Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of North Carolina,” the dramatic, 2,000-foot namesake gorge was formed by the Linville River carving through Jonas Ridge and Linville Mountains. With rugged terrain, sheets of sheer rock face, blankets of wildflowers, panoramic summits, and tumbling waterfalls, the park is ideal for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and fishing.
From the best hikes and trails to where to camp and how to get there, here’s how to plan your next visit to Linville Gorge.
Things to Do
With nearly 40 miles of trails, the park offers options for leisure hikers and advanced backpackers alike. Trails range from short, out-and-back paths that descend to dramatic waterfalls to long, strenuous climbs to panoramic mountain summits. The area is also popular with experienced rock climbers and scramblers; climbs are accessible at several points in the area, including Table Rock, Amphitheater, and Shortoff Mountain. Meanwhile, the Linville River is ideal for fishing brown and rainbow trout and other game fish.
Best Hikes & Trails
Linville Falls Trail: This easy, nearly 1-mile out-and-back trail is one of the area’s most stunning and popular hikes. Access the trailhead from the Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 316; from there, you’ll cross the Linville River before ascending to a series of overlooks offering up-close views of the dramatic falls cascading over sheets of rock.
Hawksbill Mountain Trail: For panoramic views, hike to the 4,000-foot summit of Hawksbill Mountain; here, you can view nearby Table Rock and Shortoff Mountains, the tumbling Linville Falls, and even the Charlotte skyline—90 miles away—on a clear day. At just over 2 miles, the moderately challenging, out-and-back trail starts from the parking area of NC Forest Service 210 and climbs 700 feet through hardwood forest and rocky terrain to the top. Come at sunrise or sunset for the best views.
Table Rock Mountain Trail: This moderate, highly trafficked, 2-mile trail offers some of the park’s best summit views. The trailhead is located off NC Forest Service 210 and climbs steadily, first via stone stairs to a prominent rocky outcrop. You’ll then take a series of switchbacks around dramatic cliffs and dense forest before reaching the peak of exposed granite. The summit offers 360 degree views of Linville Gorge, Hawksbill Mountain, and Linville Falls.
Where to Camp
The park has several options for overnight camping, ranging from no frills thru-hiking sites to larger recreation areas with amenities. Note that on holidays and weekends between May 1 through October 31, visitors must obtain a free camping permit. Advance permits can be reserved by calling the Grandfather Ranger District office at 828-652-2144 starting the first business day of the month preceding the visit. Fifteen walk-in permits are available for the same weekend’s stay, starting at 10 a.m. each Friday at the Linville Gorge Information Cabin (516 Old NC 105, Marion, NC). Each visitor is limited to one weekend permit per month and a stay of three consecutive days and two nights; groups are limited to 10 people.
Linville Falls Campground: This campground is located just past the intersection of Linville Falls Road and Highway 183 near the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are 39 non-electric tent and RV sites available with advanced reservations, and 25 available on a first come, first served basis. Amenities include drinking water, picnic tables, fire rings, and a dump station. Fees are $20 per night and $35 for group tents during peak season (late May to late October).
Linville Gorge East Rim: There are campsites on-trail near the summits of popular hikes like Hawksbill and Table Rock. But for those not wanting to haul gear, there are a few scattered campsites along FS 210 and near the Hawksbill trailhead that offer tent pads and fire rings.
Spence Ridge: Additional low-frills campsites are available near the Spence Ridge parking area and just south of the Spence Ridge trailhead near Table Rock.
How to Get There:
The park is divided into two divisions: eastern and western.
To access the eastern section, take US 181 from Morganton to Forest Service Road (FR) 210 (Gingercake Road). Then turn left onto FR 210 and left again at the first fork; continue through the Gingercake Acres subdivision to the parking areas. From Marion, take US 221 to NC 181. Turn right and go south on NC 181 and continue 3 miles; take another right on FR 210 (Gingercake Road), then follow the directions above. There are three parking areas: Devil’s Hole Trail (Sitting Bear), 2 miles from Gingercake Acres; Hawkbill, 1 mile down from Devil’s Hole; and Spence Ridge and North Table Rock trails, 1 mile from Hawkbill.
To access the western section, take US 221 north from Marion to NC 183 at Linville Falls, then follow that to NC 1238/Kistler Memorial Highway. From Marion, take US 70 east to Nebo, then NC 126 8 miles and turn left on NC 1238/Kistler Memorial Highway. Parking and trailheads are located off the highway. Note that Kistler Memorial is a gravel road and challenging in sections for two-wheel-drive vehicles.
Tips for Your Visit
Walk-in permits, maps, and camping supplies are available at the Linville Gorge Information Cabin.
While dogs are allowed on most trails, remember to follow local leash ordinances and dispose of all waste properly.
Parking is limited for many of the most popular trails, so come early on weekends or weekdays during peak season to secure a spot.
Wear layers, as temperatures can vary significantly from the base of trails to the summit.
Bears and other wildlife are common in the area, so store food and trash in your tent or in designated lockers to avoid unwelcome visitors.