Here is our list of the best day hikes in North Carolina, as tried and approved by this local family.
North Carolina has long been a popular vacation destination with exciting places to visit from Biltmore in Asheville to the Outer Banks on the Atlantic Coast. For those of us lucky enough to call it home, we take advantage of great day hikes in North Carolina, especially in the cooler months.
The Mountains to Sea Trail (MST)
Starting at Clingman’s Dome on the North Carolina-Tennessee border and meandering through the state to Jockey’s Ridge at the Outer Banks, hike part of the 1,000 mile long Mountains to Sea Trail to see North Carolina on foot. In some places, the trail is rugged and hilly. In other places, it’s an easy stroll along wide, paved walkways with wooden boardwalks and community parks.
For those visiting the mountains of North Carolina, here are a few of the best hikes to consider.
Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina and not too far from Charlotte or Lake Lure. Opened as a state park in 2007, this quickly became one of the most popular destinations in North Carolina for day hikes. Climb 491 stairs to the outcropping for spectacular views of the lake below (or take the elevator if that’s too much). Other trails throughout the park, from easy to moderately strenuous, allow for a full day of exploring this beautiful region. We recommend a half day, minimum, to explore.
In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Linville Falls is a popular place for day hikes in North Carolina. The park is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway making it a popular — and often crowded — spot on weekends. The hilly trails go over uneven terrain, designating it a moderate hike. Each trail eventually leads to stunning views of Linville Falls, surrounded by rhododendron. Allow three hours to hike one trail.
Roan Mountain, on the Tennessee border near the small town of Bakersville, is a popular hiking destination for naturalists. The Roan Mountains Gardens Trail is an easy, one mile trail that takes visitors through the rhododendron gardens (best in June and July). There are three easy trail loops suitable for all ages. A special feature of the Roan Mountain trails is the paved, handicap-accessible interpretive trail that offers 16 stations to explain the rare foliage found in this beautiful region.
Stone Mountain State Park
With more than 18 miles of hiking trails that meander through forests of oak and pine, the highlight of Stone Mountain is the 600 foot granite dome that rises out of the ground. It’s a stunning rock formation, especially for eastern mountain ranges. Those who enjoy rock climbing can also climb some of the cliffs at Stone Mountain State Park, but must check in with park rangers first. Historical exhibits including a blacksmith’s shop are also open to the public. Allow a minimum of three hours when visiting.
You don’t have to go to the mountains for great day hikes in North Carolina. Some of our favorites are located in the sandhills, closer to the beaches.
Carver’s Creek State Park
The newest of North Carolina’s state parks, Carver’s Creek blends history and wilderness for a unique day hiking experience. From the trail head, follow a sandy path that leads to the winter home of James Stillman Rockefeller. Learn about his laid back life, his military service during World War II and about the farming that was done on this land. See century old magnolia and live oak trees and try to imagine life here eighty years ago. A path curves around the mill pond to see even more biodiversity. This is an easy trail and we recommend three hours to explore.
Dunn Erwin Rail Trail
Connecting the small towns of Dunn and Erwin, this rail trail is an easy day hike in southeastern North Carolina. Following an old rail line, the gravel trail runs five miles between the two towns, winding behind small towns and family farms. After walking the trail, or part of it, stop for lunch or a snack at one of the local restaurants in the towns you’ll see.
To read more about the Dunn Erwin Trail, check this out.
Nags Head Woods Preserve
When visiting the Outer Banks, there’s more to see than the beautiful beaches. Head to Nags Head Woods Preserve near the sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park to discover a diverse world of plant and animal life. Oak and beech trees create the canopy, one of the rare maritime deciduous forests in the US. There are more than 550 species of plants here, from the towering trees to tiny orchids, making this an amazing place to explore.
Raven Rock State Park
Raven Rock State Park runs along the Cape Fear River in Lillington, North Carolina. It’s close to both Fayetteville and Raleigh, making it a popular place for locals to take day hikes in North Carolina. The park has trails along both sides of the river, with rock outcroppings kids enjoy climbing and great spots to stop for a picnic lunch. The trail is relatively easy, and it is dog friendly.
There are hundreds of miles of greenways, state, county and city parks to explore throughout North Carolina. Whether looking for a strenuous day hike or something more relaxed, there is something for everyone to explore in this beautiful place.
Article from Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget.
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