100+ of the Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Last Updated on September 17, 2021

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If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.

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 Foliage Info and Map Link
  • Access and Safety Info
  • Leave No Trace Reminder
  • Statewide and 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.

We think these hiking trails in North Carolina are so special that we’ve also included some of them in our Bucket List. Many also feature in our guide to road trips through the state!

Fall Foliage 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!

Statewide and 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

Hiking Trails in North Carolina
Wayah Bald.

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 Max Patch, Wayah Bald, and the Roan Highlands. 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

Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls.

There are some wonderful hiking trails in North Carolina’s portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Many have landed on our lists of the best hikes near Boone and also, the best hikes near Asheville.

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) 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.
  • While you’re in the Little Switzerland area (MP 334), a quick hike will take you to the beautiful Grassy Creek Falls (1 mile).
  • 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 1.2-mile summit trail. You’ll gain 412 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.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Deep Creek Trail Bryson City NC
Deep Creek.

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 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 of 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.

Mountains to Sea Trail

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower.

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.

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.

Bass Lake Trail

Watauga County

Bass Lake Trail Blowing Rock NC

Bass Lake Trail is off the “Little Parkway” and 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

Henderson County

Bearwallow Mountain Hiking Trails in NC

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 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

Cleveland County

First Broad River Trail Suspension Bridge

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.

Carter Falls

Surry County

The Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina Carter Falls Elkin NC

There are four ways to reach Carter Falls in Elkin and the easiest is from the Carter Falls Trailhead. However, we think you should at least start from the Grassy Creek Vineyard Trailhead.

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.

Catawba Falls

McDowell County

Catawba Falls Old Fort NC

Located just 26 miles east of Asheville in Old Fort is Catawba Falls, an easily accessible 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.

Chimney Rock State Park

Rutherford County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina 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.

Crowders Mountain State Park

Gaston County

Crowders Mountain North Carolina
The View from the Pinnacle.

Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County is the first of a few mountains near Charlotte that we mentioned in our guide to day trips from Queen City.

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 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 which way you choose to go.

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.

Elk Knob State Park

Watauga County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Elk Knob State Park Summit Trail Late Spring

Elk Knob State Park sits near the Tennessee border, just north of Boone in Watauga County.

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.

From the south, you can see Mount Mitchell and the area’s three ski resorts (Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain, and Sugar Mountain). If you arrive from early winter through spring, they’ll likely be capped with snow!

Glen Burney Trail

Watauga County

Glen Burney waterfall hike

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.

Gorges State Park

Transylvania County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Rainbow Falls Gorges State Park Pisgah National Forest

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.

To reach Rainbow Falls, you’ll actually leave Gorges State Park and enter Pisgah National Forest. Along the way, you’ll pass Hidden Falls, which is a nice spot to swim on hot days.

Grandfather Mountain

Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga Counties

Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge

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 the 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

Burke County

Linville Falls

Hiking the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is one of our favorite things to do in Morganton and Burke County.

Some of the most popular hikes include Hawksbill Mountain (1.7 miles roundtrip), Short Off Mountain (11 miles roundtrip), and Table Rock Mountain (2.2 miles roundtrip) on the East Rim.

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, 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

Transylvania County

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.

Moore Cove Falls is one of our favorite waterfalls near Brevard, even considering popular spots like Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock are nearby.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Yancey County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina 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

Jackson County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Panthertown Valley Trail Schoolhouse Falls
Schoolhouse Falls.

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

Qualla Boundary

Mingo Falls

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.

South Mountains State Park

Burke County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina High Shoals Falls Loop Trail South Mountains State Park
High Shoals Falls.

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, after a steady hike with a very steep ending.

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

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!

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!

Here are some of our favorite hikes.

Brumley Nature Preserve

Orange County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Brumley Nature Preserve Chapel Hill NC

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

Orange County

Carolina North hiking trail

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.

This is the first of many paths that we included in our guide to hiking near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. We included more about Carolina North in our guide covering things to do in Chapel Hill and Orange County.

Duke Forest

Alamance, Durham, and Orange Counties

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Duke Forest Durham NC

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.

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 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 also features prominently among our favorite things to do in Durham, especially with kids!

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.

Hanging Rock State Park

Stokes County

The Hanging Rock North Carolina

Not far from Winston-Salem and also within a day trip from Durham (also, Raleigh), there are over 20 miles of hiking trails in North Carolina’s 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.

