Here are our favorite hikes near Asheville in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. To find the best hiking trails, we evaluated hikes for all skill levels. When selecting hikes and walks, we use the following criteria:
1. The hike is 80 miles or less from downtown Asheville.
2. It is safe, well marked, and not overly strenuous.
3. It does not require any special equipment or shoes.
4. It is easy to locate.
Note: Several of our picks are along the Blue Ridge Parkway (also see our Blue Ridge Parkway Top 10 Quick Hikes). This makes for great convenience except in the winter months when the parkway is closed in the higher elevations.
Before a hike, energize with a hearty breakfast at one of the Asheville Area Bed and Breakfasts! Why stay in a B&B?
Best Hikes Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, South of Asheville
Click on the links for much more info & photos of these western North Carolina trails!
Mt. Pisgah: Mt. Pisgah can be seen from downtown Asheville on a clear day. It's easy to pick out since it has a large transmission tower on the top! The popular 1.5-mile (one way) hiking trail to the 5,721-foot summit is a bit strenuous. Milepost 407
Fryingpan Tower: Avoid the crowds at neighboring Mt. Pisgah and get better views with this 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to the historic tower. Milepost 408
Graveyard Fields: This very popular hiking spot features two waterfalls in a mile-high valley filled with wildflowers and surrounded by Blue Ridge Mountains with 6,000-foot peaks. The area got its name years ago from the tree stumps and surrounding trees that looked like grave stones in a graveyard setting. The excellent loop trail (Graveyard Fields Loop) is about four miles. Milepost 419
Black Balsam Knob: For sweeping 360-degree views, roam the bald mountaintops. Almost entirely devoid of trees above 6000', the summit is more reminiscent of New England than North Carolina. Milepost 420
Devil's Courthouse: Short but strenuous trail climbing a half mile to the peak. The bare rock profile named Devil's Courthouse is sinister in appearance and legend. Milepost 422
Richland Balsam: A 1.5-mile loop trail to top of the highest summit along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Milepost 431
Waterrock Knob: This peak (6,292 feet) is the 16th highest mountain in the Eastern United States. There are fantastic views both east and west from the parking area and a 1.2-mile roundtrip hiking trail will take you to the top of the summit. Milepost 451
NC Hikes Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North of Asheville
Click on the links for much more info & photos!
Rattlesnake Lodge: Hike back in time as you discover the rock foundations of Rattlesnake Lodge, a family lodge that was enjoyed by many in the early 1900s. The 2.8-mile roundtrip hike is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Asheville. You can extend the hike since it is part of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Milepost 375
Craggy Gardens: Our favorite hike at Craggy Gardens (and one of our favorites in the Asheville area) is the Craggy Pinnacle Trail. It's a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to the top. The exceptional panoramic views are hard to top in Western North Carolina. Milepost 364
Mt. Mitchell Deep Gap Trail to Mt. Craig: Our favorite hike at Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Rockies, is the Deep Gap Trail to Mt. Craig (the second highest point). A two-mile roundtrip hike includes a good bit of climbing, but it is not overly strenuous. From atop Mt. Craig, you can view much of the southern portion of the Black Mountain Range along with a look back at Mt. Mitchell. Milepost 355. Continue on the Deep Gap Trail for another 3.5 miles. For a more challenging hike, take the 5.5-mile Mt. Mitchell Trail from the Black Mountain Campground to the summit, climbing 3,600 feet in elevation. Balsam Trail is an easy hike on the summit. More details in our Mt. Mitchell Guide. Milepost 355
Green Knob Tower: This historic fire lookout tower is visible from on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt. Mitchell. The panoramic views from atop the tower are certainly worth the one mile round-trip hike. The tower provides the best viewing point of the rugged and tall Black Mountains range, including Mt. Mitchell. Milepost 350
Crabtree Falls: In the Crabtree Meadows Recreation Area is a 2.5-mile moderate loop hiking trail to a 70-foot waterfall. Milepost 340
Chestoa View: The fabulous Chestoa View overlook (elevation 4,090 ft) is easy to miss as you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's one of the best views on the Parkway. From the parking area, it's a short (1/3 mile) walk to the rock-walled viewing area with spectacular views of the beautiful Linville Gorge. Milepost 320
Linville Falls: This is probably the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina. You can hike to five viewpoints on two trails that leave the Visitors Center. Only one of the trails is strenuous and you can hike to all five viewpoints with a four mile hike. Milepost 316
See a video of Linville Falls
Linville Gorge: Enjoy spectacular views of the striking Linville Gorge from atop Hawksbill Mountain and Table Rock Mountain. The trailheads to these hikes are just five miles apart. Since both trails are short (one is 1.5 miles and the other is 2.2 miles), you can hike them back-to-back! Exit at Linville Falls community.
