Max Patch via Brown Gap – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

Southeast view of the Newfound Mountains from Max Patch
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.

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Black Mountain Crest Trail – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

North view from Mt. Craig of the jagged crest of the Black Mountains
North view from Mt. Craig of the jagged crest of the Black Mountains

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.

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Roan Highlands – Appalachian Trail, NC

 

Thru hikers descending Hump Mountain
Thru hikers descending Hump Mountain

There were less than 15 cars parked at Carver’s Gap which I took to be a great sign. Originally I thought there would be more people hiking today. It was beautiful outside and just past 11:00 AM. When I stepped out of my car, I felt a chilling gust and immediately questioned my clothing for the hike. A couple of days prior I had seen the weather should be mid-50s and sunny and failed to check the weather the night before. Even with clear skies it was definitely in the 40s and the wind was blowing steadily. All I had were shorts, T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, pullover fleece, and my hoody I wore in the car. I made the conscious decision to bring all of my layers even though the hoody added a lot of extra weight. This reminded me that even if Spring is here, the wind and elevation can still make a hike quite cold. It had been years since I last visited the Roan Highlands, arguably the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail in the Southeast. (I would personally claim Mt. Rogers as a solid 2nd place). During my last trip I backpacked to the Overmountain Shelter, day hiked to Hump Mountain, and returned the same day to Carver’s Gap. This time I was essentially doing the same trip, in one day. Not one section of this hike is extremely strenuous or technical, but it still covers more than 19 miles and that is always a tough undertaking no matter what kind of topography you encounter. I think I planned this perfectly excluding my clothing choices. And the thing about the Roan Highlands is they are freakin’ beautiful. Once you are hiking atop these open grass summits you seem to forget how many miles and how much climbing you have done. With these kind of temperatures and the lengthening Spring days it is easy to cover many miles. If you live in the Southeast you have to put this hike on your list, even if you can’t cover everything I did here.

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Grandfather Mountain via Daniel Boone Scout Trail – Grandfather Mountain State Park, NC

 

Attic Window Peak rising high above MacRae Gap - from MacRae Peak
Attic Window Peak rising high above MacRae Gap – from MacRae Peak

This is one of my favorites in North Carolina. A hike along the crest of Grandfather Mountain should be on everyone’s bucket list if they live in the Southeast. The crest trail is readily identified as one of the most rugged in the East and some (probably just me) may consider this the “Old Rag of North Carolina.” While not quite as rugged and technical as the nicknames suggest, Grandfather Mountain offers miles of exciting rock scrambles, ladders, cables, huge cliffs, exposed rocky summits, 16 distinct ecosystems, and views in every direction of tallest mountains in the Appalachian chain. Topping out at 5,946 feet this mountain dominates the surrounding valleys. There are 3 ways to access the crest trail. Two of them require difficult ascents from the valleys below and are part of the state park system. The third option is part of the private tourist attraction that existed prior to the state’s purchase of the land in 2008 to create a new state park. This attraction operates independently from the state park and costs $20/adult person to enter. The advantage is you can drive all the way to the ridge between Linville Peak and MacRae Peak. Click here for more information about the tourist attraction area of the mountain. The disadvantage is the cost and you will be amidst the crowds flocking to the bridge. The best way to experience the mountain is to start at the Boone Fork parking area and traverse all 4 peaks on Grandfather Mountain (Calloway, Attic Window, MacRae, and Linville) en route to the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

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Stone Mountain and Wolf Rock – Stone Mountain State Park, NC

 

Stone Mountain view from Cedar Rock
Stone Mountain view from Cedar Rock

I was raring to go on a hike this Sunday but the weather and my sleep patterns were not cooperating. Most of the mountains were cloudy with a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Instead of my planned Linville Gorge hike I went to Stone Mountain State Park because of its convenience and its views are still abundant regardless of weather. I have hiked here multiple times, but wanted to get a GPS track of the big loop for Hiking Upward. My plan was to see all the sites in the main portion of the park by taking the Stone Mountain Loop and visiting Wolf Rock and Lower Falls as well. This is arguably the best loop offered in any state park in North Carolina because of all the rock summits and waterfalls

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Maple Camp Bald and Mt. Mitchell – Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

 

