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Backpacking The Linville Gorge Wilderness, NC – Oct 2012

Linville Gorge Wilderness Backpacking Overview

Complete Linville Gorge Wilderness Photo Gallery | Linville Gorge Wilderness HD Video

  • Location – Linville Gorge Wilderness, NC
  • Park – Pisgah National Forest
  • Trail Hiked – Custom Loop (Based on the ITAYG loop)
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 1320 miles Round trip
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 5 days, 4 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 33.22
  • Trail Difficulty – 8/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes


Download a GPX file of my hike (right click and choose “save as”): Linville Gorge Loop Hike

[sgpx gpx=”/wp-content/uploads/gpx/Linville Gorge, NC – ITAYG Loop Oct 2012.gpx”]

Linville Gorge Trip Properties

Add 1.32 miles to the trip total above for a total of 33.22 miles.

Get a printed topographical map of the above GPX route here: Linville Gorge Wilderness Topo Map

Linville Gorge "Is that all you got" loop hike map

Linville Gorge “Is that all you got” loop hike map

Linville Gorge ITAYG Loop Topo Map

Below is a screenshot of the flow rate of the Linville River prior to and during our hike. Before I left for my trip here, I was trying to determine at what flow rate is the Linville River not safe for crossing at Devil’s Hole. I couldn’t find any information on this, so I decided to share my findings. Although I did not personally make it down to blue hole (read about that on day 2), other hikers told me it was NOT safe for crossing.

linville river water crossing flow rate chart

This chart may be helpful for others deciding when the river is and isn’t safe to cross at Devil’s Hole 

 weather for our hike in linville gorge

Although my cousin Bryan had been following some of my previous hikes, after seeing pictures of my latest trek in Colorado he decided that it was time to give backpacking a try. He was open to hike anywhere, and I suggested the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Located in North Carolina and less than 12 hours away, I figured this would be a good hike to squeeze in before winter.

I’ve had the Linville Gorge Wilderness on my list for the last year or so, and already had bits and pieces of information together for a trip here. I had been looking at a trail dubbed the “is that all ya got” loop”, or ITAYG. This is basically a combination of trails in the Linville Gorge that form a large loop. I added in a side trip to Sitting Bear Mountain and Gingercake Mountain to the route as well.


Day 1 – Monday October 8th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 3.4
Route – Spence Ridge trailhead to Sitting Bear Mountain

After only about 5 hours of sleep, I woke up at 2:45am and was on the road by 3:15am. From southeast Michigan, we had about a 12 hour drive ahead of us. Most of the drive was pretty uneventful, but sometime into West Virginia we encountered low clouds/ fog and rain. This didn’t really effect the drive, but little did I know we’d be hiking in it too!

Finding the trailhead took us a little while, especially in the increasingly dense fog. The trailheads weren’t marked at all. There weren’t any signs for a hiking trail or parking, anything. Most palaces I’ve been to at least have that. We eventually found the trailhead at Spence Ridge, but were now a little behind schedule. By the time we got all our gear packed, boots on, food from the cooler packed, etc it was around 3:45pm. There were 2 other cars parked here when we left, which was a good sign to me that it wasn’t going to be very crowed. Not that I was expecting it to be in this weather, it was forecast to be 34 and raining tonight.

To reach Sitting Bear from the Spence Ridge TH, we would have to hike about a mile back the way we came on Table Rock Rd and meet up with the trail near Hawksbill Mountain. I turned on my GPS, but it couldn’t find signal before we left the car. I figured it would have picked up the satellites while hiking the road, but it didn’t. Once at the Hawksbill TH, we left the road and hit the actual trail. A few tenths of a mile later, my GPS finally got signal. I estimated the mileage from the car to this point to be about 1.5 miles, and I made it a point to remember to add that figure to the total trip mileage shown on my GPS at the end of the trip. Shortly thereafter, we saw the split for the summit of Hawksbill Mountain and decided to check it out, even though there was no chance of a view. We didn’t stay at the top very long since there wasn’t much to see, and headed back down after about 15 minutes.


Now back on the main trail, which I believe was the Jonas Ridge trail, we headed for Sitting Bear Mountain. Everything was pretty wet at this point. We were basically in the clouds and the moisture seemed to be just collecting on the leaves. Then the wind would blow and water would fall from the leaves. I don’t think it actually rained, but either way, everything was wet.

