The "mountains" section of North Carolina's 900-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail traverses the state's most scenic rocky peaks and hardwood forests—get a taste on this strenuous 15.2-mile out-and-back to the "Grand Canyon of the East."
Start with a short 0.6-mile hike up Table Rock, a 3,909-foot, quartzite boulder-topped summit with 360-degree views across the Pisgah National Forest, then backtrack and hop on the white-blazed MST heading south. The trail squeezes through the stacked stone formations of Chimney Rocks before descending through pines to a gap. You'll witness forest succession in progress as you continue through a burn zone—a lightning-sparked fire cleared much of the area in summer 2007—up to Shortoff Mountain, where the razed landscape provides open views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and plunging Linville Gorge. After riding Shortoff's backbone, drop 1,700 feet into the gorge and camp along the serpentine Linville River.
Info: Camping permit required on weekends and holidays. Hiking North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail, by Allen DeHart. (828) 652-4841; www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc/
-Hike provided by Rebecca Walling, BACKPACKER correspondent
Location: 35.8866310119629, -81.8847351074219