trail under trees with changing leaves in jackson county

Best Fall Hikes in Jackson County

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Alonso @lizalonso

Once the fall colors descend upon the peaks and valleys of the Western North Carolina mountain towns of Jackson County, there’s no better way to enjoy this kaleidoscope of color than hitting the area’s many scenic hiking trails. Whether trekking up a mountain or leisurely strolling along a short, family-friendly path that includes vistas, waterfalls, old bridges and more, there’s a trail available for every age and skill level.

When planning a hiking excursion in Jackson County, expect to see a wealth of fall colors in October through early November. Peak colors generally appear first in higher elevations and work their way down into the region’s valleys as the season progresses. With average highs in the mid to upper 60s, fall is a wonderful time to get outside and enjoy nature’s beauty.

While there are many trails available for fall hikes, don’t miss our top 5 favorites in Jackson County:

1. High Falls Trail

Set out on this hiking trail, and you’ll be rewarded with a view of High Falls (also known as Cullowhee Falls), a two-section, 100-foot waterfall fed by the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River. Although the total trail is less than 1 mile, you descend down a few hundred steps to reach the magnificent falls. The strenuous part is on the hike out, but it’s well worth it!

2. Waterrock Knob Trail

This 1.2-mile roundtrip hike is a short, vigorous climb, but the view at the summit makes it completely worth it! At the 6,292-foot summit, you’ll find panoramic views bursting with color, spanning up to 50 miles. Tip: Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at Waterrock Knob.

3. Whiteside Mountain Trail

A moderate 2-mile loop, this trail takes approximately an hour and a half to complete, so plan to take your time. You’ll be hiking atop what is believed to be one of the oldest mountains in the world (390 to 460 million years old). The mountains are dotted with bright color in autumn, so be sure to bring a camera. Keep an eye out for peregrine falcons, too, who soar above the peak. Bring a few dollars for the Forest Service parking fee.

4. Pinnacle Park Trail

Avid hikers will love tackling this 3.5-mile trail that traverses the 1,000-acre park filled with streams, waterfalls and, of course, colorful scenic views that you can see for miles below.

5. Panthertown Valley Trail

A part of the Nantahala National Forest, Panthertown contains more than 30 miles of mixed-used trails, so hikers can find one (or more) routes that offer the type of adventure they are looking for on any given day. Creeks, waterfalls, mountain views, valleys and gorges are just a sample of the natural attractions you’ll find along the way. Enjoy being amongst the trees and rich colors as you traverse through the area that is often referred to as the “Yosemite of the East.” Since it’s such a large area, you’ll need a map before you visit.

Plan a weekend in the mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva today, where you will find a wealth of affordable accommodations and a number of eateries serving up delicious cuisine that will help to refuel you after a full day of hiking.

When planning your visit, don’t delay as fall is one of Jackson County’s most popular times to visit the region. For lodging and restaurant recommendations, request your copy of our free visitor’s guide today!

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