After gaining about 200 ft in elevation and then losing 400+, we were nearing Sitting Bear. The trail became increasingly steep at this point, until using our hands became necessary. This was one of the steepest sections of trail we’d face on this trip. The slippery wet leaves and roots were not making the ascent any easier either. Once past the steep climb, Sitting Bear Mountain levels off somewhat. We roamed around for a while, somewhat disoriented due to the ever present fog until we finally stumbled upon the campsite. It was large enough to fit 2-3 one man tents, had a fire pit, and was only 30ft from the cliff’s edge. This would have offered a sweet view but the clouds never lifted while we were here.

It was 6:30 or so by the time we rolled into camp, and we weren’t going to have much daylight left. This was Bryan’s first backpacking trip, so I also had the added responsibility of showing him how to set everything up. He was borrowing my Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 1 and my older Thermarest sleeping pad, as well as Lisa’s Sleeping bag ( Silver City Eureka 30°F, same as mine) and her Osprey Crestrail 65 backpack. That’s right, I said he borrowed her backpack. Bryan didn’t want to spend a ton of money on gear since it was his first trip. And rightfully so, but he still needed the backpack. I figured that Lisa’s backpack would fit him and should be pretty comfortable. It was also red, and didn’t look girly at all. It also offered us the opportunity to make several jokes about the hip belt not fitting his womanly figure right.

Now that the tents are up and the gear is stowed away out of the rain, it was time for dinner. It was nearly dark now, and I opted not to try for a fire. Everything was too damp, better luck tomorrow night. Tonight we cook on the stove, and a 1/2 pound burger is sure to please. Gotta love first night meals! The only thing that sucks is how long it takes to cook, and you can only cook one burger at a time. Then you must clean the greasy pan, so a fair amount of drinking water can easily be used, especially if one isn’t careful. No matter how much of a pain burgers may be to cook in the wild, they beat noodles in a bag hands down!

It was getting very cold now and we headed for our tents not long after 9pm. I normally sleep pretty hot, but tonight I had to wear my long johns and a pair of socks to stay warm in my sleeping bag.


Day 2 – Tuesday October 9th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 8.7
Route – Sitting Bear to Conley Cove

When I woke up at 6:30, the sky was crystal clear. A short walk out to the cliff’s edge revealed a fog filled gorge. This reminded me of the amazing sunrise on my last day in the Dolly Sods Wilderness of West Virginia a few months prior. It was at this time that I realized that I had forgotten my tripod. Crap! Oh well, there are worse things I could have left behind.

When the sun peaked over the horizon, the clouds followed. Within 30 minutes of the sun rising, the entire sky was covered with the same dense fog that lingered last night. It was pretty strange watching the sky become overtaken by the fog… I assumed it would have just “burnt up” like it did in the Dolly Sods. So, another great view ruined. I was hoping to get some pictures up here as I’ve read about and seen some amazing photos taken from Celestial Point and Sitting bear. I was pretty disappointed with this as I like to take a lot of pictures.

As the sun rose, we explored the area and searched for photographic opportunities. However, the fog was just too thick and we eventually gave up. We hiked to Gingercake Mountain, but this was uneventful too due to the fog. There were a few different trails that split off the main trail to Gingercake Mtn, but we decided to get back to camp and pack up instead.

linville gorge foggy forest

Back on the trail, the hike down Sitting Bear wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered it yesterday going up. Still, it was very wet and slippery. Once past the steepest section of trail on the entire trip (although there was other sections that certainly rival this), the fog made the forest below look rather eerie. Bryan was playing with his Go Pro camera now at this point, and we made good time through this section on our way to the Devil’s Hole trail junction.

We made it about a third of the way down to the Linville River along the Devil’s Hole trail when we encountered a group of 5 or 6 hikers coming up from the river. I assumed they had just crossed from the other side, but they said that they were going to cross from this side. Once they got down to the river they decided that the water was too high and fast flowing. They said they were part of some group and they had rules that they follow for safety, and wouldn’t cross without a PFD. They suggested we might be able to cross since we looked more “in shape”. They also had an injured hiker in their group, so they suggested that we make up our minds now… go down and try to cross, or go back up and go ahead of them since they were going to be moving slowly. I decided that it was not worth hiking down the rest of this steep trail to MAYBE be able to cross here. While it was no where near as steep as Sitting Bear, this trail was not going to be fun hiking up, and it’s  much longer. We headed back uphill ahead of the other group. Time for plan B, crossing at Spence Ridge, where I parked my car.

After making it halfway back up the trail, Bryan realized he had left his  camera on a log somewhere further down hill at a previous resting point, and had to turn back to get it. Of course it had to happen on a steep trail! The hike up seemed shorter than the hike down somehow, and before we knew it we were back on the Jonas Ridge trail.

