Whether you want to test your limits or just enjoy a stellar view, the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is at once breathtakingly beautiful and ruggedly challenging. Most people access the area in the Pisgah National Forest from the visitor Center just off the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway. Formed by Jonas Ridge to the east and Linville Mountain to the west, the 12,000-acre gorge is home to the Linville River and its famous waterfalls.
Hike the hardwood and pine forest with its jagged rock formations, ideal for rock-climbing, and observe the magnificent falls and wildlife (with excellent birdwatching!) Then make camp under the lush canopy of trees for more exploring the next day.
Where to Find the Waterfalls
The headwaters of the Linville River form high up on Grandfather Mountain before separating into two stunning upper waterfalls that plunge 2,000 feet into the valley below. The popular Linville Falls can be reached by two trails leading from the Visitor Center located about 1.5 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 316.
The Visitor Center has restrooms and a picnic area, although it is only open from May to October and just weekends in April. It also offers an information center where you can talk to a ranger and grab a map and some souvenirs.
Hiking Trails in the Linville Gorge
Dozens of trails weave through the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and choosing one at your skill level is crucial. Some trails are primitive and dangerous while others are heavily traveled and suitable for most hikers.
- Linville Gorge Trail: At 11.5 miles, the Linville Gorge Trail is the longest trail in the wilderness area. It begins near Linville Falls before descending along the western side of the Linville River to the boundary of the wilderness. It’s a beautiful trail with small cascades dropping from jagged cliffs, but it is a popular trail that gets a lot of foot traffic. If you’re looking for solitude, consider choosing another trail.
- Linville Falls Trail: Another western-rim trail is the 2.8-mile Linville Falls Trail. If your main goal is to see the falls, this is the right one for you. The first section of this trail is known as the Erwin View Trail and offers 3 different overlooks with varying perspectives. The second section of the trail is an ideal place to see the lower falls where they meet the Linville River.
- Pine Gap Trail: If an easy hike is more to your liking, try the Pine Gap Trail, also on the western side. It’s a 1-mile trail with a gradual descent, and you can pick up the Linville Gorge Trail at the bottom if you want to see a little more.
- Babel Tower Trail: The 2.4-mile, out-and-back Babel Tower Trail named for the tall, stone spire that distinguishes it, leads to the banks of the Linville River. While a convenient way to enter and exit the Gorge, this one is considered a highly challenging and rocky trail in the difficult category.
- Wiseman's View - This easy and paved trail is only .4 miles, and it leads to a spectacular overlook of the gorge. Looking across the gorge from this spot, you get a great view of Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain
If you choose to hike along the eastern rim, there are several trails with their own unique benefits.
- Devils Hole Trail: The 1.5-mile Devils Hole Trail is aptly named for the 1160-foot drop it makes through hardwood trees and heady flowering shrubs. You’ll cross a small stream at the base before climbing to the cliff top that descends into the Linville River. For those who like to cool off after a hike, you may be able to wade across the river to pick up the Linville Gorge Trail, depending on the water level.
- Table Rock Summit Trail: If you’re chasing that “King or Queen of the World” high, the Table Rock Summit Trail features a 360-degree view of the Linville Gorge from the almost-4,000-feet-high summit of Table Rock. Insider Tip: If you’re a birder, then plan this hike for between September and October when tens of thousands of broad-winged, red-tail, and sharp-shinned hawks soar overhead during the spectacular annual hawk migration! You might even see ospreys, turkey vultures, and bald eagles. Peak hawk-viewing is from September 20 – 30.
- Spence Ridge Trail: The first half mile or so of this trail follows an old logging road, making for an easier, level start to your trek. At the end of this 1.75-mile trail, hikers can cross the Linville River via a bridge to its western bank where it intersects with the Linville Gorge Trail. It’s the Gorge’s only bridge that crosses the river.
- Shortoff Mountain Trail: The 8-mile-long Shortoff Mountain Trail is another heavily traveled trail for a very good reason. It’s a dramatic ridgeline trail with views of the Piedmont flatlands on one side and the majestic Appalachian Mountains on the other. On a clear day you can even see beautiful Lake James in the distance.
Note: If you’d prefer to explore the Gorge with an expert, there are several outfitter guides in the area who will take you rock climbing and to other activities.
If you’re planning to camp in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area on a weekend or holiday from May to October, you’ll need a camping pass. The passes are free but carry a $6 transaction fee. This will allow you to stay up to 3 consecutive days and 2 nights, but you are only permitted for 1 weekend per month. You can purchase a pass online.
No mechanical transport of any kind is allowed and you may not remove any plants, stones, or moss when you leave. Of course, you’ll need to carry out everything you carried in, leaving no trace of your stay.
Only 50 people are allowed overnight camping on weekends and holidays in the Gorge, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Seventy percent of the quota is available on the first day of the prior month, and the other 30% is available for reservations each Wednesday at 10am ET for the coming weekend.
The Gorge’s eastern rim has some desirable campsites on-trail near the summits of Table Rock Mountain, Shortoff Mountain, and Hawksbill Mountain. There are also scattered campsites along the graveled Forest Service Road 210 and near the Hawksbill trailhead that offer fire rings and tent pads. Additional campsites are also available near the Spence Ridge parking area, but they are primitive.
You can also check out the Linville Campground, a 70-site campground convenient to Linville Falls. They offer flush toilets and seasonal availability of onsite staff, firewood, trash, a dump station, potable water, an amphitheater, and food storage lockers (a must in bear country!)
For information on other places to stay, the Linville Falls community, and Linville Falls attractions, please click here.