Location:Buck Spring Gap Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (25.9 miles – 41 min) Knoxville (118 miles – 2 hours and 12 min) Charlotte (132 miles – 2 hours and 30 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.39526, -82.76805Trail Access:From Asheville drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Set your GPS device for Fryingpan Gap at mile 409.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is no official parking, people park on the shoulders around the gated FR 450. You should be able to see the lookout and communications towers overhead when you park.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:FR 450 and Fryingpan TrailHike Configuration: Out-and-backHike Distance:~1.7 miles Elevation Gain: 375 feetHiking Time:50 minutesDate of Hike:02-12-17, Sunday at 1:00 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — You’ll follow a gravel forest road the entire time.Hike Difficulty:Easy — Although the climb is moderate it is a very short hike on a nice road. Isolation:Very Low — This is a very short, popular hike to a lookout tower with great views. Highlights:Great 360º views from the tower, the highlight is the Shining Rock Wilderness. Lowlights:Very crowded, the communications tower blocks an unobstructed view of Mount Pisgah, the top cab is closed preventing better views than from the stairs.Google Photos album link
Zoomed in view of Mount Pisgah
After Mount Pisgah I hopped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway south to my next hike of the day, Fryingpan Mountain. This was my second short hike of the day, and is shorter and much easier than Mount Pisgah with very similar views. Fryingpan Mountain is home to the one of the tallest lookout towers in North Carolina at 70 feet. The mountain, at 5,342 feet, is part of the rugged Pisgah Ridge on the eastern front of the Great Balsam Mountains. This short, accessible hike from Fryingpan Gap is suitable for all ages. You can also use a combination of trails emanating from Mount Pisgah Campground or Buck Spring Gap Overlook to create a longer day hike. Although the top cab of the tower is closed, you can still climb the steep stairs to get fantastic views in every direction. You’ll be blown away by the view of the Shining Rock Wilderness to the west, plus the other directions aren’t too shabby.
Location:Buck Spring Gap Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (24.1 miles – 38 min) Knoxville (118 miles – 2 hours and 9 min) Charlotte (130 miles – 2 hours and 28 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.41537, -82.74876Trail Access:From Asheville drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left at milepost 407.7 for the Buck Spring Gap Overlook and the Mt. Pisgah Trail. Park at the Buck Spring Gap Overlook or the upper Mount Pisgah Parking Area beside the trail. Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Mount Pisgah TrailHike Configuration: Out-and-backHike Distance:~2.9 miles Elevation Gain: 890 feetHiking Time:1 hour and 30 minutesDate of Hike:02-12-17, Sunday at 11:20 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — The first half seems to have had recent maintenance. As you start going up the trail is a combination of boulders and rock steps, a hearty floor for all of those hikers.Hike Difficulty:Moderate — Although short, the trail features a stout, continuous climb over many steps to reach the summit. Isolation:Very Low — This is an extremely popular hike, you will likely never be alone. Highlights:Nice trail and I enjoyed the rock steps, great views of the Shining Rock Wilderness. Lowlights:Insanely crowded for mid-February, the TV tower blocks clear views north.Google Photos album link
View southwest of the Great Balsam Mountains
After a full-day hike on Mount LeConte where I had no views and severely irritated my left IT Band, I decided to try some short hikes this Sunday until the pain flared up again. Unlike Saturday, the weather was supposed to be partly sunny with high wind and gusts. My first stop was Mount Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The climb to Mount Pisgah is a classic hike southwest of Asheville and is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Mount Pisgah at 5,721 feet is one of the most recognizable peaks in North Carolina with its pyramidal summit and 339-foot television transmission tower. On many of the hikes I do in western North Carolina, I can see that tower from many miles other. This mountain lies in the northeast corner of the Great Balsam Mountains, and has outstanding views from the observation deck at the summit. Although it is a short hike at 2.9 miles round-trip, the climb is steep and relentless. This is a great jumping off point for more exploration, and it should take under 2 hours for most hikers.
Location:Brown Gap, Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (48.5 miles – 57 min) Knoxville (75 miles – 1 hour and 17 min) Charlotte (162 miles – 2 hours and 45 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.75821, -82.97711Trail Access:Take exit 7 on I-40 and follow Cold Springs Creek Rd 3.7 miles. Turn right onto Fall Branch Rd and drive 0.3-mi to the gate. The trail is just beyond the gate on the left.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:No official trail, a usage path follows Little Fall Branch to the waterfallHike Distance:~0.6 miles Hike Configuration: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 135 feetHiking Time:25 minutesDate of Hike:02-19-17, Sunday at 1:40 PMTrail Condition: Good — The usage path is in good shape considering how little traffic it receives.Hike Difficulty:Easy — The trail is almost flat except for a few boulders at the end. Isolation:High — Not many people know about this waterfall. Highlights:A nice, secluded waterfall with colorful cliffs just 10 min from the road. Lowlights:In drought conditions this would not be worth your time.Google Photos album link
Little Fall Branch Falls
This short hike to Little Fall Branch Falls is worth a quick stop if you are hiking in the Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area of Pisgah National Forest. If you are hiking toMax Patch (like I did after this stop), or having a nice outing at the Cold Springs Picnic Area, then this 30-minute detour will most certainly surprise you. Little Fall Branch is very tiny, and it seems impossible that an impressive waterfall would be located on this watercourse. The waterfall is ~40 feet high and hemmed in by a cove of moss-covered cliffs. It would at its most spectacular in the summer after rain when everything is really green. Although the trail to the waterfall is unofficial, the path is easy and appropriate for any hiker. This waterfall is not listed on any map, I found out about it from the excellent new North Carolina Waterfalls Third Edition book by Kevin Adams. I highly recommend purchasing this book if you love hiking to waterfalls.
