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
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
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
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
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
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.
Location:Burnsville, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (40 miles – 48 min) Charlotte (131 miles – 2 hours and 27 min) Raleigh (248 miles – 4 hours and 5 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.87772, -82.28627Trail Access:From Spruce Pine follow U.S. 19E for 12.9 miles and turn left onto N.C. 197. Drive 0.7 mile then turn left onto Bolens Creek Rd. Drive 2.5 miles to a tight right turn, the trailhead is at this turn and the better parking area is a pullout above a cemetery at the next turn.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Black Mountain Crest Trail – Deep Gap TrailHike Configuration: One-way shuttle hikeHike Distance:~12.4 miles Elevation Gain: 5,390 feetHiking Time:7 hours and 50 minutesDate of Hike:08-02-15, Sunday at 9:50 AMTrail Condition: Below Average — The trail to the meadows around Celo Knob is an old forest road and in good condition. Once you get close to Winter Star Mountain the trail becomes a footpath and rapidly deteriorates. It is eroded and rocky until you get close to the end below Mt. Mitchell. Hike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — The is one of the toughest hikes in North Carolina with a high amount of elevation gain for the mileage and lots of sun exposure without water access. Isolation:Above Average — You might not see any people for the first 8 miles of this hike except for the area around Horse Rock Meadows. Once you pass through Deep Gap the foot traffic picks up steadily until it becomes crowded from Mt. Craig to Mt. Mitchell. Highlights:One of the most rewarding hikes I’ve been on, there are huge views throughout the hike of all of the big mountains in North Carolina, bagging many 6,000+ foot peaks. Lowlights:Long and tiring approach to Celo Knob, poor trail condition for most of the hike, lack of views for a good chunk of the hike between Potato Hill and Mt. Craig.Google Photos album link
The Black Mountain Crest Trail is one of the most renowned and intimidating hikes in North Carolina. Located in the Appalachian Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, the trail crosses the crest of the Black Mountains across five 6,000+ foot peaks culminating in the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River, Mt. Mitchell. This trek is on almost every bucket list for hikers who live in North Carolina, but it is very difficult and a logistical challenge. Hiking it in one direction requires a shuttle and is tough. Hiking the trail in both directions is over 24 miles and 8,000 feet elevation gain, which is difficult for even strong hikers. You’ll encounter steep grades, continuous sun and wind exposure at elevations above 6,000 feet, and a lack of water throughout the entire length of the trail. If you try this, be mentally and physically prepared for the challenge. The views from the Black Mountains are spectacular and definitely worth the exhaustion. You can see most of the state’s notable peaks and mountain ranges in every direction on clear days. The Black Mountain Crest Trail is one of my favorite hikes in North Carolina, but it is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Location:Sams Gap below I-26, NC/TN Distance from Hubs: Asheville (29 miles – 33 min) Charlotte (150 miles – 2 hours and 34 min) Knoxville (109 miles – 2 hours and 10 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.95238, -82.56080Trail Access:Follow I-26 north from Asheville and leave the interstate at exit 3. Head north on U.S. 23A for 3.1 miles and prior to passing under I-26 there is a parking area on the left. The Appalachian Trail is across the street on the right side of I-26.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~13.1 miles Elevation Gain: 3,270 feetHiking Time:6 hours and 15 minutesDate of Hike:01-16-16, Saturday at 11:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is a popular stretch of the Appalachian Trail and I found it in very good condition except for the section below Big Bald which was eroded.Hike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — For the mileage this is on the easy side of the scale. There are few stretches of strenuous elevation gain, the grades are mostly very forgiving. Isolation:Average — I doubt you’ll be in crowds of people because of the length of the hike, but I also doubt you’ll ever be alone considering its appeal and access. It’s hard for me to judge considering the weather, but I saw at least 10 people anyways. Highlights:Beautiful trail through hardwood forests, delightful mix of rime ice on trees and shrubs, icy wonderland at the summit Lowlights:Really the obvious lowlight was the constant cloud cover, I didn’t get the views I expectedGoogle Photos album link
My plan was to hike to Big Bald, supposedly one of the finest of all the grassy balds in the southern Appalachian Mountains. If you can get a sunny day in the winter, nothing beats crystal clear views from an open summit. There’s just too much haze in the summer to compare. The forecast started with clouds in the morning, clearing out for sun after noon in the low 40s °F with a light wind. As I drove north on Interstate 26 from Asheville I was beginning to doubt the veracity of the NOAA forecast. Usually they’re spot on, but as I approached Sams Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border all I could see was a low cloud ceiling covering every peak. Big Bald, at 5,516 feet, is the tallest summit of the Bald Mountains along the state border and the tallest mountain on the Appalachian Trail for 148 miles. It requires a long hike from either direction. Sams Gap is the typical hike since it is located right off the interstate. I expected beautiful scenery every step of the way, but what I got was an icy wintry wonderland and an unforgettable experience.
