“A challenging and exciting backcountry loop run around "The Grand Canyon of North Carolina."
— Max Willner
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Also known as the Grand South Loop, the Linville Gorge Wilderness Loop offers one of the most challenging and rewarding loops in the region.
The Linville Gorge Wilderness, in the mountains of western North Carolina, is part of the Pisgah National Forest. The gorge is formed by the Jonas Ridge on the east and Linville Mountain on the west and is bisected by the Linville River which drops 2,000 feet into the valleys below. The terrain is steep and rugged with numerous rock formations. It is covered by dense hardwood/pine forest and a wide variety of smaller trees and other plants. Recreation opportunities include hiking, running, backpacking, rock climbing, fishing, and hunting.
This loop is 22 miles long, and is considered very strenuous. Due to the rugged backcountry conditions of the Linville Wilderness, it's a good idea to check in with the rangers and inform them of your travel plans. The Linville Falls Visitor Center is open April 15 - November 1, 9am-5pm. Maps are available there.
Hunting and fishing are allowed, but permits are required. Camping is permitted in the gorge, but permits are required from May 1 through October 31.
Need to Know
A free camping permit is needed on weekends and holidays May through October. Group size is limited to 10 persons. Each visitor or group may receive one weekend permit per month and may stay up to 3 consecutive days and 2 nights.
Trails are signed at trailheads but are not signed or blazed once inside the wilderness. You should be able to read a topographical map and use a compass. You can purchase topo and other maps from the Grandfather District Office. Call the Grandfather District Ranger at 828-652-4841 (or 2144) to secure a permit. Also be sure to download the Trail Run Project mobile app
to help with navigation.
The Spence Ridge Trail bridge at the Linville River is currently washed out. Runners must execute a wet crossing to proceed.
Directions: Take I-40 to exit 105 to NC 18 (toward Morganton/Shelby). Continue on NC 18/Green St./NC 181 for 6.5 miles and turn left on Frank Whisnant Rd./NC 1250. Follow Frank Whisnant Rd./NC 1250 for 2.5 miles and turn right onto NC 126 for 6 miles. Turn right onto Wolf Pit Road and follow to the parking area.
Starting at the southernmost portion of the loop at the Wolf Pit Trail
, runners will continue north on Shortoff Mountain Trail
. This trail is also part of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). For more information concerning the MST, please refer to this webpage
Shortoff Mountain Trail
is a wonderful backpacking location with ideal camping spots and unmatched scenery. This trail comprises most of the eastern portion of the loop. It's also the more clearly marked of the trails, making it easier to navigate for novice runners.
One of the most favorable campsites for runners is at the Big Flat Rock Overlook. There is an open portion of ground ideal for multiple tents. From the campsite, runners can look out into the gorge.
It is also quite apparent that Shortoff Mountain Trail
has been a host to a number of forest fires in the past few years, providing a remarkable run amongst scorched trees.
Runners will then come to Tablerock Summit
Trail and Little Tablerock Trail, both of which branch off of the Tablerock Parking Area. Tablerock Summit
Trail is a short but steep trail that leads to the lookout on Tablerock Mountain. At 3,680 feet, runners will find a beautiful, panoramic view of North Carolina's expansive Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.
Heading north on Little Tablerock Trail, it's a roughly 1,000-foot descent to Spence Ridge, offering great views of the expansive Linville Wilderness Area.
Spence Ridge Trail
is the northern portion of the Loop. It's also important to note that Spence Ridge Trail bridge at the Linville River is currently washed out. Runners must execute a wet crossing to proceed. River conditions are to be considered dangerous in the event of recent rainfall.
Once runners cross the river, they will come to the Linville Gorge Trail
which makes up the entire western portion of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Loop. This is considered the most strenuous portion of the loop, and is not recommended for novice runners as the trail is poorly marked (if at all) in many locations. The Trail Run Project mobile app
, a map, and a compass are strongly recommended.
Runners will notice a great number of fallen trees in the area, due to the Southern Pine Beetle infestation.
This trail follows the Linville River for the most part, providing ample locations to replenish water. As always, please remember to use a filter - never drink water directly from the source. Along the way, the trail passes through hardwood forest, rugged cliffs, boulders, and cascades.
At the southernmost portion of the trail, runners will cross the Linville River once more to Shortoff Mountain Trail
, where they will run uphill and return to the Wolf Pit Trail
and parking lot.
Flora & Fauna
Local flora - rhododendron, sand mrtyle, red chokeberry, azalea, turkey beard, bristly locust, yellow root, silverbell, orchids, ninebark, and wild indigo.
Local fauna - white-tail deer, black bears, squirrel, raccoon, grouse, turkey, vultures, owls, hawks, as well as brown and rainbow trout. There are also copperheads and timber rattlesnakes.
History & Background
The Linville River was originally known to the Cherokee Indians as "Eseeoh-la," which translates roughly as "a river of many cliffs." The area now gets its name from William Linville and his son, John, two men who were killed in one of the last confrontations between settlers and the Cherokee. William was good friends with Daniel Boone, who was later a member of the party sent to retrieve his body.
The Linville Wilderness area fell under formal protection in 1952 when the land was purchased with funds donated by John D. Rockefeller. With congressional approval of the Wilderness Act of 1964, Linville Gorge became one of the first formally designated wilderness areas as part of the new National Wilderness Preservation System.