Photo Gallery: Fall Hiking and Backpacking in the North Carolina Mountains

By Michael Lanza

In a light mist drizzling from the fog embracing the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, I followed a well-worn trail downhill through a mixed deciduous forest just beginning to show its fall colors. A mile and a half down that path, I stood on rocks in the stream below Crabtree Falls, which plunges a nearly vertical 70 feet over numerous, shallow ledges. The photogenic waterfall seemed an auspicious start to a week of exploring one of America’s hiking meccas, the mountains of western North Carolina.

My trip culminated in backpacking a 34.3-mile loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the lead photo, above, was taken along the Appalachian Trail in the park). In between, I dayhiked the rigorous, 12-mile Black Mountain Crest Trail, over 13 named 6,000-footers, to the summit of the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell; hiked to numerous beautiful waterfalls from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Gorges State Park and the tallest in the East, 811-foot Whitewater Falls; explored mystical corners of the Southern Appalachians like Moore Cove; and hiked to glorious views of the Pisgah National Forest’s lush mountains at Looking Glass Rock and 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob on the Art Loeb Trail.

I just returned from a week of hiking and backpacking in the mountains of western North Carolina, at the invitation of The Big Outside’s newest sponsor, Visit North Carolina. I’d hiked in the region before, but never spent so much time there. The trip opened my eyes to the beauty that makes western North Carolina so popular with hikers (who comprise a significant number of the visitors that make the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park the first and third most-visited U.S. national park units).

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I’ll post numerous stories from this trip in the coming weeks and months. Meanwhile, check out the gallery of photos below from that trip.

Then visit the websites listed below the photo gallery to get ideas and help plan your hiking and backpacking adventures in western North Carolina.


For more information, see:

Visit North Carolina,

North Carolina Waterfalls,

Great Smoky Mountains National Park,

Blue Ridge Parkway,

Pisgah National Forest,

Mount Mitchell State Park,

Gorges State Park,

North Carolina Division of Parks & Recreation,


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6 thoughts on “Photo Gallery: Fall Hiking and Backpacking in the North Carolina Mountains”

  1. Hey I’m glad you got out to NC, my home base. I commented in the past about my two Idaho trips to the Sawtooths and Pioneers. I see you visited a few of my favorite hikes, the crest trail is one of the best. I want to point out that Whitewater Falls is nowhere near 811 feet, it is listed as 411 feet by some publications but the esteemed waterfall writer Kevin Adams ( says it is just under 400 feet. His brand new 3rd edition book is fantastic. He’s good friends with Rich Stevenson of that you link.

    My site is if you’re curious about anything that is off the beaten path. I prefer Pisgah NF to the national park because of the crowds. The best NC hiking blog in my opinion is He’s covered so many hikes in western NC.

    • Thanks for those links. I saw only Upper Whitewater Falls, which is probably what most people see, and it’s clearly only around 400 feet. I’ve read descriptions that say the entire height is 811 feet when the lower falls is included.

      • Lower Whitewater Falls is around 200 feet. It falls around 1,400 feet in that short span (~2 miles) from top of Whitewater Falls to base of Lower Whitewater Falls. There are also ~6 waterfalls upstream of Whitewater Falls including one of the only slot canyons in NC. It falls over 2,000 feet from its origin to Lower Whitewater Falls. Other rivers in the immediate area (Horsepasture River, Toxaway River, Thompson River, Bearwallow Creek, Matthews Creek) all have similar elevation changes and lots of big waterfalls. Some are trail accessible like Rainbow Falls in your picture, some are hardcore bushwhacks and canyoneering days. You caught some good water days, it’s been a drought for months here.

          • No problem, I love pointing people to more obscure hikes. Down here in NC the main peakbagging is 6,000+ footers and county high points. There’s a lot to do for these lists, however, all but a few are trail accessible and most of the bushwhacks are not difficult. The hardcore NC hikers seem to gravitate towards whatever canyoneering, gorge bouldering, and waterfalling expeditions they can find. It’s really blown up the last few years with people’s blogs and Facebook. I see “new” creek walking expeditions almost weekly now to some awesome waterfalls and gorges.

            If that’s what you might be interested in checking out next visit, Kevin Adams’ new book is by far the best guide for every non-private land waterfall. There’s also some good map sites like this