On our second day of vacation, we decided to check out some hiking in beautiful Linville Gorge – specifically Table Rock, the Chimneys, and the Devil’s Crack/Cellar. The total for the day was only 3.28 miles with 610′ of elevation gain, so it should have been an easy hike. For whatever reason – the hot sunshine, tiredness from sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, etc – it felt a lot tougher than it normally would. It was still a great hike with spectacular scenery, but next time I’d go earlier in the morning, in cooler clothing, with a lot more water and sunscreen! This is definitely an exposed trail where you will bake in the sun – or get hit by lightning if there are storms! The Table Rock section is pretty straight-forward, but the Chimneys section might not be great for unsupervised children or people with a fear of heights.
The drive from the main paved road out to the Table Rock parking area is a winding, dusty, bumpy 8.5 mile ride along forest service roads. You never think 8.5 miles is ‘far’ until you have to drive along a road like this – it takes forever to to cover the distance. Along the way, we passed the trailhead to Hawksbill Mountain – another spectacular hike we did several years ago. I actually think it’s probably the prettier hike.
When we got to the Table Rock parking/picnic area, there were just a few cars there. Apparently, this area is immensely popular and we were lucky to hit it on a quiet day. The hike is a double out-and-back. We decided to go up Table Rock first. From the parking lot you can see the distinctive dome-shaped summit off to the left. The trail is gently graded with lots of interesting rock formations along the way. As you climb, you’ll begin to get views looking down into the gorge. It’s such amazing, dramatic scenery.
You’ll reach the summit of Table Rock after just about a mile of climbing, most of it along the Mountains to Sea trail. On the way up, you’ll pass two trail junctions, both on the left side of the trail – one is a continuation of the MTS trail. After you pass that junction, stay to the right to reach the Table Rock summit. The top is not a small outcropping that looks in one direction – it’s an entire mountaintop with views all around! You’ll see the foundation of an old fire tower. To the north, you can see Hawksbill Mountain. Supposedly, you can even see Linville Falls off in the distance, though we personally couldn’t spot it. You can also scramble over a bunch of boulders to get views to the south of Shortoff Mountain, and to the west – the Linville River.
After spending some time at the summit, we descended back the way we came. We took one of the unmarked side trails we had passed on our way up out to see Devil’s Crack/Cellar. I think the ‘cellar’ refers to the rock jumble heading down into the Gorge and the ‘crack’ is the big rock tower that splits from the main wall. I’ve read that some people just call the whole area “The Crack of the Devil.” I can’t be positive about the names, but I can tell you that it’s incredible and worth the short side-trip. The detour is only about a quarter mile off the main trail. The top of the rock tower is easy to climb up, and I suggest checking it out!
Afterwards, we descended back to the parking area. From there, we took the Mountains-to-Sea trail to the right. Almost immediately, you’ll pass pit toilets, the picnic area, and a large primitive campground. The trail is a gradual uphill for a few tenths of a mile. From there, it turns into a bit of a rock-scrambling roller coaster as it follows an exposed ridge.
The trail had some steep drops and tricky obstacles to negotiate. I don’t particularly enjoy rock scrambling or exposed ledges, so I didn’t love this part of the hike. It was lovely, but it definitely triggered my vertigo. I can see why rock climbers are such big fans of the Chimneys – there are lots of precipitous things to scale. While I didn’t love the terrain, I did appreciate the blooming flame azaleas, mountain laurel, and Catawba rhododendron.
I ended up walking about .8 of a mile along this section of trail. After that, the terrain got even more exposed and tricky, and I really didn’t feel like negotiating any more rocks. So, I found one of the only shady spots along the way and decided to wait for the rest of the gang to come back. It’s no fun to be hot, dizzy and lightheaded on terrain where you really need good balance.
After a few minutes, Adam came back and we retraced our steps back to the car. I was pretty glad to get out of the sun and into the air-conditioning!