Whiteside Mountain Trail: hike to stunning summit views near Highlands, NC Cashiers and Highlands

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

2 miles
(round trip)

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

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.

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 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 Trail: the hike

The hike departs from 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.

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 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.

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

The trail veers to the northeast, following Whiteside 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.


Whiteside Mountain Trail: hike to beautiful panoramic views near Highlands, North Carolina

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.

Best North Carolina hikes: 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 the nearby, craggy prominence at Devils 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 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 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.

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Whiteside Mountain Trail Map, Directions & Details

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

Driving Directions


$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

Whiteside Mountain Trail: 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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