Backpacking in North Carolina: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Backpacking in North Carolina: Man in a grey T-shirt walking down the stairs on a hiking trail

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Backpacking in North Carolina offers immense variety for outdoor enthusiasts, from the storied Appalachian Mountains to windswept barrier islands, including popular destinations like the Great Smoky Mountains.

And that’s what this post is all about – backpacking in North Carolina. We’ll provide tips to help you prepare for backpacking in this diverse state as well as showcase the TOP 5 multi-day trails in North Carolina.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in North Carolina

  • What to expect: Be prepared for challenging, rocky trails with steep climbs and descents, changeable weather including potential snow at higher elevations, remote sections where you may not see others for miles, and wildlife sightings like bears, deer and wild horses.
  • Essential gear: To safely and comfortably backpack in North Carolina’s mountains, be sure to pack a bear-resistant food storage bag or canister, dependable rain gear, and a water filter.
  • Wildlife: Black bears are common in the state, especially in the mountains. Although they’re usually not aggressive, they can be risky if surprised or if food isn’t stored safely. The area also has venomous snakes like copperheads, cottonmouths, and timber rattlesnakes. Watch out for bobcats and coyotes in the forests too. Backpackers should regularly check for ticks, as deer ticks carrying Lyme disease can be found.
  • Wild camping: You can camp in certain parts of North Carolina’s wilderness, but there are rules. In most public lands like national forests and state parks, you need a permit and can only camp in designated areas. However, in places like Linville Gorge Wilderness, you can do primitive camping. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t allow wild camping. But, compared to the western U.S., there aren’t as many options for wild camping in North Carolina.
  • Best time to go are spring (April to May) and fall (September to October) with moderate temperatures and stable weather. Spring brings wildflowers, and fall showcases vibrant leaf colors. These seasons have fewer insects and more daylight, offering peaceful trekking with lighter crowds. Summer can be hot, and winter closes high elevation trails due to cold temps and snow.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in North Carolina

Discover the most stunning long trails in North Carolina for amazing adventures:

1. Foothills Trail: Whitewater Falls to Oconee State Park

From the lofty vistas along the ridge, Linville Gorge in western North Carolina reveals an expansive panorama of the surrounding mountain ranges

Length: 26.9 mi / 43.3 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 3766 ft / 1148 m
Location: Whitewater Falls
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: ~3981 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Trek the scenic 26.9-mile Foothills Trail in western North Carolina for rewarding riverside views. This point-to-point trail from Sapphire to Whitewater Falls challenges hikers with constant elevation changes. Prepare for slippery roots and rocks along the river basin. The shaded forest keeps the humidity high even on cool days. With proper preparation for difficult navigation and varied terrain, backpackers will be awed by diverse vistas, from small waterfalls to distant mountain peaks. Solitude can be found during quieter times of day. 

2. Deep Creek to Clingman’s Dome

Towering conifers frame the majestic vista of the smoky blue Great Smoky Mountains on the horizon

Length: 35.2 mi / 56.6 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 7539 ft / 2298 m
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: ~5732 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Trek the challenging 35.2 mile Appalachian Trail loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City, North Carolina. This popular route for backpackers immerses you in lush forest, wild creeks, and diverse ecosystems. Overnight permits and bear canisters are required. Although the well-worn path is easy to follow, be prepared with navigation skills, proper gear, and sufficient water. As there are limited mountain views, experience the Smokies by looking inward at flora and fauna. While parking fees apply, entrance to the national park remains free.

3. Appalachain Trail: Franklin to Nantahala

The imposing peaks of mountains are silhouetted against a vivid sunrise sky, as the first light of day crests over the distant ridges in North Carolina

Length: 27 mi / 43.45 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 5528 ft / 1685 m
Location: Nantahala National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn:  ~4346 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Hike the scenic yet demanding 27 mile stretch of Appalachian Trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Franklin, North Carolina. This point-to-point route from Winding Stair Gap to the Nantahala Outdoor Center traverses lofty vistas atop Wayah and Wesser Balds. Prepare for steep inclines exceeding 2 miles and have navigation skills to follow white blazes. Although the well-worn path is easy to follow, challenges include length, elevation gain, and rugged terrain. Rewarding sights include diverse flora, tranquil streams, and panoramic views that make it a classic Smokies backpacking adventure. Parking fees apply but entrance to the national park remains free.

