Last Updated on June 3, 2021
Last Updated on June 3, 2021
We’re always searching for the best hiking trails in North Carolina, even those not found in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains out west. As we’ve discovered, hiking in the Central and Eastern parts of our state is pretty fun, too.
Because North Carolina is filled with perfect nature trails for hiking, greenways for cycling, and walks to waterfalls that will keep you out and enjoying the outdoors. And it’s not just reserved for fall, as you’ll find when traveling here during the summer and spring, and also during winter.
So no matter where, when, or what places you plan to visit in North Carolina, we’ve compiled more than 70 of our favorite hikes near Asheville and its surroundings, and elsewhere throughout the state.
The Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina (by Region)
Before getting into these bucket list-worthy hikes, please read the sections on “Fall Foliage” and “Access and Safety.” But if you’d like to jump ahead to a specific area of North Carolina, here’s how we’ve organized things:
- Statewide (Mountains to Sea Trail)
- Western North Carolina Hiking Trails
- Central North Carolina Hiking Trails
- Eastern North Carolina Hiking Trails
Our travel map offers visual travelers a look at each hiking trail in North Carolina.
Fall Foliage Note
Before choosing among these North Carolina trails, you’ll want to time things just right. Here’s a nationwide fall color map to give you an idea if you’re traveling to North Carolina during this time of year.
Access and Safety Notes
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.
Hiking Trails in North Carolina
For each hike (except the Mountains to Sea Trail), we’ve included either the county, town, or city where you’ll find these hikes. For anything not listed as a loop or if “round trip” is not mentioned, the distance is calculated one way. If the trail is blazed, we will include the identifying color and shape (Ex. 2 miles, White Square).
Mountains to Sea Trail
You can pass through many of the best hiking trails in North Carolina via the circular white-blazed Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). More than 1,000 miles of trails and beautiful places await throughout this epic collection of trails.
The MST starts in the Great Smoky Mountains (Clingmans Dome) and continues east through the mountains before moving through Central and Eastern North Carolina and ending at Jockeys Ridge in the Outer Banks.
Hiking Trails in Western North Carolina
The Mountains of Western North Carolina are where you’ll find most of the insanely beautiful landscapes and, of course, waterfalls when hiking in North Carolina.
Bass Lake Trail
Bass Lake Trail is an awesome hike near Blowing Rock and Boone. It is a really easy loop (0.8 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!
If you’re staying at Chetola Resort, you can reach this hike via trail from our favorite High Country getaway!
Bearwallow Mountain is primarily an operational, protected farm that doubles as an awesome hike near Asheville at 4,232 feet above sea level. We’re grateful for both the farm’s owners and Conserving Carolina for making this a place that visitors can come and visit.
It’s also one of the easiest-to-access hiking trails in North Carolina and one mile to the top. There, you’ll enjoy a grassy meadow, which offers epic 360-degree views of mountain peaks like Mount Mitchell and Mount Pisgah.
Black Balsam Knob
During this hike, you’ll encounter balds, which are strange for the Blue Ridge Mountains. Continue another half-mile to reach the top of Black Balsam Knob.
You can add more time and distance to your hike by continuing for another half-mile to Tennet Mountain. It sits at a similar elevation and offers gorgeous views as well.
Boone Fork Trail
Boone Fork Trail is a 5-mile loop that crosses its namesake river more than a few times. It’ll take you through diverse terrains, with flower patches, foliage, and swimming holes scattered along the way.
Start at the parking lot of Julian Price Memorial Park, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (MM 296.4).
The Broad River Greenway
The Broad River Greenway’s 1,500 acres of nature run along both sides of the water that passes through Cleveland County.
The First Broad River Trail in Shelby is one of the best in the system. It’s a 1.5-mile moderate walk that takes you along the slowly drifting water. It runs under a massive and historic wooden railroad trestle. But first, you have to cross a beautiful 120-foot suspension bridge.
Explore this greenway during any weekend in Cleveland County and enjoy one of our favorite spots in the state. It’s also part of the Carolina Thread Trail that connects 15 counties in North and South Carolina.
Located just 26 miles east of Asheville in Old Fort is Catawba Falls, an easily accessible hidden gem. The 100-foot falls are your final destination after a 1.5-mile steady hike along the Catawba River.
Take in the smaller cascades along your hike and pause at the stone foundation of the 1900s-era dam used for power production.
Catawba Falls is surrounded by mossy rocks and beautiful rhododendrons. When you reach the end of the trail at the waterfall you can have a full view of the lower cascades, or you can choose to climb to the upper cascades.
