North Carolina Mountains Outdoors
At Chimney Rock Park the choice is up to you: tough it out to the top via stairs and bridges, or glide up in a 26-story elevator (which takes all of 30 seconds) inside the 500-million-year-old monolith. Either way, you'll savor the 75-mile views, including Hickory Nut Gorge. Hiking trails lead visitors to both the top and bottom of 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls, one of the highest cascades east of the Mississippi.
Western North Carolina holds many other waterfall hikes. Located near Sapphire, Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall in the eastern United States, dropping a good 441 feet. Just west, near the town of Highlands, Bridal Veil Falls tumbles 120 feet, right over the traffic passing by on US 64/28 West. Get between a rock and a wet place with a walk behind the cascade of nearby Dry Falls, a 75-footer.
An easy, two-mile National Recreation Trail lets you stand beneath the ancient, towering giants of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Blanketed with a cushion of fallen leaves, the foot-travel-only path makes a figure eight among old-growth poplars, chestnuts, hemlocks, and oaks—a family-friendly outing into the heart of a truly enchanted forest.
Of course, the most famous hiking option in North Carolina's Mountains region is the Appalachian Trail: 2,160 miles from Georgia to Maine, with 300 of those miles running through the Tar Heel State. This is a wilderness trail for foot travel only, and you'll find tent sites and rustic shelters (no services) spaced about a day's hike apart along the trail. The segment of the Appalachian Trail that passes through Great Smoky Mountains National Park challenges hikers with 70 miles of ridgeline trail; it's one of the most primitive sections and the highest of the entire route.
For an aprè;s-hike treat, head to the aptly named town of Hot Springs for a relaxing dip in the naturally hot mineral baths. Bubbling with 98- to 100-degree water year-round, these Jacuzzi-style pools sit outside, in a wooded area by the French Broad River.
Stone Mountain State Park offers 600 feet of granite face and 23 identified rock-hound routes; it is one of the premier climbing destinations in the Southeast. The rock itself, a 300-million-year-old, medium-grained granite dome, is convenient to both the parking area and (primitive) camping. The park itself borders the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment.
The variety of geologic oddities in Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, part of Pisgah National Forest, provides a strong lure for climbers—North Carolina Outward Bound teaches courses here—and 90-foot Linville Falls is a nice scenic bonus. Table Rock, once a sacred ceremonial site to the native Cherokee, is now a popular multi-pitch pilgrimage. A nearby group of outcroppings known as the Chimneys works well for top-roping. Access both sites via the 5.6-mile Shortoff Trail.
Prep for your climbs in the city of Boone, a four-season playground and the commercial and financial hub of northwestern North Carolina. A 35-foot climbing tower and more than 4,000 square feet of climbing surface awaits novices and experts alike at Footsloggers—an outdoor/travel outfitter in downtown Boone.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication