Linville Gorge is one of Eastern America's most scenic and rugged gorges, created by the scouring action of the Linville River. The steep walls of the Gorge enclose the Linville River for 12 miles. The river's swift waters descend over 2,000 feet before breaking into the open levels of the Catawba Valley. Elevation averages 4,000 feet atop Hawksbill Mountain to 2,000 feet on Linville River. The 12,000-acre Linville Gorge Wilderness in the western North Carolina Mountains is part of the Pisgah National Forest.
The Gorge is so rugged that it was spared the clear-cut logging that was inflicted on most of the eastern forests shortly after the turn of the century. US Army Rangers and US Marines do their wilderness training here. Tenderfoots beware: Linville Gorge is no walk in the park. Thousands come here to hike and camp to enjoy the Gorge’s remnant virgin forests, spectacular overlooks, and unruly whitewater river, all of which can be taken in on a relatively short dayhike.
Linville Gorge Wilderness Area
The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, also known as the Grand Canyon of the East, is one of the wildest, most rugged gorges in the eastern United States. It's also an outdoor paradise for hikers and backpackers.
Before the European settlers arrived, the Cherokee Indians called it "Eseeoh," meaning a river of many cliffs. Today the Linville Gorge is named after explorer William Linville and his son, John, who were killed by Cherokees in the gorge in 1766.
The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area lies entirely within the Pisgah National Forest and is managed by the Grandfather Ranger District of the United States Forest Service. It's located roughly 60 miles northeast of Asheville and can be accessed via the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 314. The Gorge encompasses more than 12,000 acres around the Linville River, making it the third largest wilderness area in North Carolina, and one of only two wilderness gorges in the southern United States.
Formal protection for the area began in 1952 when the land was purchased with funds donated by John D. Rockefeller. When the Wilderness Act was approved by Congress and signed into law in 1964, the Linville Gorge became one of the first formally designated wilderness areas as part of the new National Wilderness Preservation System.
Elevations in the Gorge range from 1,300 feet on the Linville River to 4,120 feet atop Gingercake Mountain. The terrain is extremely steep and rugged with numerous rock formations, and is covered by a dense mixed forest of hardwood, pine and a wide variety of smaller trees and plants. The steep walls of the Gorge enclose the Linville River for nearly 12 miles as it descends roughly 1,900 feet before breaking into the open levels of the Catawba Valley.
Linville Gorge is also rich in both plant and animal life. Visitors can find five species of rare plants, four species of rhododendron, as well as old-growth forests spared by the axe in many of the deep coves. The forests of the Gorge contain hickory, oak, maple, locust, poplar as well as pockets of fir and Carolina hemlock. Visitors can also find sand myrtle, red chokeberry, azalea, turkey beard, bristly locust, yellow root, silverbell, orchids, ninebark, and wild indigo among the many plant species. Animals found in the Gorge include bear, deer, fox, raccoon, skunks, turkey, grouse, vultures, owls, hawks, peregrine falcons as well as brown and rainbow trout in the river. Hikers should also be aware of copperheads and timber rattlers in the area as well.
Recreation opportunities in the Gorge include hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and rock climbing. Camping is allowed, but permits are required from May 1 through October 31. Hunting and fishing are also allowed but permits are required as well.
Some of the most popular tourist attractions in or near the Wilderness Area include Linville Falls, Wiseman's View (a rock outcrop near the center of the west rim that offers excellent views of the gorge), and Linville Caverns, a privately maintained cave accessible from U.S. Route 221.
There are 39 miles of trails that weave in and out of Linville Gorge. Hiking trails in the Gorge generally start along either of the two gravel forest service roads that traverse the east and west rims. Most of the trails lead down towards the river, meaning most trails are on steep terrain, making for strenuous and challenging hiking. At the bottom of the gorge is the longest trail in the wilderness area, the 11.5-mile Linville Gorge Trail which runs along the west side of the river.
Because this is a Federal Wilderness Area, trails are not well marked or well maintained. It's extremely important that hikers take with them an official map of the area before venturing out onto any of the trails. Beginners and those without land navigation training would be well advised to stick to the basic and shorter trails.