From here we headed back to the car. It was a very odd feeling to be back at my car in the middle of a hike, but I guess that’s what happens when things don’t go as planned. I am glad we had a plan B in mind, and still happy with my decision to turn around at this point. Getting back to the car allowed us to top off our water, get a few things, eat lunch and sit down on the fence in the parking area. Also, I was able to track the distance of the same section of trail that my GPS wasn’t able to count towards the total trip miles due to it taking an hour to find the satellites. This section, from the area where my GPS came alive near Hawksbill Mountain to my car ended up being 1.32 miles. So, I’ll just have to remember to add 1.32 miles to my total for yesterday and the trip total as well.

Now it was a straight shot down to the river from here, where there is a foot bridge and no worry of high river levels, although the bridge was underwater twice in the last month due to flash floods. Water levels were not THAT high for us though, so we should be safe. The hike down to the river was short. We passed a smaller “waterfall” near the bottom of the gorge, and then all of the sudden you could hear the roar of the river in the distance. It was a welcome sight to finally see the river.

We hung out near the bridge for about 45 minutes exploring the banks and taking pictures. Bryan is an avid fisherman, and loves the water. I do as well, but but this is really his thing. I prefer high places and picturesque vistas, so I was really hoping to have views on Hawksbill & Sitting Bear. Bryan was much less disappointed. Nevertheless, we were both enjoying ourselves. And you know what? The sun even popped out for a second for the first time on the hike! That was short lived though, and soon it was cloudy again.

Once we crossed the Linville River, it felt as if we had entered a whole new phase of the hike. It felt great to finally be in the gorge! The terrain here is extremely rugged, and I now see why it would not be possible to bushwhack your way from Devil’s Hole to Spence Ridge along the East bank. I thought this might be an option for a plan B or C in the event the river was not crossable, but quickly disregarded it after some research. The sides of the gorge are extremely steep and are lined with large boulders, jagged rocks, and mini caves. In many cases, there didn’t appear to be any way up and over the ridge, your only option is to follow the river.

Heading downstream now, we passed some kayakers in the water. They asked us how far up Conley Cove was, and after referring to my topo map I concluded it was only a few tenths of a mile down river. This was good news for both us and the kayakers; we were going to be camping in the Conley Cove area and that was their take out point. I was relieved to hear that because, if you couldn’t tell from my previous trip reports, I don’t like crowds. These would be the last people we’d see until mid day on our 4th day.

Our campsite at Conley Cove. There were about 4 more campsites in the area.

View from our campsite at Conley Cove

As the kayakers began carrying their kayaks all the way up the Conley Cover trail, we began to hunt for campsites. There were several decent ones in the area, all near the river and large campsites with fire pits. One thing I have to say about Linville Gorge is there is A LOT of trash at almost every campsite. This is easily the most trashed place I’ve ever hiked. Some campsites had crap and toilet paper just sitting on the ground as we passed by. Disgusting! Anyways, we took the southernmost campsite and began to set up camp. My tent was wet when I set it up but it quickly dried in the breeze. Bryan’s sleeping pad, bag, and tent were still pretty soaked at this point. The campsite just to the North of us had plenty of firewood, so we grabbed that and began the hunt for tinder. Everything was still a little damp at this point, but I was confident a fire would be no problem tonight. Our site was close to the river, and you could hear a pretty load constant roar which is always nice for getting to sleep at night!

Fog lingers in the gorge as night falls.

Tonight was the first time we had to filter water, so I showed Bryan how it’s done and then let him have at it. It was completely cloudy still at this point, but didn’t look like rain. After topping off our H2O supply, I sat down to write in my hiking journal. This was the first time I carried one, and the first time I wrote in it since I was too busy the night before. At 7:15 it became too dark to write, so I decided it was time for a fire. I first tried to light the fire with charcloth and a spark from my firesteel, but it just wasn’t catching the tinder. I then added some cotton balls slathered in petroleum jelly which did the trick… sort of. The fire burned a bit and then went out. I probably spent 45 minutes messing with the fire before finally giving up and resorting to using a lighter. Even still, the dampness of the tinder and kindling were a problem. Eventually I got the fire going after building and elaborate platform suspended over a small pit to allow for airflow underneath. This worked very well and the fire was blazin’ in no time. That’s good news because tonight was italian sausage night, and I didn’t plan on using my stove. We roasted them over the fire and had another delicious hot meal.


