Hike Whiteside Mountain near Highlands, NC, climbing to exceptional summit views from the mountain’s sheer, 750-foot, towering rock walls.
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 785 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
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, the highest perpendicular bare rock face 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. Summit vistas stretch far and wide in some of the most incredible panoramas in western North Carolina.
This hike 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 beautiful, golden colors of autumn paint the surrounding hardwood forest . The hike’s stunning beauty, 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 on the mountain, visit on early morning weekdays for the best chance for some silent summit bliss.
Whiteside Mountain: the hike
The adventure begins at a 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 trail loops around the mountain’s summit; this hike takes the steeper, faster route to the summit, turning right and following blue trail blazes.
The hike quickly gains elevation, switching back through dense thickets of rhododendron and ascending rustic metal stairs. The hike reaches a side trail after climbing 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 principal overlook at just under a half mile, catching exceptional views from a weathered gray rock outcrop.
The trail veers to the northeast, following the mountain’s elongated ridge, continuing the climb. As the elevation rises, the drop-offs from the overlooks become sheerer, and the views become even more breathtaking. Cables offer some edge protection at the steepest of the overlooks.
The trail peaks at .75 miles, reaching Whiteside Mountain’s summit of 4,930 feet. Views extend in vast 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.
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 the nearby, craggy prominence at Devils Courthouse.
The trail arcs southwest, following a gravel roadbed framed by large rock outcrops and broad-trunked rhododendron. The hike descends steadily along the roadbed, passing an enormous, blocky outcropping covered in vibrant green moss at 1.75 miles. The hike completes the loop, and follows the gravel road back to the trailhead, finishing the adventure 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.
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.
Whiteside Mountain Map, Directions & Details
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35.080417, -83.144033 // N35 04.825 W83 08.642