This route is extremely strenuous and it is advised that you have proper footgear to scale to the top. This is a beautiful trail to take in early spring when everything is green and lush after heavy rain.
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is named for the mountain that hugs the North Carolina-Tennessee border, inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s open year-round but the road that leads to it closes from December 1 to March 31. Closures also take place due to intermittent weather conditions.
You can also reach the observation tower year-round via the Appalachian Trail, Forney Ridge Trail, and the Mountains to Sea Trail. As we mentioned earlier, the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is the MST’s western terminus.
From the parking lot, you can reach the tower via a half-mile walk up. The steepness of the trail is why it’s not accessible for wheelchair users. The trail is paved the whole way until you reach the tower’s ramp.
Clingmans Dome is one of many reasons why we love our state’s (and nation’s) most visited national park!
Yancey and McDowell counties
Not far from Linville, Crabtree Falls is a beautiful spot just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP 339.5). This Black Mountains hike is 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 in to temptation. The rocks are very slippery and unforgiving.
Craggy Gardens is a nice spot 40 minutes outside Asheville, with the super easy 20-minute walk up to Craggy Pinnacle. The latter is home to one of my all-time favorite views of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There’s also Douglas Falls Trail (4 miles, Orange) will lead you to a 70-foot tall waterfall. The area is better known for the Catawba Rhododendrons that pop up in the summer, but I think it’s also worth a trip in the fall.
Crowders Mountain State Park
Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County is the first of a few mountains near Charlotte that we mentioned in our guide to daytrips from Queen City. Here, you can hike around a lake and along a creek, but the parks two peaks (Crowders Mountain and The Pinnacle) are home to the best views.
Crowders Trail (2.5 miles, White Diamond) will lead you to the top of Crowders Mountain and you can see Charlotte’s skyline on clear days. Pinnacle Trail (2 miles, Orange Circle) takes you to the top of the second and highest peak. The Pinnacle is also the highest point in Gaston County at 1,705 feet.
Deep Creek Trail
Deep Creek is one of the most incredible hiking trails in North Carolina, located inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trail will take you by three waterfalls (Tom Branch Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls) along either a 2.4-mile route of a 5-mile version.
This trail is also very popular in the summer for tubing and swimming.
Flat Top Tower Hike
To reach Flat Top Tower, you’ll start at the parking lot of Moses H Cone Memorial Park, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (MM 294). This 2.7-mile up-and-back hike leads to awesome views of Blowing Rock, well before reaching a 40-foot steel tower that you absolutely must climb.
Because I don’t think you’ll forgive yourself for missing out on the sights you’ll see from the top. If you’re anything like me and get a bit squeamish when dealing with heights, I feel you.
Just convince yourself to go all the way and you can thank me later.
Glen Burney Trail
Glen Burney Trail (3.1 or 3.2 miles) sits right outside off Main St in Blowing Rock, one of our favorite mountain towns. The trail takes you away from everything toward three beautiful falls—Glen Burney, Cascades, and Glen Mary.
They’re so awesome that we included them among our favorite waterfalls in the Blowing Rock area.
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.
We also mentioned Glen Burney Trail and Bass Lake Trail among our favorite things to do in Blowing Rock.
Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga Counties
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 (0.7 miles).
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 (Blue) or much shorter 1/3 of a mile long one.
Hanging Rock State Park
Not far from Winston-Salem and also within a day trip of Raleigh, there are over 20 miles of hiking at Hanging Rock State Park. Our favorite trails include the Hanging Rock (1.3 miles, Orange Circle), Cook’s Wall (2.2 miles, White Diamond) and Moore’s Wall Loop Trail (4.7 miles, Red Circle).
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.
We shared more reasons why Hanging Rock is our favorite mountain spot away from the mountains here.
The gorgeous Linville Falls is one of our favorite places to go for hiking 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.
Mingo Falls means “Big Bear” in Cherokee and stands at 120 feet tall. To reach it, you need to climb 160 stairs and half a mile on the Pigeon Creek Trail. If we were to pick a time, warmer temperatures, mountain laurels, and rhododendrons force us to suggest early summer for visiting.
Also, the parking lot for the walk up to Mingo Falls is not very big and only accommodates maybe six or seven cars at a time. Just keep that in mind if you’re planning to travel there during peak.
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 0.75-mile hike (1.5 miles round trip) right off Highway 276 will lead you to Moore Cove Falls.
Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell is the highest point in Eastern North America and the state park that manages it sees hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. You can reach the top after enjoying one of the best road trips in North Carolina (Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive).
