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.
LOCATION:on the Appalachian Trail in NC
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 782 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
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.
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. The town 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.
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 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 in Hot Springs, NC: the hike
The hike departs from downtown 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.
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.
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.
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 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. 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 the trailhead. Crossing the bridge spanning the river, the hike finishes the adventure at just over 2 miles.
Nearby adventures on the Appalachian Trail
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. Or for a longer, scenic route to the mountain bald, hike the Appalachian Trail from Lemon Gap to Max Patch, enjoying a great workout (and some solitude) on a lesser-traveled route to the popular summit.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Appalachian Trail: Hot Springs NC to Lovers Leap Map, Directions & Details
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Parking is available in designated lots in the town of Hot Springs.
35.893668, -82.823819 // N35 53.618 W82 49.433