Whiteside Mountain is a popular tourist attraction nestled between Cashiers and Highlands in North Carolina. The hike is comprised of a 2-mile loop and has scenic views at the top. There is a large gravel parking lot with privies and half of the walkway is a gravel road. There is a parking fee of $3 per vehicle and $1 per person for parties larger than 7. This is paid via the honor system with an envelope, a cash box, and a rearview mirror receipt.
There’s no need for maps or compasses here. You can’t get lost on this small loop as long as you stay on the trail. This is very easy hiking and is filled with families, pets, and kids. I recommend that you get to the trailhead early before it gets too crowded.
About the hike
After paying for parking, you walk past the information boards up a well-trod pathway. The trail soon splits. You can continue walking up the gravel road on the left or you can take the single-track trail uphill on the right. Most people who trek to the mountain peak simply walk the gravel road, snap a photo or two, and then walk back down. But they’re missing the best part of the hike. Take the trail on the right and enjoy walking up the switchbacks and staircases. Soon you’ll reach the cliff edge and will follow wire fencing to the mountain peak. I assume the views are beautiful based on the information boards that are placed at intervals along the trail, but I was hiking in a cloud and couldn’t see anything. It reminded me of my hike of the nearby Yellow Mountain trail. 360° views indeed.
There are a few primitive campsites along the way if you want to turn this into a very short overnighter. There is even a viewing platform near the summit. I was basically alone for the first half of the loop until I got to the summit. Then there were people everywhere. The walk back down is very easy on such a well-groomed roadway.
Doing this loop counter-clockwise makes sense. You always want to do the more strenuous parts of the hike uphill and the easier parts downhill. I’ve only been walking for a couple of weeks since getting out of the plastic boot from my leg break and found the distance and level of difficulty perfect for my stiff ankle.