Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on November 3, 2023.
The Linville Gorge (aka The Gorge) is home to some of North Carolina‘s toughest hiking trails. While it’s not easy, the Hawksbill Mountain trail is just over 1 mile (1.1 miles and 2.2 miles roundtrip), with an elevation gain of 700 feet.
Its rocky peak offers stunning views of the Linville Gorge, including surrounding highlights such as:
While it’s just over a mile to the top, we created this guide to prepare you as much as possible. Our guide features everything you’ll need to know about hiking the Hawksbill Mountain trail, from start to finish.
Here’s how we’ve organized this guide:
- Hawksbill Mountain Overview
- Where is Hawksbill Mountain?
- Leave No Trace Reminder
- Safety Reminder
- Hiking the Table Rock Mountain Trail (from Start to Finish)
- Hawksbill Mountain Trail FAQ
- More Linville Gorge Things to Do and Hikes (Our Picks and Related Posts)
Hawksbill Mountain Trail NC Overview
Hawksbill Mountain is a picturesque peak, reminiscent of a hawk’s bill, hence the name.
You can reach the top of Hawksbill Mountain via a moderate to strenuous, not technical trail. Based on my experiences, the Hawksbill Mountain Trail is easier than Table Rock Mountain because it gradually climbs until the final pre-peak section.
During the hike, you’ll gain about 700 feet in elevation, making it a moderately steep trail overall.
The Hawksbill Mountain Trail is 1.1 miles one way (2.2 miles roundtrip) and takes you to the summit at 4,009 feet, with incredible sweeping views.
On a clear day, you can see the beautiful Linville Gorge and its surroundings! Of course, we’ll share more details about the Hawksbill Mountain Trail below.
Where is Hawksbill Mountain?
Hawksbill Mountain is within a two-hour trip from many places in Western North Carolina, including the following:
- Banner Elk (40 minutes)
- Spruce Pine (40 minutes)
- Morganton (45 minutes)
- Blowing Rock (50 minutes)
- Little Switzerland (50 minutes)
- Marion (55 minutes)
- Burnsville (1 hour)
- Black Mountain (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Hickory (1 hour 15 minutes)
- Asheville (1 hour 30 minutes)
- Wilkesboro (1 hour 30 minutes)
Driving Directions to Hawksbill Mountain Trail
Driving directions vary depending on where you’re traveling from.
- From Asheville and Morganton: If you’re driving up from Asheville and Morganton, you’ll follow NC-181 N to Gingercake Rd, which we’ll mention shortly.
- From Boone, NC-105 will lead you to NC-181 S, as you’ll arrive at Gingercake Rd if you travel from Asheville.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of driving directions from Asheville to Gingercake Rd if you’re traveling east on I-40 from Asheville:
- Take exit 72 (Old Fort) and follow US-70 to US-221 North to Linville Falls.
- Next, you’ll take Highway 183 S to NC-181 S.
- Continue three miles south to Gingercake Rd.
From Gingercake Rd:
- Half a mile from Gingercake Rd, you’ll see a Table Rock sign directing you to Forest Service Road 1264.
- Follow the bumpy gravel road 3 miles to the Hawksbill Mountain Trailhead.
*note that 4WD vehicles are preferred, but our Prius has successfully navigated this road with much caution.
Leave No Trace Reminder Before You Hike
While hiking the Hawksbill Mountain Trail and elsewhere in the Linville Gorge, please leave no trace. Pack in and out, and please do not litter in our beloved public spaces.
If you’d like to lend a helping hand, bring a grocery bag and pick up any trash you see!
Safety is your responsibility when enjoying a hike to the top of Hawksbill Mountain. Please stay on the trail, as steep dropoffs could lead to serious injury (or death).
Another reason to stay on the trail is to protect the delicate ecosystems that can suffer damage from informal trails (or social trails).
Because Forest Service Road 1264 is a long series of bumps and curves, emergency workers will have a tough time reaching you in case of an emergency, especially during inclement weather conditions.
Caution is heavily recommended in the Linville Gorge as it is not as well-marked or as well-maintained as other parks.
