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