8 of the Best Hikes In and Around Asheville
At the confluence of two scenic rivers and deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville’s landscapes offer prime hiking territory. Some of the oldest mountains on Earth exist right here, making this one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. (All that wild flora has had millions and millions of years to set up camp.)
Asheville also sits in the Goldilocks hiking zone, complete with steep mountainsides and waterfall scrambling for expert trekkers, ridgelines and gentle forests for beginners, and beautiful views for everyone in between. Before you settle into the city’s arts and foodie scene, then, be sure to get outdoors. Here’s where to go.
20 miles (32 kilometers) from Asheville
The popular Catawba Falls Trail follows an old wagon route—keep an eye out for a few small stone ruins—to a series of waterfalls that, together, cascade for over 100 feet (30 meters). It’s an easy-to-moderate 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) to the water, gaining just under 500 feet (153 meters) on your meander through the hardwoods of Pisgah National Forest. Go with a guide to get a deeper appreciation for the biodiversity of this spot, in addition to tips on how to avoid the crowds.
Black Balsam Knob
32 miles (51.5 kilometers) from Asheville
Black Balsam Knob sits in that sweet spot for busy hikers: quick and exceptional. The Art Loeb Trailhead marks the trail’s start, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 420. Then, it’s a moderate 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) to the knob’s summit, through dense stands of balsam fir and into a rocky landscape covered in wildflowers (and even blueberries). At the top, cloud-willing, expect views for days and if you can get out there at sunrise, you won’t regret it.
Related article: 8 Places You Must Visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Shining Rock Wilderness
36 miles (58 kilometers) from Asheville
With some of the highest peaks in the country east of the Rockies—over 6,000 feet (1,829 meters)—Shining Rock Wilderness rings like a siren call to area hikers. The Shining Rock Ledge, the region’s rocky backbone, offers easy views along its stone rim, and Ivestor Gap and Pigeon River also provide opportunities for those not looking to climb to the heavens in the largest wilderness area in the state. Opt for a guided hike to find some of the most scenic spots.
Siler Bald from Wayah Gap
83 miles (134 kilometers) from Asheville
If you’ve ever wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail—or say you’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail—here’s your chance. Start at the picnic area at Wayah Gap, and you’ll soon hop on the famous path, following the white blazes. From here, it’s a moderate climb for 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) through dense fields of rhododendron and hardwoods to the grass-covered summit of Wayah Bald. At the top, scope out views of Nantahala National Forest … and on a clear day, Georgia.
Mills River Valley
190 miles (305 kilometers) from Asheville
If you want to get away from the crowds and deep into the lesser-trodden wilderness, check out the trails in and around the Mills River Valley. Bear Branch and Bad Fork trails, in the northern section, are both great options with easy road access; South Mills River is a bit more rugged, better-suited for those looking for backcountry adventures. Meanwhile, Squirrel Gap, Poundingmill, and Turkeypen trails zigzag across both the mountains and the river gorge, keeping views fresh.
Insider tip: A guide can be super helpful for this diverse area, but no matter where you wind up, don’t forget to stop at the Mills River Valley Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway—you’ll get incredible views on both sides of the scenic ridge.
Rainbow Falls at Gorges State Park
55 miles (89 kilometers) from Asheville
At Gorges State Park—a waterfall-filled valley with vertical cliffs climbing up from the dense forest below—you’ll be able to scout out three cascades on just one trail: Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls, and Drift Falls. There’s Hidden Falls, too, if you tack on the short side trip off your 4-mile (6.5-kilometer) hike along Rainbow Falls Trail. Be ready for loud, crashing waters; 100-foot (30.5-meter) cascades; and potentially slippery rocks.
Fun fact: Receiving roughly 80 inches (203 centimeters) of rain a year, Gorges State Park qualifies as a rare East Coast temperate rainforest.
Looking Glass Rock
40 miles (64 kilometers) from Asheville
If your feet are ready for a moderately difficult 5.5-mile (8.9-kilometer) trip, the trek to Looking Glass Rock can rarely be beat. You’ve probably scoped out this iconic, exposed rock precipice from the highway, its curved outcrops reflecting light and catching your eye. Well, it might be even better up close. The trailhead sits off the graveled FS 475, quickly going deep into the fern-filled, mossy forest before climbing up, up, up via a dozen-plus steep switchbacks. Try to go in the morning before the fog lifts to feel like you’ve ascended to the heavens.
10 miles (16 kilometers) from Asheville
For something truly different, hop on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail toward Rattlesnake Lodge. Or, rather, the ruins of it. A 1900s summer estate sits crumbling off the Blue Ridge Parkway along a narrow road that now doubles as a hiking trail. There are two small parking areas just off Ox Creek Road at Bull Gap. From there, follow the circular white trail blazes along a handful of switchbacks, across lichen-covered boulders, through groves of mountain laurel, and to the estate’s remains. The moderate trek—about as off-grid as it gets near Asheville—comes in at just shy of 4 quiet, scenic miles (6.5 kilometers).