Best Spring Hikes in the NC Mountains
It’s been a long winter, and we’re looking forward to warmer weather, more daylight, and getting out and about again. The Western North Carolina Mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva (located about an hour west of Asheville and the Pisgah National Forest) offer some of the best spring hikes, giving you space to spread out and burn off that winter weight! Spring in the mountains reveals stunning wildflower blooms found at varying elevations, the best views, and breathtaking waterfall hikes to tie it all together. Avoid the city crowds and enjoy the welcoming small-town vibes Jackson County has to offer.
Whiteside Mountain | Pinnacle Park | Blue Ridge Parkway | Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Waterfall Hikes | Sustainable Tourism | Breakaway this Spring
Known by some geologists to be the oldest mountain in the world at 360-490 million years old, Whiteside Mountain is the perfect place for a spring hike. The two-mile loop trail is well maintained and marked, ascending to some of the highest cliffs in the eastern United States. This hike is excellent for families as there are restrooms on-site and a National Forest-maintained parking area (make sure to bring $3 for parking.)
Sylva’s Pinnacle Park is known for the challenging 7-mile round trip hike along the West Fork Trail, but there’s much more to explore. Owned and maintained by the Town of Sylva, the Pinnacle is also home to lesser-known and less challenging trails that take you throughout the area’s stunning natural landscape traversing small streams and several campsites. Enjoy budding flora in the spring that can be found at varying elevations, including dozens of wildflowers such as the iconic Trillium.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is known as America’s Favorite Drive and most-loved National Park. Stretching from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee, North Carolina, more than 70 miles of the Parkway traverse Jackson County’s iconic Blue Ridge Mountains. There are many amazing hikes with blooming wildflowers that can only be found in some of the higher elevations along this route. You can find blooms by species, month and milepost online here.
Bear Pen Gap (Milepost 427.6) – Bear Pen Gap is a lesser-known hike is a great way to avoid the crowds and enjoy a scenic trail. Hikers will enjoy a small cascade, pristine vistas, and a natural bald with stunning mountain views along this route. The bald is a perfect spot for a mountain picnic.
Black Balsam Trail (Milepost 420) – Black Balsam Trail is a popular hike in the region. Its iconic natural bald transports you to a New England-style landscape in the heart of the southeast. In the late spring, enjoy the blooming Turk Cap Lilies and Flame Azalea that can be found around the entrance and along the trail.
Richland Balsam (Milepost 431) – Known as the “best smelling trail on the parkway” due to the spruce-fir forest, hikers along this route will summit the third highest point in the continental United States at 6,410-feet. The hike is relatively easy along a 1.5-mile loop trail climbing 700 vertical feet.
Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2) – This short but steep climb takes you to new heights! Located along the Mountains-to-Sea-Trail, Waterrock Knob has one of the most iconic Parkway views at the top. Enjoy convenient parking and amenities, and several wildflower blooms along the way; you won’t want to miss this trek! Tip: Visit on a weekday as it is quite a popular spot. Also, if you’re from a city, visit on a clear night to see every constellation in the sky!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smokies are known as the “Crown Jewel of the Appalachian Mountains” for a good reason! With over 500,000 acres of protected land and over 850 miles of hiking trails, (including portions of the Appalachian Trail) you’ll find an adventure for every skill level in this pristine natural playground. There are over 1,500 species of flowering plants in the Great Smokies alone, making it one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the temperate world.
Oconaluftee River Trail – Located in Cherokee, this trail is a gentle stroll and meanders the crystal clear Oconaluftee River. The trail is flat and stretches a little over two-miles one-way underneath a shady tree canopy. Keep your eyes peeled for elk along this trail, as they are known to cross the river and rest within the forest on a warm spring day.
Deeplow Gap/Mingus Creek Trail – Mingus Mill is an iconic stop for visitors to the Smokies. For those who are seeking a little more adventure, make sure to check out the trail starting at the end of the parking lot. This route will take you along Mingus Creek, the gentle flowing creek that powers the mill. During the spring, there are hundreds of wildflower blooms along this route nestled in the temperate rain forest that makes up the Smokies.
Alum Cave/Mount LeConte Trail – These trails are what some visitors to the Park travel thousands of miles to experience. Located a few miles into Tennessee from the N.C. border, these iconic trails are only for serious hikers. The Alum Cave Bluffs tower over 80-feet and are jaw-dropping in grandeur and beauty. Ending your hike here will be a 4.4-mile round-trip or continue to one of the most challenging hikes in the Smokies. Follow the sign at the top of the cave marked “2.3 miles” to Mount LeConte (Myrtle Point) for full panoramic views that will remain in your memory for a lifetime. The round-trip trek is a grueling 12-mile hike ascending over 3,000 feet. We recommend packing sufficient gear, as it is a full day hike.
Panthertown Valley Waterfalls – Panthertown Valley is located just outside of Cashiers, between Gorges State Park in Brevard and Sapphire Valley. Due to its elevation, there are endless species of budding flora and fauna such as Rhododendron and pink beds of Mountain Laurel to witness during the spring, with over a dozen waterfalls to top it all off! Make sure to check out Schoolhouse, Greenland Creek, Granny Burrell, and Frolictown Falls while in the valley. Know before you go by getting a map, either online or at the Highland Hiker in Cashiers.
Mingo Falls – Located in Cherokee, this waterfall requires more of a stair climb than a hike, with 164 steps leading to the viewing platform. Mingo Falls cascades over 150-feet and is a “wow” moment for those who witness it.
High Falls – Also known as “Cullowhee Falls,” is located in Glenville. The trailhead can be accessed across the Pines Recreation Area at Lake Glenville and is a steep descent from the parking lot. The climb is well worth it, though, as you’ll see many spring wildflowers, including the beautiful Trillium in several colors.
Whitewater Falls – At 411 feet, Whitewater Falls is known as one of the highest cascades east of the Rockies. The US forest service-maintained parking lot and path are paved (bring along $3 for parking), and there are restrooms and several picnic areas on-site perfect for a takeout picnic.
We love to keep our mountains Clean and Green and know that you do too! We strive to keep our mountains and trails pristine for generations to come; we all must do our part. We ask everyone to stay on the trail, adhere to posted signage, take only pictures – no risks, respect wildlife, and never climb on or around waterfalls. We also follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace® and Recreate Responsibly. Learn more here.
Breakaway this Spring
Ready to enjoy the best springtime hikes and stunning views in the NC Mountains? Head to Jackson County and enjoy the best accommodations in the region. Now through April, you can still take advantage of some lodging specials and deals. For those interested in learning even more about spring blooms, book a Botanical Tour with Bigelow’s Botanical Excursions. See for yourself why spring is one of the best times in the Mountains by using our Trip Planner to inspire your next getaway!