While the state of North Carolina has some of the country's best beaches, it is also home to more than 900 miles of hiking trails, most of them in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the larger Appalachian Mountain range that spans from northern Alabama to southern New York. From a challenging trek to reach the state's highest peak of Mount Mitchell to a gentle walk over a suspension bridge at Grandfather Mountain and family-friendly trails offering scenic waterfalls and mountain vistas, North Carolina offers a variety of hiking experiences for all levels.
Whether you're an experienced backpacker looking for a challenge on the Appalachian Trial or a novice just in it for the views, the state has a hike for you.
Grandfather Mountain State Park
Located 75 miles north of Asheville, Grandfather Mountain State Park in Linville offers 11 trails, from gentle, rolling climbs to steep treks over rugged cliffs. The park's highlight? The Mile High Swinging Bridge, which is the country's highest suspension footbridge and offers panoramic views of the mountains below.
While admission to the state park is free, there is a charge for the bridge, which costs around $22 for adults. The hike is just 0.7 miles out and back, dog friendly, and accessible to those with disabilities via an elevator in the Top Shop. For a more challenging hike, try the 2-mile Grandfather Trail, a rugged path that includes cables and ladders to traverse sheer rock faces to the park's highest peaks.
Chimney Rock State Park
The 8,000-acre wooded Chimney Rock State Park near Asheville has six hiking trails and is popular with experienced rock climbers. The park's namesake peak, a 315-foot granite rock formation, offers panoramic views of the area, including Hickory Nut Gorge. Access the summit via the steep but short Outcroppings Trail. The 25-minute hike includes 494 steps that ascend more than 300 feet to the summit. For a longer excursion, take the 2.2-mile round trip Skyline Trail, which travels through hardwood forests and offers views of the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls as well as Lake Lure.
Looking Glass Trail
A popular destination for world-class hikers, Looking Glass Rock is in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest near Brevard. The approximately 6-mile Looking Glass Trail is a moderately paced, scenic hike that follows a cascading river before rising through switchbacks and patches of wildflowers before reaching the breathtaking summit of large granite ringing the hardwood forest. For sweeping views of the Appalachians, hike past the summit to Upper Looking Glass Falls, which is also a great spot for a short rest or a leisurely picnic.
This 2.5-mile out-and-back hike climbs just over 300 feet in elevation, making it ideal for novices and families with small children. The trailhead is located near Old Fort, which is just east of Asheville on I-40, and follows the banks of the Catawba River through shady, lush forest before ascending rocky boulders to the summit: the breathtaking Catawba Falls, which cascades along mossy outcrops and is one of the largest waterfalls in North Carolina.
Grassy Ridge Bald via the Appalachian Trail
For an epic sunrise or sunset hike, head to the Roan Mountains, the largest span of grassy bald in the Appalachians. Located in the southwestern part of the state near Waynesville, Grassy Ridge Bald can be accessed via the storied Appalachian Trail. The 5-mile trail is moderately paced, summits Round Bald and Jane Bald, and rewards hikers with patches of rhododendron and vibrant wildflowers before reaching its peak, which offers panoramic views of nearby valleys and mountains, like Grandfather to the east and Mount Michell—the state's highest point—to the south.
Mount Mitchell State Park
At 6,684 feet high, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and the surrounding Mount Mitchell State Park has a variety of options for enjoying the summit. For a short, moderate stroll, opt for the 0.75-mile self-guided Balsam Nature Trail, which follows a tiny stream and ends at the summit parking lot. For a more strenuous hike, take the 9-mile out-and-back Deep Gap Trail, which starts near the summit and then climbs through dense fir and spruce forests and ridgelines of adjacent summits before reaching the peak of Mount Mitchell. You should dress in layers, as the temperatures can be chilly, even in the summer months.
Rainbow Falls Trail at Gorges State Park
Searching for scenic waterfalls and rugged terrain? Head to Gorges State Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Transylvania County near Brevard. At nearly 8,000 acres, the area kisses the South Carolina border and has four waterfalls, including the stunning, Rainbow Falls, which cascades 150 feet down sheer rocks, often resulting in rainbows. The moderately paced, nearly 4-mile out-and-back trail can be accessed via the Grassy Ridge Trailhead just off Highway 218-S in Sapphire. The trail heads down to the namesake falls as well as to the 20-foot Turtleback Falls and the 80-foot Drift Falls.
Hooker Falls to High Falls in DuPont State Forest
The waterfalls in this more than 10,000-acre forest are so picturesque, they've been the backdrop in films such as the "Hunger Games" series. From the Hooker Falls access point just off Stanton Road, follow the Triple Falls Trail upstream along the Little River to ascend 1,000 feet to Triple Falls, a trio of waterfalls that drop 120 feet across a craggy granite outpost. The hike is easy and just shy of a mile long. To add on more mileage, take the easy, 2-mile Triple Falls loop trail to High Falls (which also has a stunning 120-foot drop). When the water levels are down, the rocks at the basin of the falls are exposed, which makes them great for rock hopping for a better view or settling in for a rest before your return journey.
Moore's Wall Loop Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
Located inside Hanging Rock State Park, the Moore's Wall Loop Trail is a nearly 5-mile, strenuous hike that leads to the highest point in the Sauratown Mountains, an isolated mountain range located in the northern part of the state. From the visitor's center parking lot take the trailhead from behind the stone bathhouse. The challenging trail climbs along several craggy outcrops to the Observation Tower, a former fire tower that offers panoramic views of the countryside. From there, the trail descends down a staircase of 684 stone steps, then crosses a small creek, and eventually leads back into the woods and along the lake before circling back to the parking lot.
Located approximately 50 miles northeast of Asheville, Crabtree Falls is an easily accessible, 3-mile out-and-back hike just off the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. The path starts behind a parking lot at MP 339.5 and heads through a meadow and past a campground amphitheater to a paved road that ends in a "T" shape. Take the right turn, which descends sharply down switchbacks and stone steps to the 70-foot falls. A bridge over the river offers stunning views and options for resting before heading back to the parking lot.