Hiking in North Carolina: Discover the Natural Splendor of the Tar Heel State

  • 6 min read
  • Jul 25, 2023

Hiking in North Carolina: Discover the Natural Splendor of the Tar Heel State

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If you’re a nature enthusiast looking for an exciting outdoor adventure, North Carolina is the perfect destination for hiking. With its diverse landscapes, breathtaking scenery, and an extensive network of trails, the Tar Heel State offers a plethora of opportunities for hikers of all levels. From rugged mountains to coastal plains, North Carolina has it all. In this article, we will explore the wonders of hiking in North Carolina and discover some of the best trails and destinations that will leave you in awe of nature’s beauty.

1. Why Choose North Carolina for Hiking?

North Carolina is a haven for hikers, and there are several reasons why this state stands out as a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts:

  • The Great Smoky Mountains
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway
  • The Outer Banks
  • The Appalachian Trail
  • The Pisgah National Forest

These are just a few examples of the natural wonders that await you in North Carolina. From challenging mountain hikes to serene coastal trails, the state offers a diverse range of landscapes that cater to every hiker’s preferences.

1.1 Exploring the Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Spanning over 800 square miles, this national park offers endless opportunities for exploration. With over 850 miles of trails, ranging from easy strolls to strenuous treks, hikers can truly immerse themselves in the beauty of this majestic mountain range.

1.1.1 Alum Cave Trail

The Alum Cave Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 5-mile round trip takes you through lush forests, picturesque streams, and breathtaking views. The highlight of the trail is the Alum Cave Bluffs, a massive concave rock formation that offers a unique and awe-inspiring sight.

1.1.2 Mount LeConte

If you’re up for a challenge, hiking to Mount LeConte should be on your bucket list. Standing at an elevation of 6,593 feet, Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains. The hike to the summit is grueling but rewarding, with stunning panoramic views that make it all worthwhile.

1.2 Driving Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive that connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Stretching over 469 miles, this iconic roadway offers breathtaking vistas, charming roadside attractions, and easy access to some of the best hiking trails in the region.

1.2.1 Linville Gorge

Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Gorge is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” This stunning gorge is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with numerous hiking trails that lead to breathtaking viewpoints and cascading waterfalls. The Linville Gorge Trail is a favorite among hikers, offering challenging terrain and spectacular scenery.

1.2.2 Craggy Gardens

Craggy Gardens is another must-visit destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Known for its vibrant rhododendron blooms in the spring and stunning panoramic views, Craggy Gardens offers a variety of hiking trails suitable for all skill levels. The Craggy Pinnacle Trail is a short but rewarding hike that takes you to an overlook with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.

2. The Appalachian Trail: A Hiker’s Dream

The Appalachian Trail is a legendary long-distance trail that spans over 2,000 miles, from Georgia to Maine. North Carolina is home to a significant portion of this iconic trail, offering hikers the chance to experience a small part of this epic journey.

2.1 Roan Highlands

The Roan Highlands is a section of the Appalachian Trail known for its stunningly beautiful balds. These grassy mountaintops offer expansive views of the surrounding landscape and are a sight to behold, especially during the spring and summer months when they are adorned with colorful wildflowers.

2.1.1 Carver’s Gap to Roan High Knob

The hike from Carver’s Gap to Roan High Knob is a popular section of the Roan Highlands. This 7-mile out-and-back trail takes you through open meadows, spruce-fir forests, and showcases some of the most breathtaking views along the Appalachian Trail.

2.1.2 Grassy Ridge Bald

Grassy Ridge Bald is a highlight of the Roan Highlands, offering panoramic views that will leave you speechless. The hike to Grassy Ridge Bald is relatively easy, making it accessible for hikers of all levels. On a clear day, you can see for miles and witness the splendor of the mountains stretching into the distance.

3. Coastal Hiking in the Outer Banks

While North Carolina is known for its mountains, the state’s coastal region also offers unique and picturesque hiking opportunities. The Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands, is a popular destination for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts. However, it’s also a great place to lace up your hiking boots and explore the natural beauty of the coastline.

3.1 Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is home to the tallest active sand dune system on the East Coast. Hiking on the shifting sands of Jockey’s Ridge is a unique experience, offering sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding coastal landscape. Be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water, as the sand can get scorching hot during the summer months.

3.1.1 Soundside Nature Trail

The Soundside Nature Trail is a short but scenic loop trail that takes you through maritime forests and picturesque marshes. This easy hike offers a peaceful escape from the bustling beach scene and allows you to observe the rich biodiversity of the Outer Banks.

