Set amid the Blue Ridge Mountains, the city of Asheville, North Carolina, boasts an array of opportunities to get outside on a walk or hike, whether you’re a thru-hiker tackling the Appalachian Trail or a family looking for some magic in the woods. The area’s rich landscapes and lush forests are complemented by tumbling waterfalls and mountain meadows overflowing with wildflowers, so there’s no shortage of scenery to help power you through a hike.
Those seeking a challenge can embark on a moderately difficult trek to explore the unique ecology of western North Carolina, while an urban hike option will let you journey through time on a walking tour in the city center. Choose between easy woodland trails or steep uphill stretches in one of the best places to visit in the Carolinas, and let the Asheville area steal you away on an exciting new adventure with these top hikes.
(Note: Some of the following activities and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
- Beacon Heights Trail
- Moore Cove Falls Trail
- Asheville Urban Trail
- Deep Creek Trail
- Bridal Veil Falls
- Carver’s Gap to Roan Mountain
- Biltmore Trails
- Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower
- Bearwallow Mountain Trail
- Shut-In Trail
- Devil’s Courthouse
- Black Balsam Knob via Art Loeb Trail
- Mount Pisgah Trail
- Looking Glass Rock Trail
- Mount Mitchell Trail
Beacon Heights Trail
For families looking for an easy hike, it’s hard to beat Beacon Heights Trail. This trail is short and sweet – a little less than 1 mile long. Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway about 70 miles northeast of Asheville, this spot is popular for birding, hiking, trail running and gazing out at the surrounding mountains. To reach the two quartzite overlooks on top, visitors say you’ll encounter some incline as well as a path with roots and rocks, but this hike is still heralded for being an easy trek that pays off with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains (as long as it’s not too foggy). Early risers are in luck, as hikers suggest heading out in time for sunrise, which can be witnessed in its full majesty from the overlook on the left branch of the trail. Dogs are free to join you on your hike while on leash.
Moore Cove Falls Trail
The Pisgah National Forest is home to some of the best hikes the Asheville area has to offer, and Moore Cove Falls Trail is no exception. This out-and-back hike – about 0.7 miles each way – is praised by visitors as a great trail for beginners and families, especially those with younger children. In addition to strolling over the quaint wooden bridges and boardwalks, travelers have the chance to go behind a waterfall on this trek, as Moore Cove Falls plunges 50 feet over a rock ledge you can walk underneath. The trail is easy to follow to the beautiful falls, but watch for muddy spots if it has rained recently and avoid slippery rocks. Dogs are welcome to accompany you on this hike but must always remain leashed. Hikers do warn that the trail can be very tourist-heavy in spring and summer due to its popularity and ease, so plan accordingly. You’ll find this hike about 35 miles from Asheville.
Asheville Urban Trail
The Asheville Urban Trail is the perfect fit for travelers seeking a unique Asheville experience and a more casual “hike.” This less than 2-mile walking tour of downtown Asheville takes visitors on a self-guided journey through the history and landscapes of the city. With 30 sculptural trail stations, this urban hike will have you exploring every corner of the downtown area. An interactive map is available online to aid you in your trek, or you can download a printable version to help you navigate the streets. Fans of the trail praise its engaging history and ability to keep people of all ages entertained, as well as the way you can set your own pace and goals while exploring. Some caution, however, that navigating this city trail can be difficult even with the help of the map, particularly on busy days.
Deep Creek Trail
Deep Creek Trail is a flexible option that can be up to about 5 miles – or less if you only do certain sections. Paths to hike here include the 2.4-mile Three Waterfalls Loop or the 4.4-mile Deep Creek-Indian Creek Loop; trails start in the parking area at the end of Deep Creek Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City (about 70 miles west of Asheville). Deep Creek Trail takes you along an old logging road home to three waterfalls and some popular tubing areas, including one that brings you right past one of the cascades. Visitors say the wide trail is easy aside from a few steep parts and boasts great views of the Smokies, making it one of the most popular spots to visit in the park. Though the hike is a favorite of locals and travelers, you can still find some quiet once you pass the tubing entrances. This hike is kid-friendly, but dogs are not allowed on this trail.
