20 Best Hikes in North Carolina

North Carolina isn’t all beaches! There are beautiful mountains, waterfalls and hiking trails to explore. We love hiking in this beautiful part of the world and had to put together a list of the best hikes in North Carolina ranging in difficulty from easy to hard.

Getting outside in the mountains is one of the best things you can do in North Carolina. If you’re looking to get outside and adventure, here are a few hikes that will get your heart rate going.

Best Hikes in North Carolina

1. Profile Trail

  • Length: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,775 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Location: Grandfather Mountain State Park

The pinnacle of high difficulty hiking in North Carolina, this profile of Grandfather mountain climbs almost 2,000 feet in just under four-miles and is one of the best hikes in Western North Carolina. The Profile Trail begins as a relaxing march through seasonal wildflowers under cover of old-growth oak before quickly turning into a scampering climb through tumble-down rock. 

Any adventurers who brave this harrowing ascent will be rewarded with 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains atop Calloway Peak, the highest mountain in the entire range. Relax under spruce-fir alpine forests at 5,964 feet before beginning your descent. 

2. Looking Glass Rock

  • Length: 6.1 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 1,729 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Location: Pisgah National Forest

Six-miles of moderate tramping encompass one of the favorite routes in Western North Carolina. There are a few technical sections to the climb but nothing a good pair of hiking boots can’t handle. The pathway meanders along a creek until it turns into switchbacks and wildflower fields towards the summit. 

Stop at the helipad to soak in views of the mountains’ lower balds, but the best sight comes last. On top of the rock, hikers find themselves surrounded by panoramic views of the Appalachian Mountains. Make sure to plan some time for lunch atop the rock before heading back down to see it all. 

3. Rainbow Falls Trail

  • Length: 3.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 770 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Location: Gorges State Park

Hikers often find a full day of exploration awaiting them in the Rainbow Falls trailhead. The four-mile path follows a roaring river to one of the most scenic waterfalls in North Carolina. Along the way, myriad other waterfalls, gully’s, and natural wonders sit just off the beaten path. Smooth rocks await your arrival for swimming and sliding, and each time you go, you’ll find a different pathway to an entirely new set of wonder. 

Mountain bike and pet friendly, this trail has something for everyone making it a fantastic day hike in North Carolina. After a rainstorm, expect to see water cascading over 150 feet from the top of the falls. Sunny days combine with mist caused by the water colliding with the rock below create the rainbow colors the area is known for. 

4. Hawksbill Mountain Trail

  • Length: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 685 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Location: Linville Gorge Wilderness

An excellent choice for a shorter trek, this mountain pathway is barely two-miles, taking explorers through rhododendron forests to the Linville Gorge view. Don’t let the short distance make you think there isn’t still a grand payoff at the trail’s end. On a clear day, you can see as far as the skyline of Charlotte, over 90 miles away. 

Any day you choose to get to the top of Hawksbill mountain will provide 360 degrees of the best Pisgah National Forest has to offer. As you get near the top, you’ll find two branching pathways. On the right is a longer route with less daunting inclines. Straight will get you there faster, though with a bit of a climb. If you happened to pack your tent, you could camp right at the top of this viewpoint to catch the sunrise. 

5. Paradise Falls

  • Length: .5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 216 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Location: Tuckasegee

A fantastic waterfall hike in North Carolina. If you just want to get to falling water, this hike can be completed in less than 30 minutes, enough time to build up a sweat. Locals love this trail on hot summer days, as the falls provide one of the Southeast’s best swimming holes. The falls have carved out multiple deep holes at the top and bottom of the falls, ensuring room for everyone. 

The path is short but relatively tricky, with steep ascents and tumbled rocks. Those looking for a thrill have access to a cliff jump next to the falls, while others looking for a more leisurely soak can continue to the very top of the falls. This hike is an excellent choice for a picnic lunch, as there are hours of fun to be found exploring the various swimming holes.   

6. Grassy Ridge Bald

  • Length: 4.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,033 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Location: Pisgah National Forest

An out and back trail with a satisfying pay-off, Grassy Ridge is 4.5-miles of easy mountain hiking through a rare grassy section of the Appalachian Mountains. Parts of the course intertwine with the Appalachian Trail, the famous through hike from Maine to Georgia. It’s one of the top hikes in North Carolina and pretty well known!

