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Sheer Beauty: North Carolina’s Linville Gorge

Drop off the lip of Linville Gorge into a world of rock escarpments, deep forests, and whitewater.

QUICK TAKE: Linville Gorge Wilderness, NC

DRIVE TIME: Linville Gorge is about 115 miles (21/2 hours) northwest of Charlotte.

THE WAY: From Marion, follow US 221 north. Turn right (east) onto NC 183 for 1 mile to county road 1238, also known as Kistler Memorial Highway, which leads to trailheads and parking lots.

TRAILS: There are 16 trails totaling 39 miles open for backpacking. Recommended: Conley Cove (go down this one, not up) and Babel Tower.

ELEVATION: Ranges from 1,300 feet at the river to 4,120 feet on Gingercake Mountain.

CAN’T MISS: Head to Wiseman’s View for a spectacular perspective of Tablerock and Hawksbill mountains. Linville Falls, just outside of the wilderness, is also a must-see.

CROWD CONTROL: For solitude on the west bank of the gorge, head south of the Conley Cove Trail; on the east bank, travel south of the Chimneys.

PIT STOP: Famous Louise’s Rock House Restaurant has down-home atmosphere, located at the intersection of US 221 and NC 183.

WALK SOFTLY: South of Tablerock Mountain and east of the Shortoff Mountain Trail are two protected areas that are home to the endangered mountain golden heather, peregrine falcon, and Heller’s blazing star. Stay on the trails in these areas.

MAPS AND GUIDES: Linville Gorge Wilderness Trail Map can be ordered from the Grandfather Ranger District ($5, see address below). Allen de Hart’s guidebook North Carolina Hiking Trails ($18.95, Appalachian Mountain Club Books; 800-262-4455) covers trails in the gorge.

MORE INFORMATION: Grandfather Ranger District, Route 1, Box 110-A, Nebo, NC 28761; (828) 652-4841. A free camping permit is required on weekends and holidays from May through October.

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