Hiking in National Forests in North Carolina
Just about any site we list on our parks and forests pages has some kind of walking trail. The National Forests in North Carolina offer some 1,700 miles of trails, and backcountry areas allow primitive camping.
For our Hiking pages, we list trails that are generally 5 miles or longer. We’ve provided links to maps and some additional information where it’s available.
Trail names, lengths (one-way) and difficulty levels may differ among publications. Check at park offices or ranger stations for maps and guides.
For the definitive guide to hiking in North Carolina, we recommend “North Carolina Hiking Trails” by Allen de Hart, which is a source for some of the information below.
National Forest Hiking Trail Links
Below are some of the more significant trails in North Carolina’s National Forests, including the Bartram National Recreation Trail and the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail, and specified backcountry areas with descriptions of hiking opportunities from the National Forest Service.
Croatan National Forest (Map)
– Neusiok Trail. Easy, 23 miles. From the Neuse River at Pine Cliff Picnic Area off of N.C. 306 north of Havelock south to the Newport River at Oyster Point Campground near Newport. Trail crosses cypress swamps, hardwood ridges, longleaf pine savannah and pocosins (low, swampy areas) along the Neuse River and across several paved and unpaved roads. It is part of the state’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Camping is allowed anywhere along the trail (except at trailheads and in recreation areas) but there are three three-sided shelters with grills along the trail. Each accommodates about five people. (252) 638-5628.
Nantahala National Forest (Map)
– Bartram National Recreation Trail. Moderate/strenuous. Trail begins in Georgia and includes nearly 80 miles in North Carolina, entering the state just south of Highlands near Rabun Bald and extending north-to-west, joining the Appalachian Trail at two points (including at Wayah Bald) and ending on Cheoah Bald. Includes high, rocky and steep areas as well as less-strenuous sections; many side trails lead to views of Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. (828) 479-6431 (Ranger District office).
– Blue Valley, near Highlands. Wilderness camping area has 8 miles of trails, including Bartram Trail segment, Hurrah Ridge, West Fork, Glenn Falls, Chinquapin Mountain. Trails run through side-slopes of Blue Valley, crossing small streams and Glenn Falls. (828) 526-3765.
– Fires Creek Recreation Area, near Hayesville. Includes 25-mile-loop Fires Creek Rim Trail, Bald Springs, Chunky Gal and Shinbone trails. Remote, high elevation, some primitive trails; low use. Bridle trails. Bristol Fields Horse Camp is in the area.(828) 837-5152.
– Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest/Slickrock Wilderness Area, near Robbinsville and Santeetlah Lake. 42 miles of trails, including Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail, Slickrock Creek, Hangover Lead, Nichols Cove, Deep Creek, Haoe Lead, Stratton Bald and Naked Ground. Easy, 2-mile Joyce Kilmer trail plus moderate to strenuous hiking with steep elevation changes include huge, old trees in virgin forest of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, waterfall, outcroppings and fishing.
– Panthertown Valley Backcountry Area, near Cashiers. More than 25 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Numerous trails. Stream valley with views, rock outcrops and waterfalls. See also Friends of Panthertown. (828) 526-3765.
– Snowbird Backcountry Area, near Robbinsville. 37 miles of trails, including Big Snowbird, Burntrock Ridge, King Meadows, Middle Falls, Mitchell Lick, Sassafras Creek and Snowbird Mountain. Stream basin, ridge-top and creekside trails and waterfalls. (828) 479-6431.
– Tsali Recreation Area, near Almond on Fontana Reservoir. 39 miles of trails mostly used by mountain bikers but open to hikers and horse riders, including Thompson Loop Trail, Tsali Horse Trail and Mouse Branch Loop Trail. Easy to moderate trails with lake views, wildflowers, widlife. Trails are also open to mountain biking and horseback riding on alternating days. Bikers and equestrians are charged a fee. (828) 479-6431.
