Linville Gorge Wilderness: The Complete Guide

Linville Rhododendron Spring Bloom
Linville Rhododendron Spring Bloom. skiserge1 / Getty Images
Map card placeholder graphic

Linville Gorge Wilderness

Marion, NC 28752, USA
Phone +1 828-257-4200

Located in the heart of Pisgah National Forest (about 60 miles northeast of Asheville), the 11,786-acre Linville Gorge Wilderness is North Carolina's third largest wilderness area. Dubbed the "Grand Canyon of North Carolina," the dramatic, 2,000-foot namesake gorge was formed by the Linville River carving through Jonas Ridge and Linville Mountains. With rugged terrain, sheets of sheer rock face, blankets of wildflowers, panoramic summits, and tumbling waterfalls, the park is ideal for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and fishing.

From the best hikes and trails to where to camp and how to get there, here's how to plan your next visit to Linville Gorge.

Things to Do

With nearly 40 miles of trails, the park offers options for leisure hikers and advanced backpackers alike. Trails range from short, out-and-back paths that descend to dramatic waterfalls to long, strenuous climbs to panoramic mountain summits. The area is also popular with experienced rock climbers and scramblers; climbs are accessible at several points in the area, including Table Rock, Amphitheater, and Shortoff Mountain. Meanwhile, the Linville River is ideal for fishing brown and rainbow trout and other game fish. Hunting is also permitted.

Best Hikes & Trails

  • Linville Falls Trail: This easy, nearly 1-mile out-and-back trail is one of the area's most stunning and popular hikes. Access the trailhead from the Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 316; from there, you'll cross the Linville River before ascending to a series of overlooks offering up-close views of the dramatic falls cascading over sheets of rock.
  • Hawksbill Mountain Trail: For panoramic views, hike to the 4,000-foot summit of Hawksbill Mountain; here, you can view nearby Table Rock and Shortoff Mountains, the tumbling Linville Falls, and even the Charlotte skyline—90 miles away—on a clear day. At just over 2 miles, the moderately challenging, out-and-back trail starts from the parking area of NC Forest Service 210 and climbs 700 feet through hardwood forest and rocky terrain to the top. Come at sunrise or sunset for the best views.
  • Table Rock Mountain Trail: This moderate, highly trafficked, 2-mile trail offers some of the park's best summit views. The trailhead is located off NC Forest Service 210 and climbs steadily, first via stone stairs to a prominent rocky outcrop. You'll then take a series of switchbacks around dramatic cliffs and dense forest before reaching the peak of exposed granite. The summit offers 360 degree views of Linville Gorge, Hawksbill Mountain, and Linville Falls.
Linville Gorge Falls, North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway
Jens_Lambert_Photography / Getty Images

Where to Camp

The park has several options for overnight camping, ranging from no frills thru-hiking sites to larger recreation areas with amenities. Note that on holidays and weekends between May 1 through October 31, visitors must obtain a free camping permit. Advance permits can be reserved by calling the Grandfather Ranger District office at 828-652-2144 starting the first business day of the month preceding the visit. Fifteen walk-in permits are available for the same weekend's stay, starting at 10 a.m. each Friday at the Linville Gorge Information Cabin (516 Old NC 105, Marion, NC). Each visitor is limited to one weekend permit per month and a stay of three consecutive days and two nights; groups are limited to 10 people.

  • Linville Falls Campground: This campground is located just past the intersection of Linville Falls Road and Highway 183 near the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are 39 non-electric tent and RV sites available with advanced reservations, and 25 available on a first come, first served basis. Amenities include drinking water, picnic tables, fire rings, and a dump station. Fees are $20 per night and $35 for group tents during peak season (late May to late October).
  • Linville Gorge East Rim: There are campsites on-trail near the summits of popular hikes like Hawksbill and Table Rock. But for those not wanting to haul gear, there are a few scattered campsites along FS 210 and near the Hawksbill trailhead that offer tent pads and fire rings.
  • Spence Ridge: Additional low-frills campsites are available near the Spence Ridge parking area and just south of the Spence Ridge trailhead near Table Rock.

Where to Stay Nearby

  • Meadowbrook Inn: Just a block away from the shops, galleries, and restaurants of downtown Blowing Rock, this boutique hotel is only 10 miles from the park. The property has 62 guest rooms, an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, in-room coffee makers, flat panel TVs, free Wi-Fi, and hot breakfast.
  • Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock: At this high-end 78-acre resort, you have your pick between staying at the property's intimate, eight-room Bob Timberlake Inn and the rustic Chetola Lodge. Accommodation options at the latter range from luxury one- to four-room condominiums to single rooms and suites. From an onsite spa and fine dining restaurant to a heated indoor pool, fitness classes, and a sporting reserve, the resort is worth the splurge and only 10 miles from Linville Gorge.
  • Best Western Mountain Lodge at Banner Elk: For a moderately priced hotel a few miles from the park, opt for this hotel in the small town of Banner Elk. Rooms are modest and clean, with in-room microwaves and refrigerators. Visitors in winter will also have close access to skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities at nearby Sugar and Beech Mountain Resorts.
  • Courtyard Boone: The beautiful mountain town of Boone is a great launching point for visiting Linville Gorge, just 13 miles away. This moderately priced hotel has a small onsite restaurant, indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and complimentary Wi-Fi. Plus, their single guest rooms and suites are outfitted with 32-inch flat-panel HD televisions and refrigerators.

How to Get There:

The park is divided into two divisions: eastern and western.

To access the eastern section, take US 181 from Morganton to Forest Service Road (FR) 210 (Gingercake Road). Then turn left onto FR 210 and left again at the first fork; continue through the Gingercake Acres subdivision to the parking areas. From Marion, take US 221 to NC 181. Turn right and go south on NC 181 and continue 3 miles; take another right on FR 210 (Gingercake Road), then follow the directions above. There are three parking areas: Devil's Hole Trail (Sitting Bear), 2 miles from Gingercake Acres; Hawkbill, 1 mile down from Devil's Hole; and Spence Ridge and North Table Rock trails, 1 mile from Hawkbill.

To access the western section, take US 221 north from Marion to NC 183 at Linville Falls, then follow that to NC 1238/Kistler Memorial Highway. From Marion, take US 70 east to Nebo, then NC 126 8 miles and turn left on NC 1238/Kistler Memorial Highway. Parking and trailheads are located off the highway. Note that Kistler Memorial is a gravel road and challenging in sections for two-wheel-drive vehicles.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Walk-in permits, maps, and camping supplies are available at the Linville Gorge Information Cabin.
  • While dogs are allowed on most trails, remember to follow local leash ordinances and dispose of all waste properly.
  • Parking is limited for many of the most popular trails, so come early on weekends or weekdays during peak season to secure a spot.
  • Wear layers, as temperatures can vary significantly from the base of trails to the summit.
  • Bears and other wildlife are common in the area, so store food and trash in your tent or in designated lockers to avoid unwelcome visitors.
Back to Article

Linville Gorge Wilderness: The Complete Guide