A hiker on top of Grandfather Mountain. Image via Visit NC. Grandfather Mountain
A hiker on top of Grandfather Mountain. Image via Visit NC.

Check out our list of top hikes and trails to explore in North Carolina this spring.

It’s Earth Day, and we’d say there are few places better to take in the wonders of the outdoors than North Carolina. 

Whether it’s at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the banks of the state’s many waterways, or the gentle rolling foothills or mountains, we’ve got views to take in and fresh air to breathe in.

The best way to get out there and enjoy it all is to take a hike or walk. 

Here’s a list from us at Cardinal & Pine for some of the best hike in our state.

Eastern NC’s Offerings

  • The Lakeshore Trail at Lake Waccamaw State Park is a stroll through pine forests, and one of the oldest stands of cypress trees in the state. You’ll also get a chance to gaze in wonder at Lake Waccamaw, which is considered a Carolina bay, which the folks at NC State Parks division call one of the most unique bodies of water in the world and a geological mystery. Carolina bays are small lakes that get water from runoff and swamps, without any direct source of water. One of a kind, but we’re gonna recommend bringing some mosquito spray for this one. 
  • The Croatan National Forest is one of four national forests in the state. This one is located south of New Bern and features saltwater estuaries, bogs, and raised swamps called pocosins. There are plenty of public hiking trails in the 160,000 acre forest, including a stretch of the Mountains to Seat Trail. Keep your eyes peeled, the forest is also home to the Venus fly-trap (which are protected! Don’t disturb or pick them).
  • Paddle trails are a thing in much of our state, thanks to all those great riverways. If you’ve got a canoe or kayak (or want to rent one nearby), Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro offers some adventurous paddle trails to the 4-mile, undeveloped Bear Island (there’s a ferry that goes out there as well). A less difficult paddle is  Queen’s Creek Trail where you and your kayak or canoe can glide along the saltwater marsh through some oyster beds.

Piedmont Trails

  • Hanging Rock Trail: It’s a climb to get up there, but hard to beat the view of this Stokes County favorite in Hanging Rock State Park. The Hanging Rock Trail is 1.3 miles up, and can offer views of the Blue Ridge Mountain if you catch a clear day. If you’re a camper, the campground here is also a favorite for many.
  • It’s hard not to get swept away by the grandeur of Pilot Mountain, located in the namesake state park in Surry and Yadkin counties. The geology knob is a favorite for rock climbing and rappelling (in allowable portions). The strenuous 6.6-mile Corridor Trail will bring you around the mountain, and have you ready to brag about North Carolina’s beauty at the end of it. If that seems a bit much, there are plenty of other scenic, and easier, trails in the park as well.

Western North Carolina Hikes

  • It wasn’t easy narrowing down the list of hikes in the western part of the state, but Craggy Gardens Trail off of the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville will check the boxes for amazing mountain vistas. If you hit the time of year right, there are also plenty of blooming rhododendrons and wildflowers to gaze at.
  • There are few things more iconic in North Carolina than Grandfather Mountain (raise your hand if you’ve spotted the old man’s face in the rock from a distance).  The famous swinging bridge can be accessed by a private parking lot (for a fee), but you can also take this climb up on the incredibly challenging 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail (you’re using cables and ladders at some points to go up) through the Grandfather Mountain State Park.

Whatever trails you choose, enjoy getting out there today, or any day, to bask in some of the beauty we have in this state.