Day 3 – Wednesday October 10th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 9.3
Route – Conley Cove to MST river crossing site just outside of the Wilderness zone on the south end of the gorge

I awoke today at 7am to clear blue skies. What a relief… no more clouds and fog! All of our equipment was dry now, and would stay dry the rest of the trip. Breakfast today consisted of a whole wheat bagel, metrx bar, and some dried fruit… great energy for the trail, and damn will we need it today!

The condition of the trail kept getting worse as we went on today. Contrary to our hike to this point, there were many downed trees over the trail and thick vegetation that made it difficult to follow. We “lost” the trail several times, and found it again only after continuing in the same general direction for a while. Lots of obstacles around every corner, and pretty slow going in general. I expected this section of the trail to be among the easiest parts of our whole hike, due to it being generally downhill and close proximity to the river.

As we progressed downriver, the river itself became less rugged and eventually began to widen out some. The trail was still crude in many spots, with occasional sections of “relief” where the trail was flatter, wider and more obvious. We ran into a snake along the leaf covered trail sometime around mid afternoon, just before reaching the junction of Pinchin trail. We later identified it as a Black Snake. Bryan was fooling around with his GoPro camera, sticking it in the snake’s face until he struck the lens. This was entertaining for a few minutes, but it was time to get moving again.

Shortoff Mountain

Soon we were at the Blue Hole and Daffodil Flats campsites, which were decent sites but nothing spectacular. We kept moving and soon we found ourselves on Leadmine trail. Lots of ups and downs here, and some were quite steep. It was around this point that my left knee starting hurting on the downhill stints. I’ve had my knees hurt going downhill before, but never like this. I blocked out the pain and pushed on through this relatively boring section of the hike. The trail distances itself from the river here, and although it gains some elevation there was only one point where we had a decent view of anything. This trail had a lot of  hoof prints and horse crap on it too.

Bryan climbing up a steep section of the Leadmine trail

View of Shortoff Mountain from the Leadmine trail

It early evening by the time we rolled into camp today. We took the campsite between the dirt road and the river just outside of the wilderness boundary, near the MST crossing point. There was a lot of trash here too, and it was very obvious that people drove here all the time and camped because there were plenty of fresh tires tracks in camp. There were old tires and all sorts of garbage in and near the river, as well as the carcass of a dead deer that was really stinking up the place. The river did not look like it was very shallow from our camp though, so we had to scout along the banks for a better crossing point for the morning. Downstream didn’t look promising, so we headed upstream a few hundred yards and found a pretty obvious crossing point, complete with blaze marks on trees on both sides of the river. Bingo, here’s our spot. Nice and shallow, maybe knee deep at the deepest from the looks of it. Good, one less thing to worry about in the morning.

Campsite outside of the wilderness boundary near the MST river crossing

Tonight I constructed my fire in the same manner as the night before with similar success. Tonight though, I “cheated” and used my lighter. I was too tired to want to mess with the fire much, and since we were going to be cooking hot dogs I wanted the fire NOW… I was hungry!

Today was a hard day and in my opinion, we didn’t see much. I don’t mind the hard days, but I like to be rewarded with awesome views or something unique to explore. The stars were very bright tonight though, and I know that tomorrow is going to have some great views in store as we climb back out of the gorge.


Day 4 – Thursday October 11th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 8.8
Route – MST campsite to the Chimneys

Linville River MST Crossing Point

Got up at 7, packed up camp and ate a quick breakfast. My knee was still hurting today, and I took some Ibuprofen to help with any swelling before heading over to the crossing point. The sun was just coming into the gorge at this point, and I could tell it was going to be a beautiful day! We dropped our packs at the bank of the river, took off our pants and boots, and put on our water shoes for the crossing. I went first, with Bryan and his GoPro filming behind me. The deepest part of the river was the banks on both sides, about knee deep. The water was cold, but after a minute in the water the numbness becomes pretty bearable. The rocks weren’t too slippery either. The width here was maybe 200 feet, with the center portion being the shallowest. Once across, we toweled off, got dressed and headed on our way.

The hike up Shortoff Mountain

The path up shortoff was pretty clearly marked near the river, but quickly disappeared. We had to bushwhack our way up the hillside for a while until we finally reached a defined trail to follow. We were now on the MST trail (Mountain to Sea), and things looked a lot different here than on the other side of the river. The landscape was scarred from a fire that rolled through here a few years ago. The soil was a lot drier, and almost desert like scrub growth everywhere. It was an interesting environment, especially compared to the rest of our hike through the Linville Gorge. As we gained a bit of altitude, our view of Lake James improved. We were completely exposed to the sun here though, and it was getting pretty warm. We took a quick break under a small patch of shade when we could and ate some snacks. Dried strawberries and jerky, mmm!