Pisgah National Forest (Maps)
– Hot Springs. Includes Rocky Bluff Campground and Silvermine Group Campground, 44 miles of trails, 13.4 miles of which are designated for mountain biking, include the Apalachian Trail, Jack Branch, Laurel River, Lover’s Leap Loop, Mill Ridge, Pump Gap Loop, River Ridge Loop, Roundtop Ridge, Shut-In, Spring Creek Nature and Van Cliff Loop.
– Linville Gorge Wilderness, near Linville Falls. More than 50 miles of trails including a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Linville Gorge Trail, Shortoff Mountain, Jonas Ridge, Rock Jock, Brushy Ridge and Conley Cove. The 2,000-foot-deep gorge on Linville River has some of the most rugged terrain east to the Rockies and such well-known rock climbing opportunities as Table Rock, Hawksbill and the Chimneys. (828) 652-4841.
– Middle Prong Wilderness, near Waynesville. 22 miles of trails, including Buckeye Gap, Green Mountain, Haywood Gap and part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Terrain is extremely steep, with elevations from 3,200 feet on West Fork Pigeon River to 6,030 on Cold Mountain. The area includes Shining Rock Ledge (elevation more than 5,000 feet) and five peaks at 6,000 feet. (828) 877-3350.
– Shelton Laurel Backcountry, near Hot Springs. 14.7 miles of combined hiking on five different trails, many of which intersect with loop options, and access the Appalachian Trail, as well as, Jerry Cabin Shelter. The Hickey Fork and Jerry Miller trails provide views of waterfalls and cascades in higher elevations. (828) 689-9694.
– Shining Rock Wilderness, southeast of Waynesville. 40 miles of trials, including Art Loeb, Cold Mountain, Fork Mountain, Investor Gap, Little East Fork, Old Butt and Shining Creek. Ivestor Gap and Little East Fork trails are also open to horseback riding. Wilderness is made up of steep and rugged high-elevation ranges; trails are rated difficult, except for 3.7-mile Ivestor Gap, which is easy. (828) 877-3350.
– South Toe River Area, near Burnsville. Includes the Black Mountain Campground, 43 miles of trails, including Black Mountain Crest, Buncombe Horse Range, Bald Knob Ridge, Mount Mitchell, Big Tom Gap, Higgins Bald Ground, part of Colbert Ridge, Woody Ridge. Many loops. Significant elevation changes in the Mount Mitchell area; steep, rugged and rocky trails. Bridle trails. (828) 682-6146.
– Wilson Creek, near Linville. (See also National Wild and Scenic Rivers) 10 miles of trails, including Wilson Creek, Bill Crump, Wilson Creek Spur, White Rocks. Narrow, deep stream valley, streamside trails. Mortimer Campground is nearby. Find more information at the Friends of Wilson Creek site. (828) 652-2144.
Uwharrie National Forest (Map)
– Uwharrie National Recreation Trail. 20 miles, easy to moderate. Starts on N.C. 24/27 10 miles west of Troy along with Dutchman’s Creek Trail (a 9.5 mile loop) and ends at S.R. 1306 2 miles east of Ophir. Additional access at N.C. 109, 8 miles west of Troy and along other roads the trail crosses. Variety of scenery, streams and rocky climbs, Dark Mountain, three camping areas. (910) 576-6391.
– Badin Lake Recreation Area. Includes 5.6-mile Badin Lake Trail loop, which has a 2.5-mile route available. Other easy trails skirting coves along Badin Lake include Bates, Berner, Big Rock Loop, Blackburn and Burl Tree Way. Includes Badin Lake Campground, group campground and horse camp.
– Birkhead Mountains Wilderness, near Troy. 10 miles of trails, including Birkhead Mountain Trail, Robbins Branch, Hannah’s Creek. Long, wooded ridges, moderately steep terrain, small streams, rocky outcroppings and the Uwharrie River; elevations from about 450 feet on drainage bottoms to around 950 feet on Cedar Rock Mountain. Camping is allowed in the wilderness area as along as it is at least 200 feet from all streams, creeks, roads and wildlife fields.
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