3.1.2 East Coast’s Best Sunsets

One of the highlights of hiking in the Outer Banks is witnessing some of the most breathtaking sunsets on the East Coast. Whether you’re hiking along the beach or exploring the coastal trails, make sure to find a spot to sit back, relax, and enjoy the magic of the sun setting over the horizon.

3.2 Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a protected stretch of barrier islands that offers a unique coastal hiking experience. With miles of pristine beaches, rolling sand dunes, and historic lighthouses, this national seashore is a paradise for hikers who want to explore the natural and cultural heritage of the Outer Banks.

3.2.1 Buxton Woods Nature Trail

The Buxton Woods Nature Trail is a hidden gem within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This 2.5-mile loop trail winds through a maritime forest, showcasing the unique ecosystem and providing glimpses of wildlife along the way. It’s a tranquil escape from the bustling beach scene and offers a chance to connect with nature in a peaceful setting.

3.2.2 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

No visit to Cape Hatteras National Seashore is complete without a visit to the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. While you can’t hike to the top of the lighthouse, you can explore the surrounding trails and admire this historic structure from various viewpoints. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a symbol of the Outer Banks and serves as a testament to the area’s rich maritime history.

4. The Enchanting Beauty of Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is a vast wilderness located in the western part of North Carolina. With over 500,000 acres of land, this forest offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, fishing, and more.

4.1 Waterfalls Galore

Pisgah National Forest is renowned for its stunning waterfalls, which attract visitors from near and far. From towering cascades to hidden gems, here are a few must-visit waterfalls in Pisgah:

  • Looking Glass Falls
  • Sliding Rock
  • Triple Falls
  • Crabtree Falls
  • Linville Falls

Each waterfall offers its own unique charm and can be accessed via various hiking trails within the Pisgah National Forest.

4.2 The Beauty of Linville Gorge

Linville Gorge, also known as the “Grand Canyon of North Carolina,” is a rugged and breathtakingly beautiful wilderness area within Pisgah National Forest. Hiking in Linville Gorge is a thrilling experience, with challenging terrain, steep cliffs, and panoramic views that will leave you in awe.

4.2.1 Table Rock Mountain

Table Rock Mountain is a prominent landmark in Linville Gorge, offering staggering views of the surrounding landscape. The hike to the summit is challenging but rewarding, with the opportunity to witness a stunning sunrise or sunset from the top.

4.2.2 Shortoff Mountain

Shortoff Mountain is another popular destination within Linville Gorge. This hike offers sweeping views of the gorge and Lake James, providing a picturesque backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts. The trail to Shortoff Mountain is rugged and requires careful navigation, making it suitable for experienced hikers.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is hiking in North Carolina suitable for beginners?

Yes, North Carolina offers a wide range of hiking trails suitable for beginners. From easy nature walks to short day hikes, there are plenty of options for those new to hiking.

2. What is the best time to go hiking in North Carolina?

The best time to go hiking in North Carolina depends on the region and the trail you choose. Spring and fall offer pleasant temperatures and beautiful scenery, while summer is a great time to explore the higher elevations to escape the heat. However, be aware of weather conditions and prepare accordingly.

3. Are there any hiking clubs or groups in North Carolina?

Yes, North Carolina has a vibrant hiking community with several clubs and groups that organize hikes and other outdoor activities. Joining a hiking club can be a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and explore new trails.

4. Are there any restrictions or permits required for hiking in North Carolina?

While most hiking trails in North Carolina are free and open to the public, some areas, such as national parks or wilderness areas, may have certain restrictions or require permits for overnight camping. It’s important to check the regulations for each specific trail or area before you go.

5. What should I pack for a hiking trip in North Carolina?

When packing for a hiking trip in North Carolina, it’s essential to be prepared for changing weather conditions and varying terrain. Some essential items to pack include proper hiking boots, layers of clothing, a map and compass or GPS device, plenty of water, snacks, a first aid kit, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

6. Can I bring my dog on hiking trails in North Carolina?

Many hiking trails in North Carolina are dog-friendly, but it’s important to check the specific trail regulations before bringing your furry friend along. Keep in mind that some trails may require dogs to be on a leash, and it’s crucial to clean up after your pet and be respectful of other hikers.


Hiking in North Carolina is a truly unforgettable experience. Whether you’re exploring the majestic mountains of the Great Smokies, wandering along the scenic coastal trails of the Outer Banks, or immersing yourself in the enchanting beauty of Pisgah National Forest, the Tar Heel State has something to offer every hiker. With its diverse landscapes

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