10 Best Hikes in North Carolina
Not only is North Carolina home to a large stretch of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, but it also has some of the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi River. With such an incredible variety of landscapes in one state, it’s no surprise that you’ll also find plenty of breathtakingly beautiful hiking trails. If you’re interested in doing some hiking in the state, be sure to add a few of these best hikes in North Carolina to your list!
1. Mountains-to-Sea Trail
As the name suggests, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail takes you from the Great Smoky Mountains in the western part of the state to the Outer Banks in the eastern part. While you certainly won’t be able to do the entire 1,175-mile trail in one day, there are sections that make outstanding day hikes.
The trail is broken down into 18 segments and even includes an alternate route that lets you paddle on the Neuse River. It also goes through three national forests, connects to 10 state parks, travels through two national wildlife refuges, and passes through four national parks.
The trail perfectly showcases the diverse natural beauty throughout the state, which is why any portion that you can hike will be well worth your time.
2. Linville Gorge Wilderness Area
Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” because of its rugged cliffs. The wilderness area lies entirely within the Pisgah National Forest and is home to around 39 miles of hiking trails that all offer something different.
If you like waterfalls, check out the trails that take you to Linville Falls, a spectacular three-tiered waterfall that plunges into Linville Gorge. The first section is the 1.6-mile round trip Erwins View Trail. It takes you to four overlooks for amazing views of the falls.
The first part of the trail is relatively flat and good for beginners. If you decide to hike up to Chimney View for an impressive look at both the upper and lower falls, keep in mind that the trail gets steep and strenuous.
Erwins View Trail ends at Erwins View Overlook. Although it offers a bit of a challenge to get up there, this vantage point gives you a panoramic view of Linville Gorge and the upper and lower falls.
3. Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell is the highest point in North Carolina, so you know you can enjoy some breathtaking views from the top of this peak. Although you can easily drive to the summit and take the 280-yard paved trail to the observation platform, it’s definitely more of an accomplishment to say that you hiked to the top.
You have two trail options for reaching the summit. The 6-mile Mount Mitchell Trail begins in the Black Mountain Campground and ends at the peak. Plan for about 4.5 hours of strenuous hiking to reach the summit and 3.5 hours for the return hike.
If you don’t have that kind of time, you can take the 2.2-mile Old Mitchell Trail. This trail was mainly used by explorers in the late 1800s and early 1900s to reach the top of Mount Mitchell.
4. Fort Macon State Park
Fort Macon State Park is located at the eastern tip of Bogue Banks and almost completely surrounded by water. If you’re interested in doing some beach hiking, this is the place to go.
The park has over 1.5 miles of ocean beach that’s always available for hikes. As you walk along the sand, keep your eyes on the water and the sky. You might catch dolphins playing in the ocean or see some of the 302 different species of birds found in the park.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ecosystems in the area, check out the 3.2-mile round trip Elliott Coues Nature Trail. This trail connects the fort with the beach by traveling along the marsh, through a maritime forest, and across sand dunes.
Related: The Best Hiking Trails in Florida
5. Gorges State Park
Gorges State Park is part of a large stretch of conservation lands in North Carolina that’s just above the South Carolina state line. The park itself is nestled in the midst of towering rock walls, rugged gorges, and plunging waterfalls.
The park has a dazzling array of trails with difficulty options that will challenge all hikers. One of the most popular is the 1.5-mile Rainbow Falls Trail. The trail takes you to the enormous Rainbow Falls, which tumbles 150 feet over a steep cliff to a large pool below. When sunlight hits the cloud of mist created by the waterfall, you’ll instantly see how it got its name.
For amazing views of the park, check out the 0.4-mile Bearwallow Valley Trail. Although this trail is short, it offers a moderate hike to the Bearwallow Valley observation deck. Here you’ll enjoy scenic views of the rolling mountains. If the weather is nice, you might even see Lake Jocassee.
6. Croatan National Forest
Located along the Atlantic coast, Croatan National Forest is one of four National Forests in North Carolina and the only proper coastal forest in the eastern part of the country. Among the 160,000 acres of protected land here you’ll find pine forests, bogs, saltwater estuaries, and raised swamps.
