Hiking Trips

Hiking in Western North Carolina

There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in Western North Carolina. At SUUSI, we understand hiking to be more of a mindful than athletic activity that benefits us, whatever our physical abilities. Whether we practice an ancient spirituality or simply choose to take an observant attitude towards nature, hiking holds the possibility of enriching our inner selves and building connections with our companions.

Our trails this year are intended to offer something for everyone, with the widest range of abilities and interests possible. There are (new this year) paved ADA-accessible greenway hikes along the banks of local waterways, difficult all-day trails that climb to the top of 6000+ feet peaks, and everything in between. There are trails that wander past streams and waterfalls, through mixed birch/evergreen forest, through alpine-like meadows, or up to expansive mountain views. Western North Carolina contains the ecology of high valley bogs, stunted fir forests, and bald knobs that are not commonly seen in the Eastern United States. Hiking in this region will provide experiences you will remember for many years. With no exceptions, we practice safe hiking and follow the good stewardship of leaving no trace.

Hiking Difficulty Ratings

Please read the descriptions of difficulty levels carefully before signing up for a hiking trip.  We are not all the same. Especially in hiking, the choice of an appropriate level of difficulty that matches your abilities and suits your need for comfort versus your need for a challenge is important. Besides the overall difficulty rating, we have tried to provide some objective measures of distances and elevation gains in each hike description. 

Gentle: Someone in fair hiking condition. Slight elevation change.

Moderate: Someone in good hiking condition. Increased mileage; moderate elevation gain.

Strenuous: Someone in very good hiking condition. Increased mileage; significant elevation changes.

Very Strenuous: Someone in excellent hiking condition. Significant increases in mileage and elevation gain.

Extremely Strenuous: Someone in exceptional hiking condition. Trails are not always available. Significant increase in mileage and extreme elevation gain. Technical aspects of a hike for very experienced hikers. 

Required Equipment and Guidelines for Hiking Trips

Required on all trips:

  • A desire for fun, adventure, and self-discovery.
  • Canteens or water bottles: at least 1 quart of water for ½-day trips and at least 2 quarts for full-day trips.
  • Proper, secure, supportive footwear is absolutely, positively necessary. No bare feet or open-toe shoes of any kind (flip-flops, open-toe Tevas, etc.).
  • Cell phones are for emergency use only. Respectfully, we request that all cell phones are turned off while traveling and on the trail. It is our desire that all trip participants interact with nature and each other. Taking photographs is encouraged.

Required on some trips:

  • Trips involving wading or swimming require proper footwear (see Shoe Requirements).
  • Evening trips require flashlights.
  • It is strongly suggested that you bring:
    • Rain jacket or poncho. You never know when you will need it.
    • Sunscreen.
    • Snacks if you are planning to expend a lot of energy.
    • Insect repellent.
    • A dry bag for any water stomping-type trips if you have anything you do not want to get soaked.
    • Swimsuit and towel for the water hikes (and a change of clothes for the van ride back to campus).

  • 600: Jackson County Greenway (Accessible, Family Friendly)Limit 20

    Stroll or roll as you are able on this wide-paved, shared-use path following the forested sides of the Tuckasegee River, very close to the WCU campus. Find creatively designed bluebird houses mounted in the trees, and watch the river. The start point has ADA restroom facilities and is continuously paved between the parking lot and the path. The smooth-surface bridge over the Tuckasegee has ramp approaches. Periodically there are sitting benches. The route is out-and-back, and a group with varying physical abilities can enjoy a nature hike together. Drive time: 10 minutes. Distance: up to 2.3 miles. SUUSI can not provide ADA transport; personal vehicles will be required.

    Registration Details
  • 601: Little Tennessee River Greenway (Accessible, Family Friendly)Limit 20

    Stroll or roll as you are able on this wide paved shared-use path following the sides of the Little Tennessee River, near Franklin, NC. Watch wildlife and the plants along the rapidly moving water. The start point has ADA restroom facilities and is continuously paved between the parking lot and the path. A group with varying physical abilities can enjoy a nature hike together. Drive time: 30 minutes. Distance: up to 2 miles. SUUSI can not provide ADA transport; personal vehicles will be required. Time permitting and/or for those who drive separately, there is a large playground near the parking lot in Big Bear Park for small children who might like extra entertainment. A little way down the Greenway and across the road (transportation needed), there is a butterfly garden maintained by the Friends of the Greenway (FROG). FROG’s headquarters has a coffee and gift shop on Main St. as well.

