From its headwaters high on Grandfather Mountain, the powerful Linville River patiently carves the rugged, steep-walled gorge that encloses it for approximately 12 miles. Within the 11,786 acres of the gorge, the river drops a dramatic 2,000 feet before leveling out in the Catawba Valley. East of the gorge is Jonas Ridge; west is Linville Mountain. The gorge’s rim extends 3,400 feet, compared to the river’s average of 2,000 feet. Assorted odd rock formations along Jonas Ridge–Sitting Bear, Hawksbill, Table Rock, and the Chimneys–attract beginner, intermediate, and advanced rock climbers. With 39 miles of challenging trails, backpackers come to Linville Gorge in substantial numbers. If you want more solitude during your visit, go to the southern half of the Wilderness, south of Conley Cove Trail (1.35 miles) in the western portion and south of the Chimneys in the eastern portion. The rough northern section surrounding Brushy Ridge also receives few visitors.
The dirt road along the western ridgeline offers many free, first come, pull off camp sites, though a free permit from the Forest Service is required for overnight stays during summer months. Along the top of the cliff on the western side is the awe inspiring Rock Jock Trail and Wiseman’s Viewpoint. This is by far the most scenic views of what is known as the Grand Canyon of the East. With both easy to access campsites and trails, and the most challenging places you can imagine, all in the same place within a 4 hour drive from Raleigh, Linville Gorge is my favorite place in North Carolina to go camping.