As part of our GetHiking! program, which we introduced last week and will launch Sept. 12, we’re spending August extolling the virtues of hiking in North Carolina. Today, a look at some of the most notable trails in the state.

There’s a moment in Jay Leutze’s “Stand Up That Mountain,” his first-hand account of the battle to save a mountain from strip mining in western North Carolina, where the clued-in reader knows that if Leutze can make one thing happen, the mountain will be saved. Leutze is trying to get a group of key decision makers to hike a stretch of the Appalachian Trail from which they’ll be able to appreciate the potential scenic (and thus, legal) damage the mine will cause. The hike is to Hump Mountain.

Hump Mountain sits on the AT, on the North Carolina/Tennessee line between Carver’s Gap and U.S. 19E. It’s a 13.7-mile stretch that begins, from Carver’s Gap, with three open balds (Round, Jane and Grassy Ridge), tucks into a tight grove of alder, passes through three gaps and climbs 5,459-foot Little Hump Mountain before cresting 5,587-foot Hump Mountain. One late summer afternoon in 2009 I climbed the exposed Hump Mountain, took in the 360-degree view and decided to stay a while. Sitting on my pack facing southwest into Tennessee, I started counting the ridgelines that disappeared into the horizon: Big Ridge, Hampton Creek Ridge, Heaton Creek Ridge, Heaton Ridge … I got up to seven ridges, squinted, and made out one more. There was the lightest of Southern Appalachian hazes, a gentle breeze helping visibility. For much of that 360 degrees, including in the direction of “Stand Up’s” nemesis Putnam Mine, the only sign of man visible was the trail I’d hiked in on. I declared it the most visually stunning spot in the state. And I knew that if Leutze could pull his hike together, the Putnam Mine would be doomed.

Such a declaration of scenic superiority did not come lightly. Hump Mountain and the 13.7-mile stretch of the AT it resides on have plenty of competition in North Carolina.

Shining Rock Wilderness

Prior to Hump Mountain, Shining Rock got my vote for best scenery. The wilderness and adjoining national forest certainly gets it for most diverse scenery. There’s the eerie passage through Graveyard Fields and the lasting impact of two devastating forest fires from a century ago. The run of waterfalls along Yellowstone Prong from Graveyard Fields and on down the East Fork of the Pigeon River. The rugged climbs up the east flank of the Balsam Mountains and the narrow ridgeline passage along the Shining Rock Ledge. There’s the scrambling atop the white quartz of Shining Rock, the passage through stands of black balsam, the three peaks above 6,000 feet. Most notable are the miles of open passage accessed by the Ivestor Gap and Art Loeb trails. Proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway gives easy access to the southern edge of Shining Rock, miles of trail, unmarked in the wilderness itself, assure the likelihood of solitary travels.

Linville Gorge Wilderness

Says “Dense rhododendrons, unmarked trails, and a knee-pounding 2,000-foot descent to its namesake river are par for the course in Linville Gorge. The reward? The wildest beauty in the Southeast.” Enter from the southeast edge of the 13-mile gorge and after a short but stout climb up Shortoff Mountain the trail eases as it follows the eastern rim north past The Chimneys, a popular rock climbing area, and Table Rock Mountain’s great views. Less than a mile beyond, Spence Ridge Trail offers the most civil access into the gorge and the lone footbridge across the Linville River. The trails here are neither marked nor maintained (officially, at least). Again, as says, some of the wildest beauty in the Southeast.

The Black Mountain Crest Trail, Mount Mitchell State Park

Like the Appalachian Trail, like Shining Rock and like the Linville Gorge, the Black Mountain Crest Trail offers intensely challenging hiking and scenic reward. But it also offers novices a chance to sample the experience. The Black Mountain Crest Trail’s southern trailhead is in Mount Mitchell State Park. The park may be home to the highest peak east of South Dakota’s Black Hills (6,684-foot Mount Mitchell), but it’s also home to a restaurant, gift shop and a paved road that goes to within a couple hundred feet of the summit. From the parking lot, the novice can challenge himself or herself to hike the one mile north to Mount Craig, a fellow member of the 6,000-foot club. The more experienced hiker can continue another 12 miles on the Crest Trail to Bowlen’s Creek on a path that sometimes requires the use of anchored climbing rope to negotiate. In summer, a machete isn’t a bad idea, either.

