No matter if you’re a local, or if you’re just visiting Asheville for a week, if you’re looking to go backpacking, North Carolina is the place to do it. Featuring miles and miles of trails that connect to the great Appalachian Trail, spotted with mountain-top vistas and gushing waterfalls, you can’t go wrong with any of these loops. We’ve picked our top four favorites for this article, and there’s something for every level of experience. Whether you’re looking for an all out backpacking trip, or if you’d just like to see North Carolina from the top of a mountain, we’ve got the routes for you:
Linville Gorge Loop – This is a three day backpacking loop for the moderate to experienced backpacker. Twenty-two miles around what is often called the “Grand Canyon of the East,” you’ll take in sweeping mountain views and massive waterfalls along the hike. There are plenty of places to camp on the trail, but do note that you’ll have to get a permit to camp on any Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays between May 1 and October 28.
Standing Indian Trail Loop – As a 24 mile hike of moderate difficulty, what makes this trail so attractive to backpackers, besides the unrivaled mountain scenery, is that it connects directly to the Appalachian Trail. So those who would like to can continue on, instead of following the loop. This backpacking trail features several mountain peaks, and has plenty of campsites and frequent water access. It’s a good idea to head out early on this one, if you plan on going during the peak of backpacking season. Many of the campsites fill up quickly, so the sooner you get there, the better chance you’ll have of finding a scenic spot to pitch your tent.
Shining Rock Wilderness Area Loop – Another popular hike, this trail is shorter, coming in at about 12 miles. You’ll get to hike along creeks and streams, in addition to the beautiful mountain top views this trail boasts. If you’re thinking 12 miles isn’t enough, there are all kinds of branching side trails and add-on hikes and loops that you can incorporate into your backpacking trip. It is recommended that you bring a GPS with you on this one, since all of the extra trails can make it difficult to find the right one. There are easily accessible campsites on this loop, but it is a good idea to try and go during a dry period. Since the Shining Rock trail follows so many creeks and rivers, it can be hard to cross after heavy rainfall.
Grayson Highlands State Park – This is a wonderful option for backpackers, hikers, boulderers, or families who are just looking to take in a little bit of the North Carolina wilderness. If you’re an experienced backpacker or hiker, the park has direct access to the Appalachian Trail, so you can continue on from the park if you’d like. It also boasts short trails and day hikes for those who want to take in the scenery at a more casual pace. And the scenery is unparalleled – you’ll see breathtaking views from mountain peaks dotted with wild ponies as you climb through rhododendron tunnels. No matter what type of adventure you’re seeking, the Grayson Highlands has a trail for you.