Cradled amid high Blue Ridge peaks—Pisgah Ridge, the Swannanoa Mountains, the Elk Mountains, with the Great Craggies and the Black Mountains beyond—Asheville, North Carolina is one of the great mountain towns of the East, and holds its own with any city in the country as a launchpad for outdoor adventure. A stone’s throw from Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, Asheville’s also just a hop, skip, and a jump from other outstanding Southern Appalachian destinations such as the Linville Gorge (the “Grand Canyon of North Carolina”), the rocky massif of Grandfather Mountain, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Awesome trails—easy to challenging, short and sweet or extended and elevation-eating—abound in Asheville’s gorgeous backyard.
Here are 10 of our very favorite hoofing-it routes around (and in) this mountain-tucked city:
1. Asheville Urban Trail (1.7 miles R/T)
You don’t even need to leave town to get a hearty workout and see some inspiring sights. The Asheville Urban Trail loops through fascinating history, architecture, and public artwork organized around 30 stations that interpret the cityscape and its past. From the Art Deco splendor of the S&W Building to the Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse run by author Thomas Wolfe’s mother, the landmarks along the Asheville Urban Trail make it a wonderful time-traveling and sightseeing walkabout.
2. Mount Pisgah Summit (3 miles R/T)
Don’t just admire Mount Pisgah’s 5,721-foot cone from the streets of Asheville: Climb right up to top for a whopping view just a short trek off the Blue Ridge Parkway! You’ll earn the panoramas from the WLOS-TV transmission tower observation deck up top—which sweep from the Great Craggies to Cold Mountain and include a nice bird’s-eye prospect of Asheville—with the steep climb up.
3. Fryingpan Mountain Lookout (1.5 miles R/T)
Another incredible view awaits you along the Pisgah Ridge just a short drive out of Asheville: the 60-mile sightlines served up on clear days by the 70-foot-tall fire lookout tower atop Fryingpan Mountain. The tower, built-in 1941, is one of the tallest of its kind in the Southern Appalachians, though it’s no longer in active use. If you don’t have a severe fear of heights, this vantage—reached by quite a short and easy trail—is a must-visit, both for its historical significance and the gorgeous vistas, which include Mount Pisgah, Cold Mountain, the Shining Rock Wilderness, and—under sharp conditions—the faroff summit of Mount Mitchell. (Sunsets are superb from Fryingpan Mountain Lookout, by the way.)
4. Bridal Veil Falls (4.6 miles R/T)
The DuPont State Recreational Forest, an hour or less south of Asheville, is famous for the multiple big waterfalls that mark the Little River’s course through the Blue Ridge highlands here. Easily one of the most all-around impressive is Bridal Veil Falls, a 120-foot cataract spread out along some 800 feet of beautiful granite. So visually impressive and thunderous is this waterfall that it’s played a prominent role in multiple Hollywood blockbusters, The Last Mohicans and The Hunger Games most notably. Our suggested hike to Bridal Veil also takes in another amazing Little River waterfall, High Falls; meanwhile, you can extend your trek to hit up some of the ones as well.
5. Black Balsam Knob (1.4 miles R/T)
It’s a short and easy hike along a small portion of the Art Loeb Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway not far from Asheville to reach the summit of the second-highest peak in the Great Balsam Mountains: 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob. Given the impressive height of the mountain, its expansive open summit bald, and Black Balsam’s position amid the greatest uplifts in the Southern Appalachians, the views from here are bowl-you-over splendid. Besides other grand crowns of the Great Balsams, you’ll see Mount Mitchell, the Roan Highlands, the Great Smoky Mountains, Shining Rock, and Mount Pisgah, among many other rugged landmarks.
6. Max Patch Trail (1.5 miles R/T)
The sprawling mountaintop grass bald of Max Patch (or simply “the Patch”) delivers one of the most famous and celebrated views along the entire length of the Appalachian Trail—and that’s saying something! The top-of-the-world viewshed includes some of the highest and most impressive mountains in the eastern U.S., including the Great Smokies, the Black Mountains, the Great Craggies, the Great Balsams, and the Roan Highlands/Unakas. The steepness of the trail is pretty darn doable given its short length, and needless to say there’s a major payoff involved.
7. Linville Falls Trail (2.2 miles R/T)
This moderate hike starting from the Linville Falls Visitor Center doesn’t just deliver unforgettable views of one of the region’s great plunges—the multi-step drop of Linville Falls itself—but also of the incredible Linville Gorge that slices open the forested highlands immediately downriver. That great canyon anchors the Linville Gorge Wilderness, the northern boundary of which is just a short distance from Linville Falls.
8. Old Mitchell Trail (4.4 miles R/T)
Most people who summit Mount Mitchell—the 6,684-foot high point of the Black Mountains and the tallest peak in the U.S. east of the Mississippi—do so by car, but if you’ve got the physical ability we definitely recommend also doing the climb by foot. The Old Mitchell Trail takes you on part of an ancient path across the Blacks and through fragrant and somewhat mysterious stands of Fraser fir and red spruce (some blighted by the fir-killing balsam adelgid), which are the high-elevation conifer woods that give the Black Mountains their name. The vast views from the developed summit are all the more rewarding given you earned them with some sweat.
9. Crabtree Falls Trail (3 miles R/T)
Another showstopper waterfall awaits you on this moderately challenging hike. Crabtree Falls is a stunning, rock-hugging cascade spanning some 70 feet. Spring and early summer hikers on this trail will also get to appreciate some lavish rhododendron blooms.
10. Cold Mountain (10 miles R/T)
The longest and toughest of the trails on this list, the hike up to the top of 6,030-foot Cold Mountain is also the one that most immerses you in the splendor and quiet of the Southern Appalachian wilderness surprisingly easy to reach from bustling Asheville. The high point of the Shining Rock Wilderness and a distinctively sharp-pointed peak easily recognized from all sorts of regional summits, Cold Mountain is best known as the titular inspiration for the well-regarded 1997 Civil War novel by Charles Frazer and the hit 2003 movie based on it. The views from the summit—which include the Great Smokies, the Plott Balsams, the Great Balsams, and Mount Pisgah—are outstanding, but the whole route is fabulous for its backcountry atmosphere.
Explore More Topnotch Asheville-Area Hikes
We’ve left off so many equally rewarding hikes in Asheville’s hinterland, but the above 10 are certainly representative of the tremendous scenery and striking landmarks you’ve got in store for you along the region’s trails. Check out other recommended routes here!