Luckily, you don’t need to cover 1,000’s of miles to find beautiful views of the Appalachians and this mountain summit is a testament to that. The trail, east of Carvers Gap, provides access to three peaks. Head to this pathway in the fall to find yourself immersed in a kaleidoscope of colors brought on by the changing seasons.

7. Mount Mitchell Trail

  • Length: 11.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,710 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Location: Mount Mitchell State Park

Mount Mitchell Trail is known as one of the most strenuous day hikes in North Carolina. Eleven miles long, anyone planning to tackle this ascent should be sure to bring back up snacks. The trail eventually winds up at the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. To get there, you’ll have to hike up miles of switchback trail and ford the occasional stream. 

The summit features an observation point, museum, and snack stand if you ran out of granola bars on the way up. If 11-miles isn’t enough for you, there’s an extra three-mile loop through the Deep Gap trail that takes you to Mount Craig. 

8. Green River Cove

  • Length: 6.5 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 1,040 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Location: Green River Gameland

Home of the steepest railroad grade east of the Rocky Mountains, this is one of the best hikes in North Carolina! You’ll find it winds along a river and abandoned railroad tracks for six-miles of wilderness. Located in a more remote section of Western North Carolina, the path has a variety of highlights along the way, as well as plenty of natural pools to splash in. 

This out and back option doesn’t have to be fully traversed to be enjoyed. Cutting the route in half still yields serene views. 

9. Big Creek Trail

  • Length: 10.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,312 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

These big creeks start with a bang. Several of the area’s best waterfalls are within the first few miles of the four-miles out and back adventure. The trail stops at Mouse Creek Falls and is a family-friendly option. The pathway is wide and easy to navigate, following an old railroad grade once used to haul timber. 

It follows the river throughout, so you’re never too far away from another glimpse at falling water. The trail is also a choice for horseback hikers, as the pathway never dissolves into single-track trekking. 

10. Rattlesnake Lodge Trail

  • Length: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 902 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Location: Blue Ridge Parkway

Rattlesnake Lodge is a one-of-a-kind pathway. A loop of only 3.7-miles, the trail avoids significant elevation gains or technical hiking, so it’s suitable for hikers of all ages. Bird watching and exploring wildflowers are prevalent reasons to take this route but what makes this path stand out are the remains of Rattlesnake Lodge; a resort that burned down almost 100 years ago. 

The hike takes you right through the ruins of the once famous lodge, which was privately owned until entrepreneurs converted it into a resort. The pathway is also part of North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea Trail that takes hikers across the state. 

11. Craggy Pinnacle Trail

  • Length: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 242 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Location: Blue Ridge Parkway

Another great short trail that is also one of the best hikes in North Carolina, the Craggy pinnacle trail is just one-mile of out-and-back trekking and it doesn’t skimp on beauty. The track is best in springtime when wanderers get an up-close look at the Rhododendron bloom. Visitors find themselves lost in a sea of magenta and purple flowers juxtaposed with the lush greens of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

As well as all this, there are 360-degree scenic lookouts across the Mountain Ranges and a watershed lake below. Three different lookout points make themselves known throughout the short journey, all suitable stops for a picnic lunch. If you’re staying in nearby Asheville, this is a fantastic day out!

12. Lower Cascade Trail

  • Length: .7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 91 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Location: Hanging Rock State Park

Take your time meandering through this one-mile out and back trail highlighted by a 35-foot waterfall with an accompanying swimming hole. The path takes you through iconic Eastern old-growth forest complete with mountain laurel and the occasional turkey sighting. It’s a well-maintained addition to Hanging Rock State Park, perfect for family outings. 

Mixed in with the forest views are rough-edged boulders and beautiful quartz walls surrounding the flowing water. The trail is a favorite choice for guided nature trips and you’ll find plenty of informative signage along your route. 

13. Stone Mountain Loop

  • Length: 4.5 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 938 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Location: Stone Mountain State Park

Stone Mountain’s summit is unlike any other geological offering in the area. Rough flat rocks encompass the peak of this 4.5-mile climb, allowing for undeterred views of the surrounding wilderness. Along the way, you’ll find roaring rivers and a waterfall cascading down a massive wall of granite. The hike is the main attraction of Stone Mountain State Park and takes wanderers through a historic homestead, falls, and summit all in one afternoon. 

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the hike is the perfect choice for a day in the mountains. Visitors can explore historic buildings and old-growth pine trees before hitting a steep scamper through flat stone to make it to the top.  

