Standing at the top of the rock outcrop, gazing down into the gorge, you feel at once imposing and insignificant. Peering up from beneath are miles of hickory, oak, maple, and hemlock trees—a blanket of green dotted with patches of hot reds and golds. And soaring over you is nothing but blue sky for as far as you can see.
You’re standing at the top of Pinch-In Trail in Pisgah National Forest’s Linville Gorge. The gorge, often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is known for its wild, rugged terrain and diverse plant and animal life. Hiking through the area, the scenery continually changes. One minute you’re under a towering rock formation next to a whitewater river, and then next you’re passing hills of rhododendron while walking through beds of pine needles. Take right now, for example. From your vantage point on the outcrop, you see leafy trees below, yet around you are barren trunks standing naked in the morning light, never recovered from the multiple res that have scarred this edge of the mountain.
High Praise // Linville Gorge in Pisgah National Forest is considered the “Grand Canyon of the East” for its steep descents and jaw-dropping views.
This is the beauty of Linville Gorge. A formally designated wilderness area under the National Wilderness Preservation System and the third largest wilderness area in North Carolina, most of the landscape remains untouched, giving nature the freedom to demonstrate its grandeur in myriad ways. As you walk along the 11.5 miles of the Linville Gorge Trail, chances are you’ll see more deer, hawks, raccoons, and falcons than people.
The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area offers 39 miles of trails, most leading down toward the Linville River that is sheltered by the gorge on either side. Many trails are not well marked and wind down steep terrain.
At Pinch-In, for example, the descent is a little under 1,800 feet in 1.5 miles. Which means that going down, you’re almost sliding through the brush and sand. And climbing back up, you can touch the ground in front of you without bending over.
But the effort is worth it. There’s something about spending a few hours climbing vertically up, calves aching, heart rate quickening, that makes summiting the top that much sweeter. And there’s something comfortingly cyclical about later ascending where you originally descended, returning refreshed, invigorated, and appreciative for the adventure that has renewed your soul. Easiest access to the Linville Gorge is via the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 34, about 60 miles northeast of Asheville. Plan your route beforehand, and go old school with a paper map—you won’t get cell signal for a GPS.