Beacon Heights: This short one-mile roundtrip hike has a big pay-off with spectacular views from several rock platforms to explore safely. Milepost 305
Grandfather Mountain: More than 12 miles of regularly maintained hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy nature walks to strenuous backcountry challenges. Our favorite hike is going out along Grandfather Trail and returning along Underwood Trail. Guided hikes with rangers are available! Milepost 305
Rough Ridge: This unique hike offers plenty of viewpoints and a wooden boardwalk over fragile vegetation. The two-mile roundtrip to the summit features rock outcrops to enjoy the views of Grandfather Mountain, Linn Cove Viaduct and multiple mountain ranges in several directions. Milepost 303
Brevard / Highlands NC Area Hiking Trails, Southwest of Asheville
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DuPont Forest Waterfalls: The 10,000-acre North Carolina state forest is home to 900 miles of hiking trails. While there are quite a few waterfalls in DuPont, you can see three of the most impressive, Hooker Falls, Triple Falls and High Falls with a moderate 3-mile hike.
Watch a video of waterfalls at DuPont
DuPont Forest Cedar Rock Mountain: This 4.5-mile loop hike provides wonderful views and dramatic scenery - and it's not a difficult hike. Rising only a few hundred feet above the surrounding plateau, Cedar Rock Mountain contains some of the most exposed granite anywhere in the region - a hidden jewel with few hikers.
Whiteside Mountain: A landmark in the Nantahala National Forest, Whiteside Mountain rises to an elevation of 4,930 feet. It's located between Cashiers and Highlands, North Carolina. A "moderate" two mile loop trail takes you on top of sheer 750-foot high cliffs (plenty of railings for safety) with outstanding views
Forest Discovery Center at the Cradle of Forestry: Easy stroll! Walk two miles of paved trails to see restored buildings from the early 1900s and learn about how forestry begin in the United States.
Rainbow Falls & Gorges State Park: This 150-foot tall waterfall is impressive, especially after rainy weather that swells the Horsepasture River, its source. The best feature of Rainbow Falls is the ability for visitors to experience the falls from the front, bottom, side, and top! Located in the Nantahala National Forest, adjacent to Gorges State Park, Rainbow Falls is just one of four waterfalls on a two mile stretch of the river. Take a 3-mile roundtrip moderate hiking trail from Gorges State Park to the waterfalls.
See a video of Rainbow Falls.
Looking Glass Rock: For 180+ degree views from a rock face, hike this trail in the Pisgah National Forest. It's an especially great hike for winter months since it's accessible year-round (weather permitting) unlike the hikes from the Blue Ridge Parkway. To reach the top, hike the "backside" of the mountain up 1,700 feet in just over three miles (6.5 miles roundtrip).
John Rock: Just a mile from the trailhead to Looking Glass Rock is a rewarding loop trail that takes you to the top of another rock face with panoramic views. From John Rock, you have a great view of Looking Glass Rock.
Daniel Ridge Falls: Hike a four-mile loop (near Looking Glass Rock & John Rock hikes) with a 150-foot waterfall.
Glen Falls: This is probably the most beautiful waterfall setting in the Highlands area - and one of the least visited since it's not on the main highway and it requires a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike.
Cold Mountain: This strenuous 10.6 mile roundtrip hike takes you to the summit of the mountain made famous by the novel and movie, in the beautiful Shining Rock Wilderness Area of the Pisgah National Forest.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest: Hike an easy two mile loop to see an old growth cove hardwood forest with 400-year old towering poplar trees.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hiking Trails
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Mt. LeConte & Alum Cave: The Alum Cave Trail is the most hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You'll see why with interesting geological features and stunning views. To reach the 6,593-foot summit of Mount LeConte (third highest peak in the Smokies) from the parking area on U.S. Highway 441, you'll climb 2,853 feet and 5.5 miles (11 miles roundtrip).
