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Fantastic Family Hikes in Haywood County


Family hiking Black Balsam Knob in the sun

On a mission to find the perfect family hike for your next trip to Haywood County? Look no further because this week we are sharing a few of our favorite hiking excursions that have received the “family-friendly” stamp of approval.

Introducing your children to the wonders of hiking and teaching an appreciation of the great outdoors is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give them.  There is nothing more rewarding than spending a few hours (or days) in the woods taking in all that mother nature has to offer and Haywood County is great place to do just that.  Given our location – conveniently wedged between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Haywood County offers miles and miles of pristine hiking trails.  Since these trails range in difficulty and length, it can sometimes be hard to judge which ones may be best for younger hikers or even beginner adult hikers.  But no need to stress as we have taken the guess work out of it and have compiled these fantastic family hikes in Haywood County…

Graveyard Fields

This is a popular family hiking trail because of its beauty and ease – 3.2 miles total and offers a moderate climb of almost a mile to the base of an impressive waterfalls. A map at the parking area shows the Graveyard Fields trail system. The set of steps to the right of the map is the start of the trail. After crossing the bridge, the main trail goes left and upstream. A 0.25-mile trail to the right will take you to the bottom of the Lower Falls, which is a moderate descent. Rocks around waterfalls are very slippery. The main trail will take you through open, grassy areas, and past nice pools for wading on a hot summer day. Blueberries are abundant in the late summer/early fall. After one mile, you will see the trail to the Upper Falls. The main trail crosses the Yellow stone Prong and returns to the parking lot.Directions: This trail begins at the Graveyard Fields Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the U.S. Highway 276 junction with the parkway, turn left or south on the Parkway and continue to milepost 418.8 (about 6 miles).

Devil’s Courthouse

Devil’s Courthouse, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, presides over some of the most spectacular views in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the top of Devil’s Courthouse at 5,720 feet, visitors can see into South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee in a 360-degree panorama.

Devil’s Courthouse may have received its name because of the sinister aspect of the rock formation, or because, as legend holds, the devil held court in the cave that lies beneath the rock. In Cherokee lore, this cave is the private dancing chamber and dwelling place of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla.

Devil’s Courthouse provides habitat for a variety of rare, high-altitude plants. Some of these alpine species may be remnants from the last glacial period. Hawks, ravens, vultures, eagles, and peregrine falcons ride the hot air currents that rise from the valley.

Devils Courthouse sits at an Elevation of 5720 ft on the Blue Ridge Parkway, located at Mile Post 422.4, it includes an overlook from parking lot as well as at summit. A 20 minute walk/hike up a partially paved trail to summit & overlook, with short but fairly steep incline half way through.

From the summit you can view 4 states  –  NC, SC, GA & TN – and informative “plaques” are located at the summit’s overlook with distances to well-known peaks both near and far. There is also a picnic table near parking lot, perfect for a scenic lunch.

Appalachian Trail at Max Patch

Max Patch

Easy – Moderate – This local favorite is one of the most visited hiking areas in Haywood County and a favorite among families. This unique location consists of 300+ acres of grassy bald that makes for an easier hike with sweeping, unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. The trail provides two loops to choose from: 1.4 miles and 2.4 miles. The loops guide you up and around the summit.

Directions: Take I-40 W to exit 7 (Harmon’s Den). Take a right on Cold Springs Road, and the road almost immediately becomes gravel. This usually well-graded road climbs steadily but never steeply. Follow it 6.2 miles to SR-1182 (Max Patch Rd). Turn left and drive 1.5 miles to the Max Patch parking area on the right.

Waterrock Knob

Waterrock Knob is a must-stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Located at Milepost 451.2, it features the last hiking trail along the Parkway as you travel toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This peak (6,292 feet) is the 16th highest mountain in the Eastern United States and the the 15th highest of the 40 mountains in North Carolina over 6,000 feet. There are fantastic views both east and west from the parking area, home to a Visitors Center and restrooms. It’s one of the best places in the North Carolina mountains to watch a sunrise or sunset.

A 1.2-mile roundtrip hike will take you to the top of the summit. The steep climb gains 412 feet in elevation. While it is a short hike, the elevation gain makes it’s better for families who can conquer more rugged terrain.  But there are plenty of great views to stop and rest at along the way. The first 1/4 mile of the trail is paved, ending at a nice overlook. At the top, there are several vantage points for distant views. On a clear day, you have 50-mile views, including the highest peaks in the Smokies. You don’t  have to hike the trail to the summit to take in the excellent views of the surrounding mountains but if you’re capable of hiking a strenuous trail, then we strongly recommend it. If you can’t make the hike, take a picnic lunch and make use of the multiple tables that are provided in the “mile high” parking area.

Bull elk bugling
Photo by Smoky Mountain Elk Fest 2019 Award Winner Mandy Quizni

Cataloochee Valley

Perfect for families who may not want to hike but still take in incredible views, wildlife, and historic sites. You can see much of the valley with a simple car ride, but parking and exploring by foot offers even more rewarding experience.

The valley is one the most remote parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is rich in mountain history and beauty. The area is laced with abundant wildflowers and wildlife including reintroduced wild elk (most visible at dawn and dusk), white–tailed deer, black bears, wild turkey, butterflies and many species of birds. The tranquil scenery is sure to inspire the inner artist in everyone. With several hiking trails, streams for fishing, and preserved buildings from the early 1900’s, there is plenty to explore in the valley.

Directions: The easiest way to reach Cataloochee Valley is to take 276 North (Jonathan Creek Road) off Highway 19 in Maggie Valley. Go about 6 miles and turn left onto Cove Creek Road, the last left turn before coming to 1-40 intersection. Travel on Cove Creek Road into Cataloochee Valley (see below). From 1-40: Take exit 20 towards Maggie Valley. After 1/.i mile, turn right on Cove Creek Road. Go about 13 miles to the Cataloochee Valley. The road turns into a narrow dirt road and intersects a paved road. Follow directional signs for “Cataloochee Camp Ground.” *Cove Creek Road is a steep, ten-mile, narrow, curving mountain road. There is a three-mile unpaved section leading up and over Cove Creek Gap, and then winding down the other side of the mountain. Early settlers built this road by hand in the 1800s and called it Cataloochee Turnpike. This graveled section remains as a vital reminder of Cataloochee’s history and a tribute to its builders . When you again reach pavement, turn left and enjoy your easy descent into the valley.


Before any elk-watching adventure, be sure to review elk watching etiquette to make sure that you and your family enjoy a safe trip!


Most of the calves in Cataloochee and WNC are born in late May thru June. The cows hide their calves in the high grass. For safety and to avoid disturbing the calves, visitors should stay out of the fields. Cows can be aggressive in protecting their young. By late June, visitors can often see the calves up and moving with the herd.


The herd can often be seen grazing in the fields. Bulls are “in velvet,” rapidly growing new antlers. The calves are growing quickly and will gain as much as 140 pounds by winter.


The mating season for elk is called the rut, which occurs from mid-September through the end of October. Large bulls bugle and fight for domination and the right to breed with the cows. This can be a dangerous time for visitors as the bulls can be aggressive with unpredictable behavior. For your protection, please remain on the roadway and near your vehicle during the rut.


Winter is a quiet time in the valley. The elk herd retreats to the woods and may not be seen in the fields for weeks. The road becomes treacherous with snow. The road will often be closed when snow is on the peaks around Jonathan Valley.

If you like this story, also check out the Kid-Friendly page and plan an unforgettable family adventure in the NC Smokies!

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