5 trips made for the first-time backpacker

In today’s GetHiking! Southeast Podcast we scout a potential graduation trip route for our first GetBackpacking! Intro to Backpacking class in Virginia. In the podcast, we explain what, in our opinion, makes for a good weekend trip for first-time backpackers. That is, a trip that will get them hooked on backcountry camping. 

One thing we don’t do, though, is cite specific beginner trips we like. That is our goal here today.

Fortunately, I didn’t need to look far to find beginner-friendly hikes. More than half the hikes in my guidebook, “Backpacking North Carolina: 43 Can’t-Miss Trips,” fall into the good-for-beginners category. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t great adventures for more experienced backpackers; they just happen to meet the criteria for a good beginner trip, which includes:

  • Moderate distances between camps (5-7 miles, tops)
  • Obvious, flat campsites
  • Easy access to reliable water
  • Easy-to-follow trails

There’s more — you’ll just need to listen to the podcast to learn them. Now, on to our 5 favorite beginner backpack trips in North Carolina.

Neusiok Trail

Neusiok Trail, Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest, Havelock

20.1 miles

2-3 days

If you’re looking to bust out some miles on your first weekend, here’s your hike. There are three shelters along the way, letting you break down the hike into manageable days of roughly 4, 7 1/2, and 9 miles. But because this is likely the flattest 20.1 miles in the state, a two-nighter is easily doable. There’s water at the shelters, the trail is well maintained by the Carteret County Wildlife Club, and it’s perhaps the best winter hike in the state (winter being the only time you’ll want to hike through this otherwise buggy, steamy coastal forest).

Trip No. 42, “Backpacking North Carolina”

More info here.

Hunt-fish Falls

Virtual visits
Gragg Prong, Wilson Creek area

Wilson Creek area, Pisgah National Forest, Mortimer

2.8 miles in full pack, 13.6 miles in day pack

2-3 days

While we are big fans of backcountry camping, we aren’t quite as keen on putting in big miles with 30 pounds on our back. Thus, we gravitate to basecamp trips: hike in a short distance in full pack, establish basecamp, hike in a day pack from there. This hike is one of our favorite basecamp options, with a 1.4-mile hike to camp, an expansive, flat area along Lost Cove Creek. We like to spend one day on a roughly 6-mile hike along the creek and on the Timber Ridge Trail, a more casual day hiking about 3 miles up Gragg Prong and lolling in the numerous pools at the base of numerous falls. A good summer trip.

Trip No. 8, “Backpacking North Carolina.”

More info here.

Birkhead Wilderness

Camp 5, Birkhead Wilderness

Uwharrie National Forest, Asheboro

7.4 miles

2 days

The quintessential one-night trip, used as both a first-time outing and to try out new gear. One reason the trip is so popular is its proximity to the state’s three prime population centers: Charlotte, the Triangle, the Triad. This 5,160-acre northern tip of the Uwharrie National Forest also carries the cachet of being a wilderness area — a wilderness area much of the state can reach within two hours. Camp 5 makes for a campsite capturing the morning and evening sun, Camp 3 is on water. This relic range in the heart of the Piedmont gives a sense of the mountains minus the extreme elevation.

Trip No. 35, “Backpacking North Carolina”

More info here.

Panthertown Valley

Thanksgiving Hikes
Panthertown Valley


1 mile backpack in, 30 miles of day hiking

2-5 days

Pantherton is base camping taken to extreme. An easy hike in, a shelter, campsites on the water — and then the day hiking. There are multiple waterfalls (Schoolhouse, Frolictown and Granny Burrell are musts), there are views (Little Green Mountain is a good lunch spot because of the sweeping views). And then the miles and miles of trail, none of which will disappoint. Its appellation as “the Yosemite of the East” is a bit hyperbolic, but you’ll definitely see the resemblance.

Trip No. 28, “Backpacking North Carolina”

More info here.

Sam Knob Loop

Shining Rock area of the Pisgah National Forest, Waynesville

The view from Sam Knob

8.2 miles


Shining Rock is one of those bucket list backpacking areas in the Southeast, but the fact that much of it is a designated wilderness may deter the novice. That and the lack of reliable water and bear activity. But there is a way to ease yourself into Shining Rock, and that’s with the 8.2-mile Sam Knob Loop. You start from the same trailhead, Black Balsam off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but instead of heading north, hike west, toward 6.050-foot Sam Knob. Great views from both Sam and Little Sam, an abundance of water, and passage through a black balsam forest. And with surprisingly little elevation gain.

Trip No. 14, “Backpacking North Carolina” 

More info here.

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GetHiking! Southeast Podcast

What makes for a good first-time backpack trip? We tell you, on this week’s podcast. Give a listen here.

Backpacking North Carolina

Today’s recommended backpack trips for beginners were but 5 of 25 included in “Backpacking! North Carolina: The Definitive Guide to 43 Can’t-Miss Trips from Mountains to Sea.” Learn more here.

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