Hiking and Backpacking in North Carolina: Tips & Trails

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

In this post, we'll take a look at:

North Carolina offers excellent hiking and backpacking opportunities, with over 1,000 miles of scenic trails winding through the Appalachian Mountains and forests.

Popular destinations include the Appalachian Trail, Linville Gorge, Shining Rock and Grayson Highlands.

In this post, we’ll explore hiking and backpacking in North Carolina from a lightweight perspective, offering helpful tips to prepare for your upcoming outdoor journey.

This guide will showcase the five best trails in North Carolina, broken into two sections: The first will cover day hikes of less than 25 miles, perfect for exploring the beauty of the area in a single trip. The second will feature multi-day adventures where you can replenish your supplies every couple days.

Key Tips for Hiking and 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 Day Hikes (Under 25 Miles)

We’ve selected what we think are some of the finest day hiking trails in North Carolina where using ultralight gear can really help maximize your enjoyment:

  1. Mount Mitchell Trail (11.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Calloway Peak via Profile Trail (7.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak (7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Graybeard Trail (9.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. The Pinnacle Trail (7.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Explore the scenic trails in North Carolina, where you will come upon resupply points at regular intervals of no more than two days apart:

  1. Foothills Trail: Whitewater Falls to Oconee State Park (26.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Deep Creek to Clingman’s Dome (35.2 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Appalachain Trail: Franklin to Nantahala (27 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Linville Gorge Loop (31.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Art Loeb Trail: South to North (29.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

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):

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

FAQ

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.

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