Whiteside Mountain by Jeff Bean

Top 5 Bucket List Hikes to Try in 2020

Searching for worthwhile hikes to add to your 2020 bucket list? Look no further than the Western NC mountain towns of Jackson County. Covering 494 square miles of mountain peaks and valleys, the county offers hiking trails for every skill level, and they are all worth the climb! Our beautiful mountain towns are located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and coupled with the diversity of trails, sweeping views, and being the most ecologically diverse place in the temperate world, all come together to create epic and one-of-a-kind hikes.

This time of year is the “Secret Season” in the mountains meaning you’ll enjoy trails all to yourself, providing a front row view of jaw dropping scenery, deep discounts and deals on your stay, and no lines at the best farm-to-table restaurants.

When planning your trip, don’t miss these “must do” hikes (listed in order of difficulty):

1. Whiteside Mountain Trail

This moderate, 2-mile loop ascends 800 feet and provides views of one of the county’s most recognizable peaks and the highest vertical cliffs in the eastern United States- about 1,800 feet. Estimated to be around 390 to 460 million years old, Whiteside is known as one of the oldest mountains in the world. Along the way, enjoy the endless views and watch for peregrine falcons, who frequently fly overhead. At the top of the mountain you’re rewarded with the ultimate photo op, a rock that has etched into it ALT 4930 FT, which straddles the Eastern Continental Divide.

Directions to this hike: https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/outdoors/trails/whiteside-mountain-trail/

2. High Falls Trail

Forget the stair stepper, this 3/4-mile trail descends 650 feet in elevation, which includes many flights of stairs. Although the return journey will be more strenuous than the trip down, the view of the 100-foot falls that await are well worth it. During certain days in the spring and summer, High Falls turns into one of the most powerful waterfalls in the North Carolina mountains when water is released from the dam above. Wear good hiking shoes and be cautious during the trek given the rocks can get slippery.

Directions to this hike: https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/outdoors/waterfalls/high-falls/

3. Panthertown Valley Trail

Known as the “Yosemite of the East,” Panthertown Valley is a hiker’s paradise. Made up of 6,295 acres of protected public land in the Nantahala National Forest, there is no shortage of large waterfalls, scenic trails, seemingly endless vistas and unparalleled views for hikers to enjoy. Here, you’ll find more than 30 miles of mixed-use trails to explore and hike, so it is highly recommended that you get a map of the area before setting out. You can easily spend a few days exploring Panthertown, trying new trails and seeing new vistas, but a great half day hike is the 5-mile Schoolhouse Falls / Little Green Mountain Loop. Since it is such a large area, first timers might want to hire a guide to take them around to the most popular sites and trails. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the sandy beach across from Schoolhouse Falls.

Directions to this hike: https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/outdoors/trails/panthertown-valley-trail/

4. Pinnacle Park Trail

A 7-mile trek that ascends more than 3,000 feet in elevation, Pinnacle Park will challenge hikers to reach new heights. This steady, uphill hike is a bit more strenuous, but once you reach the top, you are rewarded with panoramic views of the creeks and valleys below. For this hike, make sure to wear sturdy shoes for the rocky sections and pack a picnic to enjoy at the top and celebrate your accomplishment. When you’re at the summit, follow the well-marked trail through the short rhododendron tunnel to come out on top of the Pinnacle with panoramic views.

Directions to this hike: https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/outdoors/trails/pinnacle-park-trail/

5. Yellow Mountain Trail

If you enjoy a challenge when it comes to hiking or mountain biking, this 12-mile roundtrip trail is the one for you. It’s not easy or moderate, but a difficult and strenuous hike with a great payoff at the end.

Rated as difficult, this is the highest mountain in the Highlands Ranger District with a strenuous trail stretching over 6 miles long. The peak of Yellow Mountain features a fire tower, originally built in 1934 and then reconstructed recently in the early 1990s. Here, hikers and mountain bikers alike can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the terrain below.

Directions to this hike: https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/outdoors/trails/yellow-mountain-trail/

Following your hike, rest and refuel at one of Jackson County’s many delectable restaurants or breweries and then retreat and relax by a fire in one of the area’s many cozy accommodations. To make the most of your bucket list vacation, check out our Lodging Specials & Deals page.

With the start of a new year and a new decade, now is the best time to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails! Knock off these bucket list hikes with friends, family or loved ones and see why Jackson County is the go-to destination for outdoor adventure of all sorts. Download your free visitor guide here and book your trip today.

Feature photo courtesy @thejeffbrean of Whiteside Mountain

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