    Registration Details
  • 602: Forest Bathing at Pinnacle ParkLimit 20

    We start the week with an early morning reverent immersion in the forest, at the base of Pinnacle Peak near Sylva. Enjoy the silent mindfulness practice of Forest Bathing on the Bridges Loop Trail. It’s the perfect opportunity to center yourself and begin your SUUSI week energized by the coolness of the early morning in slow movement, silent meditation, and acute observation of the forest flora and fauna. Drive Time: 20 mins.

    Registration Details
  • 603: Forest Bathing at Moses Creek - Register under Discovery #561Unlimited

    Register for this trip under Discovery, #561. // Refresh in the middle of the week with a deep, sensory immersion in the forest, on the side of Moses Creek not far from WCU. Enjoy the outdoor mindfulness practice of Forest Bathing on a relatively flat trail where we can commune with the living earth. Learn how to walk like a fox, listen like a deer, and see like an owl. We will spend the morning in slow movement, silent meditation, and acute observation of the forest flora and fauna. Drive Time: 25 mins.

    Registration Details
  • 604: Tunnel to Nowhere and Noland Creek (Family Friendly)Limit 14

    We start this hike enjoying the solitude and peaceful darkness of a "tunnel to nowhere." Afterward, we will take a quick drive to our next quest. There is one short steep grade, but the majority of the 2-mile hike involves walking along a flat service road where we will experience the serene sounds and beauty of walking along Noland Creek, reaching the edge of Lake Fontana. Cooling off your feet in the water may be possible, but this is not a swimming trip. Drive Time: 50 mins one way.

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  • 605: Trail Marker Trees at The Swag (Family Friendly)Limit 9

    For thousands of years, Native Americans have been masters of the mountains, traveling on steep and narrow trails between sacred sites, commercial centers, and other places in their vast homeland. They used living trees as markers. We will have a trail pass to The Swag Resort in Waynesville, where we will hike the nearby Cataloochee Divide trail to search for surviving marker trees. The hike will be one mile, some uphill, with views of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains. You will have extra time to explore the beautiful grounds of The Swag. A picnic lunch of culinary treats guided by fresh produce and deliveries from local farms will be prepared for us by The Swag's chefs and will include their famous Swag Bars. The resort's package also includes a Swag walking stick for each registrant to keep. Drive Time: 65 mins one way.

    Registration Details
  • 606: Waterrock Knob and Soco FallsLimit 13

    From the Blue Ridge Parkway, we'll hike almost 500' uphill to Waterrock Knob, a 6000' peak in western North Carolina and the 15th highest in North Carolina. After descending, we'll proceed to the refreshing and a beautiful Soco Falls, where we can climb down to the foot of the falls, using ropes to guide us through. A delightful opportunity to play in the water, and only the very careful will not get wet feet (there is an option only to observe if desired). Lunch provided, bring water. Drive Time: 45 mins one way. Elevation Gain: 492 ft.

    Registration Details
  • 607: Black Balsam Evening (Family Friendly)Limit 14

    A moderate evening hike in the Black Balsam Knob area, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The quickest way to the summit of 6214' Black Balsam Knob itself is through the Art Loeb Trail at the gap. This walk is about a half-mile each way, with a gain of about 400' in elevation. It passes through beautiful open, grassy and rocky mountain meadows. Drive Time: 65 mins one way.

    Registration Details
  • 608: Silent Black BalsamLimit 14

    The sights and relative solitude offered by this moderate hike are hard to match. The view is spectacular and in all directions from the summit. We end the week with a morning half-day reverent, for some silent communication with nature. It’s an excellent opportunity to center yourself and complete your SUUSI week energized by the coolness of serene, natural beauty. Drive Time: 65 mins one way. Elevation Gain: 400 ft.