Of course, there are plenty of awesome hikes on North Carolina’s tallest mountain. They range from the shorter Summit Trail (0.15 miles) and Balsam Nature Trail (0.75 miles, White Triangle) to the more difficult Mount Mitchell Trail (6 miles, Blue Diamond).
Pilot Mountain State Park
Surry and Yadkin Counties
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. From the Park Office, you can hike the Mountain Trail (4.3 miles, Red Dots) and connect to Grindstone Trail (3 miles, Blue Dots) for a roughly 6 mile loop.
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.
Rough Ridge Trail
Rough Ridge Trail (1.5 miles roundtrip) is easily one of the quickest hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This spot is especially popular for sunrise and we can see why. It’s less than a mile to the Rough Ridge Overlook, where you’ll find amazing views of our High Country.
Not too far from Boone and Blowing Rock, you’ll also get wonderful looks at Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct from the overlook. It’s also right off the Blue Ridge Parkway and you can park at Milepost 302.8 to get started.
Rough Ridge Trail is also included in our guide covering things to do in Boone!
Stone Mountain State Park
Alleghany and Wilkes Counties
Stone Mountain State Park gets its name from the massive dome that looms so large over folks who see it while walking on the Stone Mountain Loop Trail (4.5 miles, Orange Circle).
You can also see the 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls on this path but before that, the restored 19th-century era Hutchinson Homestead awaits. Folks come to climb the actual mountain and we’ve spotted rappellers from the homestead before.
For a bonus swimming hole, check out Widow’s Creek Falls, which is a short drive from either access of the Stone Mountain Loop!
Away from the Linville Falls Visitor’s Center and up a curvy, sometimes treacherous road, Wiseman’s View is a short walk (0.2 miles), wheelchair-accessible, and home to some of the most beautiful views you’ll find of North Carolina’s mountains.
Hiking Trails in Central North Carolina
You won’t find all the best hiking trails in North Carolina’s mountains. The Central part of our state is filled with great places to get out and enjoy the outdoors! Here are some of our favorite spots.
American Tobacco Trail
Durham, Wake, and Chatham Counties
The American Tobacco Trail (22.6 miles) is 10-feet wide and mostly paved, following the old CSX railroad that ran through Durham, Wake, and Chatham counties. It’s very popular for cyclists but also for joggers and walkers.
The North end of the trail starts in Durham’s downtown at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The south end begins at New Hill in Wake County.
This is the first of many paths that we included in our guide to hiking near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
Carolina North Forest
Carolina North Forest is 750 acres of woodland on UNC’s North Campus and home to a series of trails great for biking and walking.
Seawell School Rd cuts through the forest’s two sections and we usually enter on the side near the former Horace Williams Airport. Wormhole is a nice trail (3.9 miles) on that side and a great way to spend a morning if you’re in the Chapel Hill area.
We included more about Carolina North in our guide covering things to do in Chapel Hill and Orange County.
Eno River State Park
Durham and Orange Counties
Hiking in North Carolina’s Eno River State Park is one of our favorite FREE and outdoor things to do in Durham and such a great escape from it all. Cox Mountain Trail (3.75 miles roundtrip, Blue Circle), Cole Mill (1 mile roundtrip, Yellow Circle), and Buckquarter Creek (1.5 miles, Red Circle) are a few 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.
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.
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
The three miles of trails at Cary’s Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve are shorter than most but still beautiful and a great outdoor escape.
Swift Creek Loop (0.8 miles) starts after passing through the Stevens Nature Center, where you’ll then head down about 100 stairs. A mix of boardwalk and mulched paths dominate this trail, with views of the rare-to-this-area Hemlock trees, East Bluffs, and Swift Creek.
Visiting this place is one of the best things to do in Cary throughout the year!
The 1.8 mile-long Hillsborough Riverwalk connects Gold Park and the area around Weaver Street Market off Churton Street. Informational signs dot the trail, detailing the Eno River’s history, people who inhabited the area over its time, and wildlife you’ll find here.
Of all the times we’ve been, fall is my personal favorite for all the changing colors and eventual falling leaves to accompany your stroll.
Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail
Follow a pine straw-covered path from the entrance at the first fork, you can either walk the same mile-long path where racecars sped over 100 miles per hour (Speedway Trace) or above it (Spectator Trace).
Regardless of what you know about its background beyond NASCAR, you can truly relax and escape in the woods here. Our post about it outlines the Speedway’s origins and more.
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, Orange Triangle) and the Mountain Loop Trail (0.8 miles, Red Square) among the most popular.