Location:Brown Gap, Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (49 miles – 1 hour and 5 min) Knoxville (76 miles – 1 hour and 24 min) Charlotte (163 miles – 2 hours and 59 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.77318, -82.9957Trail Access:Take exit 7 on I-40 and follow Cold Springs Creek Rd 3.2 miles. Turn left onto FR 148A and follow it 1.2 miles to Brown Gap. The road levels out around the gap and forks, you should be able to spot the white Appalachian Trail blazes.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian Trail – Max Patch TrailHike Distance:~7.1 miles Hike Configuration: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 2,061 feetHiking Time:3 hours and 15 minutesDate of Hike:02-19-17, Sunday at 1:15 PMTrail Condition: Good — The Appalachian Trail is in very good condition, the section around Max Patch has more erosion.Hike Difficulty:Moderate — Other than the steep hike out of Brown Gap this is pretty easy. Isolation:Low — The AT section doesn’t have much traffic but Max Patch is always crowded. Highlights:Incredible views from the summit of the tallest peaks in the region. Lowlights:Only lowlight is the road near the trailhead is rough.Google Photos album link
Southeast view of the Newfound Mountains from Max Patch
It had been an unseasonably warm February, and the weather on Sunday, Feb 19th looked perfect for a hike with big views. Surprisingly I’ve never been to Max Patch Mountain. Despite its fame, it is really out of the way for me unless I’m staying in the Asheville area. After two hikes earlier in the day to Chambers Mountain and Little Fall Branch Falls, I decided to cap the day off with a nice hike on the Appalachian Trail to Max Patch. Many people drive close to the summit on the long, gravel SR 1182. If you do this, the hike is around 2 miles total which is far shorter than I prefer. I chose to begin deep in the Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area of Pisgah National Forest, taking the Appalachian Trail north from Brown Gap. This is a pleasant hike through deciduous hardwood forests along ~4,000-foot ridges and at 7.1-miles round-trip is manageable for many types of hikers. The weather was in the mid-50s °F with bright sun and little wind. I’ve seen so many pictures of Max Patch but I was still blown away by the views from the summit. You are surrounded and dwarfed by some of the tallest peaks in the Appalachian Mountain. It is truly an awesome feeling. I highly recommend a trip to Max Patch, it is one of the best grassy balds in North Carolina.
Location:Pilot Mountain State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (168 miles – 2 hours and 39 min) Charlotte (101 miles – 1 hour and 35 min) Raleigh (125 miles – 2 hours) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:36.34228, -80.46389Trail Access:From Winston-Salem drive north on U.S. 52. Pilot Mountain should be very evident as you get near. Take the exit for Pilot Mountain State Park and turn left onto Pilot Knob Park Rd. Drive 0.6-mi to the visitors center on the right and find a parking spot. The trails are located across the street.Pilot Mountain State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountain Trail – Grindstone Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Jomeokee Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Grindstone TrailHike Distance:~9.3 miles Hike Configuration: Small loop and big loop Elevation Gain: 2,090 feetHiking Time:3 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:12-13-15, Sunday at 2:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — The trails are in great condition. You might find the Ledge Spring Trail to be rocky and steep in places. Hike Difficulty:Moderate — This is an easy, fast-paced hike. The only real climb is on the Grindstone Trail and the Ledge Springs Trail is rocky in places. Isolation:Low — The only solitude you’ll get is on the Mountain Trail. Every trail along the top of the mountain is overcrowded, even during the winter. Highlights:Countless sections along the bottom and tops of cliffs, Jomeokee Trail around Big Pinnacle, outstanding views of Big Pinnacle and the Sauratown Mountains Lowlights:Too many people everywhere!, this is one of the busiest parks in the state, Lack of views on the Mountain and lower Grindstone TrailsGoogle Photos album link
East view of Big Pinnacle from Little Pinnacle
Pilot Mountain is truly one of the iconic summits in North Carolina. The mountain, a monadnock and the westernmost peak of the ancient Sauratown Mountains, dominates the surrounding Piedmont and can be seen from many landmarks. Due to its ease of access directly off freeway U.S. 52 north of Winston-Salem, this state park is popular and is overcrowded during the summer months. Avoid the crowds and hike this park in the offseason when the leaves are down and the temperatures are milder than the Blue Ridge Mountains. A full loop of the mountain can be achieved using the newly extended Mountain Trail, with the addition a result of a fire break during a forest fire in November 2012. From there use the Grindstone Trail, the only trail leading from the base to the summit area. Once you attain the crest you are in cliff heaven as the trails hug the top and bottom of 100+ foot cliffs crawling with rock climbers. The highlights may be the Ledge Spring Trail, Little Pinnacle, or the Jomeokee Trail, it all depends on your preference. For those in a rush or wanting a shorter hike, you can do the shorter 2.7-mile loop from the upper parking lot. This is a great day hike for anyone who lives in the Triad or Triangle metropolitan areas.