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: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: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
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
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:Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (138 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Durham (141 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Raleigh (164 miles – 2 hr 37 min) Park Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 4.4-mi, turn right on John P. Frank Parkway and follow the road into the park for 3.3-mi. Turn left into the upper parking lot. Trail head begins on the left side of the bathrooms. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Wolf Rock Trail – Cedar Rock Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Middle/Lower Falls Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail Hike Configuration: Double loop with one out-and-back Elevation Gain:1,550 feetTrail Condition: Excellent — all trails are gravel or well maintained dirt paths Hike Distance:~9.0 miles Hiking Time: 4.25 hours Date of Hike: 7-20-14, Sunday at 1:00 PMHike Difficulty:Moderate — There are only a few steep sections with lots of flat hiking in between Significant Stream Crossings:2 big rock hops along Lower Falls TrailIsolation: None — This is a very popular state park. The waterfalls, homestead, and Stone Mountain were crowded Highlights:Stone Mountain, Wolf Rock isolation, Cedar Rock, views from Hutchinson Homestead, Lower Falls and Stone Mountain Falls Lowlights:Droves of people around Hutchinson Homestead and Stone Mountain Falls, Middle Falls had no apparent access for views Google+ photo album link
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
Location:Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (217 miles – 3 hr 49 min) Durham (220 miles – 3 hr 49 min) Raleigh (243 miles – 4 hr 13 min) Trail Access:Follow NC 80 north from U.S. 70 near Marion for 12.1-mi – take Blue Ridge Parkway south towards Asheville for 11.2-mi – right on NC 128 entering Mt. Mitchell State Park – park at ranger office after 2.4-mi Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHiking Trails:Commissary Trail – Buncombe Horse Range Trail – bushwhack up Mt. Craig – Deep Gap Trail – Old Mitchell TrailTrail Condition: Good — Commissary and Buncombe Horse were fine but muddy, crest trails were well maintained except Old Mitchell Trail was wet and erodedHike Configuration:Loop Hike Distance:~8.5 miles Hiking Time:5 hours Date of Hike: 06-14-13, Saturday at 12:00 PMHike Difficulty: Moderate/Very Strenuous — The trails were moderate in length and grade except for a very difficult bushwhack up Mt. Craig Isolation: Above average — The trails leading to Maple Camp Bald were empty, most crowds around Mt. Craig and Mt. Mitchell Highlights: Open views on Commissary Ridge, Maple Camp Bald panorama, Mt. Craig Lowlights:Mt. Mitchell was very crowded, Old Mitchell Trail eroded, difficult to find Big Tom Gap Trail Google+ photo gallery link
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.
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
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.
Location: Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, Graphite, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (203 miles – 3 hr 12 min) Durham (206 miles – 3 hr 12 min) Raleigh (229 miles – 3 hr 35 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 forest road on east side of Graphite Rd just before the parking pull outHiking Trails:Star Gap Trail – Heartbreak Ridge Trail – forest road – Old Mitchell Toll Road – Pinnacle spur trail Hike Configuration:Out and back Hike Distance:~15.5 miles Hiking Time:6.5 hours Date of Hike: 05-27-13, Monday at 11:15 AMTrail Condition:Good — All trails well graded single file paths, forest roads were rockier than normalHike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — Primarily due to length of hike – steep switchbacks on Star Gap Trail, Heartbreak Ridge all uphill with moderate grade, Pinnacle spur short but steep Isolation: Very High — I passed 4 mountain bikers on Heartbreak Ridge Trail Highlights:Views of Seven Sisters and Graybeard Mountain from Heartbreak Ridge, open rocky summit of Pinnacle with amazing 270º views of the Great Craggies and Black Mountains Lowlights: Confusing trail network, lack of signs or blazes to determine correct trails, long stretches of trail without views, forest road network at end of Heartbreak Ridge that leads to more confusion, no markers for Pinnacle Trail head Google+ photo album link
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.
Location:Grandfather Mountain State Park, Linville, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (175 miles – 2 hr 53 min) Durham (178 miles – 2 hr 53 min) Raleigh (201 miles – 3 hr 16 min) Trail Access:Follow NC 105 south from Boone for 12.5-mi – trail parking lot on left of NC 105. Trail begins at end of parking lot, fill out free permit at shelter while hiking.Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHiking Trails:Profile Trail – Grandfather Trail southwest – Grandfather Trail northeast – Profile Trail Hike Configuration:Out and back T Hike Distance:~8.0 miles Hiking Time:5.25 hours Date of Hike: 05-12-13, Sunday at 12:15 PMTrail Condition:Good — Profile Trail generally nice path until the last half mile which is covered in boulders. Grandfather Trail varies from nice trail to steep rock scramblingHike Difficulty:Strenuous — Profile Trail has steep, rocky uphill sections. Grandfather Trail has steep and narrow rock faces requiring scrambling.Isolation: Low — this is a very popular state park. Profile Trail has less traffic and is more isolated. Highlights:View of the Grandfather Profile, rock scrambling along Grandfather Trail, Attic Window Peak and Calloway Peak views Lowlights:Extremely rocky uphill sections on Profile Trail near Shanty Springs, possibly dangerous scrambling in high winds along exposed areas on the Grandfather Trail, Grandfather Trail was quite crowded for being difficult and treacherous Google+ photo album link
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).