Hoist an overnight pack-and some of the nation's best backpacking is found here in the High Country-Eastern America's highest mountains. Read the brief intros below-then follow the links for complete trail guides to these great backpacking sites.
The Appalachian Trail - the "AT" - is 75 years old in 2012. It is without doubt one of the world's most iconic trail adventures. There's no better place to follow the famous white blazes than in the Boone Area.
Every serious hiker aspires to two things-hiking the Appalachian Trail and finding themselves on open, meadow-covered mountaintops. The best of both welcome backpackers to the AT in the High Country.
Jump to our complete guide to the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Mountain area.
From Elk Park, near Banner Elk, to Roan Mountain, the AT crosses the biggest, most alpine-appearing expanse of the Southern Balds, where views reach all over Western North Carolina. Don't miss this awesome dozen or more miles of hiking, perhaps best enjoyed by backpackers.
There are three backpacking shelters, including one in a converted barn! Campsites are located in many other places as well, some near mile-high summits in expansive meadows with wonderfully waving grasses. Various springs offer water along the way. In winter, this hike is a true mountaineering experience. Cross country skiers often try the AT across these peaks.
Grandfather's rocky ridge rises almost a vertical mile above valleys to the East making for impressive views of dramatic drops. Many spots on the Grandfather Trail and Daniel Boone Scout Trail have ladders that climb rocky spots and even cliff faces.
The mountain has 13 backcountry campsites, many with tent platforms, and the Hi-Balsam backpacking shelter. Jump to our complete guide to Grandather Mountain's trails.
The state park trails are only open during daylight hours, but backpack campers are permitted to park at valley trailheads and spend the night (which includes the Parkway's Boone Fork Parking Area). Camping is free at sites on a first-come, first-served basis. In the future the park plans on placing backcountry campsites on the state's computerized reservations system and a fee will likely be charged.
Among the great campsites are nice flat spots beside the famous Grandfather face, a tent platform atop Attic Window Peak, and a perch on the craggy ridge in an alpine meadow. More platforms are found in the Boone Bowl Valley below the great views of Storyteller's Rock (many easy to reach). Near the mountain's highest peak, rustic Hi-Balsam Shelter sleeps about five people.
Winter hiking is great on this almost alpine peak.
Download two different trail maps-from Grandfather Mountain State Park or from the Grandfather Mountain attraction.
If you're "up" for going down, Linville Gorge Wilderness - the Grand Canyon of the East - is a memorable encounter with true wilderness. This rugged chasm has never been logged, so virgin, gnarled forests cling to this cleft. This area is so pristine and wild-it was one of the original wilderness tracts designated when the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964.
Far below, the Linville River tumbles into big pools. Fishing and hunting are permitted, but backpackers rule the roost. There are many campsites in "the Gorge" amid truly primeval scenery. There's a US Forest Service information cabin near the Gorge that dispenses information (828-765-7550) and camping permits that are required on weekends.
Mount Mitchell and the dozen miles of the Black Mountain's rugged ridgecrest-East's highest peaks-make one of the best backpacking trips in the High Country. There are many places to park at trails that climb from US Forest Service Campgrounds below the peaks, but you can also park at the top of Mount Mitchell State Park and traverse the summits or even hike down to a car parked in the valley. Jump to our complete trail guide to Mount Mitchell.
Backpackers who use the state park need to register their vehicles, so stop in at the Steppes Gap Ranger Station on your way in. If you don't want backpack too far, or want to arrive the night before backpacking, stroll a few hundred yards into the park's walk-in campground - the highest campsites in Eastern America.
In winter, the park can be closed by deep snow, but when the road has been plowed and is stable, winter camping can be a treat on this high peak.
Elk Knob State Park opened brand new backcountry campsites in 2012 like those found at a relative handful of North Carolina State Parks. Jump to our complete trail guide to Elk Knob State Park.
These state park backcountry sites are always a great experience and often surprise backpackers who are more likely to expect a developed campground. In winter these sites are also open in a state park that encourages winter snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Don't miss this state park's new summit trail that reaches the top of Elk Knob for some of the best views in the Boone Area. The park is just minutes north of Boone.
There are only two places on the Blue Ridge Parkway to backpack in North Carolina, and they're both in the Boone Area!
Doughton Park, north of Boone, offers a designated backcountry campground in the beautiful Basin Cove Area. There are numerous sites and a privy. A permit is required, available from the park's developed campground. For a map of the Doughton Park backcountry, go to this Parkway brochure page and choose the download link for Doughton Park.
It's great to camp at the backpack sites, stay a number of days, and hike the large system of spectacular trails that surround the camping area. One such hike reaches isolated Caudill Cabin, a late 1800s cabin built when the area contained a vibrant community (it was decimated by a flood in 1916). Chimneys and other ruins remain. For information, call 336-372-8568 or see more on the Caudill Cabin hike and campsites on our Parkway hiking page. Check out this article and video about the cabin hike.
There is also a nice backcountry campsite in the wilds of Price Park that can be reached on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. That campsite also requires a permit, available at the auto campground in Price Park beside Price Lake (a great place to camp before or after a backpack trip). For information, call the campground at 828-963-5911.
To download a map of the Price Park backcountry camping area, click this Parkway brochure page - then choose the download link for "Julian Price Park." The campsite is not marked on this map-but it is located just above the first "P" in the words "Price Park Picnic Area," just to the right of where the double-red trail line crosses the blue line of Boone Fork Creek, and to the left of the ".6" mileage indicator. (Remember a permit is required-call the number above.)
(For more detail on these and other Boone Area backpacking trips, pick up a trail guide by the local outdoor expert Randy Johnson.)