DATE:
4-18-2021

Out & Back
~ 2 miles

ELEVATION GAIN:
~ 895 ft

LOCATION:
Morganton, North Carolina

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Sitting Bear Mountain is a relatively short hike with spectacular views of the Linville Gorge at the summit. Sitting Bear Rock is a towering rock feature that resembles a bear if you look from just the right angle. This trail is located in the Linville Gorge Wilderness/Pisgah National Forrest on Cherokee Native American Land.

I would recommend this trail for the age 5 and up group. If you have little ones under 5, Hawksbill Mountains’s trail head is approx. 2 minutes up the road from Sitting Bear and has an easier trail to navigate with its own breathtaking views of Linville Gorge.

There are a few big differences between these two trails. A big one we noticed is Sitting Bear was SIGNIFICANTLY less crowded. For reference, we went to Hawksbill on a Saturday last August and to Sitting Bear on a Sunday in April. Both days consisted of perfect temperatures and clear skies. Hawksbill had a consistent flow of other hikers, particularly on the way to the summit. We only saw 2 people the entire time we were hiking to and from Sitting Bear. We are use to fewer people on many of the Tennessee trails, but this was our first experience with so few people in North Carolina. It was wonderful to have those gorgeous views all to ourselves! 

I’m going to begin with the part of the trail that makes me hesitant to recommend this trail for kids under 5 so you can decide if this is right for your family before you read further.

Prior to this hike, we did not know what a “scramble” was. A scramble is basically a steep incline that requires the use of your hands and feet. The scramble at Sitting Bear mountain does not require gear and you can stand up at points, but you definitely need two hands available at all times. Both my husband and I lost our footing at one point on the decent and wound up on our rear ends from slipping on the blanket of pine needles along the path. I will spare you the video that captured this graceful moment. 

There is a small/short scramble on the way to Sitting Bear Rock, (before the mountain summit), that I would have felt ok with the boys navigating at a younger age. So, in theory, you could just hike to this point and not continue on to the mountain summit. 

There is a small overlook on the way to the rock that still has amazing views. It is a very small spot though and there isn’t room for more than one group of hikers out there at a time.

It is the next scramble to the summit of Sitting Bear Mountain that is longer and significantly more steep.

Another important thing to note is that this trail is not marked with blazes. There are multiple forks and it could be easy to take a wrong turn without a map. I am going to describe the trail as best as I can with lots of pictures, but I highly recommend using a map. We like the “All Trails” app and pay for the Pro subscription. With Pro you can download the map ahead of time while on wi-fi or in cell range to be used offline. Then when you are out of cell service range, the map connects to GPS to help guide you on your way as needed. It even gives an alert if you stray too far off trail. This really helped us out at a couple of the forks we came to. Note: The map on “All Trails” takes you all the way to Ginger Cake Mountain and is a 3.2 mile route. We did end up going all the way to Ginger Cake but didn’t think it was really worth it. Next time, we will stop at the summit of Sitting Bear mountain and turn around for a 2 mile out and back route.

As always, you know your kids, their skill level, and your comfort level best. If you feel like this trail is a good option, I’m going to start back at the very beginning!

The road leading up to the trail head is a narrow mountain dirt road. There are just a handful of spots to park at the sitting bear trail head. We got there around 12:30 or 1 in the afternoon and there was only one other car. There is a much larger parking area at Hawksbill. We drove by it on the day we did Sitting Bear just to see how crowded it was. The designated parking area was packed with cars lined up along the road. That also gives you an idea of the difference in traffic between the two.

The trail begins with a fork early on. We went to the left for Sitting Bear.

There will be a little bit of an incline at the beginning. We came to a spot that had rocks and logs set up as a small camp area, (pictured below). You will veer to the right at this point.

This will lead you into a tunnel of rhododendrons with a grown over Linville Gorge sign.

This will open up into a very large wooded area with a big campsite in the middle. This spot has a large fork. You will take a LEFT here. This is the spot that mixed us up a little bit and the map helped tremendously.

You will see a small wood sign with “Devil’s Hole” to your left. We didn’t go check out that route. We kept going straight at this point.

You will continue on and begin seeing the mountains peaking through the trees along your way. There are also some really neat rock formations.

Then the small scramble begins up to the first overlook and Sitting Bear rock.

Just before the first overlook is this rock. The boys loved it and ran up and down it about 20 times. There is a little path that goes around it if you want to take the easier route. 

Just past this area, there is a little path to the left. This opens up to an incredible secluded overlook of the Linville Gorge. We were careful to stay on the already established path and rock as to not disturb any plant growth. This area is small, and in spots like this we always have the boys stay on “two hands/two feet” or sit. The boys have consistently demonstrated caution with overlooks and it is something we hammer home, so we felt comfortable sitting there for a little bit. There was enough room for the 5 of us and our dog with a few feet between us and the overlook. If I had a smaller child here, I would want a hand on them at all times. (Again, just based on my experience and thinking back to my wild toddlers! ha!) Since there was no one anywhere around, we sat here to have lunch.

Talk about lunch with a view! As always, we were careful to leave no trace and pack it in/pack it out!

A little further up the trail is Sitting Bear Rock. If you look at it juuuust right you can see the shape of a bear.

Immediately past Sitting Bear Rock is the big/steep scramble. For reference, our boys are ages 6 to 9. They all did well navigating the scramble on their own. In fact, my husband and I probably had a harder time because we aren’t quite as agile as they are! There were plenty of roots to hold onto. As I mentioned above, the most challenging thing was all the pine needles that made the path really slick.

The view at the summit is absolutely incredible. The mountains seem to go on and on forever on a clear day.

If you go a little past this summit, there is a clearing that people have used to set up camp. From what we could tell with my son’s compass, this would be looking out over the sunset. There was no one there and I’m not sure how often people camp there or what the rules are for camping along this trail. It would be something really fun to look into though! It was an incredible spot.

We will definitely add this to a spot we come back to on a yearly basis. It was such a neat trail and I loved that it wasn’t crowded like some of the other nearby trails. Any view of the Blue Ridge Mountains is well worth the climb!

If you continue on, you will come to Ginger Cake mountain. Again, we tried it but didn’t really feel like it was worth the extra mileage. Sitting Bear Mountain had the best views in our opinion.

In summary, our main takeaways for this trail are:

  • Be sure to have a map as the trail is unmarked
  • Be prepared to have two hands free for the scramble if going to the summit of Sitting Bear Mountain
  • We recommend for the 5 years old and up crowd
  • This trail is a great choice if you want something more secluded (in our experience anyway!)

Nature finds to look for:

DISCLAIMER: We use the “Picture This” app to help identify plants we find along the trail combined with our own nature books and study. We are by no means experts and might get it wrong sometimes! Please do not take any of our suggestions as text book or ingest anything based on what we share. Our nature finds are also based on the season in which we did our hike. If you hike the same trail in a different season, you might find totally different plants. If you notice any mistakes in our identification, please feel free to contact us and let us know so we can update it ASAP! Thank you and happy exploring!