If you want to spend your time outdoors during the summer, especially going hiking and exploring through parks and trails, then you definitely want to schedule yourself a trip to North Carolina before the warm weather goes away. The Tarheel State has lots of places to go hiking from local and state parks to botanical gardens and historic estates. No matter what type of backdrop you prefer, these hiking trails will give you the best of both worlds – a little exercise and a little sightseeing all rolled into one.
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Looking Glass Rock Trail, Pisgah National Forest (Nearby Hotels)
Although scaling the actual Looking Glass Rock – a massive pluton monolith that reaches nearly 4,000 feet in elevation – is best left to professional rock climbers, there is a very accessible trail located in nearby Brevard that will still allow you to take in beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Looking Glass Rock Trail begins just past the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education, located off of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, and continues for about three miles. Since it does rise about 1,700 feet in elevation, it is considered a moderate hike, but it is well marked and easy to follow.
Grandfather Mountain Trail, Linville (Nearby Hotels)
If you are an experienced hiker and are looking for your next challenge, look no further than the Grandfather Mountain Trail in Linville. This difficult trail is actually considered the most technically-challenging hike east of the Mississippi and although it can be done without climbing equipment, is also called the “chutes and ladders trail” because of several areas that feature cables and ladders scaling cliffs. If you are brave enough to give it a go, you’ll get to take in views from the mountain’s three peaks – MacRae Peak, Attic Window Peak and Calloway Peak.
Lake Norman State Park, Troutman (Nearby Hotels)
Located about 30 minutes north of Charlotte, Lake Norman State Park is an outdoor lovers’ paradise with plenty of opportunities for camping, picnicking, fishing and boating. Hikers and mountain bikers can also enjoy an extensive network of trails that range in difficulty and feature beautiful views of the surrounding lake. Beginners and hikers with children will want to check out the Alder and Dragonfly Trails, while more experienced hikers can take on the Lake Shore Trail or the Itusi Trail, which features eight different loops that range in distance from one mile to nearly ten miles.
Jockey's Ridge State Park, Nags Head (Nearby Hotels)
For a unique hiking experience, visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head – the largest natural sand dune on the east coast, where you can hike the massive dune for amazing views of the coastal area or hike the Soundside Nature Trail or Tracks in the Sand Trail, which will both take you through the surrounding shrub thickets.
Biltmore Estate, Asheville (Nearby Hotels)
Back in the western part of North Carolina, hiking on the sprawling grounds of Biltmore Estate in Asheville is a magical and majestic experience. There are almost 22 acres of trails that offer a variety of backdrops, including lush forests, open meadows and the calming waters of the French Broad River. There are also a variety of difficulty levels, so whether you’re looking for a challenge or just a chance to relax, there will be a trail for you here.
North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill (Nearby Hotels)
Located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Botanical Garden is home to a sprawling 88-acre area known as the Piedmont Nature Trails. The trails, which are made up of two major loops, offer more than two miles of hiking through the wooded forest area and offer plenty of opportunities to see a variety of colorful trees and flowers along the way. If you want an easier, more leisurely hike, stick to the Streamside Trail. If you’re up for a little more intensity, try the hillier Oak-Hickory Trail.