Exploring The Great Trails State’s State Trails

How do you follow an event like Year of the Trail?

You don’t. You build on it.

Last year’s Year of the Trail was intended to promote North Carolina’s vast trail system. Hiking trails, sure, but paddling, biking and equestrian as well. Year of the Trail events were held in 94 of the state’s 100 counties, those events ranged from hour-long guided walks on local greenways to three-day festivals celebrating trails across the state. The ultimate sign of Year of the Trail’s success? When Year of the Trail was designated by the state’s General Assembly in 2021, it included $29.15 million for trail development; in the budget passed this past fall, legislators allotted nearly twice that over the next two years.

Some of that money is targeted to North Carolina’s State Trails, of which there are 14. State trails? you ask. These are longer trails — some hiking, some paddling, some both (and one equestrian) — that date back to the 1970s. You’ve likely heard of one, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, you may not have heard of the others. Each trail has a partner responsible for the trail’s development. Here’s a quick synopsis of the trails, including its partner and its current accessibility.

Dan River State Trail, 90-mile paddle trail in Surry, Stokes and Rockingham counties. You like rivers with excitement? You’ll find stretches of frisky whitewater upstream near Hanging Rock State Park. More of a placid-water paddler? You’ll be happier paddling downstream in Rockingham County.

Partner: Dan River Basin Association

Current accessibility: There are 16 river access points as of June 2024, with the goal of having an access every 5 to 10 miles.

Deep River State Trail, 125-mile paddle and hiking trail that follows its namesake river from Jamestown in the Triad to Moncure. Explore the heart of the Piedmont by land or by water. Paddlers will find more challenging water upstream, more beginner-friendly passage downstream. 

Partner: Piedmont Land Conservancy

Current accessibility: 5 miles of hiking trail in Randolph County in the towns of Franklinton, Randleman, and Ramsuer (find a map here); the best river access is downstream in Moore, Chatham and Lee counties. Check out the Triangle Land Conservancy’s paddle map for the trail here.

East Coast Greenway State Trail, the North Carolina portion of the East Coast  Greenway, which will run 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida, consists of two legs: one in the Piedmont and one along the coast. They will converge in Wilmington and head into South Carolina from there. 

Partner: East Coast Greenway Alliance 

Current accessibility: Of the 365 miles planned for the main route through the Piedmont, the best access is in the Triangle, near Fayetteville and in the Wilmington area. Learn more through the East Coast Greenway Alliance (see above).

Equestrian State Trail, is a horse trail still in the conceptual phase that will run through several counties south of the Triangle.

Partner: North Carolina Horse Council

Current accessibility: none


Fonta Flora State Trail, probably the fastest developing of the State Trails, this hiking/biking trail will link Asheville with Morganton (with a loop around Lake James). About 31 miles of the trail, mostly in Burke County.

Partner: Friends of the Fonta Flora State Trail

Current accessibility: The Friends’ website (see above) has the latest news on the trail and includes the best access information. Currently, most of the completed trail is near Morganton.

French Broad River State Trail, a paddle trail running 115 miles on the French Broad, from Rosman to the Tennessee Line. The French Broad was designated a State Trail in 1987 and established its partnership with MountainTrue and RiverLink in 2012. Thus, it is fairly well developed as a paddle trail.

Partner: Mountain True

Current accessibility: There are more than 40 access points along the river and numerous campsites. Learn more here.

Haw River State Trail, a paddle and hiking trail running from the Haw’s headwaters north of Greensboro to its conclusion in Jordan Lake. Much of the Haw has a junglelike feel along its banks, and a mountainlike feel paddling its rocky waters. 

Partner: Alamance Parks

Current accessibility: 20 miles of hiking trail and 40 miles of paddle trail with 14 access points. Learn the latest here.

Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail, hiking and biking trail linking many natural attractions – Chimney Rock State Park, Florence Nature Preserve, Bearwallow Mountain and Rumbling Bald, to name a few – of the Hickory Nut Gorge area near Lake Lure. 

Partner: Conserving Carolina

Current accessibility: About 38 miles of this network that will exceed 100 miles is now open; find a map here.

Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a 1,175-mile hiking trail spanning the state, from Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line to Jockey’s Ridge at the coast is no doubt the best known state trail. The trail is complete from Clingman’s Dome into Stone Mountain State Park; around Greensboro; along the Haw River and through the Triangle.

Partner: Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Current accessibility: Close to 750 miles of the trail is finished; ind detailed information about hiking the trail at the Friends’ website above.

Northern Peaks State Trail, 40-mile hiking trail that will link Boone on the south to Mount Jefferson State Natural Area to the north. When done, this trail will be one of the highest and most remote trails in the state.

Partner: Blue Ridge Conservancy

Current accessibility: Two spots: Elk Knob State Park and the recently completed trail at Paddy Mountain in West Jefferson. For information on the Elk Knob section, go here.

Overmountain Victory State Trail, the 225-mile stretch of the OVT in North Carolina follows the paths that patriot militia to the Battle of Kings Mountain. 

Partner: Overmountain Victory North Carolina State Trail Friends Group

Current accessibility: Find a list of places to explore the Overmountain Victory Trail in North Carolina and the three other states it touches, here.

Roanoke River State Trail, paddle trail originating at Roanoke Rapids and ending at Albemarle Sound. Known for the 16 camping platforms developed by its partner, from Halifax to Edenton.

Partner: Roanoke River Partners

Current accessibility: Various river access points and 16 camping platforms, available by registration. Learn more here.

Wilderness Gateway Trail, a mostly hiking trail (though there will be some biking, paddling and horseback sections) that will run from Valdese and Hickory to South Mountains State Park, Bob’s Creek State Natural Area and to the Hickory Nut Gorge State Trail (see above). 

Partner: Foothills Conservancy

Current accessibility: No trail is down, but to get a sense of what it will be like, explore trail at South Mountains State Park, particularly at the park’s Clear Creek Access.

Yadkin River State Trail, 163-mile paddle trail running from W. Scott Kerr Reservoir to Morrow Mountain State Park. Nearly all of this trail is accessible.

Partner: Yadkin River Keeper

Current accessibility: The trail has 17 access points and good information on how to get on the river, which you can find from the Yadkin River Keeper, here.

For more information on the North Carolina’s State Trails system, go here. For the latest on each trail, visit the provided partner link.