Top 9 blue ridge mountain hikes in north carolina

June 23, 2020

The Blue Ridge Mountains are magical in their own way, but I don’t need to tell you. If you have been to the Blue Ridge at all you’ll know exactly what I mean. And if you haven’t, then there’s a reason you’re reading this right now 😉

You’ve probably attended AppState and you fell in love with the small town charm of Boone, NC, or maybe you grew up visiting Asheville. Perhaps you’re a huge Dirty Dancing fan and you just had to see Lake Lure for yourself (yes, it was filmed there!). And speaking of movies, Last of the Mohicans was filmed at Chimney Rock, which is right down the road from Lake Lure. Maybe you got engaged at the top of Max Patch or fell in love watching the sunset together at the Thunder Hill Overlook. 

Regardless of your connection to the Blue Ridge Mountains, you may already have a few handful favorite hikes in your repertoire. But do you know of the best ones around here? 

I’ve spent the past 6 years exploring every inch of these mountains. So when couples ask me where to go for their engagement photos in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I have a list of hikes to pull from. 

That said, here’s my Top 10 Blue Ridge Mountain Hikes for Engagement Photos in North Carolina that I recommend most often. 

There’s a reason these Blue Ridge Mountain hikes are my top 10 favorites! 

Linville Falls via. Plunge Basin Trail

If you’re at all in love with waterfalls, you can’t miss the Plunge Basin Trail. Many tourists opt to hike the more popular trails at Linville Falls to see the falls from atop a mountain, but they’re missing out. 

The hike itself is 1.7 miles round trip, from a relatively flat trail to over steep and rocky terrain. It can be a bit strenuous of a hike the closer you get to the base of the falls, and most people would rate the hike as moderate overall. But everyone has also said that the payoff is absolutely worth it and the best view of the Linville Falls.

There are plenty of large rocks to stand on with the waterfall as your backdrop, and water to dip your feet in. 

Hawksbill Mountain

For feeling like you’re on top of the world, Hawksbill Mountain is the place to be. From the top of the hike, you’re surrounded by 360 degree views of sweeping mountain ranges and a clear view down into Linville Gorge. The view from the top of Hawksbill Mountain is the closest North Carolina can get to similar views of the Grand Canyon.

But you do have to work for the views. The Hawksbill Mountain hike is 2 miles round trip (not too shabby) but gains roughly 700 feet in elevation to the top. The majority of the hike is a gradual incline, with the last 20% of the hike being the most strenuous. 

Once you reach the top the view is worth every ounce of effort.

The parking lot to the trailhead is small, so if you’re planning on coming here on a weekend then I would strongly recommend seeing the sunrise instead of sunset to avoid the crowd (and to find parking). 

Craggy Pinnacle Trail

Tolkein fan? Then this is absolutely the hike for you. Craggy Gardens is known for its dense forest of old growth rhododendron and sweeping views of mountain ridges from the top of the hike. Along the trail you’ll see twisted and gnarled trees reminiscent of the Galadhrim forest in Lord of the Rings. 

The hike is an easy 0.8 miles out and back hike, and probably one of the easiest hikes for some of the best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you plan on bringing your dog to your engagement session, your pups will enjoy the easy terrain. 

WARNING: The Craggy Pinnacle Trail has fragile and endangered moss growing on the rocks found at the top of the hike. Do not climb over the rock wall. You will damage the delicate moss growth. Craggy Pinnacle has been shut down before because too many hikers were climbing over the walls and trampling the delicate growth. 

Please do your part and preserve the indigenous growth of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Rough Ridge Lookout

If you attended Appalachian State University, then you absolutely have to know about this hike. It’s a favorite among college students because of its proximity to campus, semi-strenuous hike, and room to sprawl and hang out on the rocks. 

The entire trail to the peak of Rough Ridge is 2.5 miles, but there’s two awesome overlooks along the way so you don’t really need to go to the top for spectacular views. 

The first overlook is clearly indicated by a wooden boardwalk and nature signs, and you’ll probably find a few people hanging out on the rock that juts out of the mountain. The second overlook isn’t marked, but it’s iconic shape is easily identifiable. It’s a large rock that hangs over open air and looks like it’s pointing into the sky. Don’t worry, it’s totally safe to climb on (just don’t fall off the edge).

The trail is well loved by all, so if you’re hoping to avoid the crowd then definitely take advantage of hiking Rough Ridge at sunrise. You might even catch a glimpse of the mountains “smoking” or clouds resting in the mountain valleys. It’s 100% worth the early morning.

Beacon Heights

Not too far away from Rough Ridge is the Beacon Heights trail. I LOVE coming here with dogs because the trail is a gradual incline to the top and it’s only a little over half a mile of a hike round trip. When you reach the top, you’re met with a breathtaking 180 degree view of mountain ridges. 

Max Patch

Ah, what a classic. Everyone who has come to Max Patch understands why so many people make the trek. Upon first sight of the top of Max Patch, you’ll see a surrounding panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Max Patch is a large open field at the top of a mountain that is surrounded by ranges of mountains. Everywhere you look, you see unparalleled mountain views. 

The hike is fairly easy- a dirt trail with a gradual incline. I would say it takes me roughly 15-20 minutes to hike to the top. It’s certainly an easy enough trail to bring your fur babies. 

Mt.Mitchell via. Balsam Nature Trail

Want to be as high in the sky as you can be on the East side of the Mississippi? Mt. Mitchell is known for its high elevation and iconic mountain views on the East Coast. It’s a perfect location for every mountain lovers’ engagement photos.

You’ll want to take the Balsam Nature Trail for the easiest hike and best mountain views

Black Balsam Knob via. Art Loeb Spur Trail

If you’re at all familiar with the Rocky Mountains, then you’ll see similarities between those jagged ridgelines and the ridges of Black Balsam Knob. From the top of the knob, your eyes are able to follow the mountain ridges for miles and mountain ranges for as far as you can see. 

Black Balsam Knob is unique in that the exposed rock on the trail is from years of hikers wearing away the greenery by hiking. You’ll love the easy hike to the top and the crazy mountain views I promise. Black Balsam Knob is perfect for elopements and adventure sessions because of the easy, short hike and high payoff. 

I would say it took me roughly 20-30 minutes to hike to the top of the knob, and I’m by no means a fast hiker. 

Thunder Hill Overlook

Mountain views and NO hiking? Um YES. Thunder Hill Overlook is found on the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of Blowing Rock, NC. It’s a popular pulloff for tourists because of the endless mountain range views right from the parking lot. 

But what a lot of people don’t know is that there is a trail just across the parkway from the Thunder Hill Overlook. Don’t believe me? Then check out this session at Thunder Hill. We simply hopped the fence, walked 100 feet, and had these crazy mountain views all to ourselves. 

Don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal to hop the fence. Myself and all of the Boone locals do it year round. 

In short

There are so many beautiful hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and there is no shortage of beautiful views. If you’re tired of being at home, pick a hike from this list and get outside! 

And if you’re getting married in the Blue Ridge Mountains, check out my blog post “The Ultimate Guide to your Appalachian Mountain Wedding