Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on January 31, 2024.
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 100 of our favorite hikes near Asheville and its surroundings, inside our state parks and national parks, and more protected lands throughout the state.
But if you’d like to jump ahead to a specific area of North Carolina, here’s how we’ve organized things:
- Fall Colors Info and Map Link
- Access and Safety Info
- Leave No Trace Reminder
- Mountains-to-Sea Trail
- National Parks Hiking Trails in North Carolina
- Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Western)
- Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Central)
- Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Eastern)
Our travel map offers visual travelers a look at each of these hiking trails in North Carolina.
You can scroll ahead to the section or region you want to explore or keep reading about Fall Foliage and Access and Safety Info.
Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina
Fall Colors Info
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 Info
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.
Leave No Trace Reminder
While visiting the best of our hiking trails in North Carolina, we ask you to PLEASE leave no trace. Pack in, pack out, and please do not ever litter in our beloved public spaces.
If you’d like to lend a helping hand, bring a grocery bag of your own and pick up any trash that you see!
Mountains to Sea Trail
Many of the best hiking trails in North Carolina that we’ll feature in later sections lie along 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.
National Parks Hiking Trails in North Carolina
For any hiking trails in North Carolina that are not listed as a loop or if “round trip” is not mentioned, the distance is calculated one way.
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Blue Ridge Parkway Hiking Trails in North Carolina
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Better known as simply the Appalachian Trail (AT), this famed hiking trail runs 95.7 miles through Western NC‘s mountains. The NC portion is especially beautiful, as some of the best hiking trails in North Carolina are found along the Appalachian Trail.
Some of the AT’s best places to hike in NC include:
- Lover’s Leap in Hot Springs
- Max Patch in Madison County
- Roan Mountain in Mitchell County
- Wayah Bald Tower in Franklin
- Wesser Bald Fire Tower in Franklin
You’ll even pass through the iconic Fontana Dam like Bill Bryson (and Robert Redford) did in A Walk in the Woods.
Blue Ridge Parkway Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Here are a few Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trails from north to south, counting down from Mile Post 217 to MP 451.
- Cumberland Knob (MP 217) is where the Blue Ridge Parkway’s construction began on September 11, 1935. Today, hikers can enjoy 1,000 acres of recreation, including the strenuous Gully Creek Trail (2.2 mile loop).
- At Doughton Park (MP 238 to MP 241), the long and strenuous Bluff Mountain Trail (7.5 miles) and easier Fodder Stacks Trail (2 miles roundtrip) show off the range of hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- EB Jeffress Park (MP 272.5) is where you’ll find NC’s Cascades Trail. It is a short one-mile loop that leads to the side view of a beautiful waterfall.
- Moses H Cone Memorial Park (MP 294.1) is the largest dedicated space for hiking and horseback riding. From here, you can hike the Flat Top Tower Trail 3 miles up to a fire tower that offers 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
- Boone Fork Trail (MP 296.5) leads to Hebron Falls and is the first of a few hiking trails that are part of the larger Tanawha Trail (13.5 miles). The amazing Rough Ridge Trail (MP 302.8) and Beacon Heights (MP 305) are two more that you just have to try.
- Linville Falls (MP 316.3) is another great Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trail and we’ll share more about it with other Linville Gorge Hikes.
- The 70-foot Crabtree Falls (MP 339.5) is one of the most impressive waterfalls in North Carolina and one of our favorites near Asheville. You can reach it after a 1.6-mile descent (2.5-mile loop).
- Mount Mitchell State Park (MP 355.3) is also off the Parkway but we’ll give it more attention in our “Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Western)” section.
- Craggy Gardens (MP 364 to MP 367) has at least a few cool hiking trails. The super easy 20-minute walk up to Craggy Pinnacle leads to one of our all-time favorite views of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s also Douglas Falls Trail, a 4-mile hike that leads to a 70-foot tall waterfall.
- Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower (MP 409.6) is viewable from the parkway but you can hike to it within 7/10 to 8/10 of a mile (1.5 miles roundtrip). There are some nice 360-degree views from the stairs.
- The Looking Glass Rock Overlook (MP 417) grants amazing views, but you can also reach Skinny Dip Falls by crossing the road and enjoying a short 0.75-mile hike. This popular swimming hole has a beautiful three-tiered waterfall and icy cold water!
- The Graveyard Fields Loop Trail (MP 418.8) is a fairly easy hike to a spectacular waterfall (1/3 mile) and a longer hike (3.3-mile loop) to a cascade. This Blue Ridge Parkway hike is especially popular in July and August for the wild blueberries!
- Black Balsam Knob (MP 420) is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in North Carolina, not just on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 1.4-mile hike is the most popular section of the 30-mile-long Art Loeb Trail. It leads to balds, which are fairly uncommon for the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the top of Black Balsam Knob.
- Devil’s Courthouse (MP 422) is short (0.9 miles), strenuous, mostly paved, and takes you to a rock overlook at 5,720 feet.
- You’ll enjoy some of the best Blue Ridge Parkway sunsets from Waterrock Knob. Honestly, the best views are from the 0.6-mile summit trail (1.2 miles roundtrip). You’ll gain 400-plus feet in elevation but the trail is absolutely worth the climb. For some off-the-beaten-path excitement, there is also a plane crash site you can reach from a spur on this trail.
Read More: Scenic Roads in North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States and it straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina border. With hundreds of miles to hike on the North Carolina side, it’s hard to choose our favorites, but here we go.
- Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is one of the shortest GSMNP hikes but definitely worth it for the views. It’s open year-round but the road that leads to it closes from December 1 to March 31. You can reach it via both the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail, which we’ll mention shortly.
- Deep Creek Trail in Bryson City is one of the most incredible hiking trails in North Carolina, also 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 or a 5-mile version. This trail is also very popular in the summer for tubing and swimming.
- Mouse Creek Falls sits on both the North Carolina side of the border, but you’ll need to cross over into Tennessee on I-40 to reach its trailhead. It’s a moderate 2-mile climb (4 miles roundtrip) on the way to the falls, and you’ll pass the beautiful Midnight Hole along the way.
Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Western)
The mountains of Western NC are where you’ll find most of the insanely beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, and of course, the best hiking trails in North Carolina.
If you’re looking for hikes around Asheville (perfect for day trips!) and High Country spots, you’ll need at least a few days to work with. These unique Airbnbs in Asheville and (these Boone Airbnbs) perfectly pair the hikes that we’re about to share!
For each of these hiking trails in North Carolina’s westernmost reaches, we’ve included the county where you’ll find them.
- Bakers Mountain Park
- Bass Lake Trail
- Bearwallow Mountain
- The Broad River Greenway
- Carter Falls
- Catawba Falls
- Chimney Rock State Park
- Crowders Mountain State Park
- DuPont State Forest
- Elk Knob State Park
- Glen Burney Trail
- Gorges State Park
- Grandfather Mountain
- Linville Gorge Hikes
- Moore Cove Falls
- Mount Mitchell State Park
- Panthertown Valley
- Pigeon Creek Trail to Mingo Falls
- South Mountains State Park
- Stone Mountain State Park
Bakers Mountain Park
Bakers Mountain is where you’ll find Catawba County’s highest point of elevation at 1780 feet. The 189-acre park in Hickory is a woodland paradise and hosts six miles of scenic hiking trails.
The trails here are all pretty well-connected but the Orange (0.5 miles) and Blue (1.2 miles) are the two that’ll take you to the highest peak.
Read More: Amazing Restaurants in Hickory
Bass Lake Trail
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!
Read More: Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock
We’re grateful to 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.
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.
This 4.5-mile roundtrip hike starts from one of our favorite Yadkin Valley wineries and runs through a beautiful collection of forests before reaching the 50-foot Carter Falls.
