Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Wild Wonderful Wilderness

Posted April 10, 2007

A hiker's confession: I worried about this trip. I worried about getting lost, especially after leaving my compass at home! You need a compass or GPS when you explore here. To keep the wilderness feel the trails are minimally marked.

I hadn't been in the Linville Gorge since my teenage years when my scout troop hiked 12 miles from Table Rock and camped overnight. It was great fun. I remember eating pancakes for breakfast by the Linville River thanks to Dr. Bill Kirksey who led us on this wilderness excursion.

Fast forward to a warm week day in early spring of this year. My family decided to hike the west rim of the gorge. We began by driving down a gravel road to what I call The Best View in North Carolina. Wiseman's View offers a spectacular look at the gorge. The chiseled mountains here have rich character. You can see up close exactly why Hawksbill Mountain got its name. To your right you will look in awe at the majestic Table Rock which was revered as sacred by the Cherokees. Another highlight was seeing a peregrine falcon floating along a cloud below us.

Just south of Wiseman's View is the beginning of the Conley Cove Trail. It took us about an hour to travel the 1.4 mile trail taking time to snap photographs of wildflowers along the way and marvel at the many different sounds and sources of water. It is a steep and strenous trail of switchbacks, rocks and roots. We only got off trail a couple of times and managed to recover quickly.

The Linville River is a wonderful reward at the bottom of the gorge with its rushing waters and sparkling views. My daughter Lauren pulled off her hiking boots and chilled her tired toes in the mountain water. It felt good.

After a 60 minute sojourn we hit the trail back up to our car. We surprised ourselves by actually making faster time on the uphill climb. We pushed ourselves but drank lots of water. Be sure to bring plenty of water. My shirt was drenched in sweat by the time I made it to the top.

One of the neatest things about hiking midweek is the lack of people. We didn't see a single hiker on the trail outside our family. We can't wait to go back. Next we will tackle a much longer trail. There are more than 15 to choose from in what geologists call "The Grand Canyon of North Carolina."

Check out this audio slideshow about the hike.  And for more information I would suggest the links at the top of the post.


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  • jef Apr 12, 2007

    Beautiful and inspirational work Bill! Thanks for sharing it.

    One minor editorial comment: Cherokees still consider much of this area sacred (present tense).

  • mommymatters Apr 11, 2007

    Thanks Bill for taking me back in time. Graduated from Appalachian and my husband and I hiked the Gorge eary on in our marriage some 18 years ago. He is in Kuwait with the Guard as I man the home front. What a great memory! Hope to take the 3 kids with us next time!

  • shutterbug Apr 11, 2007

    Good job Bill, As a photographer myself, the only thing I can add is when shoot moving water, slow down the shutter speed, if possible, to give the illusion of really moving water.

  • urbudelar Apr 11, 2007

    I picked up Steve Berry's The Templar Legacy and couldn't put it down. I have a weakness for thrillers.

  • glennspellcpa Apr 11, 2007


  • Wakenative Apr 11, 2007

    Bill, you make me jealous. I really miss those days (sometimes pine after them) when, as a carefree college student I could get out and roam the local mountain trails. There were days where I would walk up Rich Mtn from Boone, then just go bushwacking down the back side of the mountain all day. Most of the time no compass or map. I have found that in the mountains a good topo map (and a bit of a view) is all you need.

    Especially green,


  • ArkAngels Apr 10, 2007

    Bill, Thank you so much for sharing the beautiful photos of your hike of Linville Gorge. The mountains are my favorite part of the state and I don't get to see them as much as I would like to. I have often wondered on my visit's to our mountains if the people up there know that they truly live in God's Country up there! Thanks for the breath taking views.

  • UNCfuturealumi Apr 10, 2007

    Thanks for sharing North Carolina with us that cannot or will not ever attempt these hikes. I would never be able to see the beauty of our state without visiting your website.

  • Shiger Apr 10, 2007

    The tricky part about the gorge is not directional. The gorge is so vertical that it's not hard to find direction. The river will tell you direction. And, a GPS is nearly useless in the gorge because the overhead vegetation blocks the satellite signal.

    The difficult part is staying on the trail. There is a natural inclination to want to hike downhill toward the river, but most of the Linville Gorge Trail is well above the river. Hundreds of "fishing trails" lead down to the river and you can quickly become confused as to where you are.

    I found that my best advice for backpacking is to set up a base camp and explore from there. I wouldn't try to backpack the entire Linville Gorge trail until you have day hiked it.

  • urbudelar Apr 10, 2007

    I received this nice note from Rocky Mount. Thanks.

    I enjoyed the slide show of your vacation. Made me feel like I was there. I’m so glad I call North Carolina home!

    Vickie Pridgen




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Bill Leslie