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Guidebook Review: Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit

“The Ultimate Hiker’s Guide to the Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit: The Toughest Hiking Circuit East of the Rocky Mountains” by Phil Phelan has made it’s way into my hands. As an enjoyer of all things Linville Gorge (well… most things…  this place can hurt you, and we don’t like injuries or getting lost), I had to get a copy.

The Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit is described in the guide as one tough hike, with a distance of 33.06 miles and 16,605ft of elevation change.
What this is: a guide to a complete loop of the Linville Gorge in North Carolina that is small enough to take with you on the trail as you hike this vicious circuit. With driving directions to get you started in the northwest quadrant, Phil Phelan will take you by the hand from Pine Gap to Pine Gap, using USFS official and unofficial trails, in a giant circuit from the northern-most to the southern-most regions of the Gorge without road-walking or taking the same steps twice (unless you side trip to one of the numerous described overlooks). Each page is broken down into a bite size section of the circuit, with a topo map, track, landmarks, GPS coordinates, quality star rating, distance, campsites, water, elevation change, cautions, travel times, a precise and often witty description of what the hiker will find, and a difficulty scale (created by the the author) called the “T.E.N.T.” system. Phelan’s system ranks the section of described trail on 4 factors: Tread, Elevation, Navigation, and Traffic. By rating each section, this will guide the reader on making wise choices when it comes to whether or not they should be hiking that section of trail. 
What this is not: a complete guide of trails in the Linville Gorge, and a comprehensive disclosure of every secret nook and cranny. While Phil Phelan makes mention of many of those places, this particular guide does not lead to all of them. Don’t see that as a detractor, though. This guide can still be used for many sections, day hikes, and backpacking trips even without doing the whole loop. 
I personally have not hiked this circuit (which I hope to remedy), nor have I been on every section of trail described in the guide. I have been to Linville several times (which pales to the time Phil Phelan has spent there), and I have hiked several sections described in the guide. As I read about the sections of the LGT south of Sandy Flats, I was thinking I wish I had this guide when my poor wife and I were in the hailstorm last year, only to be minutes north of the cave he described. That would have beat being huddled under the rhododendron! 
I’ve now read Phil’s guide cover to cover, and it is indeed a treat. It will allow you to experience a place known for its difficulty in a safer way. It will inspire you to take on this beast of a circuit in one of the most amazing hiking destinations in the east. This guide truly is a great contribution to the already existing Linville Gorge hiking community. This feels like only the tip of the iceberg as what to expect from Phelan, and whatever he has up his sleeve next should be highly anticipated.
To get a copy for yourself, e-mail Phil at, or search Linville Gorge Adventures on Facebook.