The state of North Carolina is home to the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and part of the Appalachian Mountain Range. The mountains in these ranges vary in height and difficulty, and offer visitors the chance to explore different parks, cities, and communities within the state. From a drive along Blue Ridge Parkway, which will wow visitors with its breathtaking views and beauty, to rock climbing on one of the sheer cliff faces of the peaks above Linville Gorge, North Carolina is home to some truly spectacular sights and activities that are definitely not to be missed.
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1.Blue Ridge Pinnacle
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Blue Ridge Pinnacle towers above the town of Graphite below with an impressive 4,000-foot prominence for a summit height of 5,665 feet, making it quite a challenging climb. There are several trailheads that can be used to summit Blue Ridge Pinnacle, including the Pinnacle Trail, the Swannanoa Rim Trail, and the historic Old Mitchell Toll Road, which was once used for logging and was home to a tourist railway. These trails vary in length from an afternoon jaunt to a full-day excursion, with an option to hike from bottom to top from the town of Graphite, using old logging roads and the Old Mitchell Toll Road.
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Allison Ridge hugs the edge of a large gorge, and on its slopes hikers will find picturesque forests, rugged landscapes, and some spectacular waterfalls. The gorge beneath the ridge is home to several watersheds and tributaries that eventually feed the Catawba River, and as this water makes its way down from the peaks, it creates many gorgeous cascades, including Catawba Falls, which drops approximately 200 feet. The Upper Catawba Falls are also very beautiful, and accessible via a steep hike that includes some scrambling. There is no camping or overnight parking allowed at Allison Ridge, but there is a nearby campground called Catawba Falls Campground.
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3.Big Cataloochee Mountain
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Inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies a group of very high peaks, and in that cluster lies Big Cataloochee Mountain. At 6,155 feet in elevation at the summit, this tall mountain is one of the most isolated in the region, and the hike to the top is a long one, with a round trip of about 16 miles. Hiking to the summit of Big Cataloochee is usually a 2-day affair, and hikers should check ahead to make sure certain trails and campsites are not closed due to bears, which are very prominent in this secluded part of the park.
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Hawksbill Mountain stands on the eastern rim of Linville Gorge and from its rocky summit, visitors to the mountain will see a drop of over 2,000 feet directly into the gorge from the west side of the summit, and the green stretches of Pisgah National Forest from its east side. The forested slopes of the mountain mean that during the greener seasons there is no view until the summit, which makes those views even more impressive. The summit is accessible via the Hawksbill Mountain Trail, and the trailhead can be found on the East Rim of Linville Gorge. Camping is allowed with a permit, which can be obtained from the district ranger.
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Scaly Mountain is the big brother of nearby Little Scaly Mountain, and is sometimes referred to as Big Scaly to avoid confusion between the two. Located near Highlands, North Carolina, Big Scaly is a pluton mountain, with a rocky, granite face and sheer cliff faces. A combination of the Hurrah Ridge Trail, West Fork Trail, and Bartram Trail will lead hikers to the top on a 7-mile loop from the Hurrah Ridge Trailhead. Camping is allowed in the National Forest near the mountain, but backpackers should be aware that much of the property on Scaly Mountain is privately owned, and they should take note of any signs posted.
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Snake Mountain is entirely privately owned, but is accessible via Rich Mountain Gap, which is a popular with hunters. The high, peaked ridge of Snake Mountain sets it apart from nearby Elk Knob and Rich Mountain Bald, which are all part of the Amphibolite mountain range. The trails from Rich Mountain Gap to the top of Snake Mountain are not marked, but are frequently used and easy to follow, though the hike can be quite steep. The windward side of Snake Mountain can be home to some high winds and extreme weather conditions, so hikers should take care to plan ahead for the weather.
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Silers Bald is located on the Appalachian Trail, about 4 miles from Clingmans Dome, and is part of both the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, as it lies squarely on the border between the two. Balds are named for the grassy or rocky patches, usually at the summit, that are unique to the typical wooded slopes of most mountains in the region. The views from Silers Bald are pretty, but the main attraction in the hike lies in the wildlife seen along the trail to the top. The trail to Silers Bald also affords the opportunity to bag three peaks in one hike, on a 10-mile round trip that starts at Clingmans Dome and leads over Mount Buckley and Jenkins Knob on the way.
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The “Sylva” Pinnacle is one of dozens of peaks in the region referred to as The Pinnacle, and lies close to Blackrock Mountain in the Plott Balsams. From its summit of 5,008 feet, visitors will see some of the major peaks in the southern Appalachians and the town of Sylva far below. Depending on the approach, a hike to the summit may include a rocky scramble, and hikers should note that the two campsites near the top are not actually the summit, as some believe. The 3.5-mile Pinnacle Trail continues into a beautiful hardwood forest and up to the actual peak, which is rocky and treeless with views in all directions.