Views are pretty nice from the huge paved area that serves as the peak.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
We already mentioned the awesome Hillsborough for its Riverwalk, but Occoneechee Mountain is another reason to visit. The Overlook Trail (0.1 miles, Yellow Circle) connects to the Mountain Loop Trail (2.2 miles, Red Circle) and will take you to a nice peak.
From 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.
We’ve also included Hillsborough among our favorite small towns in the Research Triangle.
Uwharrie National Forest
Randolph and Davidson Counties
Extending through both Randolph and Davidson counties, Uwharrie National Forest is one of the easiest day trips from Charlotte for nature lovers. With over 50,000 acres of wooded land to explore, it’s well-marked and well-maintained trails include Uwharrie (20 miles, White) and Dutchman’s Creek (11.5 miles, Yellow).
People also come to Uwharrie for four-wheeling, horseback riding, mountain biking, and camping. It’s an interesting place to explore in Central North Carolina and hopefully, we’ll get more time here.
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, Blue Triangle) and Sal’s Branch (2.8 miles round trip, Orange Circle) are our favorites for beautiful tree-covered walks. In the latter’s case, for some time staring at Big Lake.
Hiking Trails in Eastern North Carolina
Whoever said there wasn’t good hiking in North Carolina by the coast has probably never ventured far from their beach chair. Sure, most people come here for the sand, surf, and doughnuts and we do, too, but not always. We’re also fans of hikes in Eastern NC, especially later in the year when it’s cooled off a bit.
Cliffs of the Neuse State Park
The 90-foot overlook at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, via the 350 Yard Trail (White Circle), is enough of a reason to visit this beautiful spot near Goldsboro. It’s such a unique spot, thanks to a shift in the Earth’s crust millions of years ago. Let’s just hope it doesn’t move again.
There are other trails worth exploring at Cliffs of the Neuse, including the Lake Trail (1.9 miles, Yellow Diamond) and Spanish Moss Trail (.5 miles round trip, Orange Circles). Don’t forget to check out their visitor’s center, which has some of the best-produced and maintained exhibits for all ages.
We also included Cliffs of the Neuse in our guide to a weekend in Goldsboro.
Croatan National Forest
Craven, Carteret, and Jones Counties
Croatan National Forest is about a half-hour drive from New Bern and really popular for its beaches on the Neuse River and camping during holiday weekends. It’s also home to some of the best hiking in North Carolina.
Some cool trails include Flanners Beach (1 mile with optional 5-mile addition) and Patsy Pond Nature Trail (3 loops ranging from 0.75 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.
Note: Flanners Beach is closed indefinitely due to damage sustained from Hurricane Florence.
Croatan is typically included in our weekends in New Bern.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Three official self-guided trails (Tracks in the Sand, Soundside Nature Trail, and Boardwalk) will take you over and around the dunes.
And on nice days, you’ll see folks flying kites and hang-gliding in the distance. But my favorite time to be at Jockey’s Ridge is for sunset. It’s really one of my favorite views in all of North Carolina and I hope you get to enjoy it, too!
Jockey’s Ridge is the first set of Outer Banks hiking trails that we mention but keep reading because we’re not done with these awesome barrier islands!
Medoc Mountain State Park
Medoc Mountain State Park in Halifax County is a great place to seek some isolation among the trees and water of Fishing Creek. It’s popular for horseback riding and boating, but also for a wonderful collection of trails, which we’ve fallen in love with. Stream Loop (0.75 miles, Blue Circle) and Summit Loop (3 miles, Red Circle) are a couple that you’ll want to explore right away.
The park also offers quite a few programs in place for those seeking a place to hike with kids. Its Habitat Adventure Trail (0.28 miles) is one of them.
Nags Head Woods
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!
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Drive south down NC-12 from Bodie Island on Hatteras Island and you’ll run into Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. It’s home to two short and interesting trails (North Pond and Salt Flats), great for spotting birds, turtles, and other wildlife.
For me, it’s the relative sense of isolation that takes over when I’m walking around Pea Island that’s enticing, thanks to the winds and largely untouched scenery.
We know you’re already convinced that a week in The Outer Banks is worth it. Just so you know, we also mentioned Jockey’s Ridge, Nags Head Woods, Pea Island, and other fun things to do in our off season guide to the Outer Banks!
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, Blue Circle) will take you to a nice view of the river. However, some sections of this loop close any time there’s extensive rain, so check with the office before heading out.
The Raven Rock Loop Trail (2.6 miles, Orange Circle) will lead you to an overlook standing 350 feet above the river.
Ready for these Hiking Trails in North Carolina?
Whether you’re hiking in North Carolina during a lengthy backpack trip or looking for a short loop near one of our cities or small towns, these trails should have you covered throughout the year.
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!