Table Rock Hike

Synopsis

The hike to Table Rock is not actually a wilderness trail - being one of the few developed, maintained, and signed trails just outside the wilderness boundary on the gorge's rim. But the views into the Gorge are spectacular, and from the top, you'll get the same kind of inspiring feelings that the wilderness can provide. This trail climbs steeply to the top of a knife ridge, which, from afar, looks flat, giving the mountain its name. However, the rugged peak isn't much like the surface of a table, but the views are unparalleled and worth the strenuous climb.

Hike Statistics

  • Difficulty: More Difficult
  • Total Length: 2.0 mi
  • Trail Tread Condition: Moderately Rough
  • Climb: Climbs Steeply
  • Lowest Elevation: 3280 ft
  • Highest Elevation: 3940 ft
  • Total Elevation Gain: 660 ft
  • Trails Used: Table Rock Summit
  • Hike Configuration: Out-and-back
  • Starting point: Parking area at the end of Table Rock Road

Directions

From the intersection of US 221 and NC 181 in Linville, NC, head south on NC 181 for 1.6 miles. Turn left on 181 and go 1.8 miles. Turn left to stay on NC 181 and go 6.4 miles. Turn right onto Ginger Cake Road - there are signs for Table Rock from here on out. Bear left after 0.3 miles onto Table Rock Road (FS 210). It's 5.4 miles on this curvy, narrow, bumpy gravel road to FS 210B - turn right here, and go another 1.3 bumpy miles. Turn right again onto Old Table Rock Road, which becomes paved and goes through a series of impossibly steep switchbacks before ending at the picnic area. All the gravel roads are bumpy, but maintained, and should be passable in passenger cars.
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Details

Hike Description

Begin the hike to the right of the sign board at the end of the parking lot away from the toilets. The trail starts out level, but very quickly begins its steep, mostly relentless climb to the top. It's also smoother at the very beginning but quickly becomes very rocky, with some large stepping stones that have become dislodged and loose due to heavy hiker traffic. Some spots feature smooth, sloping rock, so watch your footing to avoid a slip.

Part of Table Rock from the parking area. The summit is even higher than what you can see here, though.

The trail starts out in a forest of medium-height hardwood trees; mostly oaks. A few hemlocks and white pines grow in the understory, hoping to overtake the hardwoods and poke out into the sun some decades into the future. But the forest quickly changes, and the trail becomes more open and sunny. In years past, this area was a forest, composed primarily of scraggly Table Mountain Pine trees. But many of these have died as a result of an infestation of the native Southern Pine Beetle. Only the gnarled trunks now remain. Luckily, this insect has evolved along with the pines, so the trees aren't all killed by an infestation. Sparse sections of healthy pine forest still remain.

This forest has also been affected by fire. In fact, these pines need fires periodically to open their cones and regenerate from seed. Along the way, you'll see signs explaining fire ecology which mention this fact. Aside from the pines, trailside vegetation consists mostly of rhododendron and mountain laurel. They are prolific, and bloom relatively early here (late May). An excellent time to hike this trail is when they are blooming.

To your left, a nice view opens up through the sparse trees of the Linville Gorge and - to the far left - the Chimneys. These rock formations are some of the closest things we have in the East to "hoodoos" common out West - pillars of rock standing apart from a main cliff face, formed by erosion. They are a popular rock climbing destination (as is Table Rock itself) and even have a connection to the famous Linville Falls some miles up the Linville River from this location.

Linville Gorge was formed as the Linville River cut down through a hard, resistant layer of rock into the softer rocks below. Where the river flows over this layer near the top of the gorge, it forms Linville Falls. The Chimneys, Table Rock, Hawksbill Mountain (which you will see once you reach the top), and all the high cliffs near the rim of the Gorge are all formed as a result of this ancient, erosion-resistant layer of rock.

As you ascend, and once you reach the top, keep your eyes peeled for the elusive Peregrine Falcon. These graceful, large raptors are native to the area. They are, in fact, widespread across much of the world. But they were eliminated regionally during the 20th century due to the effects of DDT. Since then, they've been reintroduced to the area successfully and are still protected. Rock climbing routes near their high, windy cliff-side nesting sites are closed periodically to ensure that the birds are able to hatch and raise their offspring in peace. The Peregrine's most well-known feature is their hunting style: taking other birds in mid-flight, they dive from high above, striking their prey at literally breakneck speeds.

The trail will go around a ridge and curve to the right. An intersection with a faint path is at the top of the ridge; bear right, uphill. You will immediately pass onto a cooler, wetter slope of the mountain. Here, Carolina Hemlocks grow among the pines and hardwoods (or grew - they may be dead by the time you hike here) with a few Eastern hemlocks as well. Both hemlock species are being ravaged by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, a non-native pest that has a lot less mercy on its host than the pine beetles have.

There is another intersection with the Mountains to Sea Trail on the left. Bear right, uphill.

The south view of the Chimneys and the Linville Gorge from Table Rock's Summit.

The trail switches back again, climbing in earnest, and goes back onto the open, sunny south side of the mountain. The trail climbs steeply along much of the remainder of the route. Several rock formations stand out along this section of trail. At one point, the trail passes through a neat slot formed by a large boulder that split away from the main rock face.

As you approach the top, the vegetation gets reduced down to very short, gnarled growth. It's mostly shrubs with a few stunted trees. The trail officially ends on a small flat area where an observation tower once stood. Despite the tower's absence, the views are in every direction, and they are spectacular. You can travel along the ridge to the south if you're willing to scramble and climb over some very rough rocks. Keep in mind that there are sheer cliffs in almost all directions from the top and stay well back away from the edges. Also, obey any signs posted regarding closures for the Peregrine Falcons during the spring nesting season.

Once you are finished soaking up the view, return to your vehicle on the same path.

Map

Here's an interactive GPS map of this hike. Yellow highlight indicates the route followed by this hike within the trail network. Only the trails and points of interest along the hike, and those in the immediate vicinity, are shown. For expanded maps, see this hike's Trailhead area.

Download GPS Data

Click routes, trails, or points on the map to download them individually (on the GPS Data tab).

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Comments

Mike Locke said: Who "saved" Linville Gorge for thousands of years as it burned naturally before we suppressed fire? Fires wouldn't need to be managed there at all if there weren't vacation homes inappropriately built too close to one of the most fire prone areas in the NC mountains. You should retitle your website "Save our McMansions"
Friday, November 29 2013 12:46pm
sally james said: you have described beautifully one of the most popular Linville Gorge hikes!! i am sending a link below to a site formed to stop the destruction of this special place. following are the beginning comments i've made in a petition to the USFS against their proposed burn of the entire 16000 acreas including the spectacular gorge itself: "WILDERNESS NO MORE—Is this the intent of the current burn proposal by the USFS? We have all read by now the definition of “wilderness” either provided by that visionary act of Congress, the Wilderness Act of 1964, or from other sources. This so-called “wildness” will cease to exist for the Linville Gorge, the oft-called Grand Canyon of the East, if such a proposal as this goes through. Another “managed forest” will be what we are left with." There are many excellent, well-documented comments on the petition site which you can read under the comments section of our petition by first going to: http://savelgw.org/ which is the website we've formed to fight this FS proposal--it includes an easy link to our petition. i would invite you and your friends to sign on our behalf. we have only a few days left. and, please fee free to contact any of us. thank you! sally james, jonas ridge nc and winter park fl
Friday, January 11 2013 3:15pm
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Related Pages

Table Rock Best Hike

Linville Gorge Wilderness