14. Hemphill Bald

  • Length: 17.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,467 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the smoky mountains’ prime viewpoints awaits you at the top of Hemphill Bald but it won’t be a simple task to get there. The pathway is a 13.5-mile loop that climbs over 1600 feet before planting you in front of all-encompassing views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Frequented by humans and herds of elk, the trail has something to offer year-round. 

The trek begins following an old railroad grade, slowly climbing through the treeline until the pathway opens up at Hemphill Bald. The vantage point is coated in lush green grass and scattered wildflowers, giving you a unique open area to explore on top of the mountain. Head back to the car by crossing streams and wandering through another shady forest section back to Polls Gap. 

15. Clingmans Dome 

  • Length: 1.2 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 331 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Tennessee and North Carolina are joined together by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and this domed observation tower lies right at the state line. Only a .7-mile trek from the park Visitor Center is the third highest peak east of the Mississippi River. The dome marks the highest point along the entire Appalachian trail, its height giving it incredible views of the sunset and sunrise.

On clear days visitors swear they can see over 100 miles of mountains unraveling before their eyes. This dome is a great stop at the end of a day of driving through the mountain ranges. The hike’s short length will guarantee you’re home for supper and the views won’t disappoint. 

16. Triple Falls Trail

  • Length: 2.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 439 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Location: Dupont State Park

One section of falling water is a spectacular sight but this short trek offers more. Tall trees sit on either side of three tremendous waterfall sections. Wide rock ledges formed by years of abuse by the river roaring through its cracks. The three-mile loop takes you through all three falls, as well as filming locations for scenes from The Hunger Games. 

All that cascading water has carved out deep grooves in the rocks below, giving you a few swimming hole options if you’re looking to take a break and cool off. This falls trail is one of the DuPont State Forest highlights, following along the little river. However, in this particular section, the river is anything but little. 

17. Hanging Rock Trail

  • Length: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 603 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Locaiton: Hanging Rock State Park

It can feel nauseating to take a peek over the edge of Hanging Rock, a geographical phenomenon that has left a large chunk of granite rock hanging thousands of feet in the air. Two-miles of out and back trail take you to the open-air top of the rock, where you can soak in views standing on top of Hanging Rock. 

The hike is no easy feat, trampers climb up 600 feet for a mile from the trailhead but the reward is a plethora of rock cliffs, all suitable for having lunch on. This incline doesn’t make it too strenuous for the whole family to enjoy and the payoff on top brings nothing but happy campers.  

18. Art Loeb Trail

  • Length: 30 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 8,257 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Location: Shining Rock Wilderness Area

The Art Loeb Trail name provokes fear in even the most dedicated cross country runners and hikers. Thirty strenuous miles along peaks and ridges, the trail provides some of the state’s best scenery but it won’t be easy to get there. Art Loeb’s paths are so intense that Brevard area cross country trainers spend all summer long trying to tackle its rough inclines. 

While you don’t need to be a professional distance runner to give the trail a try, it is not a trek that hikers should take on lightly. Expect to spend the entire day, and your whole body, traversing the various mountains that comprise the pathway. The trail has been split into four sections and is a popular choice for a more extended backpacking adventure.

19. Huckleberry Knob

  • Length: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 344 ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Location: Nantahala National Forest

The sunrise from Huckleberry Knob has inspired countless North Carolinians to wake up before dawn and head out on a 2.4-mile loop. A pathway wanders through an old dirt road, slowly dissolving and becoming part of the forest around it. 

A few scattered bald spots allow for views on the way up but the top is in a league of its own. A fire pit sits atop Huckleberry Knob and camping is allowed on top of the mountain if you want to turn your hike into a real outdoor adventure. 

20. Grandfather Trail

  • Length: 4.1 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 1,341 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Location: Grandfather Mountain State Park

Two centuries ago, Andre Michaux wandered along this ridgeline pathway, thinking he had found the highest point in North America. Another option for feeling the wind in your hair at Calloway Peak is to scale the ropes and ladders installed in the more harrowing sections. 

It’s not for the faint of heart or first-time hikers but the 2.5-mile pathway takes you through some of the best mountain settings North Carolina has to offer. 

About Natasha

Natasha moved to North Carolina for college years ago (but she's not trying to age herself here). Her days were spent reading a book on the beach and enjoying a cold glass of sweet tea in between classes at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Upon graduation, she met her partner, Cameron, and they traveled the world together crossing 85 countries and six continents. After, six years of international travel they settled down and launched Lost in the Carolinas to share their experiences about and travel tips on South Carolina and North Carolina.

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