Northern Blacks from Mt. Craig
Northern Blacks from Mt. Craig

I had never been to the Black Mountains before this trip. They lie in that spot that takes forever to drive to from Chapel Hill. It’s unfortunate because they are beautiful areas and the tallest mountains on the East Coast, and inevitably I have to hike there. My mind was set, I was going to wake up really early and drive the 4 hours and figure out what trail I wanted to hike. It was mid-June and prime rhododendron blooming season. I figured my first choice would be Mt. Mitchell, but if it is socked in by clouds I would keep driving to Craggy Gardens and walk amongst the flowers. I took my roommate Rachel along for the long ride. As we entered the park the clouds were swirling, but I had faith in the NOAA forecast that it would clear up because it was sunny below these mountains. We ended up hiking Commissary Ridge to Maple Camp Bald, then bushwhacking up to the Deep Gap Trail to summit the two tallest mountains on the east coast – Mt. Craig and Mt. Mitchell. The view from Mt. Mitchell was great as expected, but the views from Maple Camp Bald and Mt. Craig were better. The only problem is that connecting Maple Camp Bald with the crest to make a loop hike is a difficult endeavor requiring a bushwhack up the mountain.

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Old Rag – Shenandoah National Park, VA

 

Old Rag from Nethers Rd
Old Rag from Nethers Rd

I have always wanted to hike Old Rag. It’s very well-known and supposed to be one of the best hikes in Virginia. But it is a considerable distance from Chapel Hill and is also supposed to be extremely crowded on the weekends in the summer months. I had my chance on the way back from Washington DC on a beautiful Monday. It poured rain a few days prior, and the weather couldn’t be better with clear skies in the 60s. While not exactly on the way back from DC, I did not mind the detour and I knew the crowds would be small because it was a weekday. Old Rag Mountain (3,268 feet) is located on the eastern periphery of Shenandoah National Park, standing separate and alone from the mountains that line Skyline Drive north to south. Although it was a short hike, it took a long time and lived up to its billing as an exciting rock scramble with excellent views. This hike should be on everyone’s bucket list if you live within driving distance.

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Heartbreak Ridge to Pinnacle – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

Clouds over the Black Mountains
Clouds over the Black Mountains

This trail is hard. I’ve said this before about other trails, but it is long and difficult at times to navigate. I hiked the Snook’s Nose Trail recently and this trail is in the same vicinity near Old Fort. Short trail descriptions were found on Carolina Mountain Club and Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club websites. It is listed as a mountain biking trail on the Linville Gorge-Mt. Mitchell NatGeo map, and both websites describe this as a longer but gradual climb to the parkway. The trail is located in Graphite beside Mill Creek in the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, northwest of Old Fort. The Star Gap Trail-Heartbreak Ridge Trail combination ascends to Glass Rock Knob near the Blue Ridge Parkway, then abruptly ends in a clearing. From here forest roads lead to the base of Pinnacle, which can be ascended by multiple unmarked summit trails. I didn’t know what to expect from Pinnacle (5,665 feet), but it intrigued me from the descriptions and it is also the southernmost peak in the Black Mountains. It offers outstanding 270° views of Graybeard Mountain, the Great Craggy Mountains, and the Black Mountains. This is easily one of my favorite summits in North Carolina, but it is a long slog to get there.

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Profile Trail – Grandfather Mountain State Park, NC

 

View north of Calloway Peak from Attic Window
View north of Calloway Peak from Attic Window

Continuing with my unintentional theme of NC state parks during the current season, last year I took my old roommate Rachel to Grandfather Mountain State Park to do some high elevation ridge hiking. In the Fall of 2012, I hiked the Daniel Boone Scout Trail to Calloway Peak and could only see gray clouds. This time I chose the other base-to-summit trail offered in the new state park. The Profile Trail (3.1-mi one way) is a base-to-summit trail in Grandfather Mountain State Park and wanders up the west side of the mountain under the “Profile” and meets the Grandfather Trail at Calloway Gap. From Calloway Gap you can hike the extremely rugged ridgeline to the multiple peaks and overlooks of Grandfather Mountain. On this trip, we first went west to Attic Window Peak (0.8-mi one way) and returned to the gap to quickly tackle Calloway Peak (0.4-mi one way). This approximately 8.0-mi hike started at 12:15 PM and ended at 5:30 PM on a Sunday with bright sun and high winds (15-35 mph).

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