Best Hiking Trails in Asheville, NC

Asheville's outdoor lifestyle is no add-on, it's an organic extension of the city

By Randy Johnson on April 26, 2011 at 10:35 am EST
Asheville NC Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Western North Carolina makes it easy to lace up your walking shoes and hit the trail. That’s what brought me to the area, and the trail guides I write give me a life-enriching opportunity to share my enthusiasm for our mountains with newcomers.

Asheville’s outdoor lifestyle is no add-on – it’s an organic extension of our environment. Close-in ambles range from downtown Asheville’s Urban Trail to minutes-away paths at the North Carolina Arboretum and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Parkway’s Folk Art Center, at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 382, and the Blue Ridge Parkway Destination Center at Milepost 384.

But that’s just the start. From almost any vantage point in the city, the east’s highest mountains beckon from the horizon. Luckily, you don’t need to be an animal to reach a summit. Here are a few of my favorite Asheville-area hikes – that just happen to be among the best in the east.


Soar 20 miles north out of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway and pull into Craggy Dome Overlook at Parkway Milepost 364.1. It’s less than a mile round-trip to three awesome viewpoints atop the breaking wave of the Great Craggy Mountains – what hiker wouldn’t be lured by that name? Up here, grassy meadows and rocky summits offer endless views. Take this hike and you’ll know what’s it’s like on the very top of those black summits that tower so grandly north of Asheville as you drive along on I-40.


Anne Riddle Lundblad may be one of the area’s elite athletes, but her favorite part of the record-setting run she and some friends recently accomplished (see sidebar story) is a very easy and ultra-spectacular hike. Just 31 miles south of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Shining Rock Wilderness soars to meadows that make you think you’re above timberline.

Take a right on USFS road 816 (just past Parkway Milepost 420) and park on the right in another 0.8 mile. The trail rises steeply at times, but take it easy; it’s only 0.4 mile to the waving grasses and 360-degree vistas of Black Balsam Knob, which is at an elevation of 6,214 feet.

Up here, the horizon peels back on a western scale. Conical Cold Mountain is memorable enough to have inspired Charles Frazier’s novel about … that very mountain. Hike another 1.2 miles to Tennent Mountain, which is at an elevation of 6,046 feet, and you’ll see why Lundblad raves about this hike.

More Strenuous

You might pair this with your Craggy Dome warm-up. Stay north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and be sure to check out Mt. Mitchell on the way, as the summit has a new observation tower. At Milepost 339.5, take the 2.5-mile loop trail to Crabtree Falls. Not every hike reaches a summit – but even a waterfall can be a peak experience. Take this trail after a rain and you will marvel at the way this classic waterfall cascades down in a dancing fan of foam.

Randy Johnson is a Western North Carolina resident and author of the best-selling trail guides Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hiking North Carolina, and Best Easy Day Hikes Blue Ridge Parkway.

Read more about the outdoors in Asheville, NC.

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