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: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.
Location:Crabtree Meadows Campground, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (50 miles – 1 hour and 5 min) Charlotte (119 miles – 2 hours and 3 min) Raleigh (236 miles – 3 hours and 40 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.81236, -82.14338Trail Access:Trailhead parking is located at the entrance to the Crabtree Meadows Campground at mile 339.5 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is located between the exit for NC 80 to the south and NC 226A to the north.Hiking Upward link to hikeBlue Ridge Parkway – Crabtree Meadows CampgroundHiking Trails:Crabtree Falls Loop TrailHike Configuration: LoopHike Distance:~3.0 miles Elevation Gain: 740 feetHiking Time:1 hour and 20 minutesDate of Hike:03-16-16, Wednesday at 5:15 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — As with most popular Blue Ridge Parkway trails, this is in excellent condition with few spots of significant erosion. Also, there are switchbacks and stairs aplenty. Hike Difficulty:ModeratelyEasy — For most this is an easy hike, barring the climb you’ll face coming out of the gorge. Isolation:Low — Expect a significant amount of people on this trail year-round Highlights:A stunning waterfall, good access from the parkway Lowlights:Since this is only accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway you cannot drive here in the winterGoogle Photos album link
If you’ve seen a top 10 or top 20 list for waterfalls of North Carolina floating around the internet, I guarantee you Crabtree Falls is on that list 99% of the time. This is an incredible waterfall, and I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing it in person. I decided it was time to change that, and after a surprisingly grueling hike at Woods Mountain I still mustered up the energy to hike to Crabtree Falls that evening. Even though the sun was setting the lighting was perfect on this warm mid-March day. At just under 3 miles this is a great hike for the family. Not too difficult, probably on the moderate side for most. I consider it easy personally. If you huff-and-puff you’ll still leave with a smile because Crabtree Falls is one of the finest waterfalls in the state.
Location:Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (195 miles – 3 hours and 4 min) Charlotte (98 miles – 1 hour and 47 min) Asheville (81 miles – 1 hour and 37 min) Trail Access:After crossing U.S. 321 exit to Blowing Rock continue driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway for 2.1 mi. Turn left at the sign for the Cone Manor parking area. Flat Top Rd begins below the parking area to the left of the manor – where free maps are available. Click here for informationon Moses Cone Memorial ParkHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Flat Top RoadHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 584 feetHike Distance:~5.3 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes Date of Hike: 03-28-15, Saturday at 11:50 AMTrail Condition: Excellent — This is an excellent trail, which is actually a paved road most of the time Hike Difficulty:Easy — You will follow a mostly flat paved or gravel road. I’m not listing it as incredibly easy because of the total length Isolation:Average — I passed at least 10 people on this snowy, windy day. During the summer this trail is likely crowded at least until the large meadow Highlights:Easy trail, beautiful views from the meadow, panoramas from the fire tower Lowlights:Cone Cemetery was guarded by a huge fence which took away from the overall sceneryGoogle+ photo album link
As I passed through the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway a cold gust of wind hit me in the face chilling me to the bone. At this moment I realized I was woefully unprepared for this hike, the weather conditions were much more brutal than I remembered from the NOAA forecast. Initially I wasn’t planning on this hike in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park to Flat Top Tower, but as I was driving towards the mountains the sky was crystal clear and snow blanketed the high peaks. It was late March, I did not expect the snow but I welcomed it. The views would be spectacular anywhere I went, but I chose to forego my initial plan of chasing waterfalls and head for a hike with far-reaching views. Scrambling to put on gloves to get some feeling back in my hands while draping on anything I had in my pack: mid-layer fleece, beanie, neck gaiter, sunglasses, and rain jacket – I wondered why I always choose new destinations on a whim.
