Worth the Hike: Top 5 Overlooks in North Carolina for Enjoying the Stars

Hiking with a goal of reaching amazing views is always a plus — and in this case, the views are out of this world!

In the western North Carolina mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro, and Sylva — there are some amazing hikes that not only lead to amazing mountain views, but are also perfect for seeing stars.

Worth the Hike: Top 5 Overlooks in North Carolina for Enjoying the Stars
Courtesy: j.michaud.photography

These towns are a dream for outdoor lovers — they’re full of amazing trails and overlooks. (And they’re close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, too — so you can make a weekend of it!) Light pollution is low here, allowing the stars in the night sky to be seen in all their glory.

These five trails and overlooks in Jackson County, NC — just over the Georgia border — are definitely worth the trip. So grab your telescope, strap on your headlamp, and get hiking!  

1.  Black Balsam Knob 

One of the greatest hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Black Balsam Trail scales Black Balsam Knob, the 23rd highest mountain in North Carolina. Once you reach 6,000 feet, the mountaintops are almost completely void of trees, making for incredible views.

We hiked this trail (in the daytime) with my two kids and our dogs, and it was one of our favorite hikes EVER. I can’t imagine how incredible it would be a night. Highly recommend this one — the views here cannot be beat.

2.  Waterrock Knob 

For a steep hike with great views along the way, Waterrock Knob Trail will literally take your breath away. A 1.2-mile roundtrip hike will take you to the top of the 6,292-foot summit.

The vigorous climb gains 412 feet in elevation and features great views along the way. At the top, there are several vantage points where you can see up to 50 miles out on a clear day to the Smokies. 

Waterrock Knob is the home to the tallest visitor center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a popular place to catch both sunrises and sunsets.

This one is at a high elevation, so the weather is often much cooler up here, especially at night. Dress accordingly!

Worth the Hike: Top 5 Overlooks in North Carolina for Enjoying the Stars
Whiteside Mountain

3.  Whiteside Mountain 

With sheer, vertical cliffs that tower above the valley below, this trail features one of the county’s most recognizable peaks. Due to erosion, Whiteside Mountain now boasts the highest vertical cliffs in the eastern United States—about 1,800 feet.

Whiteside’s 4,930-foot crest can be attained by a loop trail that offers panoramic views of the sky in its most perfect form.

Our family loved this hike — it’s just one amazing view after another! Towards the end of our hike, my kids weren’t even stopping to take in the views anymore — there were just so many, they got used to it!

The parking can be tricky here, so make sure you get there early to get a spot.

4.  Pinnacle Park Trail 

See if you have what it takes and hike the strenuous terrain of Pinnacle Park, a 7-mile trek that ascends more than 3,000 ft. in elevation.

Your reward? Incredible views of the mountains below and the stars above. Be sure to pack a late night snack and camera before embarking on this hiking adventure.

The 1,000-acre town park features streams, waterfalls and panoramic views throughout. The 3.4-mile trail to the top follows an old logging road for most of its length, through a grassy ridge and then up a short rocky trail to the Pinnacle, where panoramic views of Sylva and Scotts Creek Valley await.  

5.  Richland Balsam Trail 

Known as the best-smelling trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 1.5-mile Richland Balsam Trail loop winds through a spruce-fir forest. (It smells like Christmas!) You’ll love this surprisingly easy hike to the highest peak along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with great sky views!

Even though the climb is about 700 vertical feet, the Richard Balsam Trail is not overly strenuous, and the cooler temps make for a refreshing hike during hot summer months. 

When hiking to view the beautiful night skies, guests are recommended to either pack gear to stay the night, or bring flashlights! (My kids love having headlamps too.) Take your time climbing back down, and enjoy an adventure you won’t soon forget!