Bridal Veil Falls
The Bridal Veil Falls hike at Dupont State Forest is a roughly 4.5-mile loop trail you won’t want to miss, especially if you’re a “Hunger Games” fan. This trail, which sits about 75 miles southwest of Asheville, is popular for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking, but its most recent claim to fame is as a filming location for “The Hunger Games.” Visitors to Bridal Veil Falls can’t get enough of the breathtaking cascade over exposed granite rock and highly recommend this moderately easy hike. The iconic 120-foot falls can be reached by a flat, clearly marked trail that is mostly wide gravel roads. Some warn that the rocks around the falls can be slippery so approach that area with caution; hikers also encourage wearing shoes with solid soles as the gravel can be a rough walk after a while. Pet owners will appreciate that this trail is dog-friendly. If you’re visiting on a particularly nice day, explore some of the nearby attractions: Triple Falls, Hooker Falls and High Falls are all popular hikes to combine with your trip to Bridal Veil Falls.
Carver’s Gap to Roan Mountain
If you’re looking to explore the Appalachian Trail while in Asheville, look no further than the hike from Carver’s Gap to Roan Mountain. Used in particular for backpacking, birding and camping, this out-and-back trail is relatively easy, according to visitors, but does have a few moderate sections along the way; it’s a few miles each way, so most people budget three or more hours. The main draw of this hike is the views from three Appalachian “balds”: summits or crests without trees. Enjoy the unique array of wildflowers as you walk the balds. Keep in mind that while the forested parts of the hike are shady, these bald mountaintops won’t be, but they might be windy; dress accordingly and bring plenty of water. Dogs are welcome on leash and will love exploring these open meadows while you enjoy a relaxing picnic with unimpeded views. If you’re looking for a more solitary experience, but still wish to check out this popular hike, be sure to visit during quieter times of the day.
To stay closer to downtown, the Biltmore estate just outside the city center offers 22 miles of trails within its grounds. Most of the terrain is accessible and flat with easy parking, so the trails are a great option for families or individuals with less mobility. A particularly popular trail on the grounds is the 7-mile River Loop trail, which will take you along the French Broad River. In addition to the trails at Biltmore, you can have a picnic in the Lagoon area or simply take a rest before continuing your exploration of the grounds. With more than 75 acres of formal and informal gardens, the Biltmore has plenty to keep you entertained for the day. To make use of the trails here, you will need to pay for access to the estate. Dogs are welcome on the grounds but must be on a leash.
Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower
The 1.5-mile Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower trail is one of the best Asheville-area sunset hikes (situated about 25 miles from the city), but it may not be a great option for those afraid of heights. This Blue Ridge Parkway hike is open year-round and makes a popular spot for wildflower enthusiasts and trail runners. However, the real reason to make this trek is for the historic fire tower that stands around 70 feet tall; you’ll have to climb it to see the views. Both the tower and trail are well maintained, though visitors advise caution when ascending the outlook tower, especially in rainy or windy weather conditions. Hikers also say the climb is especially scenic around sunset: It boasts gorgeous views of the mountains with an unobstructed view of the sun setting over the horizon. For that reason, Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower can get busy around dusk, so make sure to arrive a bit early if you want to grab the best vantage point. This trail is dog-friendly for on-leash pets, but visitors have had mixed experiences with taking dogs up the tower, so make sure your furry friend is good with stairs and crowds before attempting this hike.
Bearwallow Mountain Trail
An approximately 2-mile loop path that is open year-round, Bearwallow Mountain Trail is best known for the cows you’ll encounter at the top: The hike is on private land that serves as a working farm. As a result, dogs must remain on leash if they join you here. Hikers generally find this trail’s moderate rating to be accurate, though some say it was easier than expected; past visitors who brought along their kids recommend only bringing children who are experienced with hiking. The picturesque mountain meadow at the top makes this hike especially nice for picnicking or taking in the view – but watch where you sit, as the cows are known to leave behind plenty of unwanted presents for visitors. You’ll find the trailhead about 20 miles southeast of Asheville on Bearwallow Mountain Road.
Shut-In Trail: North to South
If you’re looking for a long and picturesque hike that isn’t too crowded, the Shut-In Trail is the one for you. This point-to-point hike is part of North Carolina’s state hiking trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. While the Mountains-to-Sea Trail stretches a whopping total of 1,175 miles across the state, the Shut-In hike itself is about 16 miles end to end. It runs mainly along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which makes it easily accessible (though parking varies by entrance) but also means you aren’t allowed to camp overnight. The Shut-In Trail is thus typically used for day hikes and short exercise rather than as a long-distance route. Hikers warn that the parkway can be loud toward the starts of the trail but say it quiets down further along. The path has some elevation changes, which makes it more moderate in difficulty, but visitors say the steepest part is at the beginning, so it can be a manageable hike for less experienced hikers. Those enjoying the views will find other guests walking, hiking or birding along the trail. Dogs are a common companion on this hike but must remain on leash. Some hikers warn of wildlife sightings, including coyotes and bears, so keep an eye out if you’re planning to head further into the woods. The northern trailhead sits near Bent Creek, about 10 miles south of Asheville.
