Paint Rock – Hot Springs, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura

AO Edited

Paint Rock

North Carolina's finest examples of Native American pictographs have survived for 5,000 years. 


Located about six miles from Hot Springs, North Carolina, Paint Rock is considered North Carolina’s best pictograph. Estimated to be 5,000 years old, Paint Rock has been a landmark for natives and settlers alike for millennia.

Early Native Americans created the designs on the cliffs while en route to the healing waters at nearby Hot Springs, which they considered a sacred site. First recorded by European settlers in the 1790s, the site is one of the most historically significant in the area. The outcropping in the cliff provides a natural shelter, and a climb to the top provides a view that stretches for miles. A rough trail still leads up to the top of the cliff and it’s worth the hike if you can do it. This strategic location later bordered Cherokee lands and sat on the only road for miles, right next to the French Broad River. In the late 1800s, a guard’s blockhouse was erected there to protect the settlers’ border with Cherokee country.

The pictograph that gives the rock its name consists of rectilinear patterns etched into the stone and marked with indelible paints created from local ingredients. Centuries of campfire soot has somewhat obscured the pictograph on the cliff side, and today it takes a sharp eye to see them from the road. However, they are still visible.

Considering that the designs have weathered sun, rain, and soot for over 5,000 years, they are amazingly well preserved and worth the visit.

Know Before You Go

Please show respect to the site. 

From Hot Springs, take River Road which runs along the north/east side of the French Broad River. This is the only way to reach the actual painted rocks. It is a pleasant drive with several safe places to stop for photos along the way.

DO NOT follow GPS directions to Paint Rock Road and the community of Paint Rock which is on the south/west side of the French Broad River. You will not be able to see painted rocks from Paint Rock Road. Only from River Road will you be able to park a vehicle and walk a short distance (less than five minutes) to glimpse faded markings on the rocks. During the summer when leaves are on the trees, visibility is limited though still possible. 

From Around the Web