Basically, just grind up a pristine gravel road as hard as you can, enjoy the views of the gorge along some doubletrack, watch out for 20 ft deep sinkholes, and try not to slide down a cliff while descending some amazing benched singletrack! This hike is 7.4 miles of awesomeness!
This is also a very popular mountain bike loop, so be on the lookout so you don't get run over.
Directions to start: From Morganton, head up NC 181 north towards Linville. After mile marker 17, look for a gravel road on the right, which is Craig Creek Rd (FS 982). Follow this gravel road for about another 1.5 miles and pull off at a gated road (FS 986) on the right. There is space for a couple of cars here, and you should see it shortly after going over a bridge on the road.
From here, the challenge includes hiking up FS 982 to FS 4099. From FS 982 turn right onto Little Chestnut Mountain Road (FS 4099)
and follow it to Holly Springs Trail #273
. Take this trail on your right (blue-blazed) and follow it back to the car.
The first section of the Holly Springs Trail #273
is along the ridgeline and is steep, technical, and has started to get a bit rutted out. This is tough going for sure. During this section, you'll encounter the infamous sinkhole, which is basically a 20 ft deep, 6 ft wide hole right in the middle of the trail. After the sinkhole, the trail continues down the ridge and gets very rutted out before popping you out on a sweet section of trail that will wind you around a deep cove back down to Upper Creek and FS 982.
Along the way, you'll enjoy countless views, steep slopes, and awesome trails!