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Asheville, NC: Linville Gorge Loop

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Distance: 21.8 miles


A super-sampler of the southern half of Linville Gorge, this 3-day backpack showcases some of the best sweeping cliff-top views and raging waterfalls that the "Grand Canyon of the East" has to offer.
  • Gorge View
  • The Chimneys
  • Linville River
  • Shortoff from the South

A three-day backpack above and down into the "Grand Canyon of the East," this 22-mile Linville Gorge loop offers a super sampler of the amazing vistas and trailside distractions that the Linville Gorge Wilderness has to offer. Along this route, backpackers will find multiple campsite options, both on the east rim of the gorge and at the bottom along the Linville River.

Starting at Wolf Pit Road parking area, ascend the Wolf Pit Trail and turn right onto the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST; white circle blazes). Continuing north along the gorge's east rim, the MST skirts Shortoff Mountain—where a cliff overlook offers sweeping chasm views and stellar camping—before continuing on and up to The Chimneys (360-degree overlooks and more campsite options).

After 7.8 miles, take an optional 1-mile out-and-back detour up to an overlook at Table Rock Mountain, or begin your descent to the gorge floor on Spence Ridge Trail. After crossing the Linville River, the route turns south for 6.2 miles of gentle down-slope hiking alongside the river. Nearly 12 miles in, the trail passes Cathedral Falls, where hikers can take a dip or cast a line. At mile 17.5, the trail crosses a river tributary and begins its climb out of the gorge. Turn right on a blue-blazed connector trail which traverses a steeper ridge to reconnect with the Mountains to Sea Trail.

Turning left on the MST, the route makes a short descent down to a 60-yard ford of the Linville River. Note: Check this spot from Flora Lane before you hike. If the water is too high, do not attempt to cross here. Instead, stash a shuttle car on Flora Lane on the west side of the river. After the crossing, it's a stiff, 1,800-foot climb up the southern ridge of Shortoff Mountain and a 1-mile descent back down to Wolf Pit Road.

Plan it: A permit is required to camp overnight on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays between May 1st and October 31st. No more than 10 people per group. Maximum length of stay is 3 days and 2 nights. Call the Grandfather District Ranger at 828-652-4841 (or 2144) to secure a permit.

-Mapped by Peter Rives

Trail Reviews & Comments

READERS COMMENTS

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Adam
Mar 17, 2014

I did this trip on 10Mar14. I was able to complete the entire 22 mile loop. However it was very difficult to do because of the downed bridge at the bottom of the Spence Ridge Trail. Now it is not impossible to cross the river, however I would advise you bring a static rope of some sort to cross the river. There were two makeshift bridges across some of the river. If you choose to use these use extreme caution when first getting on the bridge and use the rope you have with you to tie across from the middle of the river to the banking once you cross the first makeshift bridge to help any others in your party. Once you get to the middle of the river there is a second bridge that is placed just before some faster moving water. It is my advice that the person with the most stable footing do this part. Taking the rope that you have secured to the middle rock cross this bridge to the third rock. Now here is where it gets tricky, you will need to get into the water... this is where the steadying footing comes into play. there are a couple rocks that you can "stand" on. carefully cross this short section to a forth set of rocks about 5 feet apart. once you've gotten this far you'll be able to climb up on a larger rock and then jump to the other side. I would recommend having the first person carry the rope to the other side and tie it to the other end of the bridge. this way other members of the party can use it to cross the parts of the river where they will be in the water. After you'll all crossed the river the trail gets a little easier than the climbing you did the previous day. The trail is narrow here and a misstep could send you falling down the side banking. The next major challenge you will have is the trail ending in random places. I spent a good amount of time searching for the trail at one point and ended up on the wrong trail having to bushwack back towards the river. Mt recommendation for this part is to have someone stand where the trail ends and have another search ahead until the trail is re-found. then continue on. There are a bunch or great camping spots all along this section of the loop. So don't worry about finding one to much. The next challenge if finding the blue blaze trail unlike what others have said I found this to be the best marked trail maybe someone went through and marked it i don't know. But none the less it was well marked. Don't let that fool you tho this trail is very challenging and requires so light footwork. You will be travelling up steep hills and down the other side over streams and through leaves. Be careful. Once you get back on the MTS(white circle trail)it gets easy again until you come to the river. follow the MTS all the way until the rivers edge at which point you should see a white dot on the other side of the river. cross the river by foot at a diagonal to the other white circle. then the MTS goes through another campsite to the left and up the other side to the beginning of the trail. There you have it the Linville Gorge Loop. If you have any questions feel free to email me at gouldie12@yahoo.com

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Paul
Jan 26, 2014

My buddy and I decided to do this trail in the winter to avoid crowds and have it all to ourselves. The problem is that the bridge at the bottom of the Spence Ridge Trail is out and there is no way to cross the river. Trust me we walked up and down looking for a way and its not possible. So we had to turn around and climb all the way back to the top of the mountain. We made it over the summit and down to the saddle just in time before 45mph or more winds kicked in. We build a nice wild barrier in front of the tents that saved us. FYI we started at Wolf Pitt and planned to do the full loop. The view is great, but don't plan on doing the loop until they complete the bridge or the water is low enough to cross. It was only about 10 degrees without adding in wind chill for us. I hope they fix the bridge because I would love to go back and complete this route.

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Jack
Jun 04, 2013

This trail is beautiful but very strenuous. The blue blazed connector trail is near impossible to follow once you find it. I DO NOT recommend using the blue blazed trail to complete your loop. Instead use the pinch in trail, or any other way besides the blue blazed trail. After using this trail for 20 minutes we could no longer find the trail or any blue blazes, and could not go back down with our packs without slipping dangerously on the fallen leaves. We were forced to climb up the entirety of Pinnacle Mountain with no trail until it finally ran into the mountain to sea trail (3-4 hours with cut up legs) and were convinced we were gonna die. However, the rest of the trail is gorgeous and fun.

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Matt
Dec 12, 2012

Ok, so here goes. If you're looking for a good little weekend hike, don't let this description fool you. This hike is long and very strenuous, pay close attention to everything. My buddy and I decided to take this trip during the last of our summer break before school started, late July early August. After driving forever on Wolfpit rd. we stayed the night in the car the day before starting the trip. We started on a Monday and began our hike. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, mid to high 70's, little to no humidity...all around a great day for a hike and a awesome start to the trip. After you leave the parking area it's a steady climb up to connect to the MST, a few switchbacks here and there and awesome views of Lake James. After connecting with the MST (this is a good break point if you're like us and like long hiking days) you have amazing views of the gorge. From the MST as you walk along and look to your left you can see some farm land, keep that in mind cause it comes it handy later. Ok so we made our way along the trail, by the way this is the absolutely easiest hike I think I've ever had backpacking, for about 7 miles it's light gradual slopes up and down and even flat in places, but once it starts climbing it doesn't stop. Take lots of water with you too, cause there is no water up top. After climbing some steep grades you'll see some exposed mountain sides off to the right where people aren't allowed to climb cause of the falcon nests. That's where you're going. After about 10 miles you'll hit the camping area near table rock, take this time to refuel, drink water, eat something or set up camp if you're done for the day, but if you're running low on water I'd keep going cause there's none there either. So as you leave table rock camp ground you're gonna stay right and continue to follow the ridge, it'll start down a very wide path, easy to follow, you'll hit a clearing about 20 minutes in, you're not near water yet so keep going. You'll start to see a road off out of the woods, don't be alarmed you're on track still, go out and stay left til you hit the boy scout trail, this one is very wide, very easy to follow and very well marked. Should have no trouble here. You'll start seeing a little tributary to the river on the right and tucked back in the woods is the best camp site we found, we stayed there for the night. Rain moved in that night and we got wet...and stayed that way. Second day starting out was ok, the rain and soaked a lot of our stuff but we were relatively dry. the hike to the river was short where we came from. You cross a couple boy scout bridges to the other side of the river, continue following the trail but don't get too comfortable, you won't have it for long. As you follow the river you'll see spotted campsites where fisherman like to stay it's far too early to make camp so don't even bother. We decided that we wanted to make the river food before making camp because we knew if it rained again this night we may not be able to ford the river. So we continued along the river side, following a poorly marked trail that completely disappears a couple times. About halfway through the second say rain hit again, we rested up and ate some food and waited for it to pass. Once back on the trail or what we could make out of it we kept going. for a while you're actually bushwhacking so get comfy cause the next 2 miles are hell. The trail, when it does reappear veers out the the right and moves away from the river, this is the part where things get funny. There's a trail that's running straight away from the river don't take that, stay left. When you get back by the river keep following it a trail will show up trust me. On up you'll see the trail dead end at a shear rock wall. THIS IS NOT YOUR FORD. We made that mistake and paid dearly for it the next day when we had to climb a mountain with no ropes and no gear to speak of for 900 ft in fog so thick we stayed soaked. But we made it out. Now back to that dead end, if you remember me telling you about that farm land, well you're about a mile away from it at that dead end. on the same side as it. On back before the dead end and the clearing this is a trail, that at this point looks very uninviting, it goes straight up to the right, take this trail it'll circumnavigate the farm land and lead to the real ford and then make your ascent and go home you just completed one of the most difficult and fulfilling hikes of your life. Hope you found this useful and good luck on your trip.

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