Overflowing with stunning views sure to take your breath away, Jackson County spans across 494 beautiful and breathtaking square miles of sweeping, scenic North Carolina Mountains. Dotted throughout the area, travelers will find an abundance of hikes that take you to great heights, allowing you to see above and beyond. Although the views from Jackson County’s 185 named summits are mesmerizing, they become quite spectacular as the sun sets over the peaks and sinks into the valleys. There is no better way to end a day of outdoor adventure than with the beauty of a golden sunset hike.
Top hikes for the best sunset views
For a less strenuous way to catch the sunset in Jackson County, head to Cowee Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 430.7. Here, you’ll experience a panoramic view of the gorgeous Smoky Mountains – and you’ll find what most consider to be the best sunset view in Jackson County. Drive to the overlook, park and admire the awe-inspiring view.
For a more elevated sunset view, drive to milepost 431 to the Haywood-Jackson Overlook, park the car and set off on the Richland Balsam Trail. At 6,410 feet above sea level, this 1.5-mile trail takes you along the highest points on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can watch the sun go down. Although the trail ascends 700 vertical feet along the way, it’s not a difficult hike, and the sunset views are more than worth it.
When it comes to beautiful panoramic views of Western North Carolina from high above, the Waterrock Knob Trail answers the call. Short and steep, but worth the work, this 1.2-mile roundtrip hike gains 412 feet in elevation as it reaches the 6,292-foot summit. However, the views as the sun descends are some of the most magnificent found in Jackson County. With picnic tables speckled along the trail, pack a picnic and stick around until after the sun goes down for unobstructed stargazing.
Featuring sheer, vertical cliffs, Whiteside Mountain is well-known for stunning views along the trail. That trail is a moderate 2-mile loop that reaches the 4,930-foot crest, where you can rest and soak in the setting sun.
One of Jackson County’s most challenging hiking trails, Pinnacle Park Trail is a 7-mile roundtrip hike that follows an old logging road before ascending the mountain, a total of more than 3,000 feet in elevation. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valley. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valley. To avoid making the hike down in the dark, bring your camping gear and stay the night to make a true adventure of it.
Timing is everything
Arranging your visit to catch the sunset is crucial for a successful hike. Visitors with smart phones can find out the day’s exact sunset time in most weather applications. This information can also be found at timeanddate.com. When planning your visit, be sure to allow enough time to reach your destination before sunset so you don’t miss a minute of the sun cresting over the peaks.
Before heading out on your sunset hike, a few precautions should be taken. Pack a light picnic to enjoy at the summit while watching the sun go down. Bring a flashlight or headlamp to ensure a safe return as you make your way back down the trail. Don’t forget a lightweight jacket to ward off cooling temps. Finally, depending on which trail you choose, be sure you have enough time to get down safely. If trekking into wilderness at night, be sure to let someone know when you expect to be back. Check in periodically to ensure someone knows your location at all times.
When it comes to planning, don’t forget to think about what to do after the sun sets. After all, here, when the sun goes down, the night is just getting started. Whether it is enjoying live music, unwinding at one of our many breweries, sipping on a craft cocktail at one of our cocktail lounges, or dining in one of our many locally sourced restaurants, be sure you hit the town, or towns, to experience the many nightlife options before settling in for your next day of adventure.
When all is said and done and you’re ready to call it a night, retreat to one of Jackson County’s cozy mountain cabins or a comfortable hotel suite. Plan your trip by requesting a free Visitor’s Guide.
Header photo of Waterrock Knob courtesy @hammeredartworks