See a video of Alum Cave Trail!
Clingmans Dome: At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the highest point in Tennessee. A one-mile roundtrip moderate, paved hiking trail takes you to the top to enjoy panoramic views from the observation deck.
See a video of Clingmans Dome!
Chimney Tops: One of the most popular and rewarding hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It has an elevation of 4,800 feet and is one of the park's most recognizable geological structures since it's a rare rock summit in the Smokies. The mountain views at the top are the best in the Smokies! To reach the summit, take a four mile roundtrip hiking trail (with 1,700 feet elevation) from the parking area on Newfound Gap Road.
Charlies Bunion: Hike on the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap north four miles to this rocky ridge with spectacular views of the Smokies. You climb about 1,600 feet in elevation, but it's gradual.
Mt. Sterling: Atop Mt. Sterling (5,842 ft elevation) is the historic, 60 ft. steel fire lookout tower built in 1935. Climb the tower for great views of the Smokies. The 2.7-mile hike (5.4-mile roundtrip) from Sterling Gap is strenuous since you climb 2,000 feet in elevation.
Mt. Cammerer: The hike up from Big Creek is a 5.9-mile constant climb (11.8-mile roundtrip) with a gain of about 3,000 feet in elevation. The fire tower on top affording fabulous views is your reward for the climb.
Andrews Bald: Andrews Bald has an elevation of 5,920 feet, making it the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The four-mile roundtrip hike is not overly strenuous, but includes a good bit of uphill and rocky sections. And you won't see the crowds that you find on other hikes in the Smokies.
More Great Hiking Trails Near Asheville
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Chimney Rock: Take a short hike to the top of the Chimney for breathtaking views of the gorge and continue up some stairs to see the Devil's Head. Stroll along the Hickory Nut Falls trail winding through hardwood forest to the bottom of the 400-foot waterfall. Often overlooked, the Four Seasons trail begins near the Meadows and takes you through a beautiful deciduous forest and boulder fields. Go to the Chimney Rock Web site.
Max Patch on Appalachian Trail: Hike a section of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail (or A.T.) near Hot Springs. This 4,600-foot mountain was cleared and used as pasture in the 1800s. What a picnic spot with 360-degree mountain views! The 1.4-mile short loop crosses the summit. The 2.4-mile loop circles the mountain for outstanding views from all the sides.
Beech Mountain: The town of Beech Mountain, the highest town in eastern America, has 20 miles of maintained trails atop their mountain. A great place to keep cool since their temperatures seldom go above 75 degrees!
Lover's Leap: This short loop trail leaves from downtown Hot Springs via the Appalachian Trail and climbs to a rock outcropping for beautiful views of the river and town. It's a romantic spot, but don't leap!
Roan Mountain: Famous for its spectacular natural gardens of Catawba rhododendrons, Roan Mountain shelters a rich diversity of life, from spruce-fir forests to vast grassy balds. Roan Mountain is actually not one mountain, but a high ridge about 5 miles long, the highest point being 6,286 feet. Hike the ridge on the Appalachian Trail for sweeping views all along the way.
See photos and video of a winter hike on Roan Mountain.
Point Lookout Trail: The best paved greenway in the Asheville area opened in late 2008. This 3.6-mile paved biking/walking path is surrounded by Pisgah National Forest and barricaded to motorized vehicles at both ends. It was formerly part of Old US Highway 70, winding through the woods with serene views of the mountains, railroad and forest. While the trail is only 3.6 miles one way, it climbs 900 feet in elevation from Old Fort to Ridgecrest.
See photos and video of Point Lookout Trail.
Catawba Falls: Also near Old Fort is a 1.5-mile trail to the beautiful Catawba Falls, a 100-foot waterfall with several smaller waterfalls along the trail.
Hikes & Walks in the City of Asheville
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North Carolina Arboretum: Located just 10 miles south of downtown, the Arboretum has several easy to moderate walking trails. Our pick is the Natural Garden Trail, a one-mile loop starting from the Plants of Promise Garden to the Core Area Gardens. It is a gently graded, naturally surfaced trail that overlooks Bent Creek and the National Native Azalea Repository.
Urban Trail: In downtown Asheville is a 1.7-mile walking tour with 30 sculptures that depict the history of downtown.
