Devil's Courthouse at Whiteside Mountain: top hikes near Highlands, NC Cashiers and Highlands

Devils Courthouse at Whiteside Mountain

Hike to incredible, wide panoramic views from the summit of Whiteside Mountain, and then take a challenging hike to the sheer-sided craggy tower at Devils Courthouse near Highlands, NC.

trail info

2.95 miles
(round trip)
most
difficult
Dog-
friendly

LOCATION:near Highlands, NC in the Nantahala National Forest (maps & directions)

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack w/ our favorite hiking gear list and Canon 6D Camera

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map

Stunning vistas and sheer mountain walls draw scores of weekend hikers to the outstanding loop trail at Whiteside Mountain. This enormous, rock-sided mountain is visible throughout the mountains and valleys surrounding Highlands, NC, and is well-loved as one of the area’s top hiking destinations. And while views from the lofty mountain are splendid, indeed, its popularity can be a bit overwhelming to experienced hikers looking to score some sublime views and some serenity. This hike follows the typical loop to Whiteside’s towering, sheer walls, and then diverts on a side trail to a nearby neighboring precipice, Devils Courthouse.

Hike to stunning views from towering heights at Devils Courthouse and Whiteside Mountain near Highlands, NC

This hike is not at all beginner friendly: the trail to this towering rock spire is rugged, rooty, and rocky, and numerous side trails can easily cause confusion. But the views from Devils Courthouse are stunning, without the usual crowds at the Whiteside summit. Unlike the Whiteside overlooks, the Courthouse summit isn’t protected by cables or safety devices. But like Whiteside, the Courthouse dropoffs are sheer and sudden. Staying away from the edges is imperative: a fall from the Courthouse would easily be fatal, and many of the side trails along the way dead-end into sheer dropoffs.

(If you’re not a seasoned hiker with proper wayfinding tools, including printed maps, a compass, and a handheld GPS, or you have any doubts about your wayfinding ability or sure-footedness, or if you’re hiking with children, we absolutely do not recommend this hike. Check out the Whiteside Mountain Loop Trail instead. And definitely avoid this route on windy or storm-prone days, or if there’s a chance of lightening.)

Devils Courthouse: the hike

The adventure begins at the Whiteside Mountain trailhead near Highlands, NC (view maps and driving directions). The hike follows a wide gravel roadbed eastbound, and turns right at .1 mile to follow the Whiteside Loop in a counter-clockwise direction, following blue trail blazes. The trail ascends steadily, climbing through a forest filled with gnarly-branched rhododendron, climbing sets of metal and stone stairs, and passing a number of outstanding overlooks near the mountain’s soaring summit.

Top hikes near Highlands, NC: catch stunning autumn views from Whiteside Mountain's enormous heights

Cables border the steepest overlooks, where the mountain drops suddenly away. Whiteside’s towering cliffs drop in sheer dropoffs over 750 feet, making them the highest perpendicular bare rock faces on the East Coast.

The hike reaches the mountain’s summit at .75 miles, and then begins a steady decline. A number of overlooks offer outstanding views on the descent. Just before the trail arcs suddenly to the southwest, the hike reaches the unsigned trailhead to Devil’s Courthouse at just under 1.2 miles, to the right of the Chattooga Watershed overlook. From here, the hike begins its most difficult and technical stretch, plunging through a rocky forest and tunneling through dense rhododendron.

Hike the Devils Courthouse Trail from Whiteside Mountain, tunneling through a dense, rooty and rocky forest filled with rhododendron

The trail is rough and rugged, requiring scrambles over large angular boulders and climbs over large tree roots. A number of side trails spider off the main trail, leading to dead-ends and sudden drop-offs. This hike continues navigating along the main trail, dipping through the saddle and meandering through the dense forest toward the rocky spire ahead. (Again, do not attempt the route without an official printed topographic map and a handheld GPS.)

The hike begins a sudden ascent at 1.5 miles, climbing to a grassy, sun-drenched clearing on the summit of Devils Courthouse. Views extend from the summit from several expanses of open rock, but avoid coming even close to the edges: these elevations drop off immediately in a sheer freefall, and one wrong step could be deadly.

Hike to Devils Courthouse at Whiteside Mountain, scoring exceptional summit views near Highlands, NC

Departing the summit, the hike carefully retraces its outbound route along the Devils Courthouse Trail to the Whiteside Mountain Loop, reaching the Chattooga River Watershed overlook at just over 2 miles. On a clear day, the overlook offers a great view to the north, including Lake Glenville, and the towering Plott Balsam Mountain range on the far horizon, including Blackrock Mountain and The Pinnacle.

The hike picks up the Whiteside Mountain loop trail at the Chattooga River Watershed overlook, following a gravel road downhill from the clearing. It’s a nearly unrelenting descent to the trailhead, dropping through the rocky forest on Whiteside’s northwest slopes. The hike completes the loop at 2.8 miles, following the spur trail to the trailhead and parking area, and completing the adventure at just under 3 miles.

(There’s also a stone spire of the same name located off the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, with equally stunning views (and a much shorter and easier hike to the summit). Hike the Devils Courthouse Trail from the Parkway to stunning views into the mountains of Western NC as well as South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.)

More top hikes near Highlands, NC

In the area with daylight and energy to spare? Check out the list of our favorite hikes near Highlands and Cashiers for more of our favorite adventures in this high-elevation stretch of Western NC.

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Devils Courthouse at Whiteside Mountain Map, Directions & Details

Devils Courthouse at Whiteside Mountain Map
Devils Courthouse at Whiteside Mountain Map
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.

Driving Directions


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.

GPS Coordinates

35.080417, -83.144033     //     N35 04.825 W83 08.642

Elevation Profile

Devils Courthouse at Whiteside Mountain - Elevation Profile
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Please Remember

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

 
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, Asheville Trails, and Trailful, digital magazines that highlight the South’s best outdoor adventures and top Southern-worthy outdoor gear. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.
 
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