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Linville Gorge Wilderness


Intermediate to advanced.


Plenty in the Gorge.  None on Shortoff Mountain Trail.


Rugged beauty of an eastern canyon.


An infamous place for  lost hikers.


Rugged;  One mile here is like two anywhere else. Poorly defined and maintained trails make back country orienteering skills necessary for survival.

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 Located on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Linville Gorge is often said to be the most rugged terrain in the east. The primitive beauty of this wilderness area draws thousands of hikers to this deep canyon every year.  

 This wilderness  area is administered by the US Forest service. Wilderness area means just that, an undeveloped and sometimes hostile environment. Few of the trails are marked and navigation is sometimes difficult. Many side trails can lead an unwary hiker off of the main trail. Luckily there are mountain landmarks that line this deep crevasse and offer reference points for lost hikers. The upside is a beauty that few people get to see. The rock formations in the gorge beautiful and unique.   Outward Bound has a school on the western side near Table Rock and there's a good chance that you'll see Outward Bound rock climbers if you hike on the eastern rim. Many other climbing clubs come to this area because of the sheer drops and interesting rock formations. 

The white mans history in the gorge dates back to 1766. William Linville and his son John, were murdered by Cherokees in the gorge. More recently it was designated a wilderness area in 1951. In 1964, with the passage of the Wilderness Act, it became official and even tighter restrictions were enacted. In 1984 , the 7,575 acres already part of the wilderness was increased to 10,975 acres. Today a permit system has been instituted to minimize the impact on this valuable wilderness area. 


The Linville River is the one constant in this beautiful wilderness scene. The river enters the wilderness area just after a plunge over the 70 foot Linville Falls. As the river enters the wilderness it cuts deeper and deeper through the deep walled canyon. As it flows the 20 miles to Lake James it passes mountains named Sitting Bear and Hawksbill. It rushes below Table Rock, the unmistakably plateau shaped mountain. The Cherokee Indians used to use it as a sacred place for religious ceremonies. The open area on top of the mountain affords some great views.

As the river cuts deeper into the canyon it plunges over falls, through rapids and around sheer cliffs it has left a rugged path of boulders. The river is uniquely beautiful and like nothing else in this area. The white rocks are the characteristic trademarks of this gorge. Many hikers have been lost, some forever, wandering around in the boulder strewn river.


Camping overnight in the gorge on weekends requires a permit between May and October. The permit system insures that the gorge is not severely impacted by the hordes of hikers that descend into the gorge during these months. 

You may secure your free permit by stopping by the permit cabin on the Kistler Memorial Highway. Forest Ranger Hansel will offer you a piece of candy and a wealth of information. There are topographical maps of this and other areas that the US Forest Service administers here. There are also a good selection of books that relate to this area. Located just a short distance from the main road, Rt. 183, this is a must stop destination if you're hiking in the area. 


The trails in the Linville Gorge Wilderness can be accessed from either the eastern or western rim. The eastern rim has trails that afford scenic views from higher elevations. There are a few short hikes here that can take you to breathtaking views. There are longer hikes here that take you deep into the gorge and whole other world. 

 The western rim has several access trails that take you to the bottom of the gorge. This is where you go if you like waterfalls and the grand wilderness experience. The gorge offers the best of both worlds, waterfall/river hike and views from higher elevations. The elevations range from 1300 feet on the Linville River to 4120 feet on Gingercake Mountain. At the lowest elevation, at the end of the gorge, the Linville River flows into Lake James. It is possible to hike form nearly to the base of Linville Falls to the lake on very primitive trails. 

One common mistake is taking wrong turns down, or up, washes. Because of the steep terrain it is important to stay alert. It is very easy to take a wrong turn here and wind up in some rugged and precarious parts of the gorge. Even staying on the trail can have some close calls. There are parts of the trail system here that are hundreds of years old and easy to see. Even on these trails, it can be treacherous. Recently While hiking on the Linville Gorge Trail I had a close call. The trail was overgrown, deep in the gorge, and I came un unnervingly close to a very steep drop off. A common mistake down here.  

Eastern Rim

Shortoff Mountain Trail  #235 Intermediate

Jonas Ridge Trail  #245 Advanced

Devils Hole Trail  #244 Advanced

Spence Ridge Trail #223 Advanced

Western Rim

Linville Gorge Trail #231 Advanced

Babel Tower Trail #240 Intermediate

Pinch In Trail #228 Advanced

Sandy Flats Trail #230 Advanced

Conley Cove Trail #229 Intermediate

Cabin Trail #246 Advanced

For permit information:

District Ranger
U.S. Forest Service

160A Zillicoa St. , Asheville, NC 28802, (828) 257- 4200, Fax (828) 257-4263
Pisgah, Nantahala, Uwharrie and Croatan National Forests

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