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Hiking Adventures in McDowell County

Whether you’re a casual leaf peeper, hiking photographer, or extreme trail runner, McDowell County hasan endless array of hikes exploring the beauty of our region.

From easily accessible trails and waterfall stops, to expert level trails and elevations exceeding 3,000 feet, our region shares a northern boundary along the United States’ most visited national park, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Additionally, 70,000 acres inside Pisgah National Forest, inspire McDowell County organizations to continuously create and improve the many trails within our county. 

Waterfall Hikes 

We’re proud of our waterfalls. Our waterfall hikes are stunning any time of the year, but the changing seasons add a colorful aesthetic to frame some breathtaking views of rushing waters and spectacular drops.

  • Crabtree Falls Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 339.5 it’s one of the most popular destinations for waterfall hikes. The 60-foot cascade is the reward for a moderate hike just under 3 miles. 
  • Linville Falls, located at Milepost 316.3, is another Parkway favorite with three-tiers of rushing water. There are a variety of hikes and viewing spots to see the waterfall which range from easy to strenuous in intensity.
  • While Dugger’s Creek Falls is not as large as others in the area, it is a very short .03 mile trail considered easily accessible.

Hiking Trails

Some of the highest peaks along the East Coast are right in our backyard, and our hiking trails are some of the most breathtaking and rewarding. Along with rolling foothills and gentle, recently improved family-friendly trails, we have plenty of adventures for every visitor. Check out our most popular hikes:

  • Point Lookout Trail Though the 3.6 mile trail isn’t a quick hike, it is paved and easy to navigate. You will get the chance to see a 19th-century railroad tunnel, as well as views of Royal Gorge.
  • Mount MitchellWhile you can drive to the top of the tallest point east of the Mississippi River, hiking to the top is a badge of honor for outdoor enthusiasts. The 360-degree panoramic view is your reward after the 5 ½ mile hike to an elevation of 6,684 feet.
  • Linville GorgeKnown as the “Grand Canyon of the Eastern U.S.” has strenuous trails that reward experienced hikers with exceptional views. 
  • Old Fort Gateway Trail SystemNew in 2023, the first portion of this 42-mile trail in Pisgah National Forest is open for hikers, equestrian use and mountain biking. 
  • Lake James State ParkFamily friendly trails can be found in the two recreational areas as well as lakeside hikes. The Kids in Parks TRACK Trails adventures program is great for families.
  • Joseph McDowell Historical Catawba Greenway An accessible 1.5 mile trail along the banks of the Catawba River, with river access for fishing, as well as canoes and kayaks. 

Mountain Biking 

Get deep into the wilderness when you explore the miles of mountain biking trails in the area. Enjoy a challenging ride while surrounded by the forest’s changing colors whizzing by you. 

Point Lookout Trail rises 1,000 feet in elevation over 3.62 paved miles with unique views of a railroad tunnel. Kitsuma Peak and Copper Ridge Trails are rugged and steep, as well as the 26-mile Woods Mountain Trail with a 5-mile descent. Mountain Top Shuttles saves you time and energy with transport to the top of the trailheads and an exciting ride down the mountain.

Fuel Up Before Your Trek

Savor the delicious foods and drinks that are grown and handcrafted in and around our small towns, or adventure along a different type of trail with our High Spirits Trail to farms and restaurants that have spanned generations!

  • Orchard at Altapass (Milepost 328.3) This 100-year old historic orchard grows more than 20 varieties of heirloom apples. Get a slice of apple pie and a cold apple cider. Local mountain music is performed on the weekends.
  • Mica Town BrewingThe first brewery inMcDowell County has two locations inMarion and Nebo. 
  • Copper Creek DistilleryUsing locally sourced ingredients and heirloom techniques, moonshine is created onsite in small batches.
  • Switzerland CaféA stop along the NC Barbeque Trail with one of the largest wood-fired smokehouses in the state, along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • GoGo’s Start your day off right with one of a dozen cinnamon roll flavors at this Old Fort bakery.
  • Fonta Flora Brewery Whippoorwill FarmEnjoy a western North Carolina draught beer on this former dairy farm by Lake James State Park. 
  • South Creek Vineyards and Winery The closest winery to Lake James, enjoy a glass of Bordeaux-style wine from this boutique winery after a day exploring the trails in the state park. 
  • Ingenious Coffee Roasters in downtown Marion offers up a variety of beverages from their specialty coffee bar, including a big list of flavored coffees. 
  • Get a leisurely start to your day by enjoying an espresso at Little Switzerland Books and Beans.
  • Need to get some work done before starting the day? Catawba Vale Business Hub offers plenty of business-friendly space to work on your laptop while enjoying a cup of North Carolina-roasted coffee. 
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