North Carolina has some of the best hiking on the east coast. Between diverse mountain trails and small paths between sandy dunes, there’s plenty of variety and beauty in the scenery. With so much to offer, it can get hard to decide which hikes you must try in North Carolina. To help you narrow down the list, these 15 North Carolina are a true once in a lifetime experience.
1. Crabtree Falls Loop Trail
This somewhat strenuous, 2.5 mile hike starts at mile post 339.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trail takes you through growths of birch and hemlock and loops around the beautiful Crabtree Falls. This is a great late morning-early afternoon hike. Crabtree Falls is one of the most beautiful falls in North Carolina, you can’t pass up hiking right beside it.
2. Whiteside Mountain
This brisk, 2.5 mile hike takes you to a 700 ft. breathtaking cliff along Whiteside Mountain. Visit in the early fall to witness the mesmerizing, shadow of a bear – a shadow in the shape of a bear that appears on the side of the mountain in the early spring and fall.
3. Erwin’s Trail, Linville Falls
Linville Falls has quite a few trails to choose from, all providing different perspectives of the fall. For the most photogenic view, take Erwin’s Trail. The hike is only 1.9 miles and starts at the visitor center. It will take you to the most scenic viewpoint of this popular waterfall.
4. Sugarloaf Dune Trail, Carolina Beach State Park
Many people associate hiking with the mountains, but there are plenty of unique, amazing ones along the coast, like the Sugarloaf Dune Trail. This beachy, 2.8 mile hike allows you to make the most of the coastal terrain. The surroundings are mesmerizing, you might even spot a Venus Fly Trap!
5. Old Mitchell Trail, Mount Mitchell
Sure, you can drive to the top of Mount Mitchell, but it’s so much cooler to say you hiked to the top. Old Mitchell Trail allows you to do just that. The hilly trail spans for 4 miles; you’ll pass the historic Camp Alice and witness a changing eco-system with each mile.
6. Carver’s Gap, Roan Mountain
While Roan Mountain offers plenty of beautiful trails, hop on the Appalachian Trail from Carver’s Gap. You’ll ascend 400 ft. in just 3/4 of a mile but the endpoint is worth it. You’ll witness the best of the unique grassy bald terrain found in North Carolina.
7. Grandfather’s Profile, Grandfather Mountain
Perhaps the most strenuous hike on this list, Grandfather’s profile is well worth it. This 7-mile hike starts at a peaceful creek bed and leads you to where Grandfather Mountain got its name. Large rock outcroppings and rare spruce-fir trees make for frame-worthy pictures. There are ladders included this hike, and it can be a bit daunting for even the seasoned hiker. Come prepared!
8. Craggy Gardens Trail, Craggy Gardens
This popular trail is only a short distance from the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook. A short, 1.4 miles takes you to a high, rocky peak overlooking Craggy Gardens. The entire hike is like a fairytale, with twirling trees and plant life surrounding the trail. While June is a great time to go for the rhododendrons, the changing fall foliage is also equally breathtaking.
9. Dupont Waterfalls Tour, Dupont State Forest
This .6-6 mile hike leads you to 5 of the 6 major waterfalls in Dupont State Forest. For a hike that continually rewards you with breathtaking views, its a great day trip. Make sure to bring your camera!
10. Croatoan National Forest Trails
It’s hard to choose just one hike in Croatan National Forest, because each one offers something different. Cedar Creek Trail takes you through tidal marsh, the Neusiok Trail is the coast’s longest backpacking trail, Island Creek Forest Walk takes you through untouched coastal forest, and Patsy Pond gives you serenity and beautiful pines. The trails total 31 miles.
When completed, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will span 900 miles from Clingman’s Dome to the Outer Banks. For now, the trail is easily accesible from multiple points. One of the best being the Folk Art Center, mile marker 382.0 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hopping on here, you’ll pass Craven Gap, Rattlesnake Lodge, and Craggy Gardens.
12. Looking Glass Rock
This 6.4 mile hike takes you to the postcard worthy Looking Glass Rock. Composed of granite that is more than 3 million years old, this majestic natural wonder makes for a rewarding end-point to a strenuous hike.
13. Moore’s Wall Loop Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
There are plenty of trails to choose from at this ever popular destination not far from the triad. Moore’s Wall Loop Trail takes you to a breathtaking, rock outcropping vista with THOSE views. The hike is 4.3 miles, and if you still have a little energy left, take the Lower Cascade Trail to breathtaking waterfalls.
14. Sam Knob’s Trail, Flat Laurel Creek
As a more quiet alternative to the popular Graveyard Trails, Flat Laurel Creek is escapism at its finest. This quite trail meanders for 2.5 miles through large open fields positioned at over 5000 ft. in the clouds. You can take an optional hike to Sam’s Knob and a waterfall at Flat Laurel Creek.
15. Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail is the mecca of eastern U.S hiking. Spanning 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine, it offers some of the most gorgeous views in North Carolina. Points of interest along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina are Clingman’s Dome, just a 0.5 mi. hike to the highest point of the Appalachian Trail; Lovers Leap Loop, a great family hike that is only 1.6 miles; Fontana Dam (pictured above); and Max Patch, a 2.6 mi. hike that takes you to a grassy summit with 360-degree mountain views.