Travel Info & Hiking Recommendations for North Carolina
Bordered by Virginia to the north, Tennessee to the west, South Carolina and Georgia to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, North Carolina has a diverse landscape including shorelines, a flat Coastal Plain, the rolling hills of the Piedmont and of course the rugged beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. North Carolina is consistently one of the top 10 most visited states, with a “claim to fame” including: The site of the Wright brothers’ historic first flight; The heart of the Stock Car racing world; The nation’s top sweet potato grower; and my personal favourite – the home to Krispy Kreme donuts. Also of note, is the state’s long history of providing epic filming locations for movies and TV shows… Including: The Last of the Mohicans, Dirty Dancing, One Tree Hill, Iron Man 3, Safe Haven, Homeland, The Hunger Games, and The Longest Ride, amongst others.
North Carolina is filled with natural beauty, with more than 120 tree species, a large variety of wild animals, along with 300 miles of scenic coastline (with more sandy beaches than any other Atlantic coast state except Florida). North Carolina is home to 10 national parks and close to 40 state parks. Of course, there’s also 250 miles of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway that traverses through the state as well, providing an easy way to enjoy breathtaking views from/of the Appalachians.
There’s absolutely loads of up-hill hikes to choose from! Along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina is home to Mount Mitchell State Park, Pisgah National Forest, Grandfather Mountain State Park, Elk Knob State Park, Chimney Rock State Park as well as lesser known Gorges State Park, South Mountains State Park and the Nantahala National Forest… and they’re all excellent places for up-hill hiking. At 6,684 feet (2,037 meters) above sea level, the Black Mountains’ Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in Eastern North America.
The best time to hike in the mountains of North Carolina, for warm and sunny weather, is May through September. The summer months of June, July and August are typically the warmest, with May and September having the least chance of rain while still being somewhat warm. Average daytime temperatures in the mountains are usually in the high 70s (20s Celsius) during the summer months, with the fall, winter and spring being considerably colder and accompanied with the chance of snow.
Mount Mitchell State Park featured (and recommended) hikes include:
Other recommended up-hill hiking trails in North Carolina’s Appalachan Mountains include:
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – South-west of Ashville
- Lonesome Pine Overlook (great views)
- Strenuous: 7 miles (11km) round trip
- 2300ft (700) elevation change
- Charlies Bunion (ridge walk with nice views)
- Difficult: 8 miles (13km) round trip
- 1640 feet (500m) elevation change
- Chimney Tops (steep with scrambling and nice views)
- Difficult: 4 miles (6km) round trip
- 1487 feet (450m) elevation change
- Shuckstack Fire Tower (nice wildflowers and view)
- Strenuous: 7 miles (11km) round trip
- 2120ft (646) elevation change
Pisgah National Forest – North of Ashville
- Greybeard (waterfall)
- Moderate: 10 miles (15km) return
- 2400 feet (732m) elevation change
- Colbert Ridge TR 178 (views)
- Difficult: 8 miles (12km) round trip
- 2,925 feet (892m) elevation change
- Green Knob TR 182 (look out tower)
- Difficult: 7 miles (11km) round trip
- 2,080 feet (634m) elevation change
Pisgah National Forest – South of Ashville
- Big Creek / Big Creek Trail #102 (river crossings)
- Difficult: 5 miles (7.5km) round trip?
- 9mi / 2300 ft (700m) elevation gain
- Jerry Miller TR 286 (flowers / falls / views)
- Difficult: 4.5 miles (7km) round trip?
- 2,524 feet (769m) elevation gain
- Art Loeb Trails (views)
- #1: Difficult – 12.3 miles / 1300 feet (400m) elevation change
- #2: Difficult – 7.2 miles (11.5km) / 2600 feet (800m) elevation change (360 view)
- #4: Difficult – 3.8 miles (6km) / 1800 feet (549m) elevation change
Grandfather Mountain State Park – North of Ashville
- Daniel Boone Scout Trail (highest point in park)
- Strenuous: 6 miles (10km) round trip
- 2,000 feet (610m) elevation change
- Grandfathers ‘Profile Trail’
- Strenuous: 6 miles (10km) round trip
- 1,800 feet (550m) elevation change
For those interested in multi day Backpacking, there’s the amazing Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST).
