Visitors looking to lace up their hiking boots and explore the scenery of Western North Carolina have no shortage of options for trails, lookouts and camping. State parks throughout North Carolina provide locations to enjoy the outdoors, but those in the High Country specifically feature unique environments, mountain views and trails ranging from mild nature walks to challenging mountain ascents.
Grandfather Mountain Featuring vast biodiversity and tall, craggy peaks, Grandfather Mountain offers backcountry trails and hiking as well as extensive educational experiences, amenities and more at their attraction in Linville, N.C., operated by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. The swinging bridge and exhibit of non-releasable, rehabilitated animals greet visitors in Linville looking to learn more about the unique environment atop the mountain and the animals native to western North Carolina.
In 1992, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Grandfather Mountain as the only privately owned designated Biosphere Reserve in the world. The designation is awarded considering the location’s unique environment as well as the operating organization’s permanent protection of the land from uncontrolled development, provision of training for resource management professionals and its dedicated to raising consciousness to current environmental issues.
Within the boundaries of the state park, adventurers may visit the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation's site atop of the mountain which features several attractions and educational opportunities.
To learn more about the attractions at Grandfather Mountain visit www.grandfather.com.
To find trail maps and further information regarding the state park, visit www.ncparks.gov/grandfather-mountain-state-park.
Mount MitchellFeaturing the tallest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell State Park is situated 35 miles northeast of Asheville and offers craggy mountain ascents, verdant spruce-for forests and breathtaking views.
Onsite, there are many ways to explore the mountain from short hikes to the summit to long trails for multi-day backpacking trips. Attractions in the park include a museum of cultural and natural history, a concession stand and full-service restaurant open from May to October, a nine-tent campground during warm weather months and roads leading up the mountain to make the summit more accessible.
For those looking for more rugged adventures, trails of varying difficulty lead up and around the mountain and provide ample opportunity for backcountry camping. On the mountain, visitors can hike through Mount Mitchell and exit the Mount Mitchell State Park and enter Pisgah National Forest trails, National Park trails and the NC State Trails in the Black Mountains.
To find trail maps, camping information and more visit www.ncparks.gov/mount-mitchell-state-park.
Mount JeffersonIn the northwest corner of North Carolina in Ashe County, Mount Jefferson reaches up to 4,700 feet in elevation. Mount Jefferson is a designated National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service due to its ecological diversity and many unusual plant communities, such as a rare virgin forest of large northern red oaks as well as American chestnut. In the spring and summer, visitors can catch glimpses of Catawba rhododendron, mountain laurel, flame azalea, dogwood, and wildflowers including trillium, false lily of the valley and the pink lady slipper, a variety of wild orchid.
Trails wind up and around the Mount Jefferson State Park and include a variety of short jaunts for those looking for a more leisurely hike. Exploring forests and the variety of understory plant species, the Lost Province Trail clocks in at a moderate 0.75 miles. For those looking for a moderate trail with a better view, the 1.10 mile Rhododendron Trail follows a horseshoe-shaped ridgeline along the mountain and passes visitors by an outcrop of black volcanic rock that gives Mount Jefferson its dark appearance.
To find trail maps, event information and more visit www.ncparks.gov/mount-jefferson-state-natural-area.
Elk KnobOne of North Carolina’s newest state parks, Elk Knob State Park features a high peak at 5,520 feet and is the only state park in North Carolina with trails for cross-country skiing. The park is North of Boone and near the Tennessee border and was established in 2003 to protect the headwaters of the North Fork of the New River.
Unlike some other state parks, Elk Knob aims to stay open year round despite the harsh winter weather of the northeast corner of the state. While trees atop the mountain may be gnarled by harsh winds, the park features cross-country skiing trails for use during the winter months and at lower elevations has primitive campsites.
New RiverWinding through the mountains of North Carolina, the New River offers camping, swimming, paddling and more to visitors. One of the five oldest rivers in the world, the New River’s headwaters begin in the New River State Park which straddles Allegheny and Ashe counties. For those looking for an educational experience on the river, the visitor center has environmental education opportunities and houses a teaching auditorium and a laboratory-classroom.
The end of the New River in West Virginia is home to the newest National Park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Fishing accesses at the north and south forks of the New River feature great locations to catch smallmouth bass as well as red-eyed bass.
To find more information about camping, boat access and more visit www.ncparks.gov/new-river-state-park.