With the rolling summits of the Appalachian Mountains, dozens of waterfalls, and vast woodlands, Pisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres of western North Carolina. One section of Pisgah NP that’s known for its rugged beauty is the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Sometimes called the ‘Grand Canyon of the East,’ Linville Gorge’s granite walls tower 1,400 feet above the Linville River for 12 miles, until the river opens into the Catawba Valley. Because it’s a designated ‘wilderness area,’ many of Linville Gorge’s 39 miles of trails are not the well-maintained, signed tracks you find in most parks – something you should prepare for if you’re hiking in the area.

For our first hike in the Wilderness Area, we headed up Hawksbill Mountain. The weather looked a bit iffy, so we settled on a short hike to see if the storms would hold off. The trailhead was about 40 minutes from our accommodations in Plumtree, with a significant portion of the drive up windy, rutted mountain roads. As we dodged potholes and navigated hairpin turns, I looked back and saw Sanchez’ hunched over in the back seat, her eyes droopy and head hanging limply. It was the first time we’d seen a hint of carsickness in her, and she seemed relieved when we finally came to a stop at the trailhead.

Along with Table Rock Mountain, Hawksbill Mountain is one of the few trails around Linville Gorge that’s sign-posted and maintained. The path was easily discernable, and a quick ascent through the dense forest led up to a rocky, granite summit. Sanchez delighted in leaping from one large boulder to the next, while we took in the views of the gorge and surrounding hillsides.

Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation gain: 830 feet