Fall has arrived in North Carolina, and with it, crisp air and beautiful fall colors on the trees. There’s no better time to get out and explore all that the Smoky Mountain region has to offer, and we’ve put together a guide to the best hikes in Waynesville, NC, to help you make the most of this time of year.
So lace up your hiking boots, pack a picnic, and get ready to hit the trails!
This easy-to-moderate trail is located off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the option to choose either a 1.7-mile or 3.4-mile trek. The trail takes you through parts of an old forest featuring a smattering of oak and birch trees that stay flush with colorful leaves into late October, and the trailhead offers panoramic views of the surrounding valley.
For sweeping views of the fall colors, head to Waterrock Knob Ridge. At 6,273 at the summit, this peak is the highest point in the Plott Balsam mountain range, and the trails surrounding the ridge feature several points of interest, including the Fort Ridge Overlook and a side trail that leads to an abandoned Cessna airplane. From the top, you can take in 360-degree views of the rolling hills stretching out in every direction or watch the sunset light the treetops in the valley ablaze in a bright red, orange, and yellow glow.
Cold Mountain Summit via the Art Loeb Trail
Visitors looking for a challenge can hike a section of the famed Art Loeb Trail to the summit of Cold Mountain for a strenuous hike that offers views well worth the effort. This 10.6-mile roundtrip trek winds through the Shining Rock Wilderness Area in Pisgah National Forest, climbing 3,000 feet in elevation to the summit, where you’ll find views stretching in all directions from the formidable peak. Adventurous hikers seeking to fully immerse themselves in the splendor of Pisgah in the fall can extend their excursion to hike the full 30.1-mile length of the Art Loeb trail, complete with camping spots along the way.
Looking Glass Rock is one of the most popular hikes in the area and with good reason. The rocky cliff faces stretch high above Pisgah National Forest, offering unobstructed views of the surrounding area. About two miles into the hike, you’ll find a flat rocky area that is often used as a helipad for rescue operations. Head past the helipad approximately 100 yards to find a wow-worthy view all its own before continuing to the upper cliffs for a stunning 360-degree vista of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest.
Tallulah Falls, GA
Tallulah Gorge features a jaw-dropping canyon with rushing rivers and waterfalls, and in the fall, the slopes surrounding the gorge are filled with vibrant foliage that lights up the canyon with brilliant color. Take the park’s infamously steep staircase up to the suspension bridge, which hangs 80 feet over the canyon, or hike down to the bottom for up-close views of the water features on the floor of the gorge. Permits to access the gorge floor are free but limited, so we recommend getting there early if you’d like to experience it.
Maggie Valley, NC
Soco Falls is a short but sweet hike with a wonderful reward – a double waterfall at the base of the trail! Pause at the viewing platform to watch the rushing water, or trek down to the base of the falls to see the double waterfall up close. Fall is a great time to visit Soco Falls, as the trees surrounding the waterfalls turn lovely shades of golden yellow and orange, making for stunning photographs.
With its 70-foot former fire tower rising high above the trees, the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout trail offers amazing views of the rolling hills and valleys of Pisgah National Forest on a 1.5-mile roundtrip trail. The tower was purpose-built to allow for unobstructed views of the surrounding area, which makes it a prime location for sightseeing today. While the main living quarters of the tower are not open to the public, visitors can climb up five flights of stairs to get the best view. From the tower, you can see Looking Glass Rock, Cold Mountain, and Mt. Pisgah.
Those looking for a shorter hike will love the Rough Ridge trail, which just so happens to offer some of the best early-season views of the fall foliage. This 1.2-mile roundtrip journey takes hikers through dense forests with a combination of boardwalks, cable sections, and staircases to reach the peak. This trail’s craggy summit rock formations offer unique photo-worthy views, along with views of Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct.
Your Fall Smoky Mountain Hiking Home Base
Need a home base for your autumn hiking adventures? The Red Leaf River Inn is centrally located in Waynesville, NC, allowing access to the numerous trails found in Pisgah National Forest, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Plott Balsam Mountain range.
Cozy up in one of our unique rooms or suites, where you’ll find crackling fireplaces, plush bedding, and hearty, home-cooked meals prepared by our in-house chef to welcome you and provide respite after a long day on the trails. Book your stay today and begin your fall hiking adventure in North Carolina!