Appalachian Trail: hiking Hot Springs, NC to Lovers Leap

Appalachian Trail: Hot Springs, NC to Lovers Leap

Hike the Appalachian Trail at Hot Springs, North Carolina, climbing to beautiful views from Lovers Leap and exploring the wide, whitewater-filled French Broad River.

trail info

TRAIL LOCATION: on the Appalachian Trail north of Asheville

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack w/ our favorite day hike gear and Canon 6D DSLR

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 782 Trails Illustrated Map

While many stretches of the Appalachian Trail’s epic, 2000+ mile journey from Georgia to Maine adventure over remote mountaintops and tranquil river valleys, the famous trail makes the occasional departure through towns that call the mountains home.

Hike the Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs, NC, visiting a tumbling waterfall on the French Broad RiverAbove: hike the Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs to a tumbling waterfall on the French Broad River

North of Georgia’s Springer Mountain, the AT crosses through the first of its official trail towns at Hot Springs, North Carolina, a small mountain town nestled in a valley beside the scenic French Broad River. Hot Springs oozes small-town charm and scenic beauty, and outdoor outfitters, sandwich shops, and campgrounds pepper its sleepy streets. 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 at Lovers Leap.

Hike the Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs, NC to beautiful views at Lovers LeapAbove: hike the AT to beautiful, lofty views of Hot Springs from Lovers Leap

This two-miler follows the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes through town and hikes the banks of the placid French Broad to a wide, spilling waterfall. The hike veers northbound to climb to the summit of Lovers Leap, a rocky precipice that overlooks the town and offers some beautiful, lofty views. The town of Hot Springs offers plenty of places for pre-hike gear shopping and post-hike refreshments. This is an ultra-scenic hike, and while it’s moderately challenging, it’s also relatively short. And the views make the workout well worth it.

Appalachian Trail, Hot Springs, NC to Lovers Leap: the hike

The hike departs from downtown 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.

Hike the Appalachian Trail through Hot Springs, North Carolina, crossing the French Broad River

The hike reaches the river’s east bank and 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.

Hike the Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs, NC on the rocky banks of the French Broad River

The hike passes several large campsites nestled beside the river, shaded by the pine and leafy deciduous canopy overhead. The trail reaches a tumbling, wide, whitewater-filled waterfall at .35 mile.

Hike the Appalachian Trail to a wide, tumbling waterfall on the French Broad River in Hot Springs, NC

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 the trail’s white blazes as the trail climbs sharply through a switchback. The trail curves 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 leaped 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.

Hike the Appalachian Trail to beautiful summit views from the rocky Lovers Leap summit in Hot Springs, NC

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.

The hike departs the summit overlook and 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 finishes the adventure at just over 2 miles.

More Appalachian Trail adventures near Hot Springs

In the area with daylight (and energy) left to burn? Hike the Appalachian Trail at Max Patch Mountain, one of our favorite, can’t-miss hikes in North Carolina. It’s a scenic drive west from Hot Springs, and a moderately short adventure to a grassy bald that’s drenched in sunshine and covered in wildflowers.

Appalachian Trail: Hot Springs NC to Lovers Leap: Directions & Details


Parking is available in designated lots in the town of Hot Springs.

Please Remember

Always leave no trace, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, don't rely on a cell phone signal to find your way, and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

35.893668, -82.823819     //     N35 53.618 W82 49.433

Driving Directions

Elevation Profile

Lovers Leap on the Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs, NC: elevation profile

Appalachian Trail: Hot Springs NC to Lovers Leap Map

Trail data and photos © Summit19 Studio LLC. This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.
Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.

Eric is also a freelance writer, photographer and creative director.

Let’s hit the trail, Asheville!   #ashevilletrails

Western North Carolina's beauty is simply stunning. From Asheville's urban biking and running trails to the curvy meanders of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and from the towering heights of Mount Mitchell to the shady, cool, waterfall-filled valleys of the Pisgah National Forest, there's a whole lot of outdoor beauty to be seen in Western NC.

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