed with caution and make sure to stay within your experience and abilities.
None of these trails require technical skills, special equipment, or hiking-specific shoes, but it’s a good idea to make sure you come prepared with hydration, a small snack, footwear with proper stability (no rolled ankles, please!), and a positive, can-hike attitude sprinkled with a bit of caution (some of these areas are quite steep after all). If you’re not quite feeling confident enough in your abilities, there are guided hikes available through a number of local organizations that can help get your feet wet in the hiking world.
Do you have a favorite hike near Asheville? Tell us about it in the comments below and don’t forget to tag @ScoopCharlotte in your adventures on Instagram!