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Linville Gorge Wilderness Loop

Difficult
  4.5 ( 50 ) Favorite

Trail

21.9 mile 35.2 kilometer loop
Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 4,723' 1,440 m
Descent: -4,722' -1,439 m
High: 3,879' 1,182 m
Low: 1,256' 383 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 8% (5°)
Max Grade: 50% (27°)

Dogs

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Trail shared by Max Willner

A challenging and exciting backcountry loop hike around "The Grand Canyon of North Carolina."

Max Willner

Features Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Hunting and fishing are allowed, but permits are required. Camping is permitted in the gorge, but permits are required from May 1 through October 31.

Overview

Also known as the Grand South Loop, the Linville Gorge Wilderness Loop offers one of the most challenging and rewarding loops in the region.

The Linville Gorge Wilderness, in the mountains of western North Carolina, is part of the Pisgah National Forest. The gorge is formed by the Jonas Ridge on the east and Linville Mountain on the west and is bisected by the Linville River which drops 2,000 feet into the valleys below. The terrain is steep and rugged with numerous rock formations. It is covered by dense hardwood/pine forest and a wide variety of smaller trees and other plants. Recreation opportunities include hiking, running, backpacking, rock climbing, fishing, and hunting.

This loop is 22 miles long, and is considered very strenuous. Due to the rugged backcountry conditions of the Linville Wilderness, it's a good idea to check in with the rangers and inform them of your travel plans. The Linville Falls Visitor Center is open April 15 - November 1, 9am-5pm. Maps are available there.

Need to Know

A free camping permit is needed on weekends and holidays May through October. Group size is limited to 10 persons. Each visitor or group may receive one weekend permit per month and may stay up to 3 consecutive days and 2 nights.

Trails are signed at trailheads but are not signed or blazed once inside the wilderness. You should be able to read a topographical map and use a compass. You can purchase topo and other maps from the Grandfather District Office. Call the Grandfather District Ranger at 828-652-4841 (or 2144) to secure a permit. Also be sure to download the Hiking Project mobile app to help with navigation.

The Spence Ridge Trail bridge at the Linville River is currently washed out. Hikers must execute a wet crossing to proceed.

Description

Directions: Take I-40 to exit 105 to NC 18 (toward Morganton/Shelby). Continue on NC 18/Green St./NC 181 for 6.5 miles and turn left on Frank Whisnant Rd./NC 1250. Follow Frank Whisnant Rd./NC 1250 for 2.5 miles and turn right onto NC 126 for 6 miles. Turn right onto Wolf Pit Road and follow to the parking area.

Starting at the southernmost portion of the loop at the Wolf Pit Trail, hikers will continue north on Shortoff Mountain Trail. This trail is also part of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). For more information concerning the MST, please refer to this webpage.

Shortoff Mountain Trail is a wonderful backpacking location with ideal camping spots and unmatched scenery. This trail comprises most of the eastern portion of the loop. It's also the more clearly marked of the trails, making it easier to navigate for novice hikers.

One of the most favorable campsites for hikers is at the Big Flat Rock Overlook. There is an open portion of ground ideal for multiple tents. From the campsite, hikers can look out into the gorge.

It is also quite apparent that Shortoff Mountain Trail has been a host to a number of forest fires in the past few years, providing a remarkable hike amongst scorched trees.

Hikers will then come to Tablerock Summit Trail and Little Tablerock Trail, both of which branch off of the Tablerock Parking Area. Tablerock Summit Trail is a short but steep trail that leads to the lookout on Tablerock Mountain. At 3,680 feet, hikers will find a beautiful, panoramic view of North Carolina's expansive Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.

Heading north on Little Tablerock Trail, it's a roughly 1,000-foot descent to Spence Ridge, offering great views of the expansive Linville Wilderness Area.

Spence Ridge Trail is the northern portion of the Loop. It's also important to note that Spence Ridge Trail bridge at the Linville River is currently washed out. Hikers must execute a wet crossing to proceed. River conditions are to be considered dangerous in the event of recent rainfall.

Once hikers cross the river, they will come to the Linville Gorge Trail which makes up the entire western portion of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Loop. This is considered the most strenuous portion of the loop, and is not recommended for novice hikers as the trail is poorly marked (if at all) in many locations. The Hiking Project mobile app, a map, and a compass are strongly recommended.

Hikers will notice a great number of fallen trees in the area, due to the Southern Pine Beetle infestation.

This trail follows the Linville River for the most part, providing ample locations to replenish water. As always, please remember to use a filter - never drink water directly from the source. Along the way, the trail passes through hardwood forest, rugged cliffs, boulders, and cascades.

At the southernmost portion of the trail, hikers will cross the Linville River once more to Shortoff Mountain Trail, where they will hike uphill and return to the Wolf Pit Trail and parking lot.

Flora & Fauna

Local flora - rhododendron, sand mrtyle, red chokeberry, azalea, turkey beard, bristly locust, yellow root, silverbell, orchids, ninebark, and wild indigo.

Local fauna - white-tail deer, black bears, squirrel, raccoon, grouse, turkey, vultures, owls, hawks, as well as brown and rainbow trout. There are also copperheads and timber rattlesnakes.

History & Background

The Linville River was originally known to the Cherokee Indians as "Eseeoh-la," which translates roughly as "a river of many cliffs." The area now gets its name from William Linville and his son, John, two men who were killed in one of the last confrontations between settlers and the Cherokee. William was good friends with Daniel Boone, who was later a member of the party sent to retrieve his body.

The Linville Wilderness area fell under formal protection in 1952 when the land was purchased with funds donated by John D. Rockefeller. With congressional approval of the Wilderness Act of 1964, Linville Gorge became one of the first formally designated wilderness areas as part of the new National Wilderness Preservation System.

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Check-Ins

Jul 14, 2019
Tim Welsh
Went clockwise. Missed the Leadmine Trail which added 2k elevation to the trip. No marker. Hot! Limited water supply on the ridge line. A su… 25mi
Jun 25, 2019
R.d. Cole
Did not complete the trail due to exhaustion. This trail is no joke. West side of the loop very challenging 21.9mi — 9h 43m
Jun 15, 2019
Phil York
From Table Rock down Chimbric.
Jun 10, 2019
Spring Pearson
Jun 1, 2019
Kevin Heimbrook
21.9mi — 28h 00m
May 27, 2019
Will Moseley
No water first 8 miles Western trail is completely unmarked Best camp spot Linville gorge trail Just north of western intersection with chimbric trail
May 26, 2019
Hannah Nettleton
May 24, 2019
Phil York

Trail Ratings

  4.5 from 50 votes

#52

Overall
  4.5 from 50 votes
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#52

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Photos

Enjoy a beautiful view of where the gorge carves through the mountains by sitting on one of the cliff edges along the Shortoff Mountain Trail.
Feb 4, 2017 near Spruce…, NC
Tablerock Mountain (to the right) from Shortoff Mountain.
Dec 2, 2015 near Glen Al…, NC
I awoke to one of the most beautiful views the first morning of our hike. I sat in the hammock and took it all in as I watched the sun rise over the horizon!
Feb 4, 2017 near Glen Al…, NC
Watching a mixture of fog and clouds dissipate as the sun rises above Linville Gorge. Those rolling clouds get misty - bring a rain jacket!
Nov 20, 2015 near Spruce…, NC
The path behind Big Flat Rock Overlook that takes adventurous hikers up and over the campsite.
Dec 2, 2015 near Spruce…, NC
Sunset view campsite.
Apr 9, 2019 near Glen Al…, NC

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