Most of the hiking-related books I own are strictly guide books. They help me find interesting hikes, and provide historical and geographical information. Sometimes I purchase thru hiking memoirs, and sometimes I purchase ‘how-to’ or survival guides. For Christmas my parents gave me Death in the Great Smoky Mountains by Michael Bradley. This is not a typical purchase for me, but I was happy to check out something new. At 183 pages (not including the introduction) this is a quick, enjoyable read about deaths, disappearances, and survival in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It included airplane crashes, bear attacks, weather-related incidents, drownings, and unsolved disappearances. It sounds morbid, but it is not. I absorbed information about all of the people who had unfortunate incidents in this great mountain range, giving context to many notable trails, summits, and historical sites. Another thing I enjoyed is the detail Michael Bradley goes into about the park search and rescue operations and how they’ve changed over the years. This aspect of each incident was probably my favorite part. The book describes ordeals park rangers and other personnel go through to find a missing person. Much of the book is also about survival, giving an optimistic contrast to the title of the book. It is not just about death, it is also about how some people survive. I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for something different about the Great Smoky Mountains.
Location:Elk Mountain Scenic Highway junction with Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (8.6 miles – 20 min) Charlotte (131 miles – 2 hours and 11 min) Raleigh (249 miles – 3 hours and 52 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.66439, -82.47912Trail Access:Follow N.C. 694 north from Asheville for 6.3 miles until it ends at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left on the parkway and drive 1.6 miles to the junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway on the left. You can park at the pullout on the parkway or on the sides of Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses the highway at this junction. Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~11.3 miles Elevation Gain: 2,960 feetHiking Time:5 hours and 30 minutesDate of Hike:04-03-16, Sunday at 12:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is an excellent section of the Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — There are a couple of sections of steep climbs, but everything else felt easier than the elevation gain suggests. Isolation:Average — You will encounter quite a few hikers around Rattlesnake Lodge, however they disappear beyond the lodge which was confounding to me. Highlights:Historical remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, beautiful sections of the MST including the high ridgeline, view from Lane Pinnacle Lowlights:I was hoping that Rattlesnake Lodge would be a cabin, not enough open views from the trail although I missed a big view just beyond Lane PinnacleGoogle Photos album link
How do you end a hazy bachelor party weekend in Asheville? With a hike of course! It was the first weekend of April, and I was staying in Asheville with my friends Friday through Sunday. We had to vacate the house before noon on Sunday, and everyone was leaving town anyways. The weather was perfect for a hike, sunny with no clouds and cold but no wind. My body and mind weren’t perfect for a hike, but I went ahead with it anyways. I decided to drive northeast on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Craggy Gardens, a place I never get to because of drive time. I did no research beforehand, and had only brought a couple of maps and books in my car for reference. Unfortunately the parkway was still closed because of Tanbark Ridge Tunnel construction, or because it was still winter at the high elevations. I had a backup in mind, and it fortunately started at the road closure. Here the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) crosses the parkway at the T-junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. From here my plan was to hike east towards the historic remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, then ascend a high ridgeline in the western Great Craggy Mountains to Lane Pinnacle at 5,230 feet. This was not a bad backup plan, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this section of the MST.
Location:Buck Creek Gap, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (45 miles – 1 hour and 2 min) Charlotte (112 miles – 2 hours and 5 min) Raleigh (229 miles – 3 hours and 43 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.77032, -82.16414Trail Access:From the U.S. 221/U.S. 70 intersection in Marion, drive west on U.S. 70 for 1.8 miles and turn right onto NC 80. Drive north on NC 80 for 12.1 miles and park at the Singecat Ridge Overlook just below the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Woods Mountain TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~12.6 miles Elevation Gain: 3,300 feetHiking Time:6 hoursDate of Hike:03-16-16, Wednesday at 11:00 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — Other than an eroded section near Woods Mountain this trail is in very good condition, likely because the MST has been routed along the massif. Hike Difficulty:Strenuous — A surprising amount of elevation gain for the mileage and elevation of this mountain. It goes up and down ridgelines hundreds of feet at a time. Isolation:Very High — I would be surprised if you see other hikers on this trail Highlights:Great views of the Armstrong Creek watershed, trail is in very good condition Lowlights:Much more difficult than I predicted, not enough views to warrant the long hikeGoogle Photos album link
Although sandwiched between the Blue Ridge Parkway and U.S. 221, the Woods Mountain Trail sees few travelers. There are a lot of reasons people skip right by this trail despite being part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). Linville Gorge lies to the east while the Black Mountains lie to the west. Both are very popular destinations. The MST follows the Woods Mountain Trail for 6 miles along this east-west massif. Woods Mountain is part of the area that constitutes the first purchase of national forest lands established on the east coast. Even though this was the first tract of Pisgah National Forest, this vast area from Armstrong Creek southwest to Jarrett Creek has largely been neglected by the forest service and hikers over the years. Many of the trails have been abandoned. I’ve hiked trails in the western portion of this region, including Heartbreak Ridge and Snook’s Nose, but this is the first time I’ve explored Woods Mountain. This section has been designated an Inventoried Roadless Area and is also being considered for Wilderness designation. It sure feels like wilderness when you leave the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and follow the Woods Mountain Trail east. If not for the MST designation and blazes, one could get easily lost in this area since a vast network of forgotten trails crisscross the ridgelines. I knew there was a good view shortly into the hike of the Armstrong Creek watershed, but beyond that I had no clue what I was going to see. Ultimately I wanted to hike the full length of the Woods Mountain Trail and check out the eastern summit which houses the remains of a former fire tower.