Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Linville Gorge is a site that has to be seen in person to truly be appreciated. Besides being one of the most scenic gorges in the eastern United States, it is also the third largest wilderness area in the state of North Carolina.
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Formed by the flowing action of the Linville River, the gorge stretches on for twelve miles and ranges in elevation from 2,000 feet to 4,000 feet, with Jonas Ridge to the east and Linville Mountain to the west. Because of the differing elevations and unique assortment of rock formations, you’ll find plenty of interesting places to hike, take photographs and enjoy the views.
The Gorge, which lies entirely inside of the Pisgah National Forest, was designated as a federally protected wilderness area in 1964 and is managed by the Grandfather Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service. Because of this, many of the area’s hiking trails are still very natural and not necessarily well-marked, so all hikers should carry a detailed map of the area with them at all times and beginner hikers are advised to stick to shorter trails.
There are plenty of trails to choose from in varying lengths and difficulties. In fact, there are 39 miles of hiking trails that take hikers in and out of the Gorge and offer beautiful views of the river. Seasoned and experienced hikers will also find plenty of trails that move over steep terrain and offer a challenge, while the longest trail in the wilderness area, the Linville Gorge trail, runs for eleven and a half miles along the bottom of the gorge, tracing the west side of the river.
Some of the most popular hikes in Linville Gorge include Linville Falls – the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina, Hawksbill Mountain, Table Rock Mountain and Wiseman’s View, where you’ll find one of the most spectacular views of the western side of the gorge.
In addition to breathtaking views of the rock formations and surrounding forest, a visit to the gorge will also give you a chance to get up close and personal with some of the area’s rare plant life and assorted wildlife. Besides azaleas, orchids, sand myrtles and wild indigo, you’ll also find five very rare species of plants, rhododendrons and virgin forests. The area is also home to squirrels, raccoons, deer, bears, turkeys, vultures, owls and hawks.
Hunting and fishing are allowed in the Gorge area with a permit. Camping is also allowed with a free permit that are issued by the District Rangers Office in order to limit the number of humans in the area. Visitors can receive one permit per month however and stay up to three days and two nights each time, so be sure to get your requests in early.
You’ll also want to be sure to stop by the Linville Falls Visitor Center, located off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm, April through October, and offers visitors maps and plenty of information about the gorge.