This is a can’t-miss hike if the weather cooperates. Table Rock, the stone uplift that forms the Linville Gorge’s most prominent peak, has amazing vistas at the top. About a mile and a half south, the Mountains to Sea Trail skirts the ragged ridge of The Chimneys, one of the most impressive assortments of rock formations in a gorge full of them.

Trail sign at Table Rock

Starting at the Table Rock picnic area, I hiked to Table Rock Summit first, then backtracked and headed down to The Chimneys, then took a little detour down an unofficial trail to the eastern rim of the gorge. I put in about four miles; you could do a lot more, but you’d be walking away from the most compelling reasons to be there.

Bear in mind that Table Rock’s picnic area is a popular tourist destination; gawkers can clog the trails (and fill the parking lot). You can’t avoid them at the the top of Table Rock, but the summit area is big enough to support lots of people. Few venture more than a half-mile south toward The Chimneys — once you pass their grazing range you should have much of the place to yourself.

The hike starts out at the north end of the parking lot, following the Mountains to Sea Trail for about a half-mile, then taking a right turn and climbing to the summit. Let’s see some scenery:

Impressive angular rocks

About a quarter-mile up the trail, this impressive stand of angled stone looms over the Mountains to Sea Trail.

Bits of fall color

Fall color is coming in, one splish and splash at a time. The hike to the summit is just under a mile. At about a half-mile, there’s a trail junction with the left turn heading downhill and the right going up. Bear right and keep going. As long as you’re heading uphill you’re going the right way.

VIew from Table Rock summit

Here’s one of the views from the top.

Looking south from Table Rock

Here’s one looking southward. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore — just mind your footing; it’s a long way to the bottom.

View from under a rock overhang

Looking out from a rock overhang on the way back down.

When you get back to the parking lot, walk to the far end and get back on the Mountains to Sea Trail. You’ll pass through a picnic area and a few campsites; not far from there, a big overlook appears over to the left.

Table Rock

Here’s the view from that overlook.

Tree and rocks

Tree and rocks near The Chimneys. This section is visually spectacular — but it’s also fairly small. Once you’ve passed it, the trail reverts to tree tunnel. But there is an unofficial trail that heads down to the east rim of the gorge, with tons of gorgeous overlooks. Here’s a view looking upward toward from that area:

Ridge near The Chimneys

This section of trail is a bit faint and overgrown, but it can be followed if you pay close attention. This is another of those “best explored with a GPS unit” paths.

Bright colors

One very cool thing about this section of the forest: it’s dominated by one of the trees that’s already turning color.

Forest near the east rim

More trees near the east rim of the gorge.

East Rim overlook

This was my view when I broke for lunch.

Table Rock in the distance

Another view of Table Rock from near the east rim.

Warning for those thinking of exploring the east rim section: the edge of this area is a series of sheer cliffs plunging several hundred feet into the depths of the gorge. Visually spectacular, but fatal if you fall. The trails are very faint, if visible at all. This page at links to all the site’s GPS tracks; best to stick to the main trails if you don’t have a GPS unit.

From the east rim area, I found an even fainter trail back up to the Mountains to Sea Trail and headed back to the parking lot.

My favorite dead tree of the day

My favorite dead-tree shot along the way back.

My best advice for this hike: wait for optimum weather — clear skis, light breezes, mild warmth. This is a visual route; no point going when fog socks in the canyon or gale-force winds make you fear for your life.

Links for this hike:

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