Towards the top of Shortoff Mountain, we we beginning to see some excellent views of not only Lake James but now the Gorge itself for the first time on our trip! This was what I was waiting for, and what we should have experienced on our first and second days had it not been for that damn fog. Our paced slowed considerably at this point as I wanted to explore every little trail that looked like it might be heading near the cliff’s edge. I had my Sony Nex-5 out shooting as many pictures as I could. I brought several batteries, so my only real limitation was the 16GB card. I still hadn’t deleted a bunch of pictures from my Colorado hike in August, so eventually I had to stop and do that. Between switching lenses, filters, etc I spent much more time up here than I was planning to.Still, this is what I came here to see, and to hike right past this stuff would defeat the purpose of going. Time justified!

One of my favorite views of the trip. Many AWESOME campsites near here.

The views were awesome to the north, you could see all the way up the Gorge past Hawksbill Mountain from here. It was nice to be up to the ridge now and look down at where we came from. The river looks calm from up here, a far cry from the raging torrent that was thundering down the northern section of the gorge when we crossed at Spence Ridge. The leaves were just beginning to change colors, but from up here everything still looked pretty green.There were a LOT of excellent campsites up here too. Possibly the best ones I saw throughout the entire trip were up here on Shortoff, but as much as I wanted to camp here, we needed to cover more ground today.

View from Shortoff as we ate lunch

A flat section on the top of Shortoff had a small pond, I was not expecting that. I didn’t remember seeing anything on the maps or reading about anything there in the forums before I left. We stopped for lunch on a series of rocky ledges once we started descending Shortoff. We now had a different view of the gorge ahead with Table Rock dominating the landscape. While we sat here and ate, we saw another group of hikers pass by. These were the first people we’d seen in nearly 48 hours.

Back on the trail, I was feeling pretty sluggish after eating. My knee was starting to hurt from the descent into Chimney Gap, which was a nice hike otherwise. I’m glad we didn’t plan on camping at Chimney Gap though, because this site had nothing to offer other. The climb out of Chimney gap and up into the Chimneys was pretty steep, much steeper than it looked on the topo. For a while, the trail follows a water runoff path that carved it’s way into the dirt forming a gulley about 2 feet deep and 18 inches wide. Those are always fun to walk through.  We were whooped by the time we got to the top, but we were very close to our intended campsite and the scenery was spectacular up here.

I saw a small trail lead up a ledge above the main trail, but after climbing up there I saw a tent setup there already. As far as I knew, there was only one campsite up here in the Chimneys, and I was pretty bummed it was taken. Really, really pissed actually. I thought we were going to have to hike all the way to Table Rock from here and camp near a parking lot. Then we bumped into about 8 rock climbers a few minutes down the trail, and they said that wasn’t their spot, they were just here for the day, parked at Table Rock. They said they didn’t see any other campsites. However, our luck would turn 10 minutes later as we found another campsite that was available, and a very badass one at that. I was excited as hell, and had everything set up in 15 minutes.

There was so much to see and explore up here! From our campsite, just through the trees about 20 feet was a sheer cliff with an excellent view of the Pisgah National Forest to the east. We passed a ton of rock formations on the way to camp that I wanted to go back and check out. And right above our campsite was another set of rock formations that we just begging to be climbed. Plenty of cliffs and high points, along with many interesting rock formations created endless photo opportunities, especially as the sun dipped closer to the horizon. Watching the sun go down from my spot high up on the rocks overlooking the gorge, well, this is what I was waiting for. Bryan really appreciated the views up here too, he was loving it. He was shocked by the beauty of it all, and finally could understand why I like taking the high route whenever possible.

I took well over 100 pictures tonight alone. As the sun set, I sat on a rock near the cliff’s edge overlooking the gorge  an took out my journal. I wrote until it was too dark to see, and then by headlamp for a little bit. Today was a really hard day, as was the whole trip, but it’s moments like these that make it worth every step. We had a great fire and ate tortillas with pepperoni and cheese for dinner. It was nice not having to cook tonight. Time to eat the last of my sour patch kids and my once per trip dessert, a fudge brownie.

