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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Pine Mountain and Wilburn Ridge – Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, VA

 

Southeast from Wilburn Ridge
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.

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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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