Linville Gorge is one of Eastern America's most scenic and rugged gorges, created by the scouring action of the Linville River. The steep walls of the Gorge enclose the Linville River for 12 miles. The river's swift waters descend over 2,000 feet before breaking into the open levels of the Catawba Valley. Elevation averages 4,000 feet atop Hawksbill Mountain to 2,000 feet on Linville River. The 12,000-acre Linville Gorge Wilderness in the western North Carolina Mountains is part of the Pisgah National Forest.
Located in Burke County, the Gorge is so rugged that it was spared the clear-cut logging that was inflicted on most of the eastern forests shortly after the turn of the century. US Army Rangers and US Marines do their wilderness training here. Tenderfoots beware: Linville Gorge is no walk in the park. Thousands come here to hike and camp to enjoy the Gorge’s remnant virgin forests, spectacular overlooks, and unruly whitewater river, all of which can be taken in on a relatively short dayhike.
Hikers should remember that this is a federally designated Wilderness Area. Trails are not well maintained and are marked only at the trailheads at the top. Even veteran hikers will find that it is very easy to lose the trail. Many hikers get lost each year (and cell phone reception is very spotty). But you don't have to take a long hike to enjoy the spectacular views.
From Asheville, it's an easy 60-mile drive to access the western side of Linville Gorge. Wiseman's View offers some of the most spectacular vistas in North Carolina (all the photos on this page were taken there) via an easy 2/10-mile paved trail. From Asheville, take I-40 East to Marion, exiting onto Highway 221 and going north until it intersects with N.C. 183 in the Linville Falls community. Turn right on N.C. 183 and continue one mile to Old NC 105, Kistler Memorial Highway (at large Linville Gorge sign). Trailheads and parking lots, accessing the western section of the Gorge, lead off of Kistler Memorial Highway (gravel surface road - rough in spots). Wiseman's View overlook is about four miles down the road. At night, watch for the Brown Mountain Lights. Along this road, you will pass parking areas for various trails, including Linville Falls, Pine Gap Trail, Bynum Bluff Trail, Cabin Trail, Babel Tower Trail, Sandy Flats Trail, Conley Cove-Rock Jock Trail and Pinch In Trail.
Hawksbill and Table Rock (on left) from the air. See more aerial photos.
Hiking: Hawksbill & Table Rock
To access to eastern section of the Gorge, take I-40 to U.S. 221 in Marion and north to Linville Falls community. Turn right on N.C. 183 and continue to N.C. 181. Turn right (south) on N.C. 181 and go 3 miles to F.S. Road 210 (Gingercake Road). rurn right onto F.S. Road 210. At the first fork, turn left and continue through the Gingercake Acres housing development. The first parking area is for the Devils Hole Trail - approximately two miles from Gingercake Acres. The second parking area is for Hawksbill Mountain, and the third is for Spence Ridge Trail and North Table Rock Trail - one mile from Hawksbill. Continue one mile to the first intersection and turn right (you will pass the Outward Bound School sign). Stay on this road, bearing to the right, through several switchbacks and you will arrive at Table Rock Picnic Area.
Trails on both rims of the distinctly V-shaped gorge lead down to the river, and the descent is always steep. The Cabin Trail, on the west rim, drops almost 1,000 feet in 3/4 of a mile. The Linville Gorge Trail is the major connecting trail. It parallels the river on its west side for about 12 miles. On the west rim, seven trails descend from the access road SR-1238 (the Kistler Memorial Highway) to the Linville Gorge Trail. On the east rim, three trails lead from Forest Road 210 to the river, and only one of these, Spence Ridge, receives regular use and is likely to be clear of downed trees. Trails also lead from Forest Road 210 to Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountains, two of the most distinctive peaks in the southern Appalachians.
More about Linville Gorge
Linville Gorge is formed by Jonas Ridge on the east, and Linville Mountain on the west and is bisected by the Linville River, which drops into the valleys below. The odd assortment of rock formations located on Jonas Ridge include Sitting Bear, Hawksbill, Table Rock, and the Chimneys. The terrain is extremely steep and rugged with numerous rock formations. It is covered by a dense hardwood/pine forest and a wide variety of smaller trees and other plants. Recreation opportunities include hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, fishing, and hunting.
The wilderness of the Linville Gorge is rich in both plant and animal life. There are five species of rare plants, several varieties of rhododendron, and virgin forests in the deep coves. The rugged terrain has always made development difficult, and the wilderness designation now prevents development in the gorge. Sand myrtle, red chokeberry, azalea, turkey beard, bristly locust, yellow root, silverbell, orchids, ninebark, and wild indigo are among the many plant species. Animal species include deer, bear, squirrel, raccoon, grouse, turkey, vultures, owls, hawks, as well as brown and rainbow trout. Hikers should also be wary of copperheads and timber rattlers. Hunting and fishing are allowed but permits are required. Camping is permitted in the gorge but permits are required from May 1 through October 31. It is always a good idea to check in with the rangers and let them know you are going into the gorge. The gorge is a rugged and wild place and visitors should treat the wilderness with respect.
We highly recommend a stop at the Linville Falls Visitor Center, open mid April through October, 9 AM-5 PM (and hiking to multiple views of the waterfall). The center is well stocked with maps, and the rangers are a great source of "inside" information about the gorge. The centerpiece attraction, the Linville River, is also the chief architect of this wilderness sculpture. Nearly vertical rock outcroppings several hundred feet high border the river throughout much of the Gorge. One peninsula, the 400 foot high Babel Tower, stands above the river like the turret on a medieval castle. No wonder the Cherokees called the river "Eeseeoh," "a river of many cliffs." Today, these cliffs attract scores of rock climbers. Shortoff Mountain and Table Rock, on the east rim of the Gorge, are two of North Carolina’s premier climbing destinations.
Linville Gorge features some of the best remnant stands of uncut forest in the southern Appalachians. If you overturn a few rocks in the damp coves of virgin hemlock and yellow poplar there’s a good chance you’ll see a salamander scurry for cover. But it’s a different world on the dry ridgetops nearby. There, you’ll find a fire-dependent ecosystem that is home to endangered plants such as Heller’s Blazing Star and Mountain Golden Heather, a species that lives nowhere else except nearby Grandfather Mountain. In early spring look for Large Flowered Trillium and Toad Trillium blooming alongside the Linville Gorge Trail. In summer look for the white spires of Galax along the Bynum Bluff Trail and other ridgetop trails. Watch the skies for Peregrine Falcons, since many now call Linville Gorge home.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway, see Linville Gorge from Chestoa View.
The U.S. Forest Service Grandfather Ranger District only gives permits to 50 users per night for weekend camping in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area of Pisgah National Forest. A permit is required for camping on weekends (Friday and Saturday) and on holidays from May 1 through October 31. Permits are not required for Sunday night camping, except when the following Monday is a holiday. No permit is needed for weekday camping. All campers are limited to a two-night and three-day stay at Linville Gorge. Day use permits are not required. Forest staff will be in the gorge throughout the summer checking for compliance with permit requirements. Permits are issued from the district ranger's office by mail or in person. District offices can permit 35 users per night by reservation or walk-in. For permits, contact Grandfather Ranger District, 109 East Lawing Drive, Nebo, N.C. 28761, phone 828-652-2144. The Linville Gorge Information Cabin can permit fifteen (15) users per night by walk-in only. The information cabin is located just off of Kistler Memorial Highway.
For maps and more info:
Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest
109 East Lawing Drive
Nebo, NC 28761
(828) 652-4841 x2144
(located off I-40, Exit 90, Nebo/Lake James Exit)