photograph by Tommy White

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.

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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