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North Carolina Backpacking Trails

Asheville, NC: Hike with Elk (Cataloochee Divide Loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

While Great Smoky Mountains might be the most visited park in the system, Cataloochee is far from the crowds—with a bit of luck, you can see as many elk as people. BY GRAHAM AVERILL

Charlotte, NC: Morrow and Sugarloaf Mountains

Hike Sugarloaf and Morrow Mountains in just a few hours at Morrow Mountain State Park outside Charlotte.

Charlotte, NC: South Mountains—High Shoals and Headquarters Trails

Hike to a beautiful waterfall and go for a swim in South Mountains State Park near Charlotte.

Charlotte, NC: RibbonWalk Nature Preserve

Make a quick getaway to a lush forest 10 minutes from Uptown at RibbonWalk Nature Preserve.

Charlotte, NC: Badin Lake Loop

Enjoy lake views and isolated woods on this easy trail along Badin Lake in Uwharrie National Forest.

Charlotte, NC: Living History Farm, Kings Mountain

Explore well-preserved Living History Farm on this short hike near Charlotte.

Charlotte, NC: Robinson Rockhouse Ruins, Reedy Creek

Enjoy a short hike to 200-year-old ruins along Reedy Creek on the Robinson Rockhouse Trail in Charlotte.

Charlotte, NC: Pilot Mountain Grindstone Trail

When you're in need of some amazing views, and willing to drive for them, hit the Grindstone Trail on Pilot Mountain outside Charlotte.

Charlotte, NC: McMullen Creek Greenway

This close-to-Charlotte hike takes you along McMullen Creek via fun, bike-friendly boardwalks.

Charlotte, NC: Lake Shore Trail, Lake Norman

Stroll 4.8 miles along Lake Norman on the Lake Shore Trail about an hour from Charlotte.

Asheville, NC: Mount Rogers via Massie Gap

Mount Rogers via Massie Gap: A state high point, the Appalachian Trail, and wild ponies all in one hike—jackpot!

Charlotte, NC: Seven Oaks Preserve Trail

Let you mind go free while you wander along a pretty lake on the uncomplicated Seven Oaks Preserve Trail.

Charlotte, NC: Browns Mountain, Kings Mountain National Military Park

Climb Browns Mountain, hike a narrated battlefield trail, watch a reenacted revolutionary war encampment, see war muskets—Kings Mountain has it all!

Charlotte, NC: Crowders Mountain

Charge up the most famous peak outside Charlotte for views of the surrounding forests via the Crowders Trail.

Charlotte, NC: Reedy Creek Preserve Loop

Wander through a secluded forest on this east loop in the Reedy Creek Preserve outside Charlotte, North Carolina.

Winston-Salem: Salem Lake Trail

Stroll along the shores of Salem Lake on this 7-mile loop over rolling hills and under tall pine and poplar trees.

Raleigh: Dutchmans Creek Trail

Trek along a chain of ancient volcanoes to pristine mountain creeks and an old gold mine on this 14.4-mile, 2-day hike in Uwharrie National Forest.

Raleigh: Uwharrie National Recreation Trail

This 19.3-mile, 2- to 3-day backpacking trip follows an old trapper’s route to pleasant streams, old volcanic peaks, and the wooded digs of numerous wildlife.

Asheville, NC: Cold Mountain

Big views. Quiet streams. A forest paradise. This 8-mile hike to a Hollywood-made-famous summit still offers plenty of solitude, plus fine campsites for a wilderness overnight.

Greensboro, NC: Mayo River Paddle

This 10.2-mile kayak or canoe trip starts out with a big rush over Class III rapids, then runs a mellow river lined with hardwoods rich with waterfowl and wildlife.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Big Creek Loop

Climb Mt. Sterling and hike through history on this 16.4-mile loop through the eastern Smokies.

Asheville: Old Butt Knob-Shining Rock Trails

Climb knobby ridges to the white quartz cap of Shining Rock, then follow a pristine stream back to your car on this arduous 7.8-mile loop.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Deep Creek Loop Trail

This moderate 5.5-mile loop on the eastern boundary of the Smokies combines stellar woodland hiking with superb waterfall exploration.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Hemphill Bald Loop

This 13.2-mile loop is classic Smokies: free-flowing creeks, wide valley views, and hardwood forests peppered with long-abandoned homesites.

Asheville: Panthertown Valley Loop

On this 5.6-miler, see the rare granite domes and lively waterfalls that earned this Nantahala National Forest valley the nickname “Yosemite of the East.”

Appalachian Trail: Lovers Leap Loop

Sample a classic stretch of the Appalachian Trail on this 11.5-mile route around a 1,000-foot gorge, with overlooks and eye-candy vistas of the Smokies.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Charlies Bunion Loop

Get away for a night or three on this 12.8-mile lasso loop that delivers you to the high reaches of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Charlotte: Upper Falls Loop

Hike a 6.9-mile loop past raging waterfalls to the lonely ridges of North Carolina’s Upper Piedmont for sky-high views in South Mountains State Park.

Asheville: Blackstock Knob

Get to know the Mountains-to-Sea Trail while spiking your adrenaline on this 4.8-mile dayhike among the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi.

Greensboro: Foot Trail Loop

Ride a bus to a 2.3-mile tour of Guilford Courthouse, scene of a turning-point battle in the American Revolution.

Asheville: Little Lost Cove Cliffs Loop

This 4.6-mile loop gets two thumbs up for its rushing cascades, sweet campsites, and two fine viewpoints overlooking Pisgah National Forest.

Appalachian Trail: Brown Gap to Max Patch

Go 6.9 miles on the Blue Ridge, mostly tracing the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, to one of the largest balds in the Southern Appalachians.

Asheville: Tanawha Trail

Parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway on this 12.5-mile one-way hike with picturesque overlooks and streams cascading through towering hardwoods.

Appalachian Trail: Wayah Gap to US 19

Build your quads on this remote section of the Appalachian Trail, which features seven balds over 5,000 feet, and amazing views of the Smokies from Jump off Point.

Appalachian Trail: Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Gap

This 6.2-miler offers a quick overnight getaway. Connect scenic outcrops with views to nearby mountains and camp at Silver Bald Shelter.

Appalachian Trail: Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap

This 30.3-miler in the Great Smokies leads to picturesque panoramas including Charles Bunion, a popular 5,736-foot bald.

Appalachian Trail: Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap

Multiple peaks, steep climbs, and open meadows highlight this 40.6-mile trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Appalachian Trail: Stecoach Gap to Fontana Dam

Meander through lush hardwood forests with moderate elevation change and check out Cable Gap Shelter–a cozy, three-sided log shelter.

Appalachian Trail: US 19 to Stecoach Gap

Start at the Nantahala Outdoor Center and hit the trail for a beautiful, yet rugged 12.7-mile walk under hardwoods and through Nantahala Gorge. Not up for a long day hike? Stop at Sassafras Gap Shelter and swap stories with thru-hikers.

Appalachian Trail: Tanyard Gap to Allen Gap

Cruise 8.1 miles into wooded creek valleys and up Rich Mountain where an old fire tower is accessible by a short spur trail.

Appalachian Trail: Hot Springs, NC to Tanyard Gap

Switchback 1,000 feet to poster-worthy views of Lovers Leap Rock, an aptly-named perch made famous by a suicidal Cherokee maiden.

Appalachian Trail: Max Patch Road to Hot Springs, NC

Enjoy panoramic Smokies views on blueberry- and rhododendron-lined trails on the way to French Broad River, where relaxing hot springs await.

Appalachian Trail: Sams Gap to Spivey Gap

Top-of-the-world vistas, fields of wildflowers and sun-dappled hardwood forests are nothing compared to David Greer, an insane murderer who once lived on Bald Mountain from 1802 to 1834.

