North Carolina Mountain Guide: Appalachia, Blue Ridge, Great Smokey
Whether you’re new to North Carolina and looking for information on the state’s mountain ranges, or you’ve been here a while and want to get away from your usual hiking trails, this guide to the mountains of North Carolina can show you how to make the most of a weekend (or longer) getaway.
The Appalachians in western North Carolina contain the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Brushy Mountains (a much lower mountain range).
Here are some of our favorite places for hiking, sightseeing and more.
▪ Appalachian Trail + Mountain Skiing: If you like hiking, it is about 100 miles from the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. Also Appalachian ski mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and more. Spend time in chalets with mountain views between your hours on the slopes. Info: appskimtn.com
How far? The Appalachian ski mountain is about Three hours and a half from Raleigh by car.
▪ Great Yellow Mountain: The Nature Conservancy and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy jointly manage the 395-acre Big Yellow Mountains area. This mountain differs from the others in the area as it is an open, grassy, domed bald peak. Visit for a golden hour sunset or a family picnic. Info: nature.org
How far? Big Yellow Mountain is about four hours from Raleigh by car.
▪ The Biltmore House: If you’re interested in a weekend getaway after a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains, visit the historic George Washington Vanderbilt Estate sitting on 8,000 acres near the mountains at Ashville. The house itself features original artwork by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent, and the house and gardens are particularly impressive during spring and Christmas. The estate has its own cellar. Info: biltmore.com
How far? Asheville is about four hours from Raleigh by car.
▪ Rock fireplace: Chimney Rock State Park offers a summit with spectacular mountain scenery that requires pre-purchased admission tickets. There are different trails, ranging from the most suitable for children to the most difficult. Information: ncparks.gov/chimney-rock-state-park
How far? Chimney Rock is about four hours from Raleigh by car.
▪ Devil’s Courthouse“According to Cherokee legend, a mighty mountain giant named Judaculla danced and held court in an underground chamber beneath the rock. A strenuous half-mile trail takes visitors to the top of this legendary dance hall, where , on a clear day, scenic views stretch across North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee,” reads the National Park Service website. Information: nps.gov/places/devils -courthouse-overlook.htm
How far? The devil’s courthouse is about five hours from Raleigh by car.
▪ Grandpa Mountain: Enjoy hiking trails, scenic scenes, beautiful wildlife and a mile-high swing bridge in this park of blow rock. Info: ncparks.gov/grandfather-mountain-state-park
How far? Grandfather Mountain is about four hours far from Raleigh by car.
▪ Greybeard Mountain: Hike to Graybeard Mountain Lookout for Stunning Views: “Looking out you can see an awe-inspiring mountain range rising above the communities of Montreat and Black Mountain. Officially named the Middle Mountains, locally this range is called the Seven Sisters. These seven individual ‘sister’ peaks rise from 3,680 feet to 5,260 feet and culminate at the region’s ‘father’ highest point, Graybeard Mountain,” the National Park Service website states. Information: nps.gov/places/graybeard-mountain-overlook.htm
How far? Graybeard Mountain is about four hours from Raleigh by car.
▪ Cataloochee Ski Area: Maggie Valley’s Cataloochee Ski Area has 18 runs and trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. Combine your stay with Cataloochee’s lodging partners to spend time in a spacious log cabin or cozy motel. Info: cataloochee.com
How far? Maggie Valley is about half past four from Raleigh by car.
▪ glass rock looking: Looking Glass Rock Trailhead is open year round for hiking. It’s a huge stretch of exposed mountain that glistens like glass (hence its name) when rain or ice settles on its surface. Information: nps.gov/places/looking-glass-rock-overlook.htm
How far? Looking Glass Rock, that’s about half past four from Raleigh by car.
▪ Mount Mitchell: Interested in hiking or hiking through a spruce and fir forest? Mount Mitchell State Park lets you do both and more. It is the highest peak in Appalachia and the highest point east of the Mississippi. Information: ncparks.gov/mount-mitchell-state-park
How far? Mount Mitchell is about four hours from Raleigh by car.
▪ Roan mountain: Roan Mountain is famous for its Catawba rhododendrons, which bloom in the spring. Some believe the mountain’s name refers to the mountain’s roan or reddish color when the flowers are in bloom. This area is open from Memorial Day through the last weekend in September. Information: fs.usda.gov
How far? Roan Mountain is about four hours from Raleigh by car.
▪ Southern Mountains: South Mountains State Park has an 80-foot waterfall, over 40 miles of trails, and a 17-mile loop for mountain bikers. Info: ncparks.gov/south-mountains-state-park
How far? Southern Mountains, it’s about Three hours and a half far from Raleigh by car.
▪ Sugar Mountain: Sugar Mountain is open in cold weather during skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and more. It is also open during the warmer months so the whole family can enjoy easy, intermediate and advanced lessons. cycling and hiking trails. Info: www.skisugar.com
How far? Sugar Mountain is about Three hours and a half from Raleigh by car.
▪ Water rock button: Looking for a breathtaking sunrise or sunset? Visit Waterrock Knob for scenic hiking trails, taking you to the highest Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. Info: nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit
How far? The Waterrock button is about half past four from Raleigh by car.
The mountain experience in a shorter route
Here are some areas that are more in the Piedmont region of the state, if you want a mountain experience with a shorter commute.
▪ Mountain Pilot: Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy rock climbing and rappelling in select areas of Pilot Mountain State Park, which sits right on the edge of the Brushy Mountain Range, while spending time camping, fishing and go hiking.
How far? Pilot Mountain is about two o’clock from Raleigh by car.
▪ hanging rock: Want to get a group together and hike to waterfalls? Explore Hanging Rock State Park and camp, or stay at some of the park’s vacation cabins. Info: ncparks.gov/hanging-rock-state-park
How far? Hanging Rock is about two hours and a half from Raleigh by car.
▪ Mountain Crowders: Crowders Mountain State Park offers 25 miles of views of its surrounding foothills and eleven hiking trails. Information: ncparks.gov/crowders-mountain-state-park
How far? Crowders Mountain is about Three hours and a half from Raleigh by car.