Vicki Dameron photo
Devil’s Courthouse overlook.
Official Blue Ridge Parkway literature will tell you that more than 100 trails are part of the official trail system. Part of the allure of the Parkway, though, is that many of those trails link up with other trail systems in national forests or even un-named trails known mostly to local residents in the region.
In truth, the trails off the Parkway are among the best anywhere because they are so easily accessible and so varied in what hikers will encounter. Some lead to historical structures, fire towers, and remnants of old homesteads, while others end at amazing waterfalls, observation decks, and swimming holes. Still others take you to mountain balds that come alive with spring wildflowers. Consult trail guides for more specific information prior to undertaking any of these hikes. Here are some of the best Parkway trails in N.C.
Cascades Trail (MP 272)
This one-mile roundtrip excursion near Boone, N.C. includes 60-foot cascades. After a rain, they are simply beautiful as a mist rises. It feels like you’ve walked into an air-conditioned forest.
Flat Top Mountain Trail (MP 294)
This trail offers great variety—a broad pasture, a forest, and lots of wildflowers. The fire tower still stands at the top and can be climbed for unbelievable views. This 5.6-mile trek is divided evenly between uphill and then back down to Moses Cone Manor. The graves of Cone and his wife, Bertha, are also along the route. This trail is easy to get to (park at the manor), moderate in difficulty, and leads through some wonderful terrain—not a wilderness hike, but a memorable, very scenic walk. It’s along a roadbed, which means it’s great for walking side-by-side and carrying on conversation instead of the head-down, single-file hiking necessary on many trails.
Linville Falls and Gorge area (MP 316.4)
This place is a geologist’s dream. The rocks that make up the actual Linville Gorge provide huge outcroppings along nearly all the trails. The falls are massive, and the entire Linville Gorge area is just too stunning to describe. Linville Falls Trail is slightly more than two miles and leads to a couple of gorgeous overlooks. If you have time to explore the Gorge via other trails, do so. But be careful as you descend. Many hikers have been caught by surprise—sudden weather changes, difficult terrain, high water levels, and wildlife—in what is one of the wildest places in the East.
Mt. Pisgah Trail (MP 407.6)
This strenuous, three-mile roundtrip has a wonderful payoff—a fire tower with a large observation deck that provides views of dozens of nearby summits from its 5,700-foot elevation. This trail starts off relatively flat, but as it approaches the summit there are stairways and rocky climbs. That’s part of the fun. Climbing the stairs at the observation deck is like ascending the podium at the end of a race that you just won. But be warned: it can also be a busy location because of its proximity to a campground and the popular Pisgah Inn, a well-known landmark near Asheville.
Upper Falls at Graveyard Fields (MP 419)
Many outdoor writers have said Graveyard Fields resembles areas in the Rocky Mountains because it lacks the typical heavy forest common in the Southern Appalachians. A 1925 fire destroyed the forest, but the valley area makes for great hiking with great views. The Graveyard Fields Loop Trail is just over 2 miles, but a spur leads to the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone Prong. Signs will lead you there, but many hikers never make it because they end up playing in the several wading areas along this waterway. It’s a great place to spend a day, and when blueberries are in season you can quickly get your fill in the area across the Parkway from the Graveyard Fields parking area.
Black Balsam/Sam’s Knob/Shining Rock Wilderness Area (MP 420.2, turn onto Forest Service Road 816)
This parking area provides access to a plethora of hikes and is a trailhead for backpacking trips into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area. The parking area is at approximately 5,600 feet, so this trail system provides stunning views at every turn. One of the short hikes (about 2.5 miles roundtrip) is to the summit of Sam’s Knob. This hike takes you through huge meadows into a thick forest with several creek crossings and to the top of a unique two-summit mountain with large, white quartz boulders dotting the landscape. The trail is rutted and relatively strenuous, but a picnic atop this mountain will be memorable.
Devil’s Courthouse (MP 422)
This easy, one-mile, round-trip trail has been paved for handicapped access, making this unique place available for just about everyone. The stunning rock face is home to peregrine falcons and Judaculla, the legendary giant of Cherokee stories. The spruce and fir forest is beautiful and always cool, and the view from the top is magical.