Location:Flat Top Mountain Overlook, Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, VADistance from Hubs: Raleigh (161 miles – 3 hours and 6 min) Greensboro (125 miles – 2 hours and 23 min) Roanoke (32 miles – 55 min) Trail Access:From Bedford, VA follow VA-43 north for 10.3 mi. When you enter Peaks of Otter Recreation Area turn right on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north for 2.5 mi. Trail parking is at the Flat Top Mountain Overlook, an alternative start point is 0.3 mi further on the left at the Fallingwater Cascades parking area.Click here for a map provided by the NPSon Peaks of Otter Recreation AreaHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Fallingwater Cascades Trail – Flat Top Trail (both sections of the Fallingwater – Flat Top National Recreation Trail)Hike Configuration: Loop and out-and-back Elevation Gain: 2,115 feetHike Distance:~7.7 miles Hiking Time: 3 hours and 35 minutes Date of Hike: 03-22-15, Sunday at 9:00 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — As a national recreation trail in the parkway system, this is mostly in very good condition except for some eroded sections near the top of Flat Top MountainHike Difficulty:Moderate — The uphill sections are all moderately graded and never difficult Isolation:Above average — The waterfall and mountain summit draw hikers but nothing like the crowds at Sharp Top Mountain and Abbott Lake Highlights:High flow at Fallingwater Cascades, Easy to reach cliff views on Flat Top Mountain Lowlights:Lack of 360° view on Flat Top Mountain and clear view of Sharp Top Mountain, Fallingwater Cascades is a low flow creek and will be pitiful during droughtsGoogle+ photo album link
It was my birthday, but Duke was playing in the NCAA Round of 32 in the middle of the afternoon and there was no way I’m missing the game. I really wanted to get outside for a birthday hike but had limited options for driving and hiking. I decided on Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, which is under 2.5 hours away and offers multiple short hikes. On my first visit I did a quick hike to Sharp Top Mountain on my way to DC, this time I wanted to park at the trail access to Fallingwater Cascades and Flat Top Mountain. Although Flat Top Mountain can be accessed from a lower trail head at Abbott Lake, this is a steep route. It may be shorter in distance but it will likely take the same time to reach the summit. In addition to the casual long walk to the summit, the upper trail head gives you access to Fallingwater Cascades. My mind was set, a new waterfall and a new summit in 7.7 miles. Fallingwater Cascades is a nice waterfall, well worth the short hike. Flat Top Mountain has multiple cliffs on the summit offering exceptional views west and east. This is a fairly easy hike that was a great half-day choice for my birthday trek along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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:Cumberland Knob Recreation Area, Lowgap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (133 miles – 2 hr 12 min) Raleigh (160 miles – 2 hr 36 min) Trail Access:From I-74 take exit 6 NC-89 west for 13.7-mi. At an intersection with NC-18 go left for 0.8-mi and take a right to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway. Go south on the BRP for 0.3-mi and Cumberland Knob parking is on the left.Trail information can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Gully Creek Trail – Cumberland Knob Trail Hike Configuration:Loop Hike Distance:~2.8 miles Elevation Gain: 981 feetHiking Time: 1 hour and 25 minutes Date of Hike: 9-14-14, Sunday at 2:15 PM Trail Condition:Good – The dirt trail is well graded in the steep sections and easy to follow along the creekHike Difficulty:Moderately easy – For a short trail this loop has a steep downhill and uphill section Significant Stream Crossings:There are 8 crossings but only 2-3 would be tricky in high waterIsolation:Very high – Although there was a large group of people at the picnic area I saw no one on the trail Highlights:Small picturesque waterfall on Gully Creek, lots of nice cascades along creek Lowlights:No views at Cumberland Knob summit Google+ photo album link
The persistent cloud cover and intermittent rain scuppered my plans of doing any long hike with great views. When I saw the forecast Sunday morning, I went back to sleep. Around 11:00 AM I started looking of possibilities of places I could go that wouldn’t be a terribly far drive. I settled on the remote northeastern corner of the Blue Ridge Parkway. My first destination would be Cumberland Knob Recreation Area to hike the short loop trail down Gully Creek and