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Hiking the Tanawha Trail - Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

Efficient Admin (aka Michelle) has been hiking for five years on the wonderful mountain trails of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center Parking Lot

This photo was taken in the parking lot of the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center. There is an entrance to the Tanawha Trail which goes right underneath this famous bridge.

This photo was taken in the parking lot of the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center. There is an entrance to the Tanawha Trail which goes right underneath this famous bridge.

General Information about the Tanawha Trail

There is an access point below the Linn Cove Viaduct near the Visitor Center in which the Tanawha Trail passes underneath the Viaduct and then rises steeply up stone steps past an enormous boulder wall. The trail then levels off and enters forest thick with birch and beech trees. Once you hike past Wilson Creek the trail crosses a clearing filled with hugh rock formations. The trail then climbs sharply to Rough Ridge and over a 200-foot long boardwalk and here you can see a spectacular view of the Piedmont and an outstanding glimpse of the Linn Cove Viaduct and several mountains: Grandmother Mountain, Hawksbill, and Table Mountain.

The trail continues on through a forest of spruce and hemlock into a wooded area which is very similar to that of New England. It is a very rocky landscape which is filled with oak, poplars, and yellow birch. Past Raven Rock the trail then passes through rhododendron and mountain laurel. This section then turns into a more open area with a rock garden – large ferns cascade out of immense boulders.

It is highly recommended to wear sturdy hiking boots on this trail because I would say 90% of the trail you will be stepping over large rocks and tree roots. If you have trekking poles bring them - they will come in handy!

Highlights

The Tanawha Trail consists of 13.5 miles and is located south of the Julian Price Park all the way to Beacon Heights on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina while it parallels Grandfather Mountain. The Cherokee Indians translation of the word Tanawha is "fabulous hawk or eagle." This would be the right name for this trail because it offers hikers a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. This trail was completed in 1993 and has a unique story during construction. Some of the bridges were dropped into place via helicopter. The trail cuts through an ecosystem which is fragile and and leads hikers through a unique range of biological and geological terrains.In order to preserve this delicate ecosystem, always stay on the designated paths, bridges, and boardwalks while hiking.

Some sections contain mountain laurel and rhododendron and others dip down into remote hardwood forests and then changes into evergreen glens. Giant boulders and many streams are abundant to view along this trail as some of the photos will show. Sections of this trail above the Viaduct and along Rough Ridge can be strenuous, but overall the trail is a moderate walk.

The Linn Cove Viaduct – The Most Photographed Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway

This 1243-foot segmented concrete bridge travels around Grandfather Mountain. It was completed in 1987 at a cost of $10 million and was the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be finished. If you want to really get a close look at this engineering marvel, start driving from Asheville and go north on the Parkway all the way to Milepost 304.

The Viaduct was built because of damage that a traditional cut-and-fill road would have caused to Grandfather Mountain. The Viaduct was designed by Figg and Muller Engineers. Construction began in 1979 and consists of 153 fragments weighing 50 tons each and no two of the segments are alike. The Viaduct was constructed from the top down to decrease the chances of damaging the natural environment, and therefore eliminated the need for a road and heavy equipment on the ground. The only construction that occurred at ground level was the drilling of foundations for the seven permanent piers on which the Viaduct rests. Exposed rock was covered up to prevent staining from concrete, epoxy, or grout. The only trees that were cut were those directly beneath this superstructure. The design included almost every kind of alignment geometry ever used in highway construction. It is believed that this was the most complicated bridge ever built. It is a dramatic sweeping “S” curve that winds around Grandfather Mountain at Linn Cove.

The segments of the bridge were precast at an indoor facility at the south side of the Parkway. After being transported to the bridge site, each section was lowered into place by a custom crane placed on either edge of the existing structure. This bridge has a nickname of engineering wonder and has received eleven design awards.


Enjoy a video of the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Important Notes

Hiking boots or shoes are recommended for most trails, especially for the more strenuous ones. Steep and rocky area and slippery stream crossings require extra attention and careful footing. Even for trails marked “easy” it is advisable to wear flat or rubber-soled shoes for comfort and good traction. Wearing sandals, “flip-flops”, or high heels can result in accidents. You would be surprised how many people I saw on this trail wearing sandals and flip-flops.