Grandfather Mountain, Grandfather Mountain State Park.

If you’ve been to Grandfather Mountain but have never been past the swinging bridge, then you haven’t been to Grandfather Mountain. Forget the visitor center and gift shop: trails, both around three miles in length, lead to the crest from both the mountain’s east flank (Daniel Boone Scout Trail) and west (Profile Trail). Both tap into the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail, which follows the spine of Grandfather Mountain, where the harshest weather in North Carolina has been recorded — including a 200-mile wind gust in 2006. You can spend a full day hiking this 2.4-mile stretch, climbing ladders, scooting across rock slabs with the aid of cables, climbing a chimney littered with car-size boulders. Wild, wild stuff.

Umstead State Park, Raleigh.

What’s remarkable about Umstead? It’s a 5,700-acre forest located in the heart of the nation’s 49th largest metro area. Hikers, bikers and runners start arriving at Umstead around 5:30 every morning (the park officially opens at 8 a.m.) and some don’t leave until well after the park rangers have switched off the “Welcome” sign  for the evening. Umstead gets 1.2 million visitors a year, many of whom are drawn to the park’s 20 miles of hiking trail. Take a short hike on the Sal’s Branch, Pott’s Branch or Oak Rock trails (all under three miles), or explore the interior of the park on the Company Mill (5.8 miles) or Sycamore trails (7.2 miles) trails. The Piedmont hardwood forest at Umstead has been recovering from agricultural use since the 1930s and has matured quite nicely.

Neusiok Trail

Croatan National Forest. A 20-mile hike through a coastal forest may not be something you care to do in July — unless you’re good at outrunning various forms of flying and slithering varmints — but it is a true treat in winter. Especially intriguing is the northernmost 6.7 miles, from NC 306 to the northern trailhead in the Pine Cliff Recreation Area. This stretch of trail takes in a beach along the Neuse River (2.5 miles wide at this point), a typical coastal pine savannah and a not-so-typical encounter with galax and holly, flora more commonly associated with the Southern Appalachians. You’ll also pass some great local history: long-abandoned stills are visible every so often.

In the Triangle you don’t need to look far. Here’s a rundown of 25 trails and trail networks in the region totaling 275 miles. All are natural surface trails (with the exception of part of the American Tobacco Trail); they range in length from less than a mile to 60 miles.

Chatham County

27.8 miles

1.  Jordan Lake State Recreation Area I 20 miles

Mostly short trails in and around beaches and camping areas (some of the latter are restricted to registered campers); New Hope area has loops of 5.5 and 2.7 miles.

More Info

2. Lower Haw River State Natural Area, Bynum | 4.3 miles

Linear trail running along the Haw River from U.S. 64 north to Bynum. Trail has a tropical feel in summer; wear long pants, check for ticks afterward.

More Info

3. White Pines Nature Preserve (Triangle Land Conservancy property), Pittsboro | 3.5 miles

Nature preserve at the confluence of the Deep and Rocky Rivers known for its rare (in the Piedmont) stand of white pines.

More Info


Durham County

40 miles

4.  Eno River State Park | 24 miles

Linear park along the Eno River, trails consist largely of loops entailing riverbank and ridgelines. Nice variety. Popular destination.

More Info

5. Horton Grove Nature Preserve (Triangle Land Conservancy), Bahama | 3 miles, expanding to 8-10

The Triangle’s newest trail network, this norther Durham County location has a little altitude and is rich in natural and human history.

More Info

6. Little River Regional Park (Triangle Land Conservancy), Rougemont | 8 miles

Good hiking along the Little River and a nice bluff. Remote location means fewer crowds, especially in the busy fall and spring hiking seasons.

More Info

7. West Point on the Eno city park, Durham | 5 miles

Especially good destination for kids; a hike on one of the parks’ short loops can be followed by a visit to the working mill, the millpond or other park attractions.

More Info

Harnett County

12 miles

8.  Raven Rock State Park, Lillington | 12 miles

Little Creek loop offers green hiking year-round, Raven Rock loop takes in the 150-foot bluff overlooking the Cape Fear River, and the 5-mile Campbell Creek loop offers a nice escape from park’s more visited trails.