Biltmore Estate: There are many well-maintained trails to explore for all fitness levels. You can walk several miles around the gardens near the house, including a beautiful stroll around the Bass Pond (1/2 mile from the conservatory in the Walled Garden and 1/2 mile around the pond). Our favorite hike at Biltmore is the Deer Park Trail, offering great views of the house.
Botanical Gardens at Asheville: Perfect for an after-dinner stroll with a half-mile loop across streams, through meadows, and over a woodland ridge to a wildflower cove with an authentic log cabin. All of this is in the middle of town, just three miles north of downtown beside the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Riverside Cemetery: Stroll through 87 acres of rolling hills with interesting tombstones and plenty of history.
Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary: Stroll along 3/8-mile boardwalk through a wetland area in north Asheville with nice lake views and great bird watching.
ADA Hiking Trails
Several area trails are designated as accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One is a 1/4-mile trail at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Also, Mt. Mitchell has a ADA 1/4-mile paved trail from the parking area to the observation tower, although it's uphill.
Click on the links for much more info!
Pisgah National Forest: The half million acres of the Pisgah National Forest surrounding Asheville in western North Carolina features hundreds of hiking trails through some of the most beautiful and rugged mountain scenery in eastern North America. Download PDF 16-page 2011 Guide to the National Forests in North Carolina
Nantahala National Forest: The largest national forest in North Carolina features hundreds of miles of hiking trails. It's a great place to enjoy the peace and wonder of nature, whatever your hiking ability. Download PDF 16-page 2011 Guide to the National Forests in North Carolina.
Appalachian Trail: The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a 2,174-mile footpath along the ridgecrests and across the major valleys of the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia. See our Appalachian Trail Guide for dayhikes near Asheville.
Mountains to Sea Trail: Hike parts of this 193-mile section that follows the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Winter Hiking: From November through March, hiking in the higher North Carolina mountain elevations can mean negotiating blustery winds and snow. Try the North Carolina Arboretum, the Mountain-to-Sea trail at the Folk Art Center, a lower trail at Chimney Rock (the Skyline Cliff trail is often closed in the winter due to ice) or the Waterfall hikes (see above). Looking Glass Rock is a great winter option, but be careful of ice on the rock face at the top. In the higher elevations, you can enjoy the rime ice. Also see our winter hike on Roan Mountain (and winter hiking tips) and to Mt. Cammerer in the Great Smokies.
Camping: See our Asheville Camping Guide.
NOC Wilderness Survival School: Learn to survive in the outdoors of the North Carolina mountains!
Asheville Hiking Clubs & Group Hikes
The Carolina Mountain Club, now over 80 years old and the oldest Hiking and Trail Maintaining Club in Western NC, fosters the enjoyment of the mountains of Western North Carolina and adjoining regions. They lead 175 hikes per year, maintain 400 miles of trail, build new trails, and promote the conservation of the trails and natural scenery. Join them on a hike.
The Montreat Trail Club is made up of volunteers, supporters, and conference center staff members, and works with the Montreat Conference Center to maintain hiking trails, conduct hikes, and provide environmental education opportunities. Membership is not required to participate in Trail Club hikes or work with a trail crew, but a new membership does entitle the member to a Montreat Trail Club patch and a subscription to The Wanderer, the Trail Club’s quarterly newsletter.
Western North Carolina Mountains Hiking Tips
1. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.
2. Go early to avoid crowds and heat.
3. Take extra clothes and rain gear, in case of a quick weather change. With the exception of the Chimney Rock hike, expect much cooler conditions on the trails we recommend. Wear layers.
4. Stay on marked trails. Do not disturb any wildlife or plantlife.
5. Take plenty of drinking water. Although it may be tempting, don't drink from the streams.
6. Take a cell phone in case of emergency. Coverage is surprising good on some mountaintops, although it is spotty in some valleys. But have it turned off so it won't ring while you are trying to "get away from it all!"
7. Take hiking maps and snacks, especially if you are going on a longer trail.
8. If you have an emergency along the Parkway, call 1-800-ParkWatch. Otherwise, call 911.
9. Trail lengths can be misleading if the trail has a big elevation gain. We do have the highest mountains in the eastern USA.
10. Dogs are allowed on most hiking trails (on a leash), except in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Pet Friendly Asheville
11. Research ahead of time.
12. Follow principles of Leave No Trace.