The North Carolina high country offers 3,000+ miles of free, public hiking trails within 100 miles of Asheville ~ at least during normal times. Many NC parks and nature preserves have begun to re-open to visitors ~ with safe social distancing and some closures on facilities and specific trails / areas. Some places are still closed and some are only open to residents of WNC. Some have limits on the number of cars and guests they will allow. Word to the wise is CHECK THOROUGHLY BEFORE YOU GO.
RomanticAsheville.com is our go-to for updates, photos and info, so check them out too for new news. Here’s what’s on their site today re: openings:
- Biltmore’s gardens and grounds will open with advance reservations on May 9 to Biltmore Annual Passholders who reside in WNC.
- The NC Arboretum will reopen its trails to the public on May 9 with limits on attendance number. Read more.
- DuPont State Forest began phased re-opening on 5/14.
- The Pisgah National Forest began to reopen many trails and roads and partially lift restrictions for dispersed camping May 14, using a site-by-site approach, including assessment of facility cleanliness, maintenance status, and health and safety of recreation areas. Facilities and services may remain limited at some sites. Popular recreation areas that will reopen include, but are not limited to: Catawba Falls, TR 225 | Brown Mountain Off Highway Vehicle Area |Black Balsam Road, FSR 816, and associated trails|Bent Creek Road, FSR 479 and most trails and trailheads
- The Blue Ridge Parkway will reopen 14 miles (mileposts 454-469) and all trails on May 9. Parkway access to Linville Falls and Blowing Rock reopen May 15.
- Gorges State Park ~ the access point to hike favorite waterfalls, Rainbow Falls, and nearby Turtleback Falls will open its trails and restrooms on May 13.
- Chimney Rock opened May 9 with access to Rumbling Bald Trail and Eagle Rock Trail. This one tends to get very crowded so a weekend visit is not ideal.
- Others to check out are Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park partially reopened Saturday, May 9 ~ check their webpage here for updates and continued closures.
Hikes We Love
Looking for waterfalls? Check out our 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.
Sitting Bear Mountain
If you’re itching for more after your Hawksbill hike, Sitting Bear Mountain is nearby, 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 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!
photos via RomanticAsheville.com
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.