Personally, I love seeing the falls before and after the spring and summer greens. That way, you get a less obstructed view of them.
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.
Chimney Rock State Park
There are some really cool hiking trails in North Carolina’s Chimney Rock State Park.
- The Outcropping Trail (0.4-mile loop) will get you to the top of Chimney Rock itself. There is an elevator that will get you there, too.
- Exclamation Point Trail (0.6-mile loop) is one of the park’s hardest, but it’ll take you to epic views from the edge of Exclamation Point at 2,480 feet.
- Skyline Trail (1.1 miles) starts from Exclamation Point and will take you even higher to Peregrine Point at 2,640 feet.
These trails are pretty tough but provide amazing views down into the Hickory Nut Gorge.
- If you’d like an easier hike, the Hickory Nut Falls Trail (1.4-mile loop) will take you to the base of the 404-foot namesake waterfall.
The Village of Chimney Rock is a great base if you need somewhere to stay nearby!
Crowders Mountain State Park
Here, you can hike around a lake and along a creek, but the park’s two peaks (Crowders Mountain and The Pinnacle) are home to the best views.
- Crowders Trail (2.5 miles) will lead you to the top of Crowders Mountain and you can see Charlotte’s skyline on clear days.
- Pinnacle Trail (2 miles) takes you to the top of the second and the highest peak. The Pinnacle is also the highest point in Gaston County at 1,705 feet.
DuPont State Forest
Henderson and Transylvania Counties
With over 10,000 acres, there are 80+ miles of hiking trails in North Carolina’s DuPont State Forest.
We’ve hiked and ridden our bikes through this park. You can ride a horse on some of the trails, too.
- A three-waterfall hike (3-mile loop) will take you to Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls. You can leave from the Hooker Falls Access or the High Falls Access, but arrive early no matter where you choose.
- Bridal Veil Falls is a 2.2-mile hike (or bike ride) from the High Falls Access and Lake Julia (and its spillway) are two nice stops along that gravel path.
- A 1.5-mile hike from the Guion Parking Area will take you to Wintergreen Falls. We highly recommend it, along with these other wonderful hikes!
Elk Knob State Park
The 1.8-mile Summit Trail is the most popular here. It was built by hundreds of local volunteers who wanted to share this beauty with everyone.
The trail is a series of switchbacks, gradually ascending without any challenging steep inclines.
At the top, you have the option of a north or south view. Go north first, as the views from there are the best in our opinion.
- Appalachian Ski Mountain
- Beech Mountain
- Sugar Mountain
If you arrive from early winter through spring, they’ll likely be capped with snow!
Glen Burney Trail
- Glen Burney Falls
- Cascades Falls
- Glen Marie Falls
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.
Read More: Day Trips from Boone
Gorges State Park
Gorges State Park spans 7,709 acres through Transylvania County and is where you’ll leave to access the 150-foot Rainbow Falls (1.5 miles). Start from the Grassy Ridge Parking area in Gorges State Park and follow the orange-blazed trail.
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.
Some of the most difficult (yet rewarding) hiking trails in North Carolina are found here.
- 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).
- From the bridge, you can reach the advanced Grandfather Trail (2.4 miles) via the Underwood Trail (0.5 miles).
- The Grandfather Trail leads to Calloway Peak, which is the highest of Grandfather Mountain’s four summits.
- The Grandfather Trail also connects with the Profile Trail (3.6 miles), which is another tough hike in the park. It will take you to the Profile View and Foscoe View.
If you hike all the way to the end of the Profile View or decide to start there, treat yourself to a nice meal at the Pedalin’ Pig. It’s one of the best restaurants in the area!
Linville Gorge Hikes
Hiking the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is one of our favorite things to do in Morganton and Burke County.
