Located in the heart of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is an ideal getaway for outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to award-winning restaurants, a booming craft beer scene, historic architecture, and a thriving arts community, the area has more than 3,000 miles of public hiking trails, with options for novice and experienced hikers alike.
From the state's highest peak to the tumbling Catabwa Falls, these are the 10 best hikes in Asheville.
Craggy Gardens Trail
Located just northeast of the city, this moderately-paced, 1.9-mile out and back trail is a great option for novice hikers or those with small children. From the Craggy Dome parking lot at Milepost 364.1, take the trail to the left, which climbs through dense tunnels of blooming rhododendrons during late May or early June. Regardless of season, the windswept summit offers panoramic views of wildflowers and the nearby rock formation, Craggy Pinnacle. And wear layers: Temperatures at the top are often 20 degrees cooler than they are in the city.
Mount Pisgah Trail
At 5,721 feet, Mount Pisgah's summit is easily visible from downtown Asheville. Once the private hunting grounds of the Vanderbilt family (owners of the Biltmore Estate), the now public land southwest of the city has miles of hiking trails and campgrounds. Just over 2 miles, the moderate-to-steep namesake trail starts at a parking area located off MP 407.6 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It ascends steadily through lush hardwood forests and patches of wildflowers before ending with a final steep, rocky climb to the top. Note that from the summit, views are partially obscured by a television transmission tower, but Asheville and the nearby summits of Cold Mountain and Fryingpan Mountain are clearly visible and worth the climb.
Black Balsam HIke on Art Loeb Trail
For a short and scenic beginner-friendly hike, try Black Balsam, one of the region's mountain "balds," mountain peaks defined by grass and low-slung shrubs rather than tall forests. The 2-mile path begins at the Art Loeb Trailhead (just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 420) and winds through a balsam forest, rocky outcrops, and patches of wildflowers and blueberries. The summit is the perfect place to settle in for a picnic or watch the sun rise or set. To avoid crowds, avoid weekends in peak months. Connect into the 2-mile Graveyard Falls Trail for a longer hike complete with waterfalls.
This 3.3-mile roundtrip hike is one of the most scenic in Western North Carolina. Located in the valley just below Black Balsam Knob, the rugged path winds around streams, rhododendron, and wooden boardwalks on the way to two cascading waterfalls. In the late summer, wild blackberry and blueberry bushes are ripe with fruit that are perfect for a mid-hike snack.
Mount Mitchell State Park
At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and the surrounding Mount Mitchell State Park is just 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville. For a short hike, take the steep but scenic quarter-mile Summit Trail from the parking lot to the top, or the self-guided Balsam Nature Trail that's just under a mile. If you want a bigger challenge, opt for the 2.1-mile Deep Gap Trail, which traverses mountain ridgeline through dense forests of spruce and fir trees between the peaks of Mt. Mitchell and neighboring Mount Craig, the state's second highest mountain.
View the remains of an early 20th-century summer estate on this 3.8-mile hike along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which connects the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Located about 25 minutes from downtown Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the moderately-paced gravel road goes through dense forests—which are particularly stunning in the fall—to a rocky outcrop that offers stunning vistas to the stone ruins of Rattlesnake Lodge. The former retreat of Asheville outdoor enthusiast Dr. Chase Amber, the home has been destroyed, but the foundations of the lodge, barn, swimming pool, and other buildings remain.
Lunch Rocks Trail
For a short hike close to the city, head to Lunch Rocks Trail. Located just 15 minutes from downtown Asheville, the hike launches from the Folk Art Center—a free museum with a store and exhibition galleries highlighting the work of Southern Appalachian artists—and is the starting point of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. There is a quarter-mile trail that's fully accessible to hikers of all abilities as well as a near 5-mile trail that begins on gravel with guides to native trees. The path then winds through the forest to the Lunch Rocks/Haw Creek Overlook, a scenic rock outcrop that overlooks the Haw Creek Valley below.
This 2.5-mile out and back hike has just over 300 feet of climbing, making it ideal for beginners. The trailhead is located near Old Fort (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: Catawba Falls. One of the largest waterfalls in North Carolina, this breathtaking natural attraction cascades 100 feet down mossy outcrops. Seasoned hikers and experienced rock climbers seeking a challenge can extend the trek with the strenuous, half-mile trail to the Upper Falls. Note the route is slippery and steep, but offers an up-close view of Lower Falls.
Looking Glass Rock
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 and rises through switchbacks and patches of wildflowers before reaching the summit of large granite. For sweeping views of the Appalachians, hike past the summit to Upper Looking Glass Falls, a great spot for a short rest or a leisurely picnic.
This section of the Appalachian Trial is in the heart of the Pisgah National Forest, and is popular with experienced backpackers and recreational hikers alike. For a short excursion, try Max Patch's 1.5-mile loop, which winds through bold patches of wildflowers, wild berries, and tall grasses before reaching the summit. Offering panoramic views of Mount Mitchell and other nearby peaks, the grassy meadow is perfect for a picnic, watching the sun rise or set, or just settling in with a book or journal.
For a longer hike, take the Appalachian Trail to Lemon Gap, a white-blazed trail that starts at Max Patch Road. The 10.5-mile trail is less traversed than the shorter route and makes for a great day or thru-hike over creeks and wooden bridges. After climbing to the summit five miles in, the trail then dips through the mountain's southern slopes. Arrive early, especially on weekends, as the parking lot fills up quickly and the summit is often crowded at peak times.