Hiking the Linville Gorge Area
Averaging 1,400 ft deep, the Linville Gorge was carved by the Linville River on its way down the Blue Ridge Escarpment from the High Country. One of the deepest gorges in the East, it also represents a great opportunity for outdoor recreation, boasting many miles of trails.
The Linville River begins its course high on Grandfather Mountain, upstream from the main gorge area, before winding across the High Country plateau, and then pouring over Linville Falls for a dramatic start to its rough run down the gorge section.
The Gorge is rugged terrain. After descending about 1800 feet, the river finally runs past Shortoff Mountain and into Lake James for a quiet end to its dramatic journey out of the mountains.
Many trails are within the Linville Gorge Wildeness Area, which lies on either side of the Linville River, encompassing the river bottoms and steep slopes, cliffs, and up to the mountaintops on either side. Other trails are just outside the Wilderness boundaries on surrounding National Forest land.
Within its nearly 12,000 acres of hardwood and pine forests, you'll find an array of wildlife not uncommon to the middle elevations of the Appalachian mountains. Fire has played a great role in the forest community here recently, with much of the gorge having burned within the last 10-15 years. Before that, fires were suppressed for almost 50 years. This allowed the pines to grow more thickly than they would naturally, making the fires worse once they got started. Also, this allowed vast areas of pines to be quickly overtaken by native Southern Pine Beetles once a round of them got started. The recent burns and beetle infestations have enabled the fire-dependent species - wildflowers such as asters and trees such as Pitch and Table Mountain Pines - to begin a new cycle of growth, and the forest should be healthier in the future if fires are periodically allowed to burn in the gorge.
In addition to the fire-affected pine forests, rich cove and other mixed hardwood forests thrive in areas along the Linville River and in side coves where other streams join the river. Large, old-growth hemlock forests also existed in some areas, but are now mostly dead due to Hemlock Wooly Adelgid investation.
Hiking trails in the Gorge generally start along one of two long, gravel forest service roads on either rim. Hikes into the gorge tend to climb or descend this distance and those within the gorge have to contend with crossings of the river itself, making most hiking in the area strenuous. However, several easier hikes lie along the rim and afford spectacular views of the river far below. Linville Falls sits at the head of the gorge (and has its own trailhead.)
Places to Stay
Backcountry camping in Linville Gorge is allowed as in most National Forest areas, except that permits are required for weekends and holidays between March 1 and October 31. You can pick up a permit at the Grandfather district ranger office in Marion, or at the Information Cabin on Kistler Memorial "Highway" (a rough gravel road on the northeast side of the gorge).