Sudden changes in weather are common in these mountains. Even in mild seasons, rapid dips in temperature and unexpected thunderstorms frequently occur, and at higher elevations the wind and temperature can carry a surprising chill. Be prepared for weather changes by bringing along suitable clothing. Other helpful advice:

  • Do not drink the water in streams or springs. Bacterial diseases can be contracted by drinking untreated “wild” waters.
  • Lost and found articles should be reported to a Park Ranger. Lock valuables in the trunk of your car or take them with you.
  • For your safety and the protection of the trail, stay on designated trails. Shortcutting at switchbacks causes soil erosion, disfigures the trail and makes it difficult for other hikers to find their way. Take advantage of log walkways, steps, or other trail construction. They are there to minimize human impact on the environment.


Websites for Cabin Rentals:

Cabin Rentals

The people who lived in the mountains surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway a long time ago lived in log cabins that they built from the trees they would clear from their property. Many Parkway visitors choose to rent cabins when they visit so they can also experience this early culture. Cabins are usually available all year long and rented on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the facility. Most cabin rentals are not located on the National Park Service land, but most are located close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The links shown below are to a few cabin rentals if you are visiting the area.

Here is a list of campgrounds available along the Parkway, including their milepost location:

  • Bear Den Campground, milepost 324.8
  • Doughton Park, milepost 239.0
  • Julian Price, milepost 297.0
  • Linville Falls, milepost 316.3
  • Crabtree Meadows, milepost 339.5
  • Mount Pisgah, milepost 408.6

Camping

Camping is not allowed on the Tanawha Trail, however camping is allowed along the Blue Ridge Parkway from May 1 through October 31. Available camp sites require a fee of $8.00 per day (subject to change) which cover the use of a table and fireplace. Other amenities may include:

  • access to public telephones
  • water
  • picnic sites
  • gasoline
  • camping supplies
  • sanitary dumping stations

If you are a brave and hearty soul, you can camp in winter (weather permitting). No fee is required but the facilities are limited and you need to call in advance. Campground regulations are posted at each campsite and additional copies are available at all Parkway Visitor Centers. For general information about the Parkway, their phone number is (828) 298-0398.

A few regulations to be aware of!

While visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway, here are some rules to keep in mind:

  • When parking all four wheels must be off the pavement of the road shoulders. Parking is limited to designated parking areas or road shoulders.
  • Camping is permitted only in park campgrounds or designated back country sites.
  • Dogs and other pets must be on a leash or under physical restraint at all times while in the park. The territorial instinct of dogs can lead to fights with other dogs on the trail. Dogs also frighten hikers and chase wildlife.
  • Metal detectors are prohibited.
  • Natural resources are protected by Federal Law. Do not disturb any animal and plant life in any way. Hunting, trapping, and carrying weapons are prohibited. Do not interfere with animals by feeding, touching, or frightening them.
  • Do not cut, deface or damage trees. Leave wildflowers and other vegetation in their natural condition for other hikers to enjoy.
  • Historic resources are protected by Federal law. Do not damage, deface, or remove any of these structures, furnishings, or exhibits.

© 2013 Michelle Dee

Comments

Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on February 13, 2014:

Crystal - this is a spectacular area to visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thank you and thanks for commenting and visiting.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on February 13, 2014:

Looks like a lovely spot. Great job on all the photos!

Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on January 04, 2014:

cam8510 - This area is awesome and another interesting note is that it's against the law to actually walk on the Via Duct (but sometimes people do it anyway - the area is not heavily patrolled). Thanks for reading and commenting.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on January 04, 2014:

Great article. I really liked hearing about the construction of the bridge. And the trail itself sounds very inviting.

Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on January 01, 2014:

Glimmer - there are so many wonderful trails to explore on the Blue Ridge and I hope to see more of them too in the future. Hopefully you will get to visit this coming year. This trail is rather strenuous (many huge rocks to climb and step over - definitely need trekking poles) and I don't think I will hike this one again but I am glad I got the chance to hike it at least once. It was an adventure! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Claudia Mitchell on January 01, 2014:

Gorgeous. We love the blue ridge parkway and did not make it there this year, but hope to get there soon. Will have to pin this so I remember to visit.

Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on December 08, 2013:

Suzanne - this is a awesome trail to hike on and a challenging one at that! Many rocks and roots to watch for and you have to constantly watch your balance as well. Overall a great workout and beautiful scenery and views. Thanks for reading and the vote!

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on December 08, 2013:

Lovely photos of the Tanawha Trail. Although I probably won't be able to go, it looks like a great place to stroll through and get closer to nature. Well done on an interesting hub. Voted interesting!

Michelle Dee (author) from Charlotte, NC on December 08, 2013:

MsDora - I am glad you enjoyed this trail and thank you for visiting and for the vote up!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on December 07, 2013:

Thank you for having us tour the Tanawha Trail through your descriptions and pictures. It was a good trip starting from the parking lot. Very helpful to include the cautionary regulations. Voted Up!