Appalachian Trail Town

When people think of hiking in Hot Springs, NC, their first thought is of the Appalachian Trail.  Hot Springs is the only North Carolina town where the AT passes directly through the heart of downtown.  Visitors from all over the world travel here to hike this section of the AT.  And while its position as the paramount trail in the area is well deserved, there are dozens of other scenic hiking trails in the Pisgah National Forest near Hot Springs.

Below is a listing of some of the more popular hikes in the area.  When in town, visit the Hot Springs Welcome Center for brochures and information.


Laurel River Trail→

3.6 miles one-way; good for all skill levels.

Trailhead is located 5 miles from Hot Springs near the intersection of US 25/70 and NC 208. Trail begins on a gravel road through private property, so make sure you stay on the trail to ensure the privacy of landowners. After one mile, the trail narrows down to single track on an old railroad grade to the ghost town of Runion, where the Laurel empties into the French Broad River. Along the way the waters tumble over large boulders and then slow down to create deep pools for swimming. A favorite destination for trout fishing as well.

Lover’s Leap Trail and Appalachian Trail Loop→

1.6 miles; moderate to difficult.

The Lover’s Leap Trail and the Appalachian Trail along the French Broad River create a scenic 1.6 mile loop. From downtown, follow the AT Northbound across the French Broad River bridge. Continue to follow the white blazes down to the road and travel upstream alongside the river. Continue on the AT as it climbs up the mountain along a series of switchbacks. You will encounter several rock promontories overlooking the river and the Town of Hot Springs where you may stop and rest.

Ultimately you will arrive at a trail intersection where you turn left and follow the orange blazes downhill towards the Silvermine Trailhead. The Appalachian Trail continues uphill for those seeking a longer hike, from which you may return to town along the Pump Gap Loop Trail. From the Silvermine Trailhead parking lot, walk down Silvermine Road approximately 200 yards back to the French Broad River to complete the loop.

Pump Gap Loop Trail→

2.4 or 4.2 miles; moderate to difficult.

There are two options for this loop trail, with a shorter loop of 2.4 miles or longer loop of 4.2 miles. Follow the orange blazes of the Lovers Leap Trail from the Silvermine Trailhead. Note that parking is limited at the Silvermine Trailhead. At the first major switchback, the Pump Gap Trail goes straight. At the next fork turn right and the trail climbs along a creek to the AT at Pump Gap, crosses then returns by a combination of old forest roads and foot trails.  Can be looped with the Appalachian Trail. Take the AT between the two Pump Gap Loop Trail intersections for a shorter 2.4 mile loop hike. The trail is moderate in difficulty, offering many changes in elevation and scenery.

Appalachian Trail from Hot Springs to Allen Gap

14.7 miles; white rectangle blazes.

Heading northward, the AT crosses the French Broad River bridge and turns right down to the river. The AT follows the river upstream then ascends Lover’s Leap Ridge for 5 miles to the pond and grassy meadows of Mill Ridge. The trail then descends to Tanyard Gap where it crosses US 25/70 on an overpass, climbs to the junction of the Roundtop Ridge Trail, passes the Rich Mountain Fire Tower Trail then comes to the junction of roads FS#467a, FS#422 & FS#3514. Shortly after this junction the trail comes to Hurricane Gap (FS#467). The trail then continues north passing Spring Mountain Shelter and finally coming to NC208 at Allen Gap. A nice loop can be made with the Pump Gap Trail or the Roundtop Ridge Trail. A loop returning via the Roundtop Ridge Trail is 11.5 miles. Another loop option begins at Tanyard Gap and returns to Tanyard via the Salt Box Road(FS#3514).

Roundtop Ridge Trail→

3.1 miles one-way; difficult.

From the Junction with the Appalachian Trail on Rich Mountain, the Roundtop Ridge Trail meanders down the ridge, past old farm fields and through an oak-hickory forest. The Trail ends on Reservoir Road near the Hot Springs Water Tank. Reservoir Road joins the River Road 1/4 mile downstream of US 25/70. This trail can be hiked as a loop with the AT.

Spring Creek Nature Trail

1.6 miles; easy to moderate.

The Spring Creek Nature Trail is located at Rocky Bluff Campground and is an easy-to-moderate, yellow-blazed trail. Begin hike at the trailhead near the restrooms at the north end of the campground. Descend trail for 0.5 miles to the first vista of Spring Creek. The trail continues upstream along the cascading waters and past a few ideal places to splash around and relax. Keep a lookout for Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), basswood (Tilia americana), oaks, and an abundance of wildflowers including varieties of trillium.  After 0.75 miles, the trail begins a gradual ascent back to the campground to complete the loop.

Van Cliff Loop→

2.6 miles; moderate to difficult.

Also beginning at the Rocky Bluff Campground, this challenging trail climbs along streams and ridge tops where the forest has reclaimed old farmland. The trail leaves the south end of the campground, crosses NC 209, and ascends Taylor Hollow Creek for approximately one mile.  At the crest, the trail levels and then descends gently for 1.5 miles back to the starting point.

Max Patch→

1.5 mile loop; moderate.

A  gentle climb across the southernmost bald on the Appalachian Trail to its grassy summit at 4,629 feet. During the warmer seasons, Max Patch abounds with wildflowers. The short loop is 1.5 miles and climbs gradually on an old roadbed to intersect the AT, on which you travel southbound to reach the top.  After enjoying the view, either descend on the same route, or continue southbound on the AT to a connector trail that returns you to the parking lot.

This relatively short hike can be extended by continuing either north or south on the Appalachian Trail. The northern segment travels 20 miles to the town of Hot Springs. The first 7 miles along this segment are easy, gaining less than 1,000 feet in elevation, but the path soon climbs steadily toward the wooded summit of Walnut Mountain (elevation 4,280 feet). After a short stretch on an old roadbed, the trail reaches Catpen Gap and ascends Bluff Mountain (elevation 4,686 feet). From here the trail drops steadily, losing more than 3,000 feet along its 10-mile descent into Hot Springs.

From Hot Springs, drive south on NC 209 for 7 miles. Watch for Max Patch signs. Turn right onto Meadow Fork Road and continue for 5 miles. Turn right onto Little Creek Road and yield left along the good gravel road. After approximately 6 miles, the Max Patch Trailhead will be on your right. Parking may be challenging on nice weekends, but you may also park along the southern side of the gravel road. There are no toilets or trash cans at the trailhead, so plan accordingly. The area is closed to camping and campfires.

Betty Place Trail

1.1 miles; easy.

An easy loop trail on a magnificent north-facing slope of Bluff Mountain, a moist habitat hosting immense biodiversity. Follow the yellow blazes across the bridge and up the slope, eventually passing remnants of several home sites. You will also intersect portions of the 3.7 mile-long Bluff Mountain Loop Trail, also marked with yellow blazes. The Betty Place Trailhead is on Upper Shut-In Road, approximately 4 miles from US 25/70.

Bluff Mountain Loop Trail

3.7 miles loop; difficult.

Beginning at the Betty Place Trailhead, this loop trail follows an old logging road in a mainly mixed hardwood forest with boulders covered in moss and ferns on the north slope of Bluff Mountain. The trail crosses the West Fork Shut-In Creek and tributaries. Views of cascading streams and waterfalls through cove forests of large trees and spring wildflower displays. Extensive views in late fall and winter after leaves have fallen from trees.

East Fork of Shut-In→

2.0 miles one-way; difficult.

A hike along Shut-In Creek from Upper Shut-In Road to the Appalachian Trail at Garenflo Gap. Rated difficult because the trail may be wet and not regularly maintained.

River Ridge Loop Trail

1.3 mile loop; moderate.

A moderate loop that climbs through a pine forest for good river views. The yellow-blazed trail begins across from the Murray Branch Picnic Area.

Jack Branch Trail→

2.4 miles one-way; difficult; blue blazes.

Same trailhead as the River Ridge Loop, this blue-blazed trail continues along an old road that climbs steadily to the top of the ridge, where you may see beautiful views of the French Broad River and Hot Springs.  A one way hike that ends on USFS Road 422.

Paint Rock Trail

1.3 miles; difficult.

Located 7 miles from Hot Springs near Paint Rock. Trailhead is in TN near entrance to Paint Creek Corridor, on the left near the Forest Service road sign. This trail ascends steeply to the intersection of the Chimney Rocks Trail and has beautiful views of Weaver’s Bend and the north side of Bluff Mountain.

Hickey Fork Waterfall→

2.3 miles round-trip; moderate to difficult.

The yellow-blazed trail to Hickey Fork Waterfall is difficult and crosses several streams and ridges. Wearing appropriate shoes and long pants are recommended. The beautiful falls are rich with growing mosses. Small grottoes behind its mist provide a habitat for the spray-cliff natural community.

From Hot Springs, drive east on US 25/70 for 5 miles to intersection with NC 208.  Make a left and after 3 miles turn right onto NC 212. Continue for 7 miles to Hickey Fork Road. Turn left and drive approximate 1 mile to parking area on the right. The trail begins about 200 feet up the road, on the left.