Best Hikes in Pisgah National Forest (NC)

Pisgah National Forest Overview

Pisgah National Forest, forming a triangle around Asheville, NC, was one of the first national forests in the eastern US. The Pisgah, Grandfather and Appalachian Ranger Districts are scattered along the eastern edge of the mountains of western North Carolina and offer visitors a variety of opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoying the natural beauty of the mountains. Pisgah, a biblical Hebrew word for ‘summit’, boasts many of western North Carolina’s most beautiful peaks including the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River, Mount Mitchell. Many of the best hikes in Pisgah National Forest below will take visitors to the summits of these peaks with a panoramic view of the surrounding forest. There are also 3 long-distance recreational trails: the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Shut-In Trail, and the Art Loeb Trail.

StateNorth Carolina
Nearest Metro AreaAsheville, NC
Area Size512, 758 miles
EstablishedOctober 17, 1916
Hiking Trails682 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Pisgah National Forest

(*** = best hikes in Pisgah National Forest)

Art Loeb Trail #146 to Black Balsam Knob – 1.5 miles out and back
Art Loeb - Black Balsam
Art Loeb – Black Balsam, Photo by Michael Sprague

This is a quick out and back hike to Black Balsam Knob on the popular 30+ mile Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest. The trail in its entirety traverses several popular western North Carolina peaks with innumerable viewpoints along the way. This hike will give you a taste with a beautiful vantage point. Parking found off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Catawba Falls Trail – 2.4 miles out and back
Catawba Falls, Asheville, NC
Catawba Falls, Asheville, NC, Photo by Sergiy Galyonkin

Wide gravel trail that is suitable for all ages. The trail crosses the Catawba River twice across steel bridges on its way to Upper Catawba Falls.

Crabtree Falls Trail – 2.7 mile loop
Crabtree Falls, Photo by Forest Wander

Beautiful waterfall trail that should be easy enough for almost all skill levels. The loop is best taken counter-clockwise. This hike is more about the destination than the journey but the falls more than make up for the hike along the way.

Hawksbill Mountain Trail #245 –  2.0 miles out and back
View from Hawksbill Mountain in early October, Photo by

This may be one of the easier summit hikes you will run into as the trail only climbs 600′ to the top of Hawksbill Mountain for 360 degree views of the Linville Gorge Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest.

John Rock #365 + Cat Gap Loop #120*** –  5.7 miles loop
Johns Rock in Pisgah National Forest-2
John Rock, Photo by Will Thomas

Best hiked clockwise, this trail offers a beautiful view of the valley at John Rock at the midway point. You can even see Looking Glass Rock right across the valley.

Looking Glass Rock Trail #114*** – 6.1 miles out and back
View from Looking Glass Rock, Photo by Chris Haffler

Constant climb on switchbacks to the top of Looking Glass Rock which overlooks a beautiful panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Somewhat difficult trail as you climb nearly 1700′ in 3 miles!

Max Patch Loop via Appalachian Trail – 1.5 mile loop
Max Patch - October 12, 2013-007
Max Patch, Photo by Jason A G

Pretty far from Asheville, this easy loop off of the Appalachian Trail is worth the drive. Max Patch Mountain is part of the Bald Mountain Range and the summit offers great viewpoints all around. This is also a great place for stargazing.

Mount Mitchell #190 – 11.4 miles out and back
Mount Mitchell Summit, Photo by Chris Haffler

Difficult trail that climbs over 3,600 ft from the Black Mountain Campground to the summit of Mount Mitchell; North Carolina’s state high point. At 4 miles from the trailhead there is a large grassy field that is open for backcountry camping should you choose to do this hike overnight. The allure of climbing to the highest point in the state is somewhat damaged when you arrive and are greeted by those that drove to the top. The view from the summit is nonetheless incredibly gorgeous on a clear day.

Profile Trail + Grandfather Trail – 9.3 miles out and back

This is a pretty difficult hike but one that is well worth it if you’re able. Taking Profile Trail to Grandfather Trail, hikers will have the chance to experience the 2 beautiful peaks in the area – MacRae Peak and Calloway Peak.

Rainbow Falls + Turtleback Falls Trail – 3.5 miles out and back

Right on the border of the Pisgah National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest, this is a great hike along Horsepasture River that leads to some beautiful and large falls. Both Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls have nice swimming holes as well if the weather is nice.

Tanawha Trail*** to Rough Ridge Overlook – 3.0 miles out and back
Rough Ridge Lookout at Grandfather Mountain, Photo by Bigmacthealmanac

Stone stairs lead you to rock outcroppings with a spectacular view. This may be one of the best all ages hikes near Asheville and in Pisgah National Forest.

Featured Image: View from Looking Glass Rock, Photo by Chris Haffler

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