You’ll also discover plenty of hiking trails in the forest, including a section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Another popular option in the forest is the 21-mile Neusiok Trail. This trail winds from a sandy beach on the Neuse River to the salt marshes on the Newport River.
If you’re looking for something a little shorter, the 1.9-mile Cedar Point Tideland loop trail takes you through a salt marsh and coastal forest.
7. Chimney Rock State Park
Although most people visit Chimney Rock State Park to take in the dramatic views from the top of the iconic 315-foot spire that overlooks Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure, the park has a total of 10 hiking trails worth exploring.
If it’s views you’re after, you have several options available. Even though Exclamation Point Trail is only 0.6 miles long, this moderate-to-strenuous hike is almost entirely uphill and climbs about 150 vertical feet. Of course, once you reach the top, you’ll discover the views are well worth the effort.
If your legs aren’t tired yet, you can continue onto Skyline Trail. This out-and-back trail is about 2.2 miles round trip and should take you around 2.5 hours to complete.
Along the way, you’ll take in stunning views from Peregrine’s Point. At the end of the trail, you’ll get a view of Falls Creek before it plunges 404 feet over a cliff as Hickory Nut Falls.
Once you see the top of Falls Creek, head back down and take the 1.4-mile round trip Hickory Nut Falls Trail to the base of the waterfall.
If you need a child-friendly hike in the park, check out the 0.6-mile Great Woodland Adventure Trail. This easy interpretive trail will teach you about the animal residents of the park using interactive sculptures and displays.
8. Andrews Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Since Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, it should come as no surprise that this area has some of the best hikes in North Carolina. Of course, with a park as big as Great Smoky Mountains, it might be hard to decide which trails to tackle.
You could check out the easy, family-friendly trails around Oconaluftee Visitor Center, or you could see the gorgeous waterfalls along Deep Creek near Bryson City.
However, if your goal is to soak in those incredible mountain views, you can’t beat the hike to Andrews Bald. The hike begins at the Clingmans Dome parking lot. From there, you’ll take the 1.8-mile Forney Ridge Trail to the bald.
Once you’re at the bald, you’ll enjoy expansive views of the Smokies. It’s also an ideal place to spread and blanket and have a picnic!
9. DuPont State Recreational Forest
With its lush forests and countless waterfalls, DuPont State Recreational Forest is an outdoor lover’s dream. If you’re interested in an easy hike to some waterfalls, check out the Triple Falls Trail.
You’ll start at the parking lot on Staton Road and hike about 7 minutes upstream to view the three waterfalls that make up Triple Falls. If you want to extend your hike even further, continue on the trail another 15 minutes to view the gorgeous High Falls.
If mountain views are more your thing, the 3,620-foot Stone Mountain located in the far northeast corner of the forest is for you. As the tallest mountain in the DuPont State Recreational Forest, it offers 180-degree views in the summer and almost 360-degree views in the winter.
You have two options for reaching the summit of Stone Mountain. The first option is to park on Old CCC Road and take Rocky Ridge Trail until it intersects with Stone Mountain Trail. This hike is longer (4.5 miles round trip) and you’ll gain approximately 1,100 feet in elevation.
Your second option is to park on Sky Valley Road. Again, you’ll take Rocky Ridge Trail until it intersects with Stone Mountain Trail. However, since you’re coming from the opposite direction, the trail is shorter (2.4 miles round trip) and you’re gaining about 600 feet in elevation.
10. Hanging Rock State Park
Located in the northern part of the state close to the Virginia border, Hanging Rock State Park is known for its iconic rocky outcrop and spectacular views.
One of the park’s most popular trails is Hanging Rock Trail. This 1.3-mile trail gradually gains elevation as it reaches the top of the namesake rock formation and provides sensational views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Lake Trail offers an easy 1-mile hike around the edge of the park’s lake. Another charming trail to consider is the 0.4-mile Lower Cascades Trail. This trail starts by going through the forest before descending a steep staircase to the base of a waterfall that tumbles 35 feet down a naturally carved stone wall into a large pool.
Best Hikes in North Carolina
North Carolina is a truly beautiful state with plenty of diverse landscapes to explore. The next time you’re interested in doing some trekking around the state, be sure to check out a few of these best hikes in North Carolina.
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