Whiteside Mountain Trail

Hike Whiteside Mountain near Highlands, NC, climbing to exceptional summit views from the mountain's sheer, 750-foot, towering rock walls.

 

trail info

TRAIL LOCATION: Near Highlands, NC in the Nantahala National Forest

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

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map

Whiteside Mountain’s enormous, sheer rock faces rise high above the nearby town of Highlands. The mountain’s massive, exposed cliffs rise nearly 750 feet from the tree line below, the highest perpendicular bare rock faces east of the Rocky Mountains. Endangered peregrine falcons nest in the mountain’s towering cliffs, and soar in the thermal uplifts beside the mountain, searching for prey. Vistas from the summit stretch far and wide in some of the most incredible panoramas in western North Carolina.

Hike the Whiteside Mountain Trail near Highlands, NC to outstanding summit viewsAbove: hike to stunning summit views from Whiteside Mountain near Highlands, NC

The Whiteside Mountain Trail climbs this impressive mountaintop, looping two miles to incredible overlook after incredible overlook. The trail is a gorgeous hike in any season, but particularly beautiful in fall, when the surrounding hardwood forest is painted in the beautiful, golden colors of autumn. The hike’s stunning beauty, close proximity to the towns of Highlands and Cashiers, relatively short length and moderate elevation gains contribute to its immense popularity. If you’re seeking solitude at Whiteside, visit on early morning weekdays for the best chance for some silent summit bliss.

Whiteside Mountain Trail: the hike

The hike departs from the Whiteside Mountain trailhead, northeast of downtown Highlands (view maps and driving directions), hiking eastbound. The trail begins a nearly unrelenting hike to the mountain’s summit, following a wide gravel roadbed, reaching a trail intersection at .1 mile. From here, the Whiteside Mountain Trail loops around the mountain’s summit; this hike takes the steeper route to the summit (and the fastest route to the summit’s views), turning right and following blue trail blazes.

Hike Whiteside Mountain near Highlands and Cashiers, NC to beautiful summit views

The hike quickly gains elevation, switching back through dense thickets of rhododendron and ascending rustic metal stairs. The hike reaches a side trail after ascending the stairs at .3 mile, catching limited views from an angular, open rock outcrop before continuing the ascent to the summit. The trail reaches the first major overlook at just under a half mile, catching exceptional views from a weathered gray rock outcrop.

Best hikes near Highlands, NC: the Whiteside Mountain Trail climbs to exceptional summit views

The trail veers to the northeast, following Whiteside’s elongated ridge, continuing the climb. As the elevation rises, the drop offs from the overlooks become more sheer, and the views become even more breathtaking. Cables offer some edge protection at the steepest of the overlooks.

Catch beautiful panoramic views on the Whiteside Mountain Trail near Highlands, North Carolina

The trail peaks at .75 miles, reaching Whiteside Mountain’s summit of 4,930 feet. Views extend in wide panoramas, reaching down the mountain’s towering spine, and stretching far and wide. After cresting the mountain’s summit, the trail rolls elevation, making its last ascent at 1 mile. Views are abundant, available from a series of cabled overlooks.

Best hikes in North Carolina: hike the Whiteside Mountain Trail near Highlands to incredible summit vistas

From the hike’s midpoint, it’s a steady and continuous downhill back to the trailhead. The hike passes a side trail to an overlook platform just before rounding a sharp curve, catching the last of the trail’s incredible views at an overlook at 1.2 miles. Views from the overlook extend northward, reaching to the headwaters of the Chattooga River and Whiteside Mountain’s nearby, craggy prominence, Devil’s Courthouse.

The trail arcs southwest, following a gravel roadbed framed in large rock outcrops and broad-trunked rhododendron.

Hike the Whiteside Mountain Trail in autumn to catch gorgeous fall foliage and abundant summit views

The trail descends steadily along the roadbed, passing an enormous, blocky outcrop covered in vibrant green moss at 1.75 miles. Completing the loop, the hike follows the gravel road back to the trailhead, completing the hike at just over 2 miles.

More hiking adventures near Highlands and Cashiers

In the area, and up for some more adventure? Check out the list of our favorite hikes near Highlands and Cashiers for more can’t-miss hikes, including the beautiful Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park and the High Falls Trail at Lake Glenville.

 
 
 

Whiteside Mountain Trail: Directions & Details

Parking

$2 per vehicle (cash) at the Whiteside Mountain Trailhead east of Highlands. Before you go, check for seasonal trail and road closures on the USFS Nantahala National Forest site.

Please Remember

Always leave no trace and follow these trail etiquette tips.

GPS Coordinates

35.080417, -83.144033     //     N35 04.825 W83 08.642

Driving Directions


Elevation Profile

Whiteside Mountain Trail: Elevation Profile

Whiteside Mountain Trail 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.