Where to Go: Hiking Edition

As an avid hiker, I get asked pretty frequently where some good trails are in the North Carolina area, so I’ve compiled some selections together for those who are fellow outdoors people like our family. As a general reminder: most parks will have trails marked by color and symbol to differentiate between the trails and the level of difficulty. All of these hiking spots listed are linked to their websites, which include a map of their trails. I always screenshot the trail map to my phone to have with me once we arrive. We are fortunate that North Carolina is home to many great options.

South Mountains State Park: This is easily one of our favorite parks in the NC area. We probably go once a month, and lately, the fall scenery is some of the best we have seen. I encourage parking at the Jacob Fork River parking area, and taking the High Shoals Fall Loop to the the incredible 80-foot waterfall. The 2.7 mile loop leading to the falls borders a mountain stream with intermittent waterfalls throughout. The trail is relatively easy, but towards the descent directly to the falls, the trail becomes a bit steeper with several feet of stairs. There’s a variety of trails in terms of difficulty that cover 40 miles for hikers. Other features include: elevations of 3,000 feet, 24 backpacking campsites at seven locations, picnic areas, and equestrian camping.

Linville Gorge: Our first trip to this scenic location was just a few weeks ago, and we will definitely be back. It’s about a two-hour drive one-way from the Charlotte, NC area but the waterfall is well worth the trip. Linville Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and easily accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are a variety of trails that provide different and unique views of the falls from various points of elevation, the Falls Trail is 1.6 miles round-trip and an easy hike. Additionally, you can hike on The Gorge Trail, and The Plunge Basin Trail. This hike in the fall months is incredible, see photos below!

Hanging Rock State Park: If you’re looking for a more moderate/to strenuous hike — this is your park. The name speaks for itself, as the views at the top of the Hanging Rock Trail of the Blue Ridge Mountains are truly breathtaking. The photos will speak for themselves. You can access this trail by parking at the park visitor center and it takes most people about an hour to get to the top, so leave ample time. (1.3 miles one way) Another attraction at Hanging Rock that is not to be missed, is the Lower Cascades waterfall — a large, 35-foot waterfall that empties from Cascade Creek out into a swimming hole that is privately tucked away at the bottom of a moderate, short hike down to the location (.4 miles one-way). To access this you will want to follow the signs to the Lower Cascades parking area. Other features include: 8.4 miles of mountain biking trails, rock climbing opportunities with permit, 73-site campgrounds, stocked lake for swimming and canoe rentals.

Stone Mountain State Park: We stumbled across this park one day in Traphill, and it quickly became a go-to for the family. This park has such a wide variety of trails and views, it’s hard to pick just one trail for the day. One of the more unique attractions is the giant granite dome set back into the mountainside. The Stone Mountain Loop Trail, reached from the Upper or Lower Parking Areas takes you through the historic Hutchinson Homestead (a restored mid-19th century farm) and to a 200-foot waterfall. This is a more strenuous hike and clocks in at 4.5 miles, if you do the whole loop. Another trail we loved was the moderate trip on the Wolf Rock Trail (1.50 miles one-way), accessed via the Stone Mountain Loop or Cedar Rock Trail. It provides the most incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountain escarpment atop Wolf Rock, and it felt like we were on another planet the first time we saw this. Other features include: 18 miles of trails, 90-site campgrounds, horseback riding, more than 20 miles of trout waters.

Grandfather Mountain State Park: This park is a bit of a further drive, and more of a commitment than some of the others — located in Banner Elk, NC it’s a little over a two-hour scenic drive from the Charlotte area. The trip is well worth it. This park is unlike any of the others listed due to one of the main attractions: the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge. It’s a 228-foot suspension bridge over an 80-foot chasm, as a result, the views of Northwest North Carolina are unparalleled. Guests pay an admission fee to drive their vehicle through the park where there are a variety of hiking trails, nature exhibits and of course the mile high bridge that connects two peaks, one mile above the sea level.