Sunday, March 22, 2009

Grand Canyon of North Carolina - Linville Gorge

Sunset Table Rock at Linville Gorge, North Carolina

Linville Falls in the Rocky Area of Linville Gorge

Linville Gorge is often called The Grand Canyon of North Carolina. It’s really a very different kind of “canyon” though. The gorge is covered with hardwoods and has lush undergrowth mixed with massive rocks. While much of the NC mountain area was logged before national and state land was set aside, this area was not. It was simply too wild for loggers to bother with.

The Linville River starts out on Grandfather Mountain then leaks over the edge in spectacular falls (Linville Falls) and cuts a twisting path through the gorge wilderness area. Native Americans called the river Eeseeoh which means river of many cliffs. That’s very fitting. The name Linville was given in memory of an explorer and his son who were scalped by Cherokees in 1766. Actually, some legends say that the son, John, did live through the experience.

This mostly “untouched” area is a favorite with backcountry travelers. In addition to primitive camping, the area is popular for hunting, fishing, and rock climbing. Although a few brave souls have attempted to ride the waters, this is not a white water space.

There are two main entrance areas to the gorge—one on the east and one on the west. Most visitors come in on the east side near Table Rock and Linville Falls. These areas are not inside the park boundaries, but a trail connects over to the wilderness area.

It’s a good idea to drop by the Linville Gorge Information Center first. If you plan to camp, you’ll have to get a permit before you hike in. Since the area is really popular, the limit is 3 nights in the gorge. Even if you don’t plan to camp, you can get maps and the park rangers will tell you great stories and give you tips for enjoying the area. Checking in is important safety wise too. Between 45 and 50 folks are injured each year and many hikers/campers get lost.

The Info Center is located off NC Hwy 183 about ½ a mile. You take Secondary State Route 1238 (also called Country Line Road or Kistler Memorial Highway).

Once you’re ready to go into the area, you’ll drive up steep mostly dirt roads to small parking areas and hike in. You really need a 4-wheel drive to get back into the gorge area especially if you try it from the west side of the park.

Once you’re in, you have some lightly blazed trails scattered with big boulders with a variety of interesting names given by past hikers. The trails are steep and difficult. You often cross over the water. There are plenty of rocks for climbing. Fishing is excellent. Some of the largest trout in the state are in the stream, and you can also catch small mouth bass. You can hunt too though I don’t hunt.

For more information on the wilderness area, call 828-257-4202.

If you just want to see this beautiful area, but you don’t want to rough it, then stop by Table Rock. It is right on the edge of the wilderness area. You can park and see the gorge area and some of the falls or take shorter hikes on trails. The Table Rock Trail is one mile and pretty strenuous, but certainly not the hard hiking in the wilderness area. They have parking, picnic tables, and a bathroom area (no running water) at Table Rock.

Another option is to visit Grandfather Mountain and just look down on the gorge area. This tourist attraction is very user friendly. You can drive right up to the top to the visitor’s center and then walk across the mile high bridge over to the rock area. From the rocks, you can look out over the gorge. They have a gift shop and a restaurant as well as a small animal exhibit. Phone 800-468-7325.

If you’re visiting the wilderness area or one of the view areas, be sure to stop by Linville Caverns located in Linville Valley in Marion, NC. This cave is small with many tunnels. A stream runs through the cave. Local trout swim in the river and are blind from living in the dark. Tour guides are excellent at this cave site. The phone number is 800-419-0540.

Linville Gorge is a beautiful area in North Carolina. If you want a real mountain adventure, then plan to visit the wilderness park. You will be sure to leave with lots of memories and stories. If you want to see this area, but you’re not sure about going totally wild, then try Table Rock. Grandfather Mountain is good if you just want to stop and view. Any option will be fun.

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