Campsite at the Chimneys

While we were sitting by the fire, I thought I heard a rustle in the bushes near the large boulder that we set most of our gear on. We didn’t see anything though, and the noise went away, so that was the end of that… until I went to look for my socks that were drying out on the boulder. One was missing, and was nowhere to be found. I searched for a while but to no avail… it was gone! Mouse? We’ll never know.

Looking to the east again from the cliff nearest to our campsite, many “city” lights could be seen in the distance. During the day, you could hardly tell there was any development down there except for a few small areas, but at night you could really see the lights. Not only that, but the stars were bright too. In the distance, you could hear a train go by quite often, and much louder than you’d expect up here. Oh well, it was an awesome day and I went to bed happy.

Day 5 – Friday October 12th, 2012

Miles Hiked – 3
Route – Chimneys to car (Spence Ridge TH)

A little late for flowers? Not complaining…

I got up at 6:30 this morning and packed up camp while waiting for the sun to rise. It was cold out, as every morning was, so I had my metrx bar and bagel in my pockets to warm them up before attempting to eat them. It’s always easier to eat food when it’s not half frozen. It was somewhat cloudy as the sun rose, but this made for some beautiful colors in the sky. Bryan and I snapped some pictures and chatted with a local who had hiked here from Table Rock this morning to take a few pictures himself.

View of Linville Gorge from Table Rock

Looking north from Table Rock

After the sun rose it became very cloudy and looked like it might rain. We decided to try and haul ass back to the car, but I still wanted to summit Table Rock on the way. It was a short hike to the Table Rock trailhead, which had a few cars in the parking lot when we passed through. The hike up to the top wasn’t bad, and we were alone at the summit. Great views of the entire gorge, especially the views to the south. We co9uld still see Lake James from here. After 25 minutes or so we descended, and ended up missing the MST on our way down. We went the wrong way on another trail for a few minutes before catching my mistake, and backtracked to find the MST again.

After leaving Table Rock, it was all downhill from here. Bad news for my knee, which was still hurting. This section of the trail was rather boring and didn’t offer much to keep us interested. No mat ter though, at this point we were gunning for the car and ready to head home. I am never ready to leave, except for the last day.

When we finally arrived at the car, I was greeted with a flat tire. I’ve known about this slow leak for a while, and was prepared with my 12v air compressor that I keep in my trunk. Also, I popped the hood to check my oil before leaving and noticed that an animal had built a nest on top of my valve cover. He probably found my engine bay on the day we arrived in an effort to stay warm. At least nothing was chewed up, I’ve heard some horror stories about hikers returning to their vehicle only to find that wires under the hood have been chewed through by some type of animal. I changed in the parking lot, and realized now that I forgot my sandals. I always try to air out my feet on the drive home since they’ve been trapped in boots for a week.

It felt great to get in the car and sit in a comfortable seat. However, my car is a stick shift, so I use my left leg to operate the clutch. That’s the knee that’s been hurting for the last few days. Driving home was actually pretty painful. Bryan couldn’t drive a stick, so I had to tough it out… for 650+ miles. Even after I got back home, my knee hurt for 3-4 weeks. It’s feeling fine now, but it makes me wonder if I am going to have more problems with it in the future. I have some big plans for the next few years, and want to stay as healthy as I can.! I might look into joint supplements if this continues, but for now I don’t have any hikes planned during the winter.


 Final Thoughts

I really underestimated the difficulty of the terrain here. I thought this place was going to be a walk in the park, but it ended up being an ass kicker. There were some sections of trail here that were steeper than anything we encountered in Colorado (except Snowmass Mountain). The Linville River trail was really over grown and hard to follow i spots, especially with the downed trees. This was one of the dirtiest backpacking destinations I’ve visited though, lots of garbage strewn about. Mainly at the campsites, but damn it was a lot. I’m glad I didn’t bring my fishing pole this time.

If I were to come back here, I would really want to camp up on Shortoff Mountain. I would have stayed a night there on this trip had I known they were such great sites. The fog robbed us of what would have been some amazing views on days 1 and 2, but our day 4 made up for it.  Bryan did really well, the best of anyone I have brought with me so far. He kept up a good pace and didn’t complain. That’s a good hiking partner in my book.

Complete Linville Gorge Wilderness Photo Gallery


As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.




13 Responses

  1. Kevin

    Awesome trip report! I’ve hiked here a few times and always enjoyed the trails and campsites along the eastern rim of the gorge as well. Sorry to hear about the bad weather for the first half of the trip.

    December 12, 2012 at 9:45 pm

  2. Nick

    Nice trip report!

