North Carolina is a dream for any explorer. From some of the highest peaks on the east coast to trails that lead you beside rushing waterfalls, and even coastal habitats where you might spot a Venus fly trap or two – it’s no surprise some of the best hiking trails ever can be discovered here.
1. Grandfather Trail
Grandfather Trail might have a reputation for being one of the most dangerous hikes in North Carolina but that doesn’t stop plenty of people conquering fears and reaching the top by way of one of the 16 ladders. Scaling Grandfather’s Profile takes 2.4-miles with the endpoint at Calloway Peak – one of the highest vistas in the Blue Ridge at 5,946 ft.
2. Linville Gorge
Also known as ‘The Grand Canyon of the East,’ Linville Gorge is home to some 38 miles of hiking trails weaving you in-and-out of the rugged mountain scenery. Each trail offers something a bit different; the more remote trails are a utopia for backpackers. The easiest (yet still rewarding) is the 1.2 mile Table Rock Summit Trail that leads you to the 3,930 ft rocky overlook offer 360-degree views of Linville Gorge. Backpackers love the hard yet rewarding Linville Trail, spanning 11.5 miles. You’ll see most of the Gorge while spending a long weekend in this remote haven.
3. Mountains-to-Sea Trail
The completion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) was highly anticipated and today takes hikers on an Appalachian Trail-esque journey through North Carolina. You’ll venture through 37 counties and four national parks. The MST ascends the highest peak east of the Mississippi and the highest sand dune on the east coast. It connects to 10 state parks and includes two ferry rides and three lighthouses. In total it takes 2,112,000 footsteps to complete.
4. Appalachian Trail
As the mecca of eastern U.S hiking, the Appalachian trail spans 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine. The journey offers some of the most gorgeous views of not just the east coast, but North Carolina. Points of interest include Clingman’s Dome, Lovers Leap Loop, Fontana Dam, and Max Patch, a 2.6 mi. hike that takes you to a grassy summit with 360-degree mountain views.
5. Craggy Gardens
Only a short distance from the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook, an enchanted 1.4-mile hike through rows of twirling rhododendrons and old-growth trees might have you believing you’ve entered a fairytale. While many come in late spring for the blooms, Craggy Gardens is beautiful year-round. Once you’ve reached the top, you’re treated to panoramic views of some of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge and two separate overlooks to take it all in.
6. DuPont State Forest
DuPont State Forest is filled with gorgeous hiking trails ranging from .5 miles to 6 miles, often leading to one of the many waterfalls in this enchanting forest. From the breathtaking High Falls to the cascading Triple Falls, it’s worth spending a day or whole weekend here.
7. Croatoan National Forest
On the other side of the state, Croatoan National Forest is home to gorgeous hiking trails that weave you in and out of coastal scenery. Each trail offers something different. Cedar Creek Trail leads you through tidal marshland. On the Neusiok Trail, you might just want to spend a weekend as it’s the longest backpacking trail on the coast. The Island Creek Forest Walk lets you experience untouched coastal Forest while Patsy Pond tucks you amongst beautiful, tall pines. Together the trails total 31 miles.
8. Carver’s Gap, Roan Mountain
While Roan Mountain is home to several different trails that ascend you up different vistas of the massif (like the Cloudland Trail), Carver’s Gap is a true adventure. Intersecting with the Appalachian Trail, you’ll climb 400 feet in just 3/4 of a mile, all while being surrounded by grassy balds and panoramic views.
9. Whiteside Mountain Trail
Only appearing twice a year (in early spring and late fall) The Shadow of the Bear attracts hikers and view-seekers from all over. While easily viewed from an overlook, take the journey to make it worth it. The brisk, 2.5 mile Whiteside Mountain Trail takes you to a 700 ft. breathtaking cliff.
10. Old Mitchell Trail
While you can easily drive to the top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi, it’s so much cooler to say you’ve climbed to the top. The 4-mile Old Mitchell Trail is a journey through ever-changing ecosystems and rare plant life, you’ll also pass the historic Camp Alice.
11. Moore’s Wall Loop Trail, Hanging Rock
The 4.3-mile hike to the top of Hanging Rock is a well worth-it journey. For a Blue Ridge feel right in the Piedmont, the hike treats you with several rocky outcrop views until you reach your destination. At the top, there are several rocks to dangle yourself over the edge of it all or cozy up for a picnic and some photos.
North Carolina is so beautiful and there are SO many hiking trails it’s hard to decide just which ones to try first – but this is a pretty good bucket list. Which ones have you done, which ones would you like to try?