4. Linville Gorge Loop

A lone hiker in a red shirt surveys the tranquil mountain lake from atop a rocky outcropping, taking in the serene natural beauty of the North Carolina backcountry

Length: 31.3 mi / 50.3 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 7798 ft / 2377 m
Location: Linville Gorge Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: ~5316 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Trek the demanding 31.3 mile loop through Pisgah National Forest near Newland, North Carolina. This lesser-used trail challenges hikers with technical terrain, steep climbs, and river crossings. Early miles follow rocky, root-strewn paths with difficult navigation. Prepare for constant undulations rather than switchbacks. Bring trekking poles for stability and shoes that can get wet. This is a true backpacking route requiring vigor, attentiveness, and proper gear. Avoid in winter when frigid thigh-high river crossings increase risks. The strenuous distances and technical requirements make this a tough but rewarding adventure.

5. Art Loeb Trail: South to North

The lush green canopy of ancient forests blankets the sloping Appalachian ridges under a ceiling of wispy white clouds drifting across the endless Carolina blue sky

Length: 29.8 mi / 48 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 8103 ft / 2470 m
Location: Pisgah National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: ~5197 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

Hike the iconic yet demanding 29.8 mile Art Loeb Trail through Pisgah National Forest near Brevard, North Carolina. This point-to-point route from Davidson River to Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp traverses high ridges with panoramic views. Prepare for challenging navigation, limited water sources, and substantial elevation changes along the rocky and root-strewn path. While the trail is heavily trafficked, particularly near Black Balsam, solitude can be found during quieter times. An optimal thru-hike is 3-4 days, allowing time to set up campsites along the way. 

Annual Weather Averages

North Carolina’s climate varies across different regions, but in general, the state experiences a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons:

  • Spring (March to May): Mild temperatures ranging from 50 to 70°F (10 to 21°C). The landscape is colorful and pleasant, ideal for backpacking.
  • Summer (June to August): Warm to hot, with temperatures between 70 to 90°F (21 to 32°C). Be prepared for occasional afternoon thunderstorms.
  • Fall (September to November): Popular for backpacking, featuring temperatures of 50 to 70°F (10 to 21°C). The vibrant foliage creates a scenic environment.
  • Winter (December to February): Cool temperatures, occasional snowfall, with temperatures from 30 to 50°F (-1 to 10°C). Winter backpacking is possible with proper preparation.

It’s important to check the specific weather forecast for the region you plan to backpack in, as North Carolina’s climate can vary between the mountains and the coastal areas.

Before you make your gear selection and head to the trailhead, take a look at the annual weather averages for North Carolina (Asheville):

High °F475059677480828176675850
Low °F293138455361646357463732
Rain/Snow (D*)991010121315139789
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if North Carolina is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guide for Tennessee.


Can I have a campfire while backpacking in North Carolina?

Campfires are generally allowed while backpacking in North Carolina, but there are some restrictions to be aware of. In the forested areas of Nantahala, Pisgah, and Uwharrie National Forests, campfires are only permitted in designated campfire rings in established campsites. Backcountry campfires elsewhere require a permit from the ranger district office. There is often a seasonal ban on campfires during dry conditions.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in North Carolina?

When backpacking in North Carolina, you might come across wildlife like black bears, venomous snakes, and other animals. To stay safe, learn about the wildlife in the area from park brochures and rangers. Store food right, throw away trash, and make noise while hiking to prevent surprises with animals. If you encounter wildlife, stay calm, step back slowly, and don’t get too close. Be careful around snakes, move cautiously through bushes, and keep hands and feet away from small openings.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in North Carolina?

Embark on an outdoor adventure deep into the nature of North Carolina, but take key precautions. Before trailing through winding forests, grab a detailed trail map and make sure someone knows your plans. Pack bright clothing, first aid essentials, whistles and flashlights in case the rugged natural terrain leaves you stranded after dark. Stay on marked paths and make noise to avoid surprising bears or other wildlife. Bring plenty of water, as adventure kindles thirst. With the proper preparation, you can revel in natural wonders while backpacking across North Carolina safely. Keep your gear in order, focus on the journey ahead, and always remember that prudent planning prevents poor performance when seeking adventure in North Carolina’s magnificent wilderness.

Are there water sources available along the backpacking trails in Oregon?

Water sources are available but limited along backpacking trails in Oregon. Careful planning is essential to ensure adequate hydration. Natural sources like springs, streams, and lakes can be filtered for drinking but may run dry in late summer. Some trails have seasonal pumps or caches. Review water maps before hiking and fill up when possible, even if not thirsty. Carry sufficient capacity and a water treatment method like a filter or chemicals. Proper hydration is vital when exerting yourself at elevation far from civilization. With careful preparation, Oregon’s backcountry still provides ample water to experience the state’s scenic wilderness.

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