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Wake County

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve Cary

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!

Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail

Orange County

Occoneechee Speedway Trail and Car Hillsborough NC

The Riverwalk is the first of multiple hikes in Hillsborough and if you asked us, we’d be torn between it and the four miles of paths at the 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

Stanly County

Morrow Mountain Loop Trail

Morrow Mountain is about an hour outside of Charlotte and 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 (0.8 miles) among the most popular.

Views are pretty nice from the huge paved area that serves as the peak.

We’ve also included excursions to Morrow Mountain among our favorite things to do in Charlotte, especially outdoors!

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Orange County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Occoneechee Mountain Hillsborough NC

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.

We’ve also included Hillsborough among our favorite small towns in the Research Triangle.

Pilot Mountain State Park

Surry and Yadkin Counties

Pilot Mountain

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.

There are more trails here that are hiker- and even horse-friendly. Just be sure to stop by Mount Airy in Surry County for a stroll through Mayberry.

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

Moore County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
Round Timber Trail.

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) and the Round Timber Trail (1 mile) at the Boyd Tract is where you’ll find the oldest known living longleaf pine tree.

William B. Umstead State Park

Raleigh

Umstead State Park Chainsaw Art
Chainsaw Art at Umstead.

Just off US 70/Glenwood Ave in Raleigh or off I-40 (Exit 287) near Cary, you’ll find 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), Sycamore Trail (7.2 miles round trip) and Sal’s Branch Trail (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.

From 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.

Umstead is absolutely one of our favorite things to do in Raleigh, especially with kids!

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.

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 County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina 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 and alligators.

Carolina Beach State Park

New Hanover County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Carolina Beach State Park Flytrap Trail
Flytrap Trail.

With nearly nine miles of trails that snake through different habitats (poor choice of verb?), Carolina Beach State Park is one of the best things to do in Wilmington!

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 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

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Carvers Creek State Park Fayetteville NC

Carvers Creek State Park near Fayetteville is one of our favorite outdoor spaces in the area! The 4,530-acre park is full of sand and pine trees and is home to nicely maintained trails.

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

Wayne County

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park NC
The Pond at Cliffs of the Neuse.

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. 

We also included Cliffs of the Neuse in our guide covering things to do in Goldsboro.

Croatan National Forest

Craven, Carteret, and Jones Counties

Croatan National Forest Pine Cliffs Beach
Pine Cliffs Beach.

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 certainly one of our favorite things to do in New Bern’s surroundings

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Dare County

Jockeys Ridge State Park Sunset
Epic sunsets await!

You might not think of hiking trails in North Carolina’s Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This Outer Banks attraction is home to the tallest set of natural sand dunes on the East Coast.

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 for sunset. It’s one of the best scenes in all of North Carolina and we 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!

Jones Lake State Park

Bladen County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Jones Lake State Park

Jones Lake State Park is the first of the Carolina Bays (or Meteor Lakes) that we’ll mention. Their origin is an interesting topic on its own but for now, we’ll focus on our favorite hike here.

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

Columbus County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina 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

Halifax County

Medoc Mountain State Park Hiking Hollister NC

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

Dare County

Nags Head Woods Boardwalk

Nags Head Woods is a Nature Preserve between Jockeys Ridge and the Wright Brothers Memorial in the Outer Banks. It’s home to more than five miles of trails.

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

Dare County

Hiking Trails in North Carolina Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Outer Banks NC
Beginning of the North Pond Trail.

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.  

A visit to Pea Island is included in our off-season guide to the Outer Banks!

Raven Rock State Park

Harnett County

The Raven Rock North Carolina
The Raven Rock from below.

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

3 thoughts on “100+ of the Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina”

  1. Rough Ridge is my all time favorite! Just love the views.

    I recently hiked in Medoc Mountain and it was a nice trail. The cool part about it is that Bigfoot has been spotted there. There’s a Bigfoot Museum a few miles away and you can buy kits to cast his foot prints if you find any in Medoc.

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  2. Speedway and Occoneechee mountain were amazing 3yr old and 5 yr old managed and loved both. We like in Carolina north forest and love that our trail made this list…. another family favorite we suggest for families with young kids is the Saxapawhaw island trail. Complete with a natural playground and plenty of access points into the Haw river it’s a really special and historic spot, I believe it has an old baseball field and other historic sites along the trail.

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