Some of the most popular East Rim hikes include:
- Hawksbill Mountain (2.2 miles roundtrip)
- Short Off Mountain (11 miles roundtrip)
- Table Rock Mountain (2.2 miles roundtrip)
On the West Rim of the gorge, Babel Mountain and gorgeous Linville Falls (multiple hikes) are among our favorite places to go hiking in North Carolina.
Away from the Linville Falls Visitor’s Center and up a curvy and sometimes treacherous road is Wiseman’s View. From the parking lot, it’s a short walk (0.2 miles) that’s wheelchair-accessible, and home to some of the most beautiful views you’ll find of North Carolina’s mountains.
Moore Cove Falls
Many folks in search of the best waterfalls near Asheville are able to find tons of them along the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway near Brevard. Many of them sit along the road but Moore Cove Falls requires a short, 0.75-mile hike to reach.
This is one of the few in the area that you can walk behind, though you should be very careful when doing so. The view from the official platform is nice enough, though.
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) to the more difficult Mount Mitchell Trail (6 miles).
Panthertown Valley is a 6,311-acre backcountry wilderness area in Jackson County, near Cashiers (and Sapphire). It’s home to some of the most interesting hiking trails in North Carolina, leading you to gorges, valleys, waterfalls, and more.
Speaking of waterfalls, Schoolhouse Falls is the most popular in the valley. You can reach it by hiking the Panthertown Valley Trail and the Little Green Trail (2.5 miles roundtrip).
The trail will take you down a series of switchbacks, across creeks, and through rhododendron-covered forests. You can extend your hike after Schoolhouse Falls and visit Greenland Creek Falls via the aptly named Greenland Creek Trail.
There are 30 miles of hiking trails in North Carolina’s Panthertown Valley and these are two of the best.
Pigeon Creek Trail to Mingo Falls
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.
South Mountains State Park
South Mountains State Park is often overlooked by the Linville Gorge, but this Burke County park has some wonderful scenery and some of the best hiking trails in North Carolina. With more than 20,000 acres, it’s also our largest state park.
The High Shoals Falls Loop Trail (2.7 miles) leads to the 80-foot High Shoals Falls, about a mile into a pretty steady, sometimes steep hike.
Beyond that most popular hike, there’s a nice mix of trails here, including the difficult Sawtooth Trail (3.3 miles), the moderate Lake View (1.3-mile loop), and the easy River Trail (0.5 miles).
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.
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 the Stone Mountain Loop’s two accesses!
Read More: Day Trips from Greensboro
Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Central)
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!
These are some of our favorite hikes in Central NC.
- Morrow Mountain State Park
- Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
- Pilot Mountain State Park
- Uwharrie National Forest
- Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
- William B. Umstead State Park
Brumley Nature Preserve
Brumley Nature Preserve is two miles south of Hillsborough and technically in Chapel Hill, still within a short drive from Durham. Its 613 acres are divided by Old NC 10 into two sections (North and South), and both allow hiking.
However, the South Access is more designed for mountain biking and Brumley North is specifically meant for hiking. Hike all of its connected trails (2.8 miles) past ponds and through thick forest cover for a fun morning or afternoon.
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.
Read More: Hiking near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill
Alamance, Durham, and Orange Counties
Duke Forest‘s nice and flat nature walks within its 7,000-acre university-managed living laboratory and outdoor classroom.
We’ve spent lots of time walking Duke Forest trails but love the Durham Division. There’s a pull-off along NC 751 near Constitution Drive, where you can enter the trailhead for a 3-mile loop.
That hike will pass through pine-surrounded gravel paths with a scenic bridge near the beginning (or end). We always urge this, but please stay on the trail, as it’s a living laboratory with serious work happening all around.
Read More: Things to Do with Kids in Durham
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), Cole Mill (1-mile roundtrip), and Buckquarter Creek (1.5 miles) are a few of our favorite Eno trails.
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.
Read More: Things to do in Durham
Hanging Rock State Park
Our favorite trails include the Hanging Rock Trail (1.3 miles), 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.
Read More: Day Trips from Durham
Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve
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.
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.
Read More: Day Trips from Raleigh
Morrow Mountain State Park
There are 15 miles of hiking that you can enjoy there, with the Fall Mountain Trail (4 miles) and the Mountain Loop Trail (0.8 miles) among the most popular.
Views are pretty nice from the huge paved area that serves as the peak.
Read More: Day Trips from Charlotte
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) connects to the Mountain Loop Trail (2.2 miles) 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.
Read More: Small Towns in the Research Triangle
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 (0.1 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) and connect to Grindstone Trail (3 miles) for a roughly 6-mile loop.
Uwharrie National Forest
Randolph and Davidson Counties
Extending through both Randolph and Davidson counties, Uwharrie National Forest has more than 50,000 acres of wooded land to explore. Its well-marked and well-maintained trails include Uwharrie (20 miles) and Dutchman’s Creek (11.5 miles).
People also come to Uwharrie for four-wheeling, horseback riding, mountain biking, and camping.
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
Weymouth Woods (near Southern Pines) is a fun park to explore and many people start at the Weymouth Tract. This is where you’ll find the Visitor Center, one of the nicest we’ve found among NC’s public lands.
The trails are fairly short here but you can create a 1.5-mile loop by combining Pine Barrens with Gum Swamp. There are more options to create longer hikes if you wish to do so.
As we mentioned, two additional tracts await at Weymouth Woods.
- We love Paint Hill’s 1.3 miles of trails (Pixie Moss and the Fox Squirrel Loop).
- The Round Timber Trail (1 mile) at the Boyd Tract is where you’ll find the oldest known living longleaf pine tree.
Read More: Things to Do in Pinehurst
William B. Umstead State Park
You may hear occasional planes taking off or landing at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport, but it’s easy to feel like you’re very far away from the busy city when exploring the trails here.
On the US 70 side (aka the Crabtree Creek Access), our favorites for tree-covered walks include:
- Sycamore Trail (7.2 miles round trip)
- Sal’s Branch Trail (2.8 miles round trip): Great for some time at Big Lake.
The Crabtree Creek Access is the easiest/shortest way to reach the famed Chainsaw Art at Umstead State Park. Here are specific directions to get you there:
- Drive Past the Visitor Center
- Turn Left on Maintenance Rd
- Take a Right on Group Camp Rd
- Turn Left on Sycamore Rd and park in the Multi-Use Trail parking lot
- Get out of your car and start walking on the Multi-Use Trail
- Turn right onto the Graylyn Multi-Use Trail and you’ll find the tree carving about a 0.25 miles down the trail.
On the I-40 side (aka the Reedy Creek Access), Company Mill Trail (5.8-mile loop) will take you along Crabtree and Sycamore creeks’ banks.
Read More: Things to Do with Kids in Raleigh
Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Eastern)
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 there are some cool hiking trails in North Carolina’s eastern reaches.
- Brunswick Town (Fort Anderson)
- Carolina Beach State Park
- Carvers Creek State Park
- Cliffs of the Neuse State Park
- Croatan National Forest
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park
- Jones Lake State Park
- Lake Waccamaw State Park
- Medoc Mountain State Park
- Nags Head Woods
- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Raven Rock State Park
Since it’s pretty muggy in the summer and warmer months, these hikes in Eastern NC are perfect in the winter when temps have dropped a bit.
Brunswick Town (Fort Anderson)
Brunswick Town sits across the Cape Fear River from Carolina Beach, though the two are separated by about an hour’s drive.
A 3/4-mile trail here will take you around old Brunswick Town, which was the first permanent European settlement along the Cape Fear River. St. Phillips Church is the only above-ground structure that is still partially intact.
The Confederates also built Fort Anderson here, not to be confused with the one near New Bern.
There’s so much history at this site and you can learn all about it through exhibits in the Visitor Center and also, by informative displays along the trail.
As with most Eastern NC hikes, bug spray is highly recommended here. Also, be mindful of wildlife, including s-words (snakes, also known as “nope ropes”) and alligators.