    I’m going with a group during the first week of April. One question.. Looking at the NatGeo Map, the Linville Gorge trail (#231) appears to just end west of Shortoff Mountain. Did you guys bushwack south to the MST or was there a trail that isn’t on the NatGeo map?



    January 30, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    • Metalbackpacker

      Thanks Nick! You’re going to have a blast there. What route are you taking? Are you going to hike by the Chimneys? That was my favorite spot.

      I haven’t seen the natgeo map, I use for maps. The LGT does end in this area though, just like you said. If you download my GPX file of this hike near the top of the post, you can see in detail where the LGT intersects Leadmine, which then connects to the MST. If you were to pass the junction for Leadmine while on the LGT, you’d only walk a few hundred more yards before figuring out that the trail ends and you need to turn around. That’s what happened to us!

      January 31, 2013 at 5:03 am

  3. Jessica

    Hi, my name is Jessica, I live in Charlotte, NC and I was
    looking up the Linville Gorge, it looks beautiful. Growing up(In
    Georgia) me and my family would go camping all the time with just some
    bare necessities.

    Present day and I have a boyfriend who tells me recently that he would
    love to really go out and have an adventure camping and hiking with
    me. Thing is… He’s never really been camping camping….(his family
    did more of a campground thing growing up)I dont think he realizes
    what all is involved with it but I plan on giving him the experience
    he’s looking for, Im shooting for 3 nights 4 days hike. I love that
    modified “is that all you got” but can you recommend a slightly
    shorter trail? one that accommodates my time limit?

    March 24, 2013 at 5:04 am

    • MetalBackpacker

      Hi Jessica,

      I think I have a shorter route that would work for you. I would start at Spence Ridge or Table Rock trailhead, make your way down the Spence Ridge trail down to the Linville River and cross there at the bridge, head south on the LGT (Linville Gorge Trail and cross the Linville River again where I crossed, at the MST connector with the white blaze marks, head north on the MST (Mountain to Sea trail), and back to your car at either table rock or spence ridge trail head. This should be about 25 miles. This would be the exact same route as I hiked, except that you’d head straight for the bridge to cross the river right after you park at the trailhead instead of doing the northern part of my route (hawksbill mountain, sitting bear mountain, etc). Hopefully that makes sense. I can draw you a route as well in garmin basecamp and export it to a gpx file as well if you want something you can upload to your GPS.

      Remember that you will have to cross the river at the southern end of this trail with no bridge… it’s about 200 feet wide or so and you will have to get in the water to cross it. Fortunately the water level here is pretty low due to the width of the river. It was no higher than knee deep when I crossed. Not too big of a deal crossing here really, but after heavy rains it may be higher. There were some moderate-heavy rains a few days before my trip and the river was no problem to cross then, at the southern end. I don’t think it would have been crossable at Devil’s Hole or any of the northern crossing sites, other than at the spence ridge bridge. You can watch the water levels using the usgs site posted on my linville gorge trip report.

      If you do go, make sure to camp one night on Shortoff Mountain! I did not know the campsites and views were that good in that area, otherwise I would have planned a night up there myself. The campsite we stayed at on the Chimneys was really cool too. If I hiked this trail again, I’d probably go fast and cover lots of ground on the west side of the river, and take my time on the east side where all the views are. The LGT trail (along the river on the west side) was cool on the northern end where it was more rugged and follows the river, but as you move south on the trail it leaves the river and there isn’t always much to see. So, for 4 nights, I would probably pick my campsites like this:

      night 1 – along the LGT (west side of the river), just south of conley cove
      night 2 – along the LGT (west wide of the river), at blue hole
      night 3 – on shortoff mountain
      night 4 – at the chimneys

      Your hardest day without a doubt would be day 3. After leaving blue hole, there a lot of ups and downs until you reach the river crossing (white blaze marks, MST). After you cross the river, you gotta hike up shortoff mountain, so it’s about 1600ft+ in elevation gain.

      You and your boyfriend will love the Gorge, it’s a pretty awesome place. Let me know if you have any specific questions or need help with any other aspect of the planning.

