Five Favorite Appalachian Trail Hikes in North Carolina

  • By John Pugh
  • Photography by Dave Allen

Three hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail cut through North Carolina, offering you plenty of options for day, weekend or week-long hikes.

Appalachian Landscape Roan Mountain Highlands Rhododendron Flowe

The Appalachian Trail stretches 2,184 miles from Georgia to Maine. The North Carolina portion is nearly 300 miles long, strung across some of the most inaccessible countryside in the state.

In 2000, I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail going southbound from Maine and saw the beauty of our nation’s wilderness. While other sections of the trail were nice, I especially loved the portion in North Carolina, where I encountered some of the best vistas and terrain.

If you’re not able to make the full journey on the Appalachian Trail, or you’re looking for an exciting day or weekend hiking trip through the mountains, here are five of my favorite Appalachian Trail section hikes in North Carolina.

Where: Max Patch Bald
Near: Hot Springs
Distance: About 1.7 miles round trip from NC SR 1182 parking lot

I love this place. It offers great views of Mt. Mitchell to the east, and the Great Smoky Mountains to the west. After the hike, you can swing down to Hot Springs for a dip in the naturally occurring springs that give the town its name.

Where: Wayah Bald
Near: Franklin
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip from Forest Service Road 69

This is an easy day hike to a fantastic stone fire tower. The Wayah Bald Fire Tower was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and is now on the National Historic Registry. Catch this on a clear day and you’ll have panoramic views of North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

Where: Roan Highlands
Near: Bakersville, along the North Carolina/Tennessee border
Distance: From 4.4 miles (day hike) to 13.2 miles to traverse the range

The Roan Highlands are famous worldwide for its expanse of Catawba Rhododendrons. It’s worth the trip in mid to late June to see the explosion of pinks and reds covering the mountainsides. This area abounds with natural balds, giving you scenic views you won’t soon forget. For winter adventurers, the Roan Highlands are a popular destination for cross-country skiing.

Where: Carvers Gap to US 19E
Near: Burnsville
Distance: 14 miles

This popular section traverses Yellow Mountain, Hump Mountain, and the entire eastern portion of Roan Mountain. This may be a tough hike for the inexperienced, but the spectacular views are well worth the effort.

Where: Great Smoky Mountains traverse
Near: Fontana Dam, Davenport Gap (I-40)
Distance: 72 miles

This is the king of Appalachian Trail hikes in North Carolina. A complete traverse takes most folks about 6 to 7 days. It’s a lung-buster to get to the ridge, but hikers are rewarded with specular views from Rocky Top, Charlie’s Bunion, and other peaks along the hike. You’ll also experience Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet.

Additional Resources

Take the quiz!
How well do you know the Appalachian Trail? Take our quiz on the famous trail that was featured in the August 2013 issue.

John Pugh, known as Johnny Swank by his friends, has hiked over 3,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail, including a southbound thru-hike in 2000. His other adventures include paddling the Cape Fear, Neuse, and Mississippi rivers. His website with AT journals and photos is He can be reached at

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11 Responses to Five Favorite Appalachian Trail Hikes in North Carolina

  1. Pingback: The Appalachian Trail: Peak of Perfection | Our State Magazine

  2. Nancy Neubauer says:

    I am 65, and am planning to visit my last 4 of the 50 states. I decided today that my visit to NC will include the Wayah Bald trail. Could I please have more specific direction on how to a chess it? Where would I leave my car? Thank you.

  3. Ed Dansereau says:

    Thanks for the information. My daughter and I are planning some section hikes in early June 2014. We are from NH and have hike many sections through the White Mountains of NH and have grown to love the AT. We look forward to NC and TN, we hear the sections are as beautiful. Any additional information for vacationing section hikers will be very much appreciated.

  4. Ashley says:

    Where was the picture above taken? And I agree, more info. on finding the trailheads would be appreciated! We are planning a drive through NC soon and hoping to find a great / accessible hike, so this article was a welcomed find! Thank you!

  5. Jon says:

    The Cariver’s Gap walk is even better, if you start at 19E and go UP – 15 miles and 5200 feet elevation gain.

    • Rob says:

      Could you give me additional details on that location. Doing a weekend trip in October. Would like 20 miles or so.

  6. Char says:

    My husband, “Grandpa Jim” was a thru hiker in 2004 and I was his “sherpa” taking him food, clean clothes and mail every 5 days to 2 weeks, depending on how far he was from home, Durham. It was a life changer for both of us—a new world opened up as soon as I got off the interstates and onto the two lane roads. Invariably I heard on the radio Josh Grobin singing “You lift me up so I can walk on mountains” or “Dance” —“Keep your eyes on the mountains in the distance…” A world unto itself with many trail angels en route….

    • tom says:

      Char, I am getting ready to “sherpa” my son and daughter-in-law next spring. Can you send me an email with your contact info? I would love to be able to retrace your route and meeting points along the trail for them.


  7. Liz Schimmel says:

    Having grown up in NC I take every opportunity to come back. These hikes are on my bucket list.

  8. Bobby Nicks says:

    Didn’t give enough detail on how to get to these spots. Would love to try them but how do I find them?

  9. Pingback: Appalachian Trail | Our State Magazine

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