If you’re unsure about the hike, the weather, and/or your ability to complete it or the drive up, the kind folks at Discover Burke County will happily answer your questions.
When to Visit
We think the Hawksbill Mountain Trail is a wonderful place to hike throughout the year, especially during the fall when the leaves are beginning to change color. Summer is also nice, but we recommend early morning or late afternoon since the views could be limited by haze.
Winter views of the Linville Gorge are the clearest, but the scenery is less green and foliage is more of a brownish color. Of course, inclement weather would make a hike difficult, unless you properly prepare equipment-wise and have experience.
Regardless, we think you should visit any time you want and whenever the weather cooperates.
Hiking the Hawksbill Mountain Trail (From Start to Finish)
Driving directions, Safety, leaving no trace, and planning when to visit are all crucial. However, it’s most important to understand the Hawksbill Mountain trail from start to finish.
Here’s a breakdown of the hike.
- Hiking to the top of Hawksbill Mountain is a somewhat technical, moderate-to-strenuous trail. It’ll take you 1.1 miles to reach the top, which stands tall at 4,009 feet.
- You’ll start at the trailhead and venture into a hardwood forest.
- At 0.2 miles, you’ll begin a switchback.
- A small cave will greet you at 0.3 miles into the hike.
- As you begin a steady and gradual incline, this hike section will be rocky, surrounded by rhododendrons and mountain laurels.
- At 0.5 miles, you’ll recognize a nice view to the right.
- Switchbacks will take you to about 0.7 miles and a junction. Turn left to stay on the Hawksbill Mountain Trail.
- This is when the hike becomes more difficult, with more strenuous inclines. The good news is that you’re close to the peak of Hawksbill Mountain.
- At about 1 mile, you’ll reach the top. You might recognize the sound of gushing water. That is the powerful cascades of Linville Falls in the distance.
- There are multiple options from here, including the following:
- Turn left (south) for views of Table Rock Mountain, the Chimneys, Shortoff Mountain, and portions of Lake James.
- Turn right (north) for excellent views to the north.
- These additional views round out the 1.1 miles total of this hike.
- After enjoying these epic views for as long as you’d like, you can backtrack to the parking lot to complete the 2.2-mile hike.
Hawksbill Mountain Trail FAQ
Are there any facilities available for Hawksbill Mountain Trail?
There is ample parking along the road next to the trailhead. Please park only in designated parking areas. Otherwise, there are no additional facilities available.
How hard is it to hike the Hawksbill Mountain Trail?
The Hawksbill Mountain Trail is a moderate-to-strenuous trail and takes about 1 hour 20 minutes to complete, with no stops. Please stretch before and after the hike, bring a snack, and stay hydrated.
Is the Hawksbill Mountain Tril a Kid-Friendly Hike?
The Hawksbill Mountain Trail is manageable for kids, as long as they have proper guidance and can handle heights.
We personally wouldn’t call this a kid-friendly trail since the top has ledges that could be dangerous. That being said, you know your children and their limits, so use your best judgment, and always feel free to ask us more questions!
Where to Stay
There are plenty of great accommodations in Morganton, including the Fairfield Inn and Suites downtown. We’ve stayed there a few times and have always enjoyed our stays.
Camping is allowed inside Linville Gorge for those looking for a more rustic experience. A permit is required on weekends and holidays, obtained from the Grandfather Ranger District Office in Nebo.
Ready to Hike the Hawksbill Mountain Trail NC?
The views alone at Hawksbill Mountain make this one of our favorite hikes in NC. Considering those 360-degree vistas and the sights along the way, any experienced hiker should spend time on this mountain at least once.
Have you ever been lucky enough to hike the Hawksbill Mountain Trail? We’d love to know about your experiences here and elsewhere around the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area of North Carolina!
More Linville Gorge Things to Do and Hikes
The Linville Gorge is the perfect place for rock climbing, hunting, and fishing, too. However, hiking is the most popular outdoor activity in this rugged wonderland.
Other popular hikes in the Linville Gorge Wilderness include:
For a view without a hike (but a bumpy drive!), check out Wiseman’s View.
These NC travel guides share more about the area that includes Hawksbill Mountain.