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The trailhead for Brushy Knob is located in the community of Montreat, on the Big Piney Ridge Trail. Montreat is a private community, which opens the hiking trails on its property to public use. The trail to the summit of Brushy Knob leads through brushy forests and over picturesque streams, forming a loop back down to the trailhead. The area receives a lot of snow during certain parts of the year, which can make hiking difficult, and amateur hikers may find it difficult to navigate. The trails are foot paths only, and no camping is permitted on the property.
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Hanging Rock is located in Hanging Rock State Park, in the Sauratown Mountain Range near Danbury. It is quite large and isolated from other peaks, which makes it an impressive sight from a distance and affords it some fantastic views from the summit. Hanging Rock State Park is home to a number of hiking trails as well as some cliffs and opportunities for rock climbing and bouldering. Several clear streams run through the Sauratown Mountains and form some beautiful cascades and waterfalls along the trails. Camping is permitted in designated areas inside Hanging Rock State Park.
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Flat Rock reaches 4,100 feet at its summit, and is well known for the spectacular views at the top, where hikers can see Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak in the entire Blue Ridge Range. Flat Rock is aptly named, with a large open summit that is quite flat and covered in giant slabs of stone. It is not a difficult mountain to hike, with a trail of about 1.5 miles and an elevation gain of only about 300 feet, but it is quite lovely, with a wide variety of wildflowers and forest life along the way to the top. On the trail are many signs and placards explaining local history and identifying some plants of interest.
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The slopes of Mount Jefferson are packed with thick oaks and twisted black locust trees, and the high-elevation forests of this mountain make it a unique hike. The Mount Jefferson State Natural Area does not permit camping and contains only one trail, a loop that traverses the ridgeline to the summit that is about 1.1 miles long. The summit, at 4,683 feet, consists of a small viewing area, and a communications tower. The subpeak of Mount Jefferson, Luther Rocks, is actually the more impressive of the two, with sprawling views in all directions.
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The Chimneys are a pair of peaks located in Linville Gorge, and from their rugged summits, hikers and climbers can find incredible views of the gorge and the peaks surrounding it. Geologists will revel in the layers of exposed rock, and climbers will love the ridgeline with its various climbing routes. The area can be quite crowded on weekends and during the summer, so those looking for solitude should visit The Chimneys on weekdays or early in the mornings. On weekends during the warmer months (May–October), those who wish to camp will need to obtain a free permit from the district ranger’s office in the town of Marion.
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25 Best Day Trips in the North Carolina Mountains
- Blue Ridge Pinnacle, Photo: Courtesy of demerzel21 - Fotolia.com
- Allison Ridge, Photo: Courtesy of Juhku - Fotolia.com
- Big Cataloochee Mountain, Photo: Courtesy of Kagenmi - Fotolia.com
- Hawksbill Mountain, Photo: Courtesy of skiserge1 - Fotolia.com
- Scaly Mountain, Photo: Courtesy of kalypso0 - Fotolia.com
- Snake Mountain, Photo: Courtesy of Jrg - Fotolia.com
- Silers Bald, Photo: Courtesy of Wollwerth Imagery - Fotolia.com
- Sylva Pinnacle, Photo: Courtesy of julianroehr - Fotolia.com
- Brushy Knob, Photo: Courtesy of nounours1 - Fotolia.com
- Hanging Rock, Photo: Courtesy of FiledIMAGE - Fotolia.com
- Flat Rock, Photo: Courtesy of Craig Zerbe - Fotolia.com
- Mount Jefferson, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- The Chimneys, Photo: Courtesy of Alexey Rotanov - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of aheflin - Fotolia.com
Three Top Mountain
Three Top Mountain consists of a 6-mile ridge in Ashe County, upon which stand several prominent, rocky peaks. It makes for a distinctive shape in the North Carolina skyline, and the tallest of these peaks stand at 5,020 feet elevation, with trails for hiking and ATVs. The trails to the summit are of various levels of difficulty, but most are for experienced hikers, as several require scrambling or climbing. Along the route, visitors may find forests and old logging lands, rocky outcroppings and ridges, and even the state’s only naturally occurring growth of bluebells.
Craggy Dome ranks in the top ten highest peaks with 1,000 feet of prominence in Eastern America, and at 6,105 feet at the summit, this mountain makes for a challenging but beautiful climb. The summit of this mountain is choked with rhododendrons and laurel bushes, but with a little creativity – or just a very long pair of legs – hikers can gain a pretty impressive view from the top. Hikers can use the Blue Ridge Parkway to reach the Mountains to Sea Trail, or the Douglas Falls Trailhead, both of which will lead to a smaller, steep, 1-mile path to the top.
Rocky Face Mountain
Rocky Face Mountain is a distinctive granite dome, similar to Stone Mountain, with a bald top almost completely free of trees, though it is well known as a home to many species of rare flowers and other plants, which thrive in the shallow soil atop the granite. Rocky Face Mountain is a great location for rock climbing, with an old stone quarry where climbers will find a number of challenging and fun routes. There are also about 5 miles of trails on the mountain, which are all incredibly well made and kept, although no camping is allowed anywhere within the park.