    Registration Details
  • 609: Three Falls Hike (Family Friendly)Limit 14

    Enjoy 2.5 moderate miles of hiking to three of the many waterfalls in Western North Carolina. We will hike to the 30-foot high Juney Whank Falls, the 70 foot Toms Branch Falls and the 30 foot Indian Creek Falls. Look for the beauty of Mother Nature along these trails. You may have the opportunity to see a variety of flora - trilliums, foam-flower, galax, crested dwarf iris, beardtongue, Solomon's seal, cinquefoil, bloodroot, bluets, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wild geranium, Clinton's lily, and the large houstonia, to name a few. There will also be an opportunity to swim! Drive Time: 40 mins one way. Elevation Gain: 200 ft.

    Registration Details
  • 612: Whiteside MountainLimit 13

    Towering to 4,830 feet in elevation, Whiteside Mountain yields fantastic mountain views and is a designated National Recreation Trail. Named Sanigilâ'gi by the Cherokee people, this formation boasts the highest cliffs in Eastern North America. Finish your outdoor week with a 2.5-mile loop hike and a spectacular vista. If we're lucky, we may see the peregrine falcons that nest on the cliffs below. From vantage points, atop the 700 foot high nearly vertical cliffs, you will be able to gaze out over the mountainous Appalachian landscape and the low-lying piedmont of upstate Georgia and South Carolina. Drive Time: 45 mins one way. Elevation Gain: 600 ft.

    Registration Details
  • 613: Gribble Gap Loop on WCU Trail SystemLimit 14

    This morning hike is on the well-maintained Western Carolina University campus trail system on a small mountain adjoining the campus. Enjoy a pleasant 3.2-mile lollipop-route hike in the woods with good company on a Thursday morning and be back in time for your morning workshops. Driving time to the trailhead is 5 minutes. Total elevation change of about 370 feet, with some brief but steep inclines. Be aware that the WCU hiking trails are shared with mountain bike users.

    Registration Details
  • 614: Andrew's BaldLimit 13

    The hike starts with Clingman’s Dome at 6,643 ft. This elevation is not only the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but has some of its most famous vistas. The 4.6-mile round-trip hike descending through coniferous trees is, at times, mystical and whimsical. It ends in a mountaintop meadow (or “bald”) with a serene and panoramic view. The hike finishes with a medium-intensity 600-foot climb back up to the Clingman’s Dome trailhead. Drive Time: 70 mins each way, with spectacular views along the way. Hiking distance: 4.6 miles with total climbing of about 1200 feet. Lunch provided, bring water.

    Registration Details
  • 615: Rainbow Falls and Turtleback FallsLimit 13

    This 4-mile round-trip hike begins in North Carolina's Gorges State Park and proceeds down to the rugged Horsepasture River, which is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. Located on this hike is the 150 foot tall Rainbow Falls, the spray from which broadcasts a beautiful spectrum of color and mighty wind that can be felt from the viewing area near the base of the falls. The trail then continues steeply uphill to Turtleback Falls, which is an enticing 20-foot waterfall into a deep pool, which presents the opportunity to dunk, if desired!. However, SUUSI hikers must stay back from the unprotected actual falls themselves. The scenery in the gorge is breathtaking and memorable. Lunch provided, bring water. Drive Time: 55 mins one way. Elevation Gain: 900 ft.

    Registration Details
  • 616: Wayah Bald and BreweryLimit 13

    This trip pairs a strenuous hike on the Appalachian Trail with a local brewery and food truck dinner experience. The hike climbs along a mountainous and deeply wooded section of the AT, from the Historic Site Wilson Lick Ranger Station to the Observation Tower atop Wayah Bald. The ranger station was built in 1913 as the first ranger station in the Nantahala National Forest, and the original wooden structure remains. The Wayah Bald Observation Tower was first built of stone by the CCC in 1937 at 5,360’ for forest fire detection. It burned down in 2016 and has since been rebuilt. In clear weather, the tower offers spectacular 360 degree views of the southern Appalachian Mountains in Georgia, Tennessee and both North and South Carolina. After the hike we will kick back and enjoy a well-deserved dinner, beverage, and companionship – returning to WCU after dark. (Bring money, and a driver's license if you plan on an adult beverage.) Drive time: 70 minutes. Distance: 4 miles. Climb: 1200 feet.

    Registration Details
  • 617: Bartram Trail to William's PulpitLimit 13

    From the Bartram Trail's Wallace Branch Trailhead to William's Pulpit is a 4.1 mile out-and-back hike located near Franklin, North Carolina. It is part of the 100-mile Bartram Trail that winds through northeastern Georgia and western North Carolina. This hike includes a steady uphill climb of 1100 feet. There are spring and summer wildflowers along the trail, a cascading waterfall at the bottom, and a gorgeous view at the rocky outcropping. Drive Time: 40 mins one way. Note that a lunch is NOT provided, you could bring your own snack.

    Registration Details
  • 618: Black Balsam Knob and Tennet MountainLimit 13

    The views can't get much better than a 360-degree panorama above treeline at 6000 feet elevation in an alpine meadow. Almost the entire 5-mile loop is the stunning Shining Rock Wilderness along sections of the famous Art Loeb Trail. We hope you won't be too distracted to look at the trail once in a while, as the terrain can be rough and unpredictable at times. Drive Time: 65 mins one way. Hiking distance: 5 miles with total climbing of about 700 feet.

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  • 619: Panthertown ValleyLimit 13

    Panthertown Valley has been called the Yosemite of the East. Join us as we hike a 5-mile loop trail past incredible vistas of deep gorges, broad valleys, mountain bogs, waterfalls, and granite rock domes. The hike will take in the view from the Saltrock Gap and the sheer granite walls of Big Green Mountain. Drive Time: 45 mins one way. Hiking distance: 5 miles with total climbing of about 800 feet. Lunch provided, bring water.

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  • 620: Sam Knob and Flat Laurel CreekLimit 13

    Sam Knob is a prominent bald with views over the 6000+ foot Plott Balsam Range. But this hike is more than a climb - it also traverses dark fir forests and rhododendron stands, crosses mountain streams, bogs, and wide-open meadows. The sheer variety of natural features offered by this hike is hard to match. Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, this hike is one you will not want to miss. Drive Time: 60 mins one way. Hiking distance: 5.3 miles with total climbing of about 800 feet. (4%- 10% grade) Lunch provided, bring water.

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  • 621: Sylva Pinnacle TrailLimit 13

    If a short drive, big workout, and spectacular views sound like a worthy challenge, then this 7.4-mile loop-trail is for you! The drive is only 20 minutes each way, and the high-elevation rocky pinnacle is surrounded by cliffs in three directions, with open vistas of the surrounding region, including the town of Sylva below. The first three miles are 1700 feet steeply up a mountain, so you'll need to be in very good to excellent shape for this adventure. There are creeks and boulders to explore along the way to the payoff panorama view and lunch at the top. Hiking distance: 7.4 miles with total climbing of about 2500 feet. Lunch provided, bring water. Recommended for experienced hikers.

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  • 622: Mt. LeConte via Alum Cave TrailLimit 13

    This is one of the iconic mountain hikes of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with a famous and historic cluster of rustic cabins near the top. We hike both up and down on the same day, climbing almost 2800 feet over 5.5 miles. Along the way, we hike under Arch Rock, around Inspiration Point with a view of the Eye of the Needle, along the side of Alum Cave (a massive concaved bluff), following rock ledges with hand cables to hold, and up the final incline to the no-vehicles-allowed lodge area with its vegetation a relic of Northwoods species isolated since the time of the last Ice Age. For photos and more details on the hike see https://hikinginthesmokys.com/mt-leconte-via-alum-cave-trail/ After a several year long hiatus, we bring back the most challenging hike ever offered at SUUSI from WCU. Hiking distance: 11 miles with total climbing of about 2800 feet. Drive time 70 minutes one way. Lunch provided, bring water. Recommended for experienced hikers only.

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  • 623: Service Project: Mountains to Sea TrailLimit 13

    The Mountains-to-Sea Trail leads the hiker from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. About half of the planned 900-mile trail is ready. We will be working with the Wednesday Crew of the Carolina Mountain Hiking Club to improve a section of the trail. There will be a short lecture regarding the trail and the hands-on work we will be doing. Lunch will be provided. Bring a daypack to carry your lunch. Drive Time: 22 min one way.

    Registration Details