Appalachian Trail at Hot Springs, NC: hiking to Lovers Leap
Hike the Appalachian Trail through Hot Springs, North Carolina, on the banks of the wide French Broad River, climbing to beautiful views from Lovers Leap.
North of Georgia’s Springer Mountain, the AT crosses through the first of its official trail towns at Hot Springs, North Carolina, a small town nestled in a valley beside the scenic French Broad River. The town oozes small-town charm and scenic beauty, its sleepy streets peppered with outdoor outfitters, sandwich shops and campgrounds. And routing down the town’s main thoroughfare, the Appalachian Trail’s iconic, white rectangular blazes follow Bridge Street, crossing the French Broad River before climbing a nearby summit.
This AT two-miler follows the trail’s white blazes through town. It hikes the banks of the placid French Broad to a wide, spilling waterfall, and then veers northbound to climb to the summit of Lovers Leap, a rocky precipice that overlooks the town and offers some beautiful summit views. It’s a scenic hike, and moderately challenging but relatively short. The town of Hot Springs offers plenty of places for pre-hike gear shopping and post-hike refreshments. And the views make the workout well worth it.
Appalachian Trail to Lovers Leap in Hot Springs, NC: the hike
The hike departs from the town of Hot Springs, following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes eastbound along Bridge Street (view maps and driving directions). The trail crosses a wide bridge over the French Broad River, catching beautiful upstream views of the river in the shadow of the towering Lovers Leap summit directly ahead.
Reaching the river’s east bank, the hike descends stairs, continuing to follow the AT’s white blazes. The trail follows Silver Mine Road for a short stretch, crosses a wide wooden bridge over Silver Mine Creek, and trails the French Broad upriver. The hike passes the angular, towering outcrops at the base of Lovers Leap, trekking over rocky terrain on the river’s banks.
The AT passes several large campsites nestled beside the river, shaded by the pine and leafy deciduous canopy overhead. The hike reaches a spilling, wide, whitewater-filled waterfall at .35 mile.
The AT continues its southbound trek alongside the river, gently rolling elevation on the river’s banks. The trail veers southeast at .6 mile, following the AT’s white blazes as the trail climbs sharply through a switchback. The trail veers northbound, beginning a 400-foot climb to Lovers Leap over the next .3 mile. The terrain quickly becomes rocky and rugged.
The trail carves through several sharp switchbacks, reaching the first of three overlooks at .85 mile. A second overlook offers sweeping views at .9 mile, the site from which, Cherokee Legend holds, a broken-hearted princess leapt to her death. The Lovers Leap outcrops drop off sharply, and the mountain’s footing is unstable in places, thanks to loose rock – so tread carefully.
The hike reaches the third overlook at 1 mile after carving through tight switchbacks near the summit. Views extend west to the town of Hot Springs, and north along the wide, gentle meanders of the French Broad River. The summit’s rock outcrops make a great spot for a sunny mid-hike snack.
Departing the summit overlook, this hike retraces its outbound steps on the AT, descending to the banks of the French Broad and hiking downriver to return to Hot Springs. Crossing the bridge spanning the river, the hike completes at just over 2 miles.
More Appalachian Trail adventures near Hot Springs
In the area with daylight (and energy) left to burn? Hike the AT to the summit of Max Patch; it’s one of our favorite, can’t-miss hikes in North Carolina. It’s a scenic drive west from Hot Springs, and a moderately short hike to a grassy bald that’s drenched in sunshine and covered in wildflowers.