Little Pisgah Mountain is located near the Hickory Nut Gorge, and although it is not as well known as some of the other mountains in the area, Little Pisgah has one of the best views of any of them. The hike to the summit begins at the parking area for the Florence Nature Preserve and extends for 5.5 miles past cascades, through forests, and up to the top, where hikers can see views of the Hickory Nut Gorge as well as many of the other mountains in the area. On a clear day, even Linville Gorge can be spotted.
Yellow Buck Mountain
Yellow Buck Mountain doesn’t have any spectacular forests or sweeping views from grandstands, but what it does have are several gorgeous waterfalls. The mountain, which is located near Morgantown, is home to the Harper Creek Trail, a loop trail that brings hikers into the Harper Creek Drainage, which is home to the waterfalls. The trail follows a gorge, where a cold, clear mountain stream travels down cascades, over rocks, and makes for some incredibly beautiful waterfalls. During the spring and summer, the area is packed with colorful wildflowers, making it a truly picturesque spot.
Buzzards Roost is located in South Mountains State Park and is the tallest mountain in the southern range. The park is filled with some amazing hiking trails, although the northern half of the park, where Buzzard’s Roost lies, is undeveloped and remote. There are no direct trails to the summit, but hikers can make their way there nonetheless with some bushwhacking. This hike is not for amateur hikers, and items like a GPS, map, or compass are suggested when attempting this route. Despite the difficulty, a trip to the summit of Buzzard’s Roost is home to some truly beautiful nature, including forests that have been untouched by man for decades.
At 5,408 feet, Graybeard Mountain is the sixth-tallest mountain in the Blue Ridge Range. From its summit, hikers can find views of Mount Mitchell to the north as well as of the Swannanoa Valley. The privately owned but publicly accessible town of Montreat is where the trailheads originate for this mountain, and signs clearly point to Graybeard Trail, which is the main trailhead. The trail extends for about 6 miles to the top of the mountain, and the change in elevation is steep, about 2,400 feet. Along this trail, hikers can find the picturesque cascades of Graybeard Falls as well as Walker’s Knob, a giant rocky crag.
Occoneechee Mountain is located about 10 miles from Durham, accessible via Exit 164 on the I-85. The mountain rises above the Eno River and is one of the most dramatic summits in the state. The Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail will lead hikers up stairs and hills, through forests of mountain laurel and rhododendron, and even over an old stone quarry known as the Panthers Den. The rock in this quarry is unsuitable for climbers and should not be explored. For a gentler hike, the Summit Road will also lead hikers to the top, albeit with less scenery.
Narrows Knob is named for the narrow ridges that lead to the top. Most of the hike to the summit is in forested areas, although there are some lovely views near the summit, where trees have difficulty growing. The mountain is located within Pisgah National Forest in the Mackey Mountain Roadless Area, and is partially accessible via the Mackey Mountain Trail. Unfortunately, the trail ends almost 2 miles from the summit, so access is limited to those who are comfortable with bushwhacking. As it is national forest land, camping is permitted anywhere in the area, although campers should be aware that bears are quite prominent in the region.
Bullhead is one of the hidden gems of North Carolina peaks. With a summit of 5,930 feet and a location just north of Asheville, Bullhead Mountain is a great destination for a peaceful, solitary hike. The Mountains to Sea Trail will lead hikers close to the summit, although the rest of the trip to the top will need to be done with a bit of trailblazing through the brush. Hikers should note that the southern and eastern sides of Bullhead Mountain are restricted areas, as they are part of the Asheville Watershed Land, although walking the boundary of this land is acceptable.
Dogback Mountain is located in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area, with steep, rocky slopes and cliffs. The summit of the mountain is accessible by vehicle via the Kistler Memorial Highway, but Dogback is also home to some of the most challenging trails in the region. Visitors to Dogback Mountain will find ample opportunity for hiking, camping, bouldering, and climbing as the rocky slopes of the mountain are very steep and contain dozens of routes for climbers. The Rock Jock Trail, which was originally created by climbers looking for a good spot, is an incredibly scenic trail for hikers. While much of the forests on Dogback Mountain were wiped out by a series of horrific wildfires, this trail still leads past some gorgeous views of the cliffs and the descending gorge.
Shortoff Mountain Linville
Shortoff Mountain, located on the southeastern side of Linville Gorge, is a beautiful mountain for hiking and climbing. From its 3,000-foot summit, Shortoff offers gorgeous views of the entire Linville Gorge as well as the peaks of the Black Mountains. Shortoff is also unique because it possesses a natural pond near the summit, something that is quite rare for mountains in the southern US. The summit is accessible via the Mountains to Sea Trail, and a short spur trail, which can be quite difficult to traverse in wet weather due to mud and erosion. The mountain is a major destination for rock climbers in the area, and offers routes of varying levels of difficulty. There are many campsites on Shortoff Mountain, and plenty of various trails for hiking.