Linville Gorge Wilder­ness

Ex­plore this raw and rugged land­scape tucked away within a lush wood­land.

Country - - SPECIAL SECTION - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY DANA FORE­MAN

Hid­den within the boundaries of the Pis­gah Na­tional For­est in western North Carolina, you’ll dis­cover the 11,651-acre Linville Gorge Wilder­ness.

The pow­er­ful Linville River cut this 12-mile gorge; the river drops over 2,000 feet through very rough ter­rain be­fore flat­ten­ing out in the Catawba Val­ley be­low. Jonas Ridge rises to the east, with Linville Moun­tain to the west.

The deep gorge has been called the Grand Canyon of North Carolina and the Big Ditch. Chero­kees called it Ee­seeoh (River of Many Cliffs).

Since this un­spoiled wilder­ness con­tains about 39 miles of trails, make sure to stop first at the Linville Falls Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, lo­cated at mile 316 of the Blue Ridge Park­way.

Pick up a trail map and then hike to Linville Falls, one of the most beau­ti­ful wa­ter­falls in this for­est. Lo­cated on the north­ern edge of the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, the falls marks the be­gin­ning of the wilder­ness area. One fairly easy trail leads to an over­look where the river can be seen bar­rel­ing through a nar­row canyon and drop­ping into the gorge be­low.

Stop at the U.S. For­est Ser­vice in­for­ma­tion cabin along the Kistler Memo­rial High­way, where you can ac­cess trail in­for­ma­tion and per­mits for prim­i­tive camp­ing.

Some trails de­scend from the gorge’s rim to the river; these will test even the fittest per­son. There are mod­er­ately stren­u­ous hikes to en­joy as well, in­clud­ing an 11-mile por­tion of the Moun­tains-to-Sea Trail that runs through the wilder­ness as it trav­els to the At­lantic Ocean from Great Smoky Moun­tains Na­tional Park. Black bears, white-tailed deer, bald ea­gles, ruffed grouse, hawks, bob­cats, foxes, wild boar and coy­otes thrive here, as do snakes—in­clud­ing the ven­omous cop­per­head and tim­ber rat­tlers.

Dur­ing win­ter, the bare trees and shrubs ex­pose many rock faces, de­liv­er­ing a stark ap­pear­ance. Rock for­ma­tions along the ridges have in­ter­est­ing names such as Ta­ble Rock, Sit­ting Bear, the Chim­neys and Hawks­bill.

Spring and sum­mer are invit­ing, with lush land­scape in ev­ery di­rec­tion. Rhodo­den­drons grow along­side moun­tain lau­rel. But some con­sider au­tumn the prime time for vis­it­ing. The fall fo­liage of­ten leaves me speech­less.

Af­ter spend­ing time here, you will have a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the sheer beauty of this wild en­vi­ron­ment.

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