The North Carolina State Parks and Forests are great places for hikers to discover some of the state’s most beautiful natural assets.
Headwaters State Forest
North Carolina’s newest swath of conservation land, Headwaters State Forest sprawls across 6,730 acres through mixed hardwood forest surrounding the French Broad River headwaters in Transylvania County. Headwaters ranges from about 2,000 to 3,600 feet in elevation and is crisscrossed with streams, waterfalls and hiking trails near the South Carolina border. It will help preserve and maintain water quality in the headwaters of the French Broad River, which flows 218 miles from Transylvania County into Tennessee.
DuPont State Forest
More than 80 miles of trails and roads wander through the 10,300 acres of mountain terrain in DuPont State Forest, taking hikers to three beautiful waterfalls. Hooker Falls is a quarter-mile hike down the river on Hooker Falls Road and is easily accessible year round. Triple Falls is a 15-minute walk from the Hooker Falls parking area, and High Falls is a 15-minute walk further upstream from Triple Falls.
From Asheville take I-26 east to Exit 40, and follow NC 280 toward Pisgah Forest. Turn left (east) on US 64 and go 3.7 miles to Penrose. Turn right on Crab Creek Rd. and continue 4.3 mile. Turn right on DuPont Rd. and travel 3.1 miles.
Hickory Nut Gorge
The sheer cliffs of Hickory Nut Gorge rise above the rocky Broad River as it rushes toward lower elevations. Hikers along the riverbank can view the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls that is within the boundaries of Chimney Rock State Park. Several trails within the Park take hikers to both the top and bottom of the falls.
Hickory Nut Gorge is located approximately 15 miles southeast of Asheville, North Carolina. It is accessible via US 64 from Hendersonville and Rutherfordton, and on US 9 from Black Mountain.
This extended trail runs as it is named, from the mountains to the seacoast and is part of the North Carolina State Parks system. The Mountain-to-Sea Trail is easily accessed from a number of points between Asheville and Mount Mitchell, generally off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Among other access points, hikers can join the trail from the French Broad River Overlook, Folk Art Center, Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, Balsam Gap and the Mount Mitchell State Park entrance road. The stretch between Balsam Gap and the Mount Mitchell Road is particularly outstanding.
On the Blue Ridge Parkway, access is at the following Milepost numbers: French Broad River Overlook, Milepost 393.8; Folk Art Center Parking Lot, Milepost 382; Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, Milepost 364.5; Balsam Gap, Milepost 359.8; and Mount Mitchell Road, Milepost 355.4.
Mount Mitchell State Park
Many trails thread through Mount Mitchell State Park, which is located on the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. All trails are easy to moderate, with the exception of the Black Mountain Crest Trail, which although very scenic is strenuous and long. From the summit on a clear day visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the Pisgah National Forest. Trail maps are available at the Park office.
From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north to Milepost 355.4, turn left onto NC 128, which leads to the park. From Marion or Old Fort, take US 70 to NC 80, turn north and travel 16 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left and follow the Parkway to Milepost 355.4; turn right onto NC 128 into the park.
New River State Park
The one-mile Hickory Trail that begins at US 221 provides a spectacular view the oldest river in North America, which is the centerpiece of New River State Park. The Farm House Loop Trail beginning at the Alleghany Access Area takes hikers through open fields, rhododendron thickets and oak/hickory woodlands for a beautiful view of the cliffs across the river.
From I-40 east of Asheville, take Exit 86 to Marion, then follow US 226 north to US 221. Continue north on US 221 through Boone to Jefferson. Turn right on NC 88 east, cross the New River and turn left on Wagoner Access Road (SR 1590).
Pilot Mountain State Park
Capped by two prominent pinnacles, 1,400 foot Pilot Mountain served as a landmark for Native Americans and pioneers in days gone by. Today visitors to Pilot Mountain State Park can hike on miles of trails through rhododendron and rocky terrain. At the top, visitors can enjoy the spectacular view across the Piedmont to the mountains.
Pilot Mountain State Park is located 24 miles north of Winston-Salem and 14 miles south of Mount Airy. From US 52, take the Pilot Mountain State Park exit and travel west into the mountain section of the park.
Stone Mountain State Park
Hikers can explore the wonder of the 600-foot, 300 million year-old granite dome, wander through densely wooded areas, and view cascading waterfalls along 16 miles of trails in Stone Mountain State Park. The strenuous Loop Trail leads hikers to the summit of the mountain, then continues to the top of Stone Mountain Falls. From there, the trail descends to the meadow at the base of the mountain and back to the trailhead. Cedar Rock Trail and Wolf Rock Trail lead to excellent views, and Widow’s Creek Trail has backcountry camping sites as well.
From the Blue Ridge Parkway, take US 21 south to Roaring Gap. Turn right on Oklahoma Road and follow it for approximately 3 miles. The Park entrance is on the right. From I-77, take Exit 83 and turn west onto US 21. Veer left onto Traphill Road (SR 1002) and follow it to the John P. Frank Parkway. Turn right and follow the parkway to the Park.
This page is part of our Hiking section. Visit our Hiking in National Parks & Forests page as well.