There are many scenic hiking trails in North Carolina to explore on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. These popular hiking trails in western North Carolina vary in length and difficulty, accommodating hikers of all ages and levels of experience. Trail lengths listed are round trip. Also, see our list of popular waterfalls in western NC.
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Please follow these basic rules when hiking:
- Stay on the marked trail; avoid shortcuts
- Stay behind guard rails and heed all caution signs
- Do not climb on boulders
- Tread carefully to avoid stepping on plants and flowers; leave them as you found them for others to enjoy
- Dispose of garbage properly
- Keep dogs on leashes
- Do not drink or carry alcoholic beverages; it is illegal
Length: 7-mile round trip
This trail leads to Ellicott's Rock, a rock embedded in the Chattooga River that was carved with the letters "NG" by surveyor Andrew Ellicott in 1811 when he did a survey to resolve a boundary dispute between North Carolina and Georgia.
Directions: From Cashiers, go south on Highway 107 and turn right on Bull Pen Road. In about 2.5 miles, park on the right just after Fowler Creek Bridge. Walk back over the bridge to find the trailhead.
Chattooga Loop Trail
Length and Difficulty: 2 miles, easy
Take a leisurely walk through the woods and then along the Chattooga River. This hike features beautiful views of rock formations from the Bull Pen Bridge, known as "The Iron Bridge". This is a great spot to take photographs. The Chattooga Loop Trail is a very short portion of the longer Chattooga Trail.
Directions: From the intersection of Highway 107 and Highway 64 in Cashiers, travel south on Highway 107 for 7 miles. Turn right onto Bull Pen Road and drive 5.4 miles to the Bull Pen Bridge. The trailhead is on the right, on the far side of the bridge.
Chattooga Narrows Trail
Length and Difficulty: 2.9 miles, moderate
Also known as the Chattooga Cliffs Trail, the Chattooga Narrows Trail is a portion of the longer and more difficult Chattooga Trail.
Directions: From the intersection of Highway 107 and Highway 64 in Cashiers, travel south on Highway 107 for 1.7 miles. Turn right onto Whiteside Cove Road and drive 6.8 miles to the Jackson/Macon county line. Look for the Highlands Fire District sign, and park on the left.
Cliffside Lake Recreational Area and Van Hook Glade
Length and Difficulty: Varies
The Cliffside Lake Recreation Area and Van Hook Glade are located in Nantahala National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. This scenic area is home to seven hiking trails, a six-acre lake and two spectacular waterfalls, Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Camping, fishing, swimming and picnic areas with grills are available. Less than ten miles northwest of Highlands on State Road 28, Cliffside Lake Recreation Area has been referred to as a mecca for those who enjoy the outdoors.
More information: Cliffside Lake and Van Hook Glade Recreational Guide (pdf)
Directions: From Highlands, take Highway 64 West for 4.5 miles, turn right at the sign and go another 1.5 miles.
Panthertown Valley Loop
Length and Difficulty: 5.6 miles; moderate
Nicknamed the "Yosemite of the East", Panthertown Valley is a hiker's dream. Tucked away in Nantahala National Forest, it covers 6,700 acres and features incredible granite domes and cliffs, major waterfalls, numerous creeks, endangered plant species and rare high altitude bogs. Breathtaking views from the cliffs overlook the entire valley floor. Some of the trails are in disrepair and not clearly marked, so it is very important to use a map and stay on the main trails. Fishing, camping and mountain biking are permitted.
Directions: From the intersection of Highway 107 and Highway 64 in Cashiers, take Highway 64 East for 2 miles. Turn left onto Cedar Creek Road and continue for 2.3 miles. Turn right onto Breedlove Road and drive 3.4 miles to the parking area.
Whiteside Mountain Trail
Length and Difficulty: 2 miles, moderate
Whiteside Mountain rises to an elevation of 4,930 feet and is about 400 million years old. The mountain's distinctive rock faces look like sheets of blue-gray ice. A popular short hike, Whiteside Mountain Trail is a loop that runs across the tops of these 750-foot cliffs and offers many outstanding views to the east, south and west. Rare Peregrine falcons and many varieties of colorful wildflowers make their home on this stunning mountain.
Directions: From the intersection of Highway 107 and Highway 64 in Cashiers, drive 4.7 miles west on Highway 64, and turn left on Whiteside Mountain Road at the brown Whiteside Mountain Trail sign. Continue for 1.1 miles, passing Wildcat Cliffs Country Club on the right, and turn into the gravel parking area.
Yellow Mountain Trail
Length and Difficulty: 9.6 miles, difficult
At 5,127 feet above sea level, Yellow Mountain is one of the highest mountains in the Highlands Ranger District. Yellow Mountain Trail takes you to the top, where you will enjoy an unbelievable 360-degree view from the Yellow Mountain Fire Tower. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the US Forest Service built the fire tower in 1934; in the early 1990's, the tower was revitalized and in 1992 was recognized as a National Historic Lookout. The trail showcases a variety of trees, flowers and berries. This strenuous hike is well worth the trip but is not appropriate for beginners.
Directions: From the intersection of Highway 107 and Highway 64 in Cashiers, drive 7.3 miles west on Highway 64. Turn onto Buck Creek Road and go 2.3 miles to Cole Gap, passing Chestnut Hill on the right. Look for a steep path on the right with a small wooden sign and steps leading to the trail. Parking is on the left in the gravel.