Travel Features

Hiking trails of the North Carolina Smokies

Hiking trails of the North Carolina Smokies

With a quiet step you stand a great chance of seeing some of the multitude of wildlife Western North Carolina has to offer. 

There are hikes for all kinds — climbs along the rocks to a high mountain waterfalls, casual strolls to expansive mountain views, all-day treks out into the wilderness and brisk jaunts to perfect picnic places. Wherever you go, trying making part of your hike a “soft walk.” Tread quietly and use your senses to experience the world around you without talking. If you see something worth pointing out, communicate without speech. The process will help you tune in to nature and how it communicates with us. 

When hiking, you know best what you’re looking for and what you’re capable of — injuries happen when you take on too much or get too tired. Find a hike that suits your tastes and skills.


Panthertown Valley

Panthertown Valley is a 6,700-acre area in the Nantahala National Forest. It's been nicknamed “the Yosemite of the East” and is home to granite domes, waterfalls, valley floors and rare high altitude bogs, as well as the headwaters for Greenland and Panthertown Creeks and the East Fork of the Tuckasegee River. Trails abound and primitive overnight camping and catch-and-release fishing is allowed. 

Horsepasture River Trail

This out and back 3-mile hike in Sapphire offers outstanding view of four large waterfalls and good camping along the way. The trail can be a little gnarly. Use extreme caution when viewing waterfalls, particularly Rainbow Falls, which can be viewed from the top. Falls are slippery and that closer look just isn’t worth the type of injuries that may occur. 

Boogerman Trail

This 3.8-mile loop hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park takes you past old growth hemlocks and Robert “Booger” Palmer’s home place (hence the name). There’s plenty of creek views and wildflowers. Nealry a mile in, you’ll see a sign for Boogerman Trail. To avoid a relentless and steep climb, continue further up Caldwell Fork Trail and take the upper loop of Boogerman Trail. The hike begins near the Cataloochee campground.

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Wayah Bald

Located near Franklin in Macon County, this paved trail suitable for the handicapped leads to the Wayah Bald lookout tower, which is a National Historic Landmark offering breathtaking, panoramic views of the area. The Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail intersect at the tower.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Trail

Joyce Kilmer Forest, the last remnant of virgin forest in the Southern Appalachians, offers a spectacular 2-mile loop trail. Near Robbinsville. 


Hemphill Bald

The Loop hike at Hemphill Bald is 13.7 miles in total, but just 4.7 miles in will get you to the Bald. The bald was named after a pioneer family. 

Tsali Recreation Area

Located in Graham County the Tsali Recreation Area is known for its excellent trails. Hikers, bikers and horses all must share, but a bike/horse usage schedule keeps down the melee. Hikers may use any trail at any time. The Thompson Loop and Mouse Branch Looop are billed as easy to moderate and good for families. 

Looking Glass Rock

This 6-mile hike through the Pisgah National Forest travels first through small cove, then steeply up the backside of Looking Glass Rock through many switchbacks, hardwood forests, Carolina hemlocks. At the top of the trail there are cliffs providing views of Pisgah Ridge from Mount Pisgah toward the Shining Rock/Black Balsam Area and the valleys below. 


Shining Rock Wilderness Area

Shining Rock became one of the original components of the Wilderness System in September 1964. A series of high ridges extends east and west from the north-south oriented Shining Rock Ledge. There are three main access points for trails within this Wilderness. First and foremost is the Black Balsam area near the Blue Ridge Parkway. Although this is not part of the Wilderness itself, The Art Loeb (moderate) and Ivestor Gap (easy) trails lead into the wilderness area from here. 

Mount Sterling Gap Trail

This low ridge trail begins at Mount Sterling Gap on Cataloochee-Big Creek Road. It’s only 2.8 miles to the firetower, but is rated extremely strenuous because of a 2,000-foot climb in 2.3 miles along an old jeep trail to the ridge just below the firetower. This firetower is one of three remaining in the Park. There are several excellent lookouts from the trail prior to reaching the main ridge, but the view from the tower is unequalled in the Park. 

Fontana to Wesser

This 30-mile hike along the Appalachian Trails is full of ups and downs. There are shelters along the way, and in the end you’ll find yourself at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Or do the hike in reverse and end at Fontana Dam. To learn more about the Appalachian Trail visit

(Some hike recommendations courtesy of Danny Bernstein, author of Hiking the Carolina Mountains.)

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