Fall hiking trails in North Carolina are everywhere and not just in the mountains. If you’re traveling here during the months right after summer, you’ve picked the best time to visit North Carolina’s Piedmont and Coast for getting out and enjoying nature. So no matter where you plan to be hiking in North Carolina, we’ve compiled 17 of our favorite fall hikes near Asheville and the High Country, as well as other awesome parts of the state.
We think North Carolina’s hiking trails are so special that we’ve also included them in our collection of Unique Things to Do in the Tar Heel State.
Fall Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Before choosing among these North Carolina trails, you’ll want to time things just right. We’re keeping a close eye out for the latest North Carolina fall foliage map that will be released to the public soon. Here’s a nationwide fall color map to give you an idea if you’re traveling elsewhere.
Note on Distances, Access, and Safety
Anything that is not listed as a loop or if “round trip” is not mentioned, the distance is calculated one way. In order to best experience these hiking trails, we recommend that you arrive early, not leave any garbage (save the dolphins!), and be respectful of the environment. We’ll occasionally add an extra note of caution but will remind you here that safety is your responsibility when enjoying these hikes. If you’re bringing a dog along for your hike, many parks warn that they must be kept on a leash.
The Mountains are where you’ll find most of the insanely beautiful landscapes, hiking, and especially waterfalls during fall in North Carolina. If you’re looking for hikes around Asheville and other High Country spots, you’ll need at least a few days to work with. Check out these awesome places to stay in the mountains.
Moore Cove Falls
Many folks in search of the best waterfalls near Asheville are able to find tons of them in Transylvania County, which is home to Brevard. A 1.5-mile hike right off Highway 276 will lead you to Moore Cove Falls. This is one of the few in the area that you can walk behind. It’s one of our favorites and also close to popular spots like Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock.
We also created a guide to 11 must-see waterfalls near Brevard!
Blue Ridge Parkway fall travelers will find Graveyard Fields at Milepost 418 and if you’ve arrived later in the day, you’ll notice this place by all the cars parked or waiting to find an empty spot. It’s one of the most popular hikes in Pisgah National Forest and home to two waterfalls that are reachable by either a 3.5-mile hike or much shorter 1/3 of a mile long one.
Craggy Gardens is a nice spot 40 minutes outside Asheville, with the super easy 20-minute walk up to Craggy Pinnacle, which is home to one of my all-time favorite views of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s also Douglas Falls Trail (4 miles) will lead you to a 70-foot tall waterfall. The area is better known for the Catawba Rhododendrons that pop up in the spring, but I think it’s worth a trip in the fall.
Seeing the gorgeous Linville Falls from multiple viewpoints is one of our favorite things to do in the fall in North Carolina. Erwin’s View Trail is a moderate 1.6 miles that’ll take you to beautiful views of the falls and valley below. The Linville Gorge Trail takes you to the opposite side of the falls. That’s where the Gorge Trail (1.4 miles round trip) Plunge Basin Trail (1-mile round trip) will appease your more adventurous side.
Bonus Hike: Away from the Visitor’s Center and up a curvy, sometimes treacherous road, Wiseman’s View is a short walk (.2 miles), wheelchair-accessible, and home to some of the most beautiful views you’ll find of North Carolina’s mountains.
We’ve covered hiking Linville Falls in more detail here, in case you’d like more info.
Not far from Linville, Crabtree Falls is a beautiful spot just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 339.5). It’s so popular that the trail was rerouted to alleviate parking issues at the campground. To reach the 70-foot waterfall, there’s a 2.5-mile loop trail that’ll take you through hardwoods and rhododendron. It’s tempting to climb the waterfall since it’s so accessible, but don’t give into temptation. The rocks are very slippery and unforgiving.
Grandfather Mountain is home to 12 miles of trails managed by North Carolina State Parks (Free) and another section (about 720 acres) that is protected by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. The 228-foot long Mile High Swinging Bridge (Tickets Required) is easily accessible by car and elevator. You can also park below and hike to it (.7 miles).
Glen Burney Trail
Glen Burney Trail (2.1 miles) sits right outside Downtown Blowing Rock and takes you away from everything toward two beautiful falls—Glen Burney and Glen Mary. You’ll descend about 800 feet so get those legs and knees ready for a workout! Also, beware of roots and occasional muddy areas if it’s recently rained.
Bass Lake Trail
Bass Lake Trail is another hike near Boone and Blowing Rock. It is a really easy loop (.8 miles), though there are longer options including The Maze (3 miles). The loop is wheelchair-accessible and good for strollers, which is great for travel-with-baby people like us. Like to fish? This place has that available, so don’t forget your poles!
We also mentioned Glen Burney Trail and Bass Lake Trail in our guide to a weekend in Blowing Rock!
You won’t find all the best hiking trails in North Carolina in the Mountains. The Piedmont is filled with great places to get out and enjoy the fall foliage! Here are some of our favorite spots.
Hanging Rock State Park
Not far from Winston-Salem, there are over 20 miles of hiking at Hanging Rock State Park and our favorite trails include Cook’s Wall (2.2 miles) and Moore’s Wall Loop Trail (4.7 miles). The views from any of the park’s “Five Peaks” are wonderful. We prefer scoping out the scenery from Moore’s Knob (via Moore’s Wall) and Cook’s Wall.
Hanging Rock is great for a day trip but if you spend at least a weekend in Winston-Salem, you won’t have to rush and knock it all out so quickly!
Pilot Mountain State Park
Pilot Mountain is one of the state’s most famous mountains (thanks, Andy Griffith). Drivers on I-77 and other highways can easily recognize Big Pinnacle from miles away. Hiking the Little Pinnacle Overlook Trail (.1 miles) will give you a quick and perfect look at Big Pinnacle. There are more trails here that are hiker- and even horse-friendly. Just be sure to stop by Mount Airy nearby for a stroll through Mayberry.
Morrow Mountain State Park
About an hour outside of Charlotte, Morrow Mountain is another one where you can drive to the top. There are 15 miles of hiking that you can enjoy there, with the Fall Mountain Trail (4 miles) and the Mountain Loop Trail (.8 miles) among the most popular. Views are pretty nice from the huge paved area that serves as the peak.
We’ve also included Morrow Mountain in our guide to your weekend in Charlotte.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Hillsborough is an awesome small town in the Research Triangle for a bunch of reasons already, but Occoneechee Mountain has nudged it closer to the top. Speaking of the top, the Overlook Trail (.8 miles) connects to the Mountain Loop Trail (2.2 Miles) and will take you to a nice peak. There, you can see the Eno River below. Also, you can walk down and check out a quarry and stare up at the peak. This place is special in many ways. Another reason is the animals and tree species that you’ll see, which are typically found in the mountains.
Eno River State Park
Hiking in Durham’s Eno River State Park is one of our favorite outdoor things to do in the Bull City and such a great escape from it all. Cox Mountain Trail (3.75 miles round trip) and Pump Station (1.5 miles round trip) are two of our favorites. A lot of people head to Cox Mountain to dip their feet in the river. On hot days, tons of people head to the Eno Quarry for a little more thrilling swim time. Eno River State Park features prominently in our weekend in Durham guide!
Note: Be careful and stay safe when heading to Eno Quarry, as the water is 70-feet deep and underwater hazards are very well documented.
William B. Umstead State Park
Just off Highway 70/Glenwood Ave. in Raleigh, you’ll find William B. Umstead State Park. It’s within earshot of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. You’ll hear planes passing over every now and then at Umstead. However, it’s easy to feel like you’re very far away from the busy city when exploring the trails here. Sycamore (7.2 miles round trip) and Sal’s Branch (2.8 miles round trip) are our favorites for beautiful tree-covered walks. In the latter’s case, for some time staring at Big Lake.
Raven Rock State Park
On the eastern edge of the Piedmont and near Lillington, Raven Rock State Park is popular for hikers seeking a look at the famed Cape Fear River. Campbell Creek Loop Trail (5 miles) will take you to a nice view of the river. The Raven Rock Loop Trail (2.6 miles) will lead you to an overlook standing 350 feet above the river.
Whoever said there wasn’t good hiking in Eastern NC has probably never ventured far from their beach chair. Sure, most people come to the North Carolina Coast for the sand, surf, and doughnuts and we do, too, but not always. We’re also fans of hikes here, especially later in the year when it’s cooled off a bit.
Croatan National Forest
Croatan National Forest is about a half hour drive from New Bern and really popular for its beaches on the Neuse River and for camping during holiday weekends. Hiking trails are also pretty well known here. Some cool ones include Flanners Beach (1 mile with optional 5-mile addition) and Patsy Pond Nature Trail (3 loops ranging from .75 miles to 1.9 miles). The most challenging hiking at Croatan is Neusiok Trail (20 miles). It starts at the beaches of the Neuse and takes you to the Newport River.
Croatan is typically included in our weekends in New Bern.
Nags Head Woods
Found between Jockeys Ridge and the Wright Brothers Memorial in The Outer Banks, Nags Head Woods is a Nature Preserve and home to over five miles of trails. Sweetgum Swamp Tail (3.4 miles round trip) is the most popular path, though many folks also like the Discovery Trail to Roanoke Trail Loop. There’s even the ADA Trail (.5 miles round trip), made of boardwalk and concrete to be completely accessible!
We know you’re already convinced that a weekend in The Outer Banks is worth it. Just so you know, we also mentioned Nags Head Woods and other fun things to do in our off season guide to the Outer Banks!
Whether you’re backpacking North Carolina’s long hiking trails or looking for a short loop near one of our cities or small towns, these hikes should have you covered during fall. If you get to check one of these places out in the future, we’d love to hear about your experience. Also, if you’ve ever gone hiking in the Tar Heel State, where is your favorite trail for checking out the scenery? We’d love to know about it and even check it out if it’s not on this list!