More Info


Johnston County

7.5 miles

9.  Flower Hill Nature Preserve (Triangle Land Conservancy), Middlesex | 0.5 mile

Hosts the easternmost extent of Catawba rhododendron in North Carolina (there’s also a smidge of galax and other montane flora on the preserve’s steep, north-facing bluff. Short, but very, very sweet

More Info

10. Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center (Johnston Community College), Four Oaks | 7 miles (est.)

On the cusp of the coastal plain, Howell Woods offers an unusual range of hiking, from Piedmont hardwood forest to coastal swamp. Rarely crowded.

More Info

Orange County

37.5 miles

11.  Carolina North, Chapel Hill | 7 miles

A 250-acre research forest about two-miles north of the UNC campus, the trails here have long been popular with locals seeking to hike, bike or run.

More Info

12. Duke Forest, 7,060 acres in five tracts, including some land in Durham County | 34 miles

Mostly fire roads providing access to five tracts of research forest in the western Triangle. Explores some gorgeous terrain; a favorite area is the Korstian Division.

More Info

13. Johnston Mill Nature Preserve (Triangle Land Conservancy), Chapel Hill | 3.5 miles

A popular escape between Durham and Chapel Hill, this preserve features nice hiking along New Hope Creek and a cool passage through a mature beech stand on a steep, north-facing bluff.

More Info

Wake County

51 miles

14.  Blue Jay Point County Park, North Raleigh | 5 miles

Encompasses a nice 3-mile stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Kids like Blue Jay Point for its apres hike play features, including a good-size playground.

More Info

15.  Crowder Park, Apex | 1 mile

Two short trails offer a quick outdoors escape in the heart of Apex.

More Info

16. Durant Nature Park, Raleigh | 5 miles

Located off Capital Boulevard in rapidly expanding North Raleigh, the trail here is surprisingly effective at insulating you from the urban world just beyond.

More Info

17. Fred Bond Park, Cary | 4.2 miles

Single-track loop trail around lake and various mulch-covered trails throughout the park.

More Info

18. Harris Lake County Park, New Hill | 6 miles

Six-mile Peninsula Trail is long, flat and scenic.

More Info

19. Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve, Cary | 3 miles

Best-tended trail in the Triangle, the three loops comprising the trail network are mulch-covered and hiker friendly — though you will find a stout climb or two. Hike in the mountains through the park’s anomalous hemlock stand, hike (on boardwalk) through a coastal swamp.

More Info

20. Historic Yates Millpond, Raleigh | 3 miles

Trail and lake and an out-and-back spur make Yates Millpond a nice change-of-pace destination.

More Info

21. Lake Crabtree County Park, Morrisville | 6 miles

Short nature trail, 6-mile loop around lake.

More Info

22. Swift Creek Bluffs Nature Preserve (Triangle Land Conservancy), Cary | 1 mile

Trail begins in a floodplain forest, then quickly snuggles up to the base of a 100-foot bluff populated by towering beech. Return trip is along the top of the bluff. A lot of terrain in just a mile.

More Info

23. Umstead State Park, Raleigh | 20 miles of hiking trail, 13 miles of bike & bridle trail

Popular 5,700-acre state park in the heart of the Triangle. Don’t let the crowded parking lots cow you; get much more than a mile from the trailheads of 5.8-mile Company Mill Trail and 7.2-mile Sycamore Trail and the crowds diminish significantly.

More Info


88 miles

24. American Tobacco Trail, Wake, Chatham, Durham counties | 22 miles

In fact, only the southernmost 6 miles of the ATT, in Wake County, are natural surface. The 4.5 miles through Chatham County is a mix of natural surface and pavement, while most of the Durham County stretch is paved. The spine of the Triangle’s trail system.

More Info

25. Falls Lake Trail/Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Durham and Wake counties | 60 miles

A rarity: an epic hike in an urban setting. Hike the whole enchilada or one of 18 sections ranging in length from less than a mile to nearly seven miles.

More Info

And — spoiler alert — in case you were wondering, Jay Leutze did manage to get his hiking party up to Hump Mountain. The Putnam Mine was defeated.