      April 1, 2013 at 5:08 am

  4. Bob Underwood

    The ITAYG is a huge loop. It is only half the size of the largest loop which is called the Grand Loop and runs 39 miles. There are about 70 trails which are NOt on the Forest Service map and you can find the Maps for them at Yahoogroups linvillegorge or at Leadmine trail is one of these unpublished unofficial trails and it is ROUGH but short and very difficult to backpack. Do NOT ever use the Nat Geo map as it is useless for trails. There is an active ‘the linville Gorge Facebook group’. – — I would not put a beginner on a large loop like ITAYG…much sweeter to hike something like Rockjock on the west rim..On Rockjock you have views almost all the way and side trails out to spectacular points. You need not go to the end but instead just go as far as you feel comfortable and then retrace.–just give yourself enough daylite to get back comfortably. I suggest doing the gorge in bits and nibbles, each short hike revealing more of it like jigsaw pieces so eventually you have a good idea what the lay of the land is and a taste of greater adventures to come.

    May 9, 2013 at 2:20 am

  5. Bob Underwood

    Very suprised –even shocked – to think anyone would take a horse on Leadmine….im sure they came in from its south end and did not get far. Maps for a series of 13 loop hikes have been posted on the Yahoogroup and on the Facebook group….Everybody likes a loop hike but some of these are killers and some ridiculously easy…many of these loops are scrambles and not recommended for Backpacking. — — — This whole report was beautifully photographed and written..Really enjoyed reading it.

    May 9, 2013 at 2:34 am

    • MetalBackpacker

      You are probably right that they came in on the South end, that’s mostly where we saw the prints and scat. They would have had a helluva time with the North end of Leadmine on horseback! You’re right about the availability of loop hikes here… either too steep for backpacking or too short (for my taste anyway). I was very pleased with the ITAYG loop and the way everything played out logistically. Glad you liked my write up of the hike! I’d love to go back someday.

      May 19, 2013 at 12:18 am

  6. Lacey

    Hey, this info is really helpful. My husband and I just moved to Charlotte, originally from Michigan, and are heading out to Linville this weekend. Your pictures are amazing.

    May 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    • MetalBackpacker

      Thanks Lacey! Where are you planning on going? Personally, I liked the Chimneys and Shortoff Mountain the best. There were some excellent campsites up on Shortoff… I’d plan to camp a night up there myself if I were to go back. Have fun on your trip, let me know how it goes!

      May 19, 2013 at 12:03 am

  7. Ken

    Very nice report. My friend and I do a week long hike each year and we are looking at Linville for October ’13. I am very glad I found this information as it will be useful for planning. We really like to be remote and your report makes me question this destination. I hate to hear about all the garbage left at the sites. Maybe that Shortoff area would be woth the trip.
    So I appreciate you taking the time to write this up. It has me reconsidering my choices.

    June 28, 2013 at 7:38 pm

  8. Steve

    Hey man, I really enjoy your site. I have done a small trip in the gorge but hoping to head back for a bigger one soon. This post really helped with our planning so I wanted to say thanks!
    Also the gorge is right near ASU so I’m assuming kids from the college were the ones leaving the trash. Most people out this way are wonderful and super respectful of nature.

    Btw how do you keep your food frozen while backpacking?

    October 1, 2013 at 2:39 am

    • MetalBackpacker

      Thanks Steve! One of the members on the forums mentioned that the trash is more common in the areas that people frequent on day hikes or areas where people park their car and can access the river a short ways away. This makes sense, since backpackers usually don’t litter. I did notice that this was mostly true… trash seemed to be at or near the junctions of the LGT and Conley Cove trail for example, among others. People park at the top and it’s a relatively short hike down to the river from there, only a mile or two. These people probably aren’t backpacking, just carrying a bunch of gar down the trail from their car in order to camp near the river. Trash was much less of an issue in places away from the river, places where non hikers wouldn’t bother going.

      As for keeping food frozen on the trail, it doesn’t really stay frozen, it’s actually thawing while in my pack. I make sure any frozen foods are, well, frozen before leaving home, and keep them in a cooler on the way to the trailhead. When I’m ready to start hiking, I take the food out of the cooler and throw it in my food bag with everything else. I’ll wrap the frozen items in a small towel to help insulate it, and keep the food away from the outside edges of my backpack, where sun might warm it up. I’ve kept frozen food like this up to 3 days, although I’m sure most people wouldn’t want to take the risks that I do when it comes to food. Day 1 is never an issue no matter how warm it is. Sometimes the food isn’t thawed enough come dinner time, it just depends on the outside temperature. When the high temps during the day don’t reach above 60 or so, keeping frozen food til the 2nd night usually works pretty well, but by then it’s completely thawed. Only once have I eaten some food on the 3rd day that was supposed to be frozen, but the temperatures was cooler (highs in the 50s I think). I have a pretty strong stomach and don’t usually have problems with food that isn’t kept in the highest of standards.

      October 1, 2013 at 2:28 pm

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