Carolina Beach State Park
New Hanover County
The trails are mostly flat and easy and give a great representative look at the diverse ecosystems found in the Cape Fear region.
Many people start with the wheelchair-accessible (and kid-friendly) Flytrap Trail (0.50-mile loop). It’s very popular because you can spot venus flytraps and other region-specific fauna.
The Sugarloaf Trail (3-mile loop) is one of our favorites because of the diverse terrain you cross, the Sugarloaf Dune, and all the offshoot trails that keep you close to the water.
Carvers Creek State Park
Cumberland and Harnett counties
The Rockefeller Loop Trail (2 miles) is one of two trails at the Long Valley Farm Access. Along the way, you’ll pass a home once owned by James Stillman Rockefeller.
Combine this trail with Cypress Point Loop Trail (0.75 miles) for nice vie, including a 100-acre millpond.
The Longleaf Pine Trail (4 miles) is the main trail from the Sandhills Access parking lot. It connects to nearly all of the other trails on this side of Carvers Creek.
Little Pond Spur Trail (0.1 miles) is the park’s shortest trail and just off the Longleaf Pine Trail. A beautiful pond at the end is reason enough to veer off for a little bit.
Cliffs of the Neuse State Park
The 90-foot overlook at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, via the 350 Yard Trail, 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) and Spanish Moss Trail (0.5 miles round trip).
Don’t forget to check out their visitor’s center, which has some of the best-produced and maintained exhibits for all ages.
Read More: Restaurants in Goldsboro and Wayne County
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)
- Patsy Pond Nature Trail (3 loops ranging from 0.75 miles to 1.9 miles)
The most challenging Croatan National Forest hike is the Neusiok Trail (20 miles). It starts at the beaches of the Neuse and takes you to the Newport River.
Read More: 15+ Awesome Things to Do in New Bern
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
It’s also one of our favorite places to hike in North Carolina. Three official self-guided trails will take you over and around the dunes:
- Tracks in the Sand (1.2-mile loop)
- Soundside Nature Trail (0.6-mile loop)
- Boardwalk (0.07 miles)
On nice days, you’ll see folks flying kites and hang-gliding in the distance. Our favorite time to be at Jockey’s Ridge is sunset. It’s one of the best scenes in all of North Carolina and we hope you get to enjoy it, too!
Read More: Outer Banks Hiking Trails
Jones Lake State Park
Follow the Bay Trail (4-mile loop) around Jones Lake and through the forest. Connect to the Salters Lake Trail (1 mile) via the Bay Trail and make it two lakes in one six-mile flat hike.
Lake Waccamaw State Park
The Lakeshore Trail (4 miles) is Lake Waccamaw State Park‘s longest and takes you through diverse terrain. This trail passes the overlook, the swimming pier, and eventually, the dam.
You can start the trail from either the Visitor Center or the dam.
During periods of heavy rainfall, you could also be dealing with mud and water on the trail. Just keep that in mind if you plan to complete it and call ahead if unsure.
You’ll have plenty of views through the trees, with the lake, various trees including cypress and pines, and sandy beaches being featured on this trail.
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) and Summit Loop (3 miles) 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. There’s also an 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 some of the best beaches on the Outer Banks, but also great trails to explore.
The North Pond Trail (0.5 miles) takes you toward an observation tower that overlooks the refuge and its beautiful surroundings. If you arrive on a not-busy day, the relative sense of isolation will make you feel at home on this trail.
Read More: Off-season on the Outer Banks
Raven Rock State Park
Raven Rock State Park (near Lillington) 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. 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) 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’re familiar with the Tar Heel State, where are your favorite hiking trails in North Carolina? We’d love to know about it and even check it out if it’s not on this list!
More Hiking Trails in North Carolina (Travel Guides)
We’ve featured these amazing NC hiking trails in travel guides, either individually, or as part of additional roundups.