Appalachian Trail: Allen Gap to Devil Fork Gap

Go the whole 18.6 miles or shorten your hike by staying at one of the three shelters planted along this leg. Highlights: Civil War markers and panoramic views on Firescald Knob.

Appalachian Trail: US 19W to Indian Grave Gap

This segment packs a lot in 7.2 miles: rocky ledges, sweeping river views, and an old 1930s shelter.

Appalachian Trail: Indian Grave Gap to Iron Mountain Gap

Fields painted in wildflowers, steep climbs to sweet vistas, and rhododendron tunnels await ambitious day-hikers and weekend warriors on this 10.2-mile hike.

Appalachian Trail: Iron Mountain Gap to Carvers Gap

Connect Roan Mountain, Little Rock Knob, and Iron Mountain on this rolling 13.2-mile leg through Pisgah National Forest.

Appalachian Trail: Spivey Gap to US 19W

Link dense maple forests to scenic ridgelines then finish with a steep descent to the Nolichucky River on this 9-mile leg. Bonus: Check out Uncle Johnny Hostel, a popular hangout for thru-hikers.

Appalachian Trail: Carvers Gap to US 19E

Cross over several grassy balds and look for wild ponies on this 13.5-mile leg with three AT shelters.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Noland Divide to Newton Bald

This 16-miler packs big vertical change and diverse landscapes (from grassy campsites to mountain summits) into a two-night trip.

Charlotte, NC: Crowders Mountain Loop

This 5.2-mile loop climbs through chestnut oak and fern undergrowth to far-reaching views on top of Crowders Mountain. Bring your binoculars—warblers, hawks, and owls are a common sight along the trail.

Asheville, NC: Calloway Peak

Navigate rocky crags, snaking switchbacks, and wooden ladders on this 6.5-mile trek that crests Calloway Peak, the highest summit in the Blue Ridge.

Asheville, NC: Plott Balsam

En route to four 6,000-foot summits, this 7.8-mile bushwhack travels the crest of wooded ridgeline above the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Asheville, NC: Linville Gorge

Sample a weekend-sized chunk of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in the Pisgah National Forest.

Asheville, NC: Cedar Rock Loop

Climbing granite slickrock to a highpoint above DuPont State Forest, this 4.4-mile loop jogs back down into a dense forest toward a trailside swimming hole.

Asheville, NC: Guion Farm Loop

Disappear into deciduous forest outside Asheville on this 7.5-mile bird-watching loop that wanders past a Civil War-era cemetery and hidden cascades.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Balsam Mountain Trail

Trek deep into the Smokies on this 24.3-mile weekend trip that traces the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, passing two trail shelters and forests of mossy hardwoods.

Asheville, NC: Hawksbill Mountain

Challenge the family with a 1.5-mile roundtrip that climbs nearly 1,000 feet to a craggy summit and far-reaching views of Linville Gorge and Pisgah National Forest.

Asheville, NC: Shining Rock

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, this 10-mile loop treks through the Pisgah National Forest past numerous ridge-top overlooks and up to a quartz-clustered summit.

Linville, NC: Babel Tower

End your hike with a splash on this 2.8-mile out-and-back to a Pisgah National Forest swimming hole oasis.

Asheville, NC: Green Knob

In the shadow of Mount Mitchell, this 5.6-mile ridgeline hike climbs through hemlock and chestnut oak to a watchtower overlook of Blue Ridge and Pisgah peaks.

Asheville, NC: Yellow Face and Waterrock Knob

Conquer two 6,000-foot peaks in Pisgah National Forest on this 3-mile trek that straddles the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Winston-Salem, NC: Wolf Rock Loop

This 3.9-mile loop through Stone Mountain State Park wanders chestnut oak forest and offers views from the park’s signature massive granite domes.

Asheville, NC: Linville Gorge Loop

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.

Charlotte, NC: Chestnut Knob Loop

Looping 6.5 miles through South Mountain State Park, this Charlotte-area dayhike (or overnighter) showcases above-the-trees overlooks and sublime autumn colors.

