Route: Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit (NC)

North Carolina, US
34 mi
Vertical Gain
8,000 ft

Phil Phelan posted the route:

The Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit is a conglomerate of 21 individual trails that - when linked - circles the Linville Gorge Wilderness in its' entirety.

Beginning at the Pine Gap parking lot, the trails that make-up the Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit are listed here in order from start to finish. Marion Wright Trail, Erwin's View Trail, Plunge Basin Trail, Plunge Basin Trail / Red North Trail Connector Trail, Red North Trail, Brushy Ridge Trail, Red South Trail, Devil's Cliff Trail, Jonas Ridge Trail, Hawksbill Trail, Ledge Trail, Ledge Trail / Spence Ridge Trail Connector Trail, Spence Ridge Trail, Spence Ridge Trail / Table Rock Gap Trail Connector Trail, Table Rock Gap Trail, Table Rock Summit Trail, Shortoff Mountain Trail, Mountains-To-Sea Trail, Lead Mine Trail, Linville Gorge Trail, and Pine Gap Trail.

The Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit guidebook can be found at

A shorter (about 22 mile) variation is also offered here, which forms more or less a southern loop of the whole Hiking Circuit described above.  We'll call it the  the "Linville Gorge Wilderness Loop" after the listing here.

GPS Track


I am announcing my intent to challenge the FKT of the Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit, currently held by Phil Phelan, with a time of 23hrs 10mins. Phil Phelan is also the creator of the Hiking Circuit. I will be starting on 10/25/18 at first light (7:15AM). I will be completing the loop in a clockwise direction; beginning and ending at Pine Gap Trailhead.




I will be attempting the Wilderness Loop FKT on Sunday, March 10th. I will be looking to best Dylan Beres' time of 20hrs 35mins.




I will be attempting the Wilderness Loop FKT at 7am on Sunday, October 5th. Thanks! 

Jon Ziefle

I ran the route today, february 22, for the third time. This was my fastest yet attempt on the route, starting and ending at the wolf pit parking lot south of short off mountain. I completed the route in 6 hrs, 33 minutes. Now seeing the FKT is 5, ill be back to give it hell once again. - Bryson Peter

I completed the Wilderness Loop (22 miles) in 5:10.45. After going off trail around little Table rock unfortunately.  Then backtracking to get back on trail. Still a solid effort. Ryan crushed this! 

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John Robinson and I plan to attempt the FKT of the Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit -34 miler.  We will be unsupported.  We plan to attempt to beat the 13 hour 42 min 58 second time.  We will start early morning around 530am on Monday November 14 2022.  We will report back after.

I recently completed the 22-mile wilderness loop in 4:08:24 on 2/23/23, setting the new FKT.

Following this I'd like to discuss a course change. It seems that the Forest Service is naturalizing the trail about 2/3 of a mile after Daffodil Flats (counterclockwise). Route finding is already a bit of a headache and the new trail is now the obvious and prefered direction. On my FKT, I followed the original loop, to avoid any controversy.  It hugs the river after the intersection and campground. It is getting significantly overgrown. This was informed by Ryan's FKT strava file as well as the segment. The new trail goes up from the river at the campground. I wish I remembered the name of the trail. It may be just the new Linville Gorge Wilderness Trail.

With all that  said, I believe that there is a small something lost by eliminating the steep ~400' climb of the original loop, but in deference to the efforts of the Forest Service, I believe that this is the right call for the community.  A more gradual grade climb up to the main train replaces the steep climb. At this point I've completed both variations of through route, and, at least for me, they feel comparable. My plan from here is to reach out to the original FKT and see if he agrees. I also plan on attempting to get the Strava segment updated or create a new one.

I am absolutely open to feedback and comments.

Update: Just spoke to Ryan. He agrees that we should respect the Forest Service's efforts to redirect folks.

Ultimately, we landed on both ways are valid, since they do have a bit of a different character. Still open to feedback, but I figured I'd try to close the loop on this to help with future efforts.