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
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.
Location:Roan Highlands, Pisgah & Cherokee National Forest, NC-TN Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (232 miles – 4 hours and 4 min) Charlotte (137 miles – 2 hours and 33 min) Asheville (65 miles – 1 hour and 27 min) Trail Access:Drive west on U.S. 19E from Elk Park for 6.8 mi then turn south on TN-143 driving 12.6 mi to parking at Carver’s Gap. The Appalachian Trail crosses the parking area.HikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian Trail north and south – Grassy Ridge Bald Trail side trip on the returnHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 4,760 feetHike Distance:~19.3 miles Hiking Time: 9 hours and 15 minutes Date of Hike: 04-05-15, Sunday at 10:00 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — The first section along Round Bald is in great shape, but the trail condition quickly devolves beyond that and is trenched on many of the inclines due to traffic and lack of maintenanceHike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — The difficulty is due to overall length and not steepness. There are tough climbs up Hump Mountain, south up Grassy Ridge Bald, and north out of Yellow Mountain Gap, but none are brutally steep or technical Isolation:Average — Ease of access and Appalachian Trail means this is not for solitude, but you will see surprisingly few people beyond Grassy Ridge Bald because of the distance Highlights:What aren’t the highlights? Round Bald, Jane Bald, Grassy Ridge Bald, Little Hump Mountain & Hump Mountain. This is one of the finest collections of balds and views I’ve seen in the Southeast Lowlights:Muddy trail down Grassy Ridge Bald, lots of trenching and erosionGoogle+ photo album link
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.
Location:Grandfather Mountain State Park, Linville, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (175 miles – 2 hours and 57 min) Raleigh (201 miles – 3 hours and 21 min) Park Access:From Deep Gap take the Blue Ridge Parkway south for 23.6 miles to milepost 299.9. Park at the Boone Fork parking area and find the connector to the Tanawha Trail on the left side of the lot. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEClick here for information on thetourist attractionHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Tanawha Trail – Daniel Boone Scout Trail – Grandfather Trail – Underwood Trail – Mile High Swinging Bridge (turn around) – Grandfather Trail – Daniel Boone Scout Trail – Cragway Trail – Nuwati Trail – Tanawha Trail Hike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 3,378 feetHike Distance:~11.5 miles Hiking Time: 8 hours and 15 minutes Date of Hike: 10-17-14, Friday at 11:00 AMTrail Condition: Average — The trails leading up to the crest are in good condition but most of the Grandfather Trail is on rocks, roots, and trail that is frankly difficult to maintain with the traffic and weather conditions.Hike Difficulty:Very strenuous — Although this hike is not very long the elevation gain is tough and the constant climbs with tenuous footing slow down the pace Isolation: Low — This is a very popular hike and is crowded the closer you get to the tourist attraction Highlights:Calloway Peak, the exposed ridge hikes to Attic Window Peak and MacRae Peak, eating snacks at the Top Shop Lowlights:Daniel Boone Scout Trail can get very muddy, crowded and very rocky Underwood Trail, hordes of people around the swinging bridge Google+ photo album link
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.
Location:Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson, VA Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (180 miles – 3 hr 13 min) Raleigh (205 miles – 3 hr 36 min) Fees: $4 weekday – $5 weekendTrail Access:From Mouth of Wilson, drive 11.7 miles west on U.S. 58 and take a right at the state park entrance on VA-362. Drive 3.4-mi to the Massie Gap parking area. The trail head is at the overnight backpacker lot on the group campground road. You will have to pay a fee at the park entrance. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hike Hiking Trails:Appalachian Spur Trail – Appalachian Trail north – Pine Mountain Trail – Appalachian Trail south to Thomas Knob Shelter then turn around and hike north – Wilburn Ridge Trail – Appalachian Trail north – Rhododendron Trail Trail Condition: Very good — AT maintained very well, Pine Mountain Trail close to Rhododendron Gap is overgrown and the Wilburn Ridge area is very rocky on the Wilburn Ridge Trail and AT Hike Configuration: Loop plus out-and-back Elevation Gain: 2,225 feetHike Distance:~14.2 miles Hiking Time: 6.75 hours Date of Hike: 7-6-14, Sunday at 11:40 AMHike Difficulty:Strenuous — There are not many difficult stretches but the hike is long, Wilburn Ridge is very rocky Isolation: Average — The first half of the hike is generally isolated but there are more people around Mt. Rogers and Wilburn Ridge Highlights:Open vistas on Stone Mountain, Pine Mountain Trail approach towards Lewis Fork Trail, Thomas Knob Shelter, Wilburn Ridge Lowlights:Extremely overgrown final stretch on Pine Mountain Trail, lack of interesting creeks, Wilburn Ridge Trail all rocks Google+ photo album link
Southeast from Wilburn Ridge
It was the perfect day to visit a spot I hadn’t hiked in years. I have backpacked here twice in March 2010 and October 2010 but never a day hike. I drove out to Grayson Highlands State Park planning to do a big loop in the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness. Most of the hike would be on trails I’ve never touched and I was excited because it was sunny and mid-70s. Once I got started though and started ascending Stone Mountain towards Scales, I could not resist doing a loop I did years ago backpacking. The views and weather were too good to pass up. I started at the Massie Gap parking area in Grayson Highlands State Park and took the Appalachian Trail north past Scales before using the Pine Mountain Trail to form a loop with the AT. After a quick out-and-back to the Thomas Knob Shelter I trekked over Wilburn Ridge and said hi to some ponies on my way to the car. This loop hike is one of the best hikes in the Southeast and everyone should try to experience at least a portion of this area.
Location: Old Rag overflow parking, Shenandoah National Park, Etlan, VA Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (230 miles – 4 hr 9 min) Durham (216 miles – 4 hr 7 min) Raleigh (256 miles – 4 hr 21 min)Trail Access:Exit 73 off I-40 at Old Fort, go north on Catawba Ave, left on W. Main St, right on Old US-70 for 2.4-mi, right on Mill Creek Rd for 2.5-mi, right on Graphite Rd for 0.5-mi and gravel parking will be on left of road. Trail begins at end of Nethers Road about a mile past the parking lotPark information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Ridge Trail Hike Configuration:Out and backHike Distance:~8.2 miles Hiking Time:4.75 hours Date of Hike:05-19-14, Monday at 12:40 PMTrail Condition: Very good/Poor — The first 2/3 of the trail has many good switchbacks and is not too steep or rocky, the last 1/3 there is no trail, only blazes on boulders pointing the direction to climbHike Difficulty: Strenuous/very technical — The length was short and generally the approach trail had well-graded switchbacks. Combined with almost 2 hours of rock scrambling up and down it became tiring Isolation: Very Low — There were about 50 cars in the parking lot, I didn’t pass many people going up until I got to the rock scramble. This section slowed down traffic and people were everywhere all the way to the summit Highlights:Views west of all the central mountains in Shenandoah National Park, exciting and fun rock scramble that offered views at every spot Lowlights: 1 mile road walk to trail head due to popularity of trail, 70+ people at rock scramble through the summit, difficult sections to climb in the rock scramble section, relatively boring approach trail for first 2 miles Google+ photo album link
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.