Conley Cove Trail
The number two most traveled trail in the Linville Gorge
Conley Cove is one of the favorites of the Linville Gorge for many hikers. At number two it is a well traveled trail that will test you but not like some of the others in the wilderness area. It was set up to ease the pain of the 1,025 feet of elevation gain just over a mile long. It was if the planners of the trail took note of how cows move over the fields here in the mountains. They zig zag for good reason.
The one thing that always sneaks up on hikers looking to hike the gorge is the easy stroll down to the Linville River. After a day of splashing in the water or having a day picnic, they have to work hard to get back to the truck or car. Yep, it will have you breathing real hard at times but thanks to the switchbacks, it is easier. Most hikes begin with a hike upward for the payoff. These hikes are the opposite and test the mental process of many hikers–especially the newbies and day hikers.
This is really a trail to start on in the gorge before you try a trail like Pinchin, Cabin or Devils Hole. It starts out easy enough as it meanders down to where the real elevation starts to change. It is narrow at some points but for the most part wide enough and there is no danger of going over so just stay on the trail.
You will pass the entrance to Rock Jock trail, which travels the West rim and does not venture down. It has great views and campsites.
Traveling further down it is rocky and goes by a cliff area hikers love to stop at and rest or check out the formations. This is a hard switchback as it begins to head down on the other side of the ravine. A small stream trickles down to the river and provides a variety of wild plants and flowers as the seasons progress. You will encounter Turtle Heads in late summer as well as, a variety of other wildflowers. Be careful of Stinging Nettle (sting weed) towards the bottom. It grows along side of the trail and if brushed against it will itch like crazy–worse with sweat.
In the spring/summer this trail has plenty of birds. You can occasionally hear a woodpecker sounding off on a tree. If it goes silent, just be on alert for an animal traveling through. Heck, it could just be you.
Once you reach the bottom it is a camping paradise. There are plenty of excellent sites to pitch your tent for the night or nights. Head up or down the Linville Gorge Trail to find the swim holes. This is a known area to have visitors so follow the rules and you will not be rudely awakened by raccoons, bears or Bigfoot. Well, maybe not Bigfoot (for some) but keep it clean, watch your fire (get a permit at the cabin), hoist your food up and out of your tent and pack out what you pack in to the site.
If you see workers on the trail thank them, they work hard to keep you safe in the gorge. Some are long time Gorge Rats and others volunteers. Either way, they are a lifeline.
As you pack up to head out make sure the fire is out. Out cold with no embers. To many have left the pit still smoldering and we all know what can happen if the wind picks up. The river is just right there so use it. Hydrate and take your time as you head back up and out. Remember that cow? You will be glad someone watched how they take a heavy load back up a hill or mountain and you only have 1.25 miles to go with an elevation gain of 1,025. Sorry to remind you.
Blaze: None, wilderness, sign at trail head
Elevation Gain: 1,025 feet
Trail Length: 1.25 miles to bottom
Hike Route: Lots of switchbacks and Rock Jock trail starts off of this trail. Meets the Linville Gorge Trail.
Trail Condition: Well traveled, extremely rocky, narrow at times, switchbacks
Starting Point: On West Rim Road (NC 1238) on the left 4.9 miles down the road.
Trail Traffic: Depends on the day of the week and season.
How to Get There: Coming from Marion, NC, take U.S. 221 north to the intersection of NC 183 at Linville Falls. Turn right on NC 183 and go one mile to NC 1238, otherwise known as the Kistler Memorial Highway or the West Rim Road. This is a dirt and gravel road. The Rock Jock/Conley Cove Trail is about 4.9 miles past the visitor cabin on the left. From Boone/Linville, NC take US 221 south to the intersection of NC 183 and turn left. Follow above directions. You can also take NC 181 from Boone/Linville and turn right on 183 up to Linville Falls turn. Morganton turn left off of NC 181 to NC 183.
Gallery View: Conley Cove
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