The scenic Shortoff Mountain hike has it all: Great views, a challenging climb, and a mellow middle where you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
The area suffered two recent wildfires — in 2002 and 2007 — which left little tree cover. This means the trail tends to heat up quickly on summer days, so you’ll need to take extra water and start early in the day when it’s cooler. The great views and mountain pond make this hike a 4 out of 5 stars.
Trailhead to Lake James Overlook
From the parking area in Pisgah National Forest, follow the trail through the woods. After a few minutes of walking, you’ll see a handmade sign for Shortoff.
As you start up the trail, you’ll be able to see views of Lake James. The beginning part of the trail is steep, but the large boulders that line the trail offer ample space to pull over and catch your breath.
Mountain to Sea Trail
After you’ve been hiking for one-half a mile, the Mountain to Sea trail will join the Shortoff Mountain trail from the left-hand side. From this point on, the trail is marked with white blazes, which makes it easy to follow. Once the Mountain to Sea trail joins up with Shortoff, you’ll know you’re halfway done with the uphill climb. Continue along the trail climbing for another 0.5 miles.
Plateau to Forest Fires
After one mile, the hike levels out. Stroll along the summit of Shortoff Mountain taking in vistas of Lake George and the Linville Gorge. The Linville River snakes through the landscape below. As you walk along Shortoff, you’ll pass through a section of the forest that was spared from forest fire, then through a section of the forest that suffered from the forest fires. It’s a dramatic transition to pass from the lush green area into the area affected by fire, where charred tree trunks bear evidence of the trauma. This portion of the hike can be somewhat overgrown, so keep an eye out for those white blazes to stay on the path.
Table Rock Overlook
After the burned area, you’ll come to a natural pond. Just a few minutes past the pond, you’ll arrive at one more set of rocky outcroppings that overlook Table Rock mountain. Stay here and soak in the views. This is a popular picnic spot, so if you packed a lunch, stay and enjoy. The trail continues on to Table Rock, 5 miles away, so if you’re interested in making a longer day of it, feel free to hike on. Otherwise, you’ll be retracing your steps through the forest, then downhill to return to the parking area. From the Table Rock overlook, it’s 2.25 miles back to the starting point.
- Visit in spring or summer to enjoy mountain wildflowers and rhododendrons in bloom, or come in winter when this popular hike is less crowded.
- Camping is allowed on Shortoff Mountains, although permits are required on weekends and holidays from May 1-October 31. To obtain a permit, contact Pisgah National Forest’s Grandfather Ranger District.
- Hunting and fishing are also allowed in the Shortoff Mountain area, although permits are required.
- Be on the lookout for copperhead snakes and rattlesnakes.