This 1,150 mile (1851 km) long trail from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks (Barrier islands – a few miles / km offshore of the mainline) is composed of 18 segments, including parts of three national parks, two national wildlife refuges, and three national forests The MST also connects to seven state parks, and includes three ferry crossings. This trail includes the tallest mountain peak and the highest sand dune in the eastern United States, and takes approximately 2,112,000 footsteps to complete. This trail showcases the state’s diverse landscape, including hardwood forests, tea-coloured swamps, fading tobacco crossroads as well as urban centers, courthouse square towns and rugged gorges, remote lighthouses (including the nations tallest) and mountain overlooks. You can hike the entire trail end to end, do multi-day segment hikes, or just hike for a day. Check out the following links for more information on the MST in North Carolina: http://www.ncmountainstosea.org/ and http://www.ncmst.org/
Also worth mentioning is the 77 miles long Foothills Trail, which travels the valleys of the Blue Ridge mountains, between North and South Carolina, just south of Gorges Park. The trail starts (Table Rock State Park) and ends (Oconee State Park) in South Carolina, with about 1/3 of the trail running through North Carolina. The variable elevation trail consists of thirteen accessible sections, and highlights Waterfalls, Gorges, Wooden Steps, Suspension Bridges, as well as South Carolina’s high point at Sassafras Mountain. For more information on the Carolinas’ Foothills Trail, check out the following link: http://foothillstrail.org/
There’s plenty of places to camp in North Carolina.
The State Parks have more than 3,000 campsites in total, which include cabins, RV sites, tent friendly campsites (including beach camping), as well as more remote ‘canoe-in’ and ‘hike-in’ sites. Reservations are strongly recommended and most can be made at www.reserveamerica.com/. More information on camping in NC state parks, follow this link: www.ncparks.gov/make-a-reservation
There’s nine campgrounds along the Blue Ridge Parkway. More information can be found at www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=19
There are also a number of private campgrounds in western North Carolina. More information can be found at http://cfaia.org/north-carolina-campgrounds-recreation-areas/
For official information on hiking in North Carolina parks, please reference the following links:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Mount Mitchell State Park
- Pisgah National Forest
- Grandfather Mountain State Park
- Elk Knob State Park
- Chimney Rock State Park
- Gorges State Park
- South Mountains State Park
- Stone Mountain State Park
- Nantahala National Forest
Other good resources for obtaining detailed trail information for hiking in western North Carolina include:
A hiking guide for NC’s Appalachians – http://www.hikewnc.info/
A local hiking club (including organized hikes you can join) – http://www.carolinamountainclub.org/index.cfm/do/home.main
Hiking Trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway – http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=40
Other things to do (besides hiking) in North Carolina:
The town of Asheville is about as ideal a home-base location for hiking as you could possibly hope for. The town is close to almost all the aforementioned parks and forests, is a beer drinkers paradise, and a Mecca for a wide variety of live music.
With multiple distillery/restaurant venues brewing over a hundred unique beers (and ciders), Ashville has been named Beer City USA almost every year since 2009 (as of 2016).
Along with Ashville’s numerous restaurants and bars/pubs hosting live music, the town also has a number of larger indoor and outdoor music venues. There’s sure to be something for everyone as the music being played includes folk, bluegrass, rock, jazz, indie, reggae and even a little symphony and Broadway type shows.
What I also found interesting was the diversity of the people living and hanging out in Asheville. It was an eclectic group of hippies, retirees, tourists along with residents and students. Most of the local stores cater to an ‘artsy’ and hippy crowd. The atmosphere of the town was akin to walking back into the early 70s – Far out man…
While in Ashville, you can visit America’s largest home, the historic Biltmore Estate, built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895. This house has 178,926 square feet of floor space, resting on 8,000 acres.
I suggest referring to the following link for more Ashville info: https://www.exploreasheville.com
From a sportsman perspective, North Carolina offers boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, golfing and even skiing. Along the coast, boaters can explore more than 5,000 miles of state waters. There’s plenty of fishing available off North Carolina’s shores in the Atlantic ocean, or in one of the many cold mountain rivers and streams inland – Fish include: Shad, crappie, catfish, trout, pickerel, carp, bass, perch, and walleye. There’s also lighthouses to visit along the coast and on the Barrier islands, a mere 3 mile (5 km) boat ride from the mainland. Then there’s the historic town of Bath, North Carolina’s oldest town, and a one-time pirate hang out.
You can take in a NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway or Rockingham Motor Speedway, visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, or a number of other Stock car related museums in the area. You can also tour the Childress, Petty or one of several other famous racing team shops.
For you history buffs… North Carolina also has a number of Civil War battlefields and monuments that are worth a visit.
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