Federally designated wilderness areas are defined as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” and “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area of Western North Carolina certainly lives up to this definition. It is a rugged area of over 11,000 acres that, for the most part, remains raw wilderness unspoiled by any development of the land. The only real developed use of actual wilderness area land are the numerous trails that weave through the gorge and possibly an overlook or two. All of the roads, parking areas, and primitive restroom facilities that are typically associated with the area are technically just outside the boundary. It truly lives up to its designation and this is a wonderful thing!
Formed by the Linville River that flows through the middle of the wilderness, Linville Gorge is one of only two wilderness gorges in the Southeastern United States. The other is Bald River Gorge Wilderness in Tennessee. Being a gorge, the area is full of steep inclines, cliffs and beautiful rock formations. Hiking inside Linville Gorge can be quite strenuous in some areas! Despite that, exploring the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area over the numerous trails available is an absolute treat. Yes, some of the trails are brutally difficult but there are options for all skill levels allowing everyone to enjoy Linville Gorge; even people with disabilities. HD Carolina has a number of short videos on many of the popular locations inside Linville Gorge. Here are some of our favorites starting with the easiest.
While Wisemans View is somewhat remote it is surprisingly easy to reach once you drive the 4 miles down an unpaved road. The two tenths of a mile path leading to the view is paved and handicapped accessible. There is even a restroom at the parking area. The overlooks at Wisemans View look out over the gorge to Tablerock and Hawksbill Mountain. If you want to experience this wilderness area without a hike, this is your spot. Watch our short video and learn everything you need to know about visiting Wisemans View.
Technically not inside the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area boundary but definitely part of Linville Gorge as it essentially starts at the falls. It is a beautiful site to see with consistently good flow that rarely disappoints. The trails isn’t paved like at Wisemans View but it is wide, well marked, and an easy hike to the number of overlooks available for viewing the falls. The closest view is only about 1/2 mile with the longest option only a 1.6 mile round trip walk through a beautiful forest.
If cliffs and rocks are your thing, The Chimneys is the spot for you! This moderate 1.5 mile hike is relatively flat after the initial incline that takes you up to the ridge that forms the area popular with both hikers and rock climbers. The rock formations are stunning and numerous as the trail weaves through the strange and beautiful landscape. Many of the trails inside the gorge have some very exposed sections and The Chimneys are no exception. This is a moderate hike but it might not be the best one for small children.
The unmistakable Tablerock Mountain is only a moderate 1 mile hike to the top of the plateau where you can enjoy epic views in almost every direction including Hawksbill Mountain to the north. The hike is all uphill so come prepared for a workout to reach the top. The good news is that the hike back to the parking area is all downhill! Tablerock and The Chimneys share the same parking area so you could do both of these hikes on the same day if you were feeling energetic.
At only 3/4’s of a mile to the summit, the hike to Hawksbill Mountain is a little bit shorter than the hike to the top of Tablerock; however the 1,000 feet that you gain makes it definitely more of a workout. But your efforts are generously rewarded with what is probably the best view of the gorge. If you are brave enough you can also get your picture taken out on the classic Hawksbill. It is extremely exposed though so be careful!
Located on the southern side of the wilderness area, Shortoff Mountain is a very popular spot despite the 4+ mile strenuous hike to the top of the plateau. It is popular for good reason, it is absolutely striking in its beauty! The massive cliffs and rugged landscape feel like the gorge is showing off one last time before it fades and levels off into the valley to the south. It is absolutely worth the effort to check this area out but our suggestion is to make this hike in the cool weather of Fall or early Spring.
Don’t let the short round trip distance of only 2.5 miles fool you into thinking Babel Tower is an easy hike. It’s not. It is, however, a spectacular rock formation with stunning views and access to a remote section of Linville River. But the hike is a real lung-buster with about 1,300 feet of elevation change that is uphill on the return hike. Doable? Absolutely! Just make sure you are prepared for the hike. A good start would be to watch our video about it.
With such a wide range of hiking options available, everyone should be able to enjoy the rugged beauty of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.