In addition to the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina’s mountain region is home to four National Recreation Areas providing an extensive network of camping sites, day use areas and access points for outdoor adventures including: hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, mountain biking, rafting, shooting ranges, swimming and OHV trails.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail - Completed in 1937, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (or “the AT” by which it is commonly referred) was the nation’s first National Scenic Trail and extends more than 2,175 miles through the Appalachian Mountains in fourteen states. While there a few adventurers who attempt the entire length of the trail at one time (known as thru-hikers) the AT offers many rewarding section hikes for the rest of us seeking to experience part of this historic trail for a day or weekend. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is an excellent resource for learning more about opportunities on the AT.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - With more than 9 million annual visitors, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited National Park. Sharing land in two states, GSNP encompasses 276,343.88 acres near the southern edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western North Carolina and reaches 244,741.78 additional acres into Eastern Tennessee. Though President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill establishing the park in 1926, it wasn’t formally dedicated until 1940 under President Franklin Roosevelt. The interim years were spent in an intense campaign, on behalf of both North Carolina and Tennessee, to purchase much of the land from private property owners and commercial entities. As with the Blue Ridge Parkway, early labor projects including campground, stone bridges and buildings were completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Nantahala National Forest - The largest of North Carolina’s four National Forests, the Nantahala encompasses 531,148 acres with elevations ranging from 5,800 feet at Lone Bald in Jackson County to 1,200 feet in Cherokee County along Hiwassee River. The area provides a wealth of recreational opportunities in three districts: Cheoah in Robbinsville, NC 828-479-6431, Tusquitee in Murphy, NC 828-837-5152 , and the Nantahala in Franklin, NC 828-524-6441. “Nantahala” is a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noon day sun,” a fitting name for the Nantahala Gorge, where the sun only reaches to the valley floor at midday.
Pisgah National Forest - The Pisgah National Forest is a land of mile-high peaks, cascading waterfalls, and heavily forested slopes. Comprised of over 500,000 acres, the Pisgah is primarily a hardwood forest with whitewater rivers, waterfalls and hundreds of miles of trails. This national forest is home of the first tract of land purchased under the Weeks Act of 1911 which led to the creation of the national forests in the eastern United States. It is also home of the first school of forestry in the United States, now preserved at the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site, and boasts two of the first designated wilderness areas in the east. The Pisgah District in Pisgah Forest, NC 828-877-3265; Grandfather District in Nebo , NC 828-652-2144 and Appalachian Ranger District in Burnsville, NC 828-682-6146 are scattered along the eastern edge of the mountains of western North Carolina and offer visitors a variety of opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoying the natural beauty of the mountains.