Venture about 40 miles southwest of the city along the Blue Ridge Parkway to try out the Devil’s Courthouse hike near Canton. Perhaps the trail’s name derives from the rocks’ resemblance to a menacing face, or from the legend suggesting the devil holds court in the cave below; Cherokee lore, meanwhile, says the cave is the home of a giant named Judaculla. You can ponder the meaning of “Devil’s Courthouse” as you make the mile-long trek. Open year-round, this moderately difficult trail is well marked for good reason: It boasts a unique ecology with lots of rare wildlife that will thrill nature-loving hikers. To protect this ecosystem, be sure to stick to the marked trail and keep any furry hiking companions on a leash. The out-and-back trail has a steep climb and descent that best suits experienced hikers, but it doesn’t require any special skills to traverse. Visitors say the climb is worth it for what you get to see at the top: The summit – at 5,720 feet – affords views of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee on a clear day.
Black Balsam Knob via Art Loeb Trail
Those familiar with Asheville’s hiking scene have likely heard of the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail, home to some of the most popular hikes in the region. One such offering is Black Balsam Knob, a moderately challenging 1.5-mile feat. The path starts you off on the Art Loeb Trailhead (about 30 miles from Asheville) and heads north, spotlighting abundant wildflowers, glimpses of the city and the balsam fir trees that give the mountain its name. Some visitors warn that parking can be challenging here if it’s busy and suggest arriving early – it’s worth the trouble for those 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though the trail is marked as difficult on the trailhead sign, many hikers say it’s more of a moderate trek. Leashed dogs are welcome at Black Balsam Knob.
Mount Pisgah Trail
This out-and-back trail will bring you the iconic mountaintop views of Mount Pisgah year-round. Your hike can be up to 4.5 miles, depending on where you decide to park and begin the trek, but the popular route is about 3 miles. Set on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Mount Pisgah Trail is popular for birding, camping and hiking, so you’re likely to see quite a few people along the way. Don’t let the popularity fool you – Mount Pisgah is not for the inexperienced hiker. The end of this journey can be moderately difficult for those who aren’t used to rocky terrain or steep elevation changes. Experienced hikers advise wearing good shoes if you want to take on the entirety of the hike. Visitors also warn that the trail isn’t well marked, so you may opt to grab a map ahead of time. If you’re less experienced navigating hiking trails, be sure to visit when this spot will be busier so you can follow the crowds. Mount Pisgah is open to dogs on leash, and many visitors say the furry friends are a common sight on the trail.
Looking Glass Rock Trail
Located near Pisgah National Forest about 40 miles from Asheville, Looking Glass Rock is a favorite spot for hiking, rock climbing and trail running. The trail gets its name from the massive, curved mountaintop that reflects light on sunny days. Though the unique site is beautiful from below, the views from atop the outcrops are breathtaking as well. This trail – open year-round and welcoming to dogs on leash – is well shaded and well marked, but hikers say there is little in the way of views until the top. Still, the hike provides a lovely trek through a forest abundant with ferns and rhododendron. Visitors say you’ll encounter some tight spots toward the top and suggest bringing plenty of water and snacks as the trail is known for its humidity and can be difficult to traverse at points, especially after a heavy rain. When you’ve completed the Looking Glass Rock hike, consider a detour to Looking Glass Falls (only a short drive away) to cool off: It takes less than half a mile round-trip to walk to the base of this waterfall, so visitors describe it as more of a scenic overlook than a hike but consider it a worthy and accessible add-on nonetheless. But be sure to make this short trip early, as parking fills up fast near the popular Looking Glass Falls.
Mount Mitchell Trail
If you’re a fan of heights and don’t mind a trail with some moderate elevation gain, the Mount Mitchell Trail is the hike for you. Located in Mount Mitchell State Park about 45 miles from Asheville and surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, this out-and-back hike (6 miles each way) begins at Black Mountain Campground and takes you up to the highest summit east of the Mississippi River. The trail is well kept and clearly marked due to its popularity; while it’s classified as relatively moderate, hikers say it can be difficult for those who aren’t used to elevation gain. But visitors also say the panoramic views from the top are worth the trek and you won’t want to miss the high-elevation spruce-fir forest on the way up. If you’re a dog owner, feel free to bring pets along, but be sure to always keep them on a leash. For a shorter jaunt, check out the Balsam Nature Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway – it’s less than a mile and begins at a junction with the Mount Mitchell Trail.
You might also be interested in: