Linville Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

Located at milepost 316.5 along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls moves in several distinct steps, beginning in a twin set of upper falls, passing through a small twisty gorge, and culminating in a high-volume 45-foot plunge. The Linville River flows from its headwaters high on the steep slopes of Grandfather Mountain and cascades through these falls as it begins a nearly 2,000 foot descent through this rugged and spectacularly beautiful gorge. Linville Falls has the highest volume of any waterfall on the northern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Towering hemlocks, dense stands of rhododendron, and native wildflowers grow along the trails that begin at the Visitor Center and encircle the falls. I hiked the Linville Falls trail system on Thursday, May 16, 2019 beginning at 12:00PM and finishing about 3:00PM. My plan was to explore all the trails that depart from the Linville Falls Visitor Center.

Total Length: 3.8 miles Hike Duration: 3 hours

Hike Rating: Moderate. None of the trails are long, but the Erwin View Trail and the Plunge View Trail can be pretty steep at times.

Hike Configuration: All trails are out and back Blaze: None needed

Elevation Start: 3,275 feet Elevation Gain: 400 feet

Trail Condition: First quarter mile of Erwin View Trail is smooth, wide double track. As you near each overlook, it gets quite rooty and rocky with stairs thrown in to help with navigation. The Plunge View Trail is single track that winds through the woods with lots of roots, and stairs at the very end. The Duggins Creek Trail is narrow and laurel lined with lots of roots.

Starting Point: Linville Falls Visitor Center milepost 316.5 off Blue Ridge Parkway.

Trail Traffic: About 50 other hikers out on this sunny, beautiful mid-May weekday.

How to Get There: From the Blue Ridge Parkway, get off at the Linville Falls spur road at milepost 316.5. It is 1.5 miles on the spur road to the Visitor Center. Erwin View Trail is beyond the Visitor Center and across the river. Plunge View and Duggins Creek trailheads are on the left before reaching the restrooms from the parking area.

 

Linville Falls Trail System Map

 

This day was a two-pronged treat for me. First, driving the ~80 miles from the North Carolina Arboretum to Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway with its many exciting features along the way. Second, hiking the trail system at the location with the ability to view this dramatic waterfall from five different vantage points.

The Parkway drive is like a roller coaster, going up and down and around, traveling from 3,000 feet to above 6,000 at Craggy Gardens and Mt. Mitchell, then back down to the Crabtree Falls region and on to Linville Falls. The foliage was a mixture of spring green at the lower elevations, to still waiting up at the very tops. As usual, Craggy Gardens was awash in morning fog, but was bluebird clear on the way back in the afternoon.

The Linville Falls recreation area is located at mile 316.5 on the Parkway. It includes a campground, picnic area, and trail system that surrounds the waterfalls. Two main hiking trails lead to multiple views of Linville Falls. Both begin at the Visitor Center and pass through remnants of a virgin hemlock forest mixed with other familiar tree species such as white pine, oak, hickory, and birch. A colorful and varied display of wildflowers decorates the trails in spring. A third trail makes a short trip to a smaller waterfall on Duggins Creek.

Erwins View Trail

This is a moderate 1.6 mile round-trip walk, offering four distinct overlooks, each revealing a different aspect of the Linville Falls area. Go past the Visitor Center and cross the footbridge over Linville River. You will have a rise over the first couple hundred yards followed by the same grade decline.

The first overlook is a half mile from the Visitor Center, and is a moderate walk with a slight loss of elevation. Here, the Linville River spills gently over the twin upper falls where it widens and pauses before picking up momentum. Drifting into a narrow twisty canyon, the water suddenly spirals out of sight and crashes loudly 45 feet over the lower falls.

The next overlook, Chimney View, 0.7 mile from the Visitor Center, is the first point on the trail where the lower falls can be seen. It offers an opportunity to photograph both the upper and lower falls. You can also see the Plunge Basin Overlook across the river. This overlook is named for the chimney-like rock outcroppings located to the right of the waterfall. The trail here is fairly strenuous, with a couple hundred feet of elevation gain, then you give some of it back as you descend several stairs to the platform.

Continuing farther up the hill, at Gorge View Overlook you can see the Linville River cutting its way through the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Unfortunately no looks at the iconic Hawksbill and Tablerock Mountains as they are around the bend out of view.

Just another 150 feet and the Erwins View Trail ends at Erwins View Overlook, 0.8 mile from the Visitor Center. From this vantage point you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Linville Gorge and a somewhat distant view of the upper and lower falls. You might want to bring a zoom lens to get your best shots.

Linville Gorge Trail

The trails to Linville Gorge (1.4 miles round trip) and to Plunge Basin (1 mile round trip) also start at the Visitor Center, on the parking lot side of the restrooms. The trailhead is kind of hidden among the rhododendrons.

The trail to Linville Gorge forks two tenths mile from the Visitor Center, with the right fork taking you to Plunge Basin Overlook where you can view the lower falls and the Chimneys. I think this one is the best view of all. That’s the look in the photo at the top of this post. If you happen to time it just right, when the rhododendron is in bloom, or when the oaks and hickories are crimson and gold in fall, it only adds to an already spectacular scene. The last 100 feet down to the platform consists of several stairs. Remember that on the way back up.

The left fork of Linville Gorge Trail winds down through rock cliffs to the bottom of the falls where the force of the cascading water creates a large pool. Don’t be tempted to swim here. It is quite dangerous, and also prohibited. Both of these trails are moderately strenuous, especially on the way back up.

Speaking of Linville Gorge, the Wilderness Area has more than a dozen other trails for the serious-minded hiker. I have trekked several of them in the past. You can see my reports here. By the way, did you know that Linville Gorge Wilderness was the first so designated back in the 1960s? The 1964 Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast… and Linville Gorge was the very first.

Once you’re returned to the Visitor Center, don’t forget to give Duggins Creek Trail a chance. It starts the same place as the gorge trail and heads to the left. It is three tenths of a mile through thick forest to a footbridge over Duggins Creek where you get a somewhat muted view of Duggins Creek Falls through all the rhododendron that lines the creek. This one is actually best viewed in winter when there is not as much foliage obstructing the view.

 

 

This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

 

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