By Michael Lanza

I’m a hiking snob—I admit it. I want all of the hiking trips I take to feature five-star scenery. And for years, I’ve done most of my dayhiking and backpacking in the American West, with its vast wildernesses and infinite vistas, so I’m a little spoiled. But a weeklong trip to the mountains of western North Carolina upended my snobbery. Exploring the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, I discovered one of America’s richest stashes of stunning waterfalls and most biologically diverse forests, enough ruggedness to inspire a sense of climbing “real” mountains—and some pretty darn big vistas, too.

After considerable field research, I present to you this list of a dozen hikes along North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, ranging in length from very short and easy to a multi-summit ramble to the crown of the East’s highest summit (which I rank among America’s Best Hard Dayhikes).

A meandering country road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders in the world.

The hikes on the list below begin from trailheads on or a short distance off the parkway.

My advice to fellow hiking snobs: Start now planning your trip to western North Carolina, timing it for the peak of fall foliage color in October. If you somehow forget to pack your sense of awe, I promise you will recover it there.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

Crabtree Falls, in the Pisgah National Forest.
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Crabtree Falls

You won’t likely have Crabtree Falls (lead photo at top of story) to yourself—even on a rainy day, as I found. But this one is worth sharing with strangers (or new friends). Reached via a rocky,
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