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Heading out to see the fall foliage but not sure where to go? I’ve got you covered with the best hikes in North Carolina for leaf peeping all across the state–from the mountains to the coast! Let’s go!
I should just start this post by saying how ambitious it is to outline all the best hikes in one blog post… North Carolina is a gold mine of amazing hiking and this list will surely barely scratch the surface. I can say with 100% confidence that I probably don’t even know half of the greatest hikes this state has to offer! So, help me out, will ya? Feel free to share in the comments YOUR favorite NC hikes!
What is leaf peeping, you ask??
Leaf peeping is the cutest phrase for an activity that leads you to the best viewing for autumn foliage. The trend has increased in past years for good reason. Who doesn’t love beautiful fall leaves and crisp autumn weather?! There are even forecasts that will tell you when “peak leaf peeping season” is! North Carolina is a great destination for leaf peeping because we have mountains, foothills, and the coast. The differences in elevation and the numerous species of trees in these areas leads to peak leaf seasons at different times throughout the year! For example, higher elevations in WNC experience peak leaf times in mid-October while areas around Asheville is closer to late October, and here in the piedmont area it’s not until closer to mid-November! You have ample opportunity to see allllll the leaves in action.
My favorite way to leaf peep (and presumably yours if you’re here) is by hiking. You can enjoy the lovely fall weather and then be greeted by expansive views of varying colors at the end. The key here is finding great hikes with great views. And I’m here for you, friend. I went on a trip to Asheville recently that was to a waterfall and it just wasn’t quite as satisfying. Don’t get wrong–love a good waterfall view! But especially this time of the year, I need sweeping valleys and mountain views with bright oranges and deep maroons to put me in my fall feels.
Don’t want to spend a bunch of time on a million different blogs finding your own? Let’s jump in, I’m sharing all the best fall hikes for leaf peeping in North Carolina (emphasis on WNC, because. mountains. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want).
The best hikes in North Carolina for leaf peeping
Linville Falls Trail – .9 miles – out & back – easy
This trail will always hold a special place in my heart. I moved to Hickory, NC for a short time for a clinical during physical therapy school and one Sunday, my roommate and I hiked here. The colors were absolutely breathtaking and the views of the falls just unreal. A bonus just happens to be that Linville Falls Winery is right down the road 🙂
Hawk’s Bill Rock – 3.4 miles – out & back – moderate
I just recently did this hike on my first solo trip to Asheville, NC and this did not disappoint! The views were incredible and the drive up on the Blue Ridge Parkway was an extra treat during leaf peeping season.
Grandfather Mountain: Grandfather Trail to Calloway Peak or Black Rock Trail (both about 4 miles – out & back – moderate to hard with some ladders/ropes to navigate)
Another trail that has a special place in my heart because the top of Black Rock Trail is where Michael and I got engaged! That was in December so the leaves had mostly fallen, but just trust me on this one. The views were so incredible (even with all the fog) I have no doubt this will be a great hike to see fall foliage. Afterwards, make sure you visit the Mile High Bridge.
The Pinnacle Trail – 7.4 miles – out & back – hard
Located near Sylva, NC, this trail is long and up, up, up but so worth it! Take a warm drink and lunch to enjoy at the top because you can see the whole valley around you. Afterwards, head into Sylva for a craft beer at Innovations Brewing.
Falls Lake Trail – several sections for a total of 24.9 miles – easy
You don’t get sweeping mountain views on Falls Lake Trail, but for those of us in the middle of the state this is a great option when you just need to get outside and do something new. Much of the trail will take you along Falls Lake near Durham, NC. Dog friendly, easy and flat.
Hanging Rock and Window Falls Trail – 3.5 miles – out & back – moderate to hard
Beautiful mountain views AND a waterfall?! Located just outside Winston Salem, NC, Hanging Rock State Park has this trail. It also boasts several other amazing trails that feature waterfalls and great views.
Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail – 2.3 miles – easy
Near Hillsborough, NC, this loop trail is mainly a walk through the woods… But it does have a great overlook section. It also features a rock quarry which is an amazing view in itself. Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail goes along the Eno River too, so there’s lots to enjoy! Make sure you start the trail going to the right to make this easier, otherwise you’ll be going uphill towards the end.
Pinnacle Trail at Crowder’s Mountain – 4.2 miles – out & back – easy to moderate
This is one of the highest points just outside of Charlotte, so it tends to get very crowded. However, it’s a great workout and a great view at the top! I love that there’s this option to get outside and hike right near Charlotte.
Table Rock near Linville Gorge – 1.4 miles – out & back – moderate
A shorter hike not too far away from my old home of Hickory, NC, you’ll see so many bright oranges and yellows on this short but sweet hike in Linville Gorge.
Looking Glass Falls – .3 miles – out & back – easy
Just hop out of your car and take a short walk to enjoy the views! This short and easy hike ensures it will be pretty crowded, so early mornings or late evenings will be your best bet to get a good shot of the waterfall framed in fall foliage.
Max Patch – 1.5 miles – loop – easy
Oh, Max Patch! One of my favorite hikes near Asheville. It’s known as a bald, meaning it’s not covered in tall, towering trees and you can see for miles.
William B. Umstead State Park – 20+ miles – out & back – easy
Umstead has over 20 miles of trails, you can take your pick and have a great time! This state park is heavily wooded. While there’s no spectacular views, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful trees just minutes from downtown Raleigh.
Dismal Swamp Boardwalk Trail – .6 miles – out & back – easy
Let’s give the coast some love, shall we?! Located in eastern NC, the trees here grow in very sandy soil. But they still put on a show by producing some beautiful bright yellows and oranges in the fall.
This seems like a long list, but truly. I’m just scratching the surface of the best hikes in North Carolina to leaf peep! I just love this state. Maybe I should do a yearly post or update as I mark more hikes in North Carolina off my list?!
No matter where you live, I hope this post inspires you to get outside this fall! And if you do try any of the best hikes in North Carolina from this list, let me know in the comments below or over on Instagram!