Walking the trails in North Carolina's Linville Gorge is like clambering around in a giant bird's nest. Rhododendron and spindly mountain laurel grow dense on either side and above. As you descend among epic ridgelines and stone towers, the roar of the river grows.

Through the ages, the Linville River has carved one of the eastern United States' most striking gorges as it drops precipitously from the heights of Grandfather Mountain south to the Catawba Valley. Walls rise up 1,000 feet and more to the east and west, sheltering five species of endangered flora. The gorge is also home to black bear, deer, hawks, and stands of virgin yellow poplar and hemlock. If you've brought your fly rod, cast around for the plentiful brownies and rainbows that feed here.

Thirty-nine miles of trails crisscross the steep, uneven topography that has historically kept development efforts in the Linville region at bay. In 1951, the head of the United States Forest Service designated the gorge a wilderness, and in 1964 it became one of the first official federal wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act. In keeping with its primitive spirit, the trails in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area are unmarked. There are also no bridges across the river. Hikers need to have good map and compass skills to avoid getting lost in the sometimes tricky web of footpaths.

Jonas Ridge, which forms the gorge's eastern rim, boasts a motley collection of geological curiosities. Table Rock was once a sacred ceremonial site to the native Cherokee and is now a popular multipitch pilgrimage for climbers. The Chimneys are a nearby group of outcroppings that are great for top-roping. You can reach both of these landmarks via the 5.6-mile Shortoff Trail. Hawksbill and the Sitting Bear pillar lie to the north and are accessible via the primitive Jonas Ridge trail. The trails along Jonas Ridge offer fantastic panoramic views of the gorge.

Many of the trails in Linville Gorge cover 2,000 vertical feet or more as they drop from the rim into the shadowy depths. At the bottom, the 11.5-mile Linville Gorge Trail travels much of the length of the gorge along the river's west bank. For a fun day trip, try the Babel Tower trail, named after a 400-foot rock formation you'll spot on your way down. En route, stop for lunch at Wiseman's View, where you'll see Table Rock and Hawksbill. Continue down to the river and rest before your steep climb back out.

Though the hiking here is strenuous, Linville is one of the most popular wilderness areas in North Carolina. From May 1 through October 31, you must have a permit to camp on weekends and holidays. Campers are limited to three-day, two-night stays throughout the year. To avoid crowds, avoid weekends and easy-to-follow trails. Stick to the southern section of the wilderness area, past Conley Cove, and don't be afraid of a little bushwhacking.

Getting There: The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is about a 90-minute drive northeast of Asheville. Take I-40 east to 221 North (exit 85 at Marion). After several miles, turn right on NC 183, then right again on Service Road 1283, also known as the Kistler Memorial Highway. Be sure to stop off at the Linville Gorge Information Cabin, where you'll get candy and in-depth advice from the longtime caretakers.

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Pisgah National Forest
c/o Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, 109 East Lawling Drive
Nebo, North Carolina 28761

Visitor Information

Telephone Number: (828) 652-484l/2144
The details, dates, and prices mentioned here were accurate at the time of publication.

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