Pisgah National Forest: Black Balsam Knob to Cold Mountain

Trek 18.2 miles from the South’s best view to its most famous mountain.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Alum Cave to Greenbrier Cove

Trek into the past on this 6-day route linking a rock arch, 5,000-foot balds, old settler homesites, and 100-year-old cemeteries.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Tricorner Loop

A peakbagger’s dream, this 31-mile Smokies backpack loops across forested ridgelines, offering the opportunity to tag eight 6,000-foot summits along the way.

Asheville, NC: Woody Ridge Trail

This challenging 4.8-miler in the Black Mountains features a stiff climb past rhododendron and rocky outcrops to a windswept ridge connecting Celo Knob and Gibbs Mountain.

Asheville, NC: Linville Gorge Loop (Copy)

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.

Asheville, NC: Nantahala Headwaters Loop

Hike 24.8 miles around the source of the Nantahala River on the Appalachian Trail and camp atop Albert Mountain for night-sky views. On night two, pitch your tent on 5,498-foot Standing Indian, a treeless bald with front-row sunset vistas.

Asheville, NC: Black Balsam Knob via Graveyard Fields

This ridge-country classic swings from the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Graveyard Fields en route to Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain. Tackle the 9.8-mile lollipop loop in a day or stretch it into a leisurely overnight with one of the many prime campsites around Ivestor Gap.

Asheville, NC: Mount Mitchell via Black Mountain Crest Trail

Climb over 10 peaks above 6,000 feet on this 11-mile shuttle-hike culminating at Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River.

Raleigh, NC: Eno River-Cox Mountain

Ramble 4.4 miles troll along the cascades of the Eno River before ascending Cox Mountain. End with a dip the river’s clear waters.

Raleigh, NC: Sycamore and Company Mill Circuit

Looking for an oasis in the middle of the Research Triangle? Hike this 10-mile circuit through the towering pines and fern-filled ravines of William B. Umstead State Park.

Great Smoky Mountains NP: Gregory Bald via Twentymile and Wolf Ridge Trails

For guaranteed solitude in Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s southwest reaches, explore this quiet, 15.7-mile loop during the off-season.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Shuckstack Lookout Tower via Appalachian Trail

This 7.2-mile out-and-back on the Appalachian Trail visits the Shuckstack Mountain lookout tower for unrivaled views.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Clingmans Dome

This paved, half-mile (one-way) trail leads to the highest point on the Appalachian Trail and 100-mile views of seven states.

Raleigh-Durham, NC: Buckquarter Creek-Holden’s Mill Loop

Just 20 minutes outside of Durham, take this 3.9-mile loop to get a good look at an old mill as you traipse through bluffs, banks, and boulders along the Eno River.

Raleigh-Durham, NC: Occoneechee Mountain Loop

In a mere 3.2 miles, reach the top of Occoneechee Mountain—the tallest point between the North Carolina Triangle and the Atlantic Ocean.

Winston-Salem, NC: Stone Mountain

Top a Yosemite-like dome in a sea of green.

Gorges State Park, NC: Two Gorges Loop

Trace the watery divide between the Carolinas.

Pittsboro, NC: Vista Point

Vista Point Trail in the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area presents an easy 3-mile loop past quiet coves, lookout points, and the habitat of one of the largest bald eagle populations in the eastern U.S.

Raleigh, NC: Lake Crabtree

Looking to stretch your legs and get back to the outdoors? This 6-mile loop winds through the lowlands and hills of Lake Crabtree Park in the middle of Morrisville, less than 20 minutes from Raleigh.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Appalachian Trail from Fontana Dam to Davenport Gap

Multiple peaks, steep climbs, and open meadows highlight this weeklong trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Appalachian Trail.

Asheville, NC: Creekside Loop

Looking for a mellow weekend with swimming options? Hit up this gentle, 10.4-mile loop in the Mills River area of Pisgah National Forest.

Asheville, NC: Bartram Trail (Nantahala Gorge to Wayah Bald)

Climb past a glimmering highland lake to a lofty southern bald.

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