Terrain By State: North Carolina

North Carolina FontanaSouth of the Smokies on the Appalachian Trail are the long climbs of the Stecoah-Cheoah Mountain area, then the outstanding Nantahala section, with 4,000-foot gaps and 5,000-foot peaks. Cheoah Bald offers panoramic views of western North Carolina. Like much of the A.T. in the deep South, you have a feeling of remoteness, and a sensation of being in deep forests. The variety of forest growth and the beauty of the flowering shrubs, along with the many spectacular views, make this entire section of Trail memorable.

The section from the Nantahala River to the Georgia border features the best-graded trail at high elevations anywhere in the Deep South, with a couple of short exceptions. There are lots of views from natural openings and fire towers, some requiring short side trips.

Note: This page describes the A.T. between the North Carolina/Georgia border and the southern boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The remaining miles in North Carolina, closely following or on the Tennessee/North Carolina border, are described in the Tennessee section.

Difficulty Ratings for A.T. Sections

Because the A.T. spans a great variety of terrain, ranging from relatively flat and easy, to extremely difficult, the following scale was created as a general guide:

1 = Flat and smooth
2 = Flat terrain but uneven treadway, or slight elevation change
3 = Moderate elevation change, but well graded trail, or flat trail with very rough treadway
4 = Strenuous climbs, but of moderate duration, or short but steep climbs
5 = Lengthy graded climbs, alternating with easier sections
6 = Extended climbs that may last hours or shorter climbs with difficult footing
7 = Includes rock scrambling that is relatively easy and of short duration
8 = Includes rock scrambling that is somewhat challenging
9 = Rock scrambling that is difficult and extended
10 = Use of hands required for extended periods of climbing, footing precarious, and leaping may be required — not recommended for those with fear of heights and not in good physical condition. Shorter hikers may be at a disadvantage

at a Glance
A.T. mileage 95.5 miles (does not include miles in North Carolina, closely following or on the Tennessee/North Carolina border)
Difficulty rating 5 (range: 3-7) 
Elevation 1,725 - 5,498 feet
Guidebook Appalachian Trail Guide to Tennessee - North Carolina
Appalachian Trail Guide to North Carolina-Georgia
When to go Mid May through October
Trail clubs Carolina Mountain Club
Spivey Gap to Davenport Gap

Smoky Mountains Hiking Club
Davenport Gap to Wesser at U.S. 19

Nantahala Hiking Club
Wesser at U.S. 19 to Bly Gap