Best autumn hiking destinations in Carolina

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The beauty of fall, colorful and splendid as it may be, is a beauty for connoisseurs. Its moist breath of foliage, soil, the different colors of the forest, the nipping wind, the cloud-covered sky – one needs an eye for that. And if you have an appreciation for fall’s many moods, it probably is not a far shot to assume you also have a thing for hikes. With currently almost 60 national parks and hundreds of state parks and forests, the U.S. is a place that offers a lifetime of opportunities for hikers. North and South Carolina, for example, present literally hundreds of different trails, parks, forests, peaks and breathtaking scenery. 

We have picked 5 of the most beautiful, most famous and most notable of these for you to visit this fall. So grab your gear, your boots, warm clothes and head out into the wilderness.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park 

The Great Smoky Mountains, a sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains, are one of the most popular hiking destinations in the U.S. About 9 million people every year visit the National Park in North Carolina, bordering Tennessee, which encompasses almost all of the mountain range. Since 1983, the mountains have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and they are also an International Biosphere Reserve. With the densest black bear population in the Eastern United States, its old-growth forest and the Appalachian Trail passing through the park, the Smokies certainly deserve the title of Heritage Site. There are a number of major roads which lead up to different sites and from there one can take one of the trails on a daily or longer hike. If you’d like to see some of the oldest hardwood forests in the area, Albright Grove and the Maddron Bald Trail are the right choices.

Pisgah National Forest 

Also located in North Carolina, within the southern Appalachian Mountain Range, is the Pisgah National Forest. Some of the highest peaks in the eastern United States are to be found in the Pisgah Forest, making it a popular destination for people who enjoy mountain hiking. Alongside the Smokies, the Pisgah National Forest is one of the 4 locations in the Appalachian Mountain range which features old-growth or so-called virgin forests – the Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests. In terms of biodiversity, these forests are hotspots, containing the highest amount of endemic species, both plants and animals, in the Northern United States (a total of 34 species of salamanders). If you’re thinking about visiting, Pisgah Ranger District is one of the safest places to start your hike and explore further from there.

Nantahala National Forest

Nantahala, the ‘Land of the Noonday Sun’ in Cherokee, is the largest National Forest in North Carolina. It derives its name from the fact that in some places the forest is so thick and dense that one can only see the sun at midday, when it is exactly overhead. Divided into three districts, all of which bear Cherokee names, Nantahala offers an incredible variety of trails – from beginners’ trails that are suitable for a light weekend stroll, to long-distance trails such as the Bartram or Mountains-to-Sea trails.

Also to be found in the National Forest are a number of waterfalls, a distinct feature of the Nantahala, such as the beautiful and roaring Whitewater falls (among the highest in the eastern U.S.).

Table Rock State Park

Located at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina is Table Rock State Park (or Sah-ka-na-ga, the Great Blue Hills of God as the Cherokees used to call the area).

Known for its accessibility and popularity among nature lovers and hikers, the park is also famous for its scenic Foothills trail.
The 76 miles-long trail is divided into about 13 sections, of varying difficulty, and passes through landmarks such as Pinnacle Mountain and Sassasfras Mountain, and also connects the park with Caesars Head State Park.

Congaree National Park 

Finally, there’s Congaree National Park which is home to the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest to be found anywhere in the United States. A national park since 2003, a Biosphere Reserve and an Important Bird Area, the Congaree has an ancient spirit to it that will certainly call you to visit and stay more than once. Apart from the hiking trail, there is also a 20 mile canoe trail, the Cedar Creek, along which you might be surprised to see an alligator or two. The park also offers primitive camp sites, so make sure you take a waterproof tarp to cover your tent or spread out beneath you if you plan on staying as it can get quite moist out there.


Go out and enjoy the colors of fall in one of the many national and state parks and forests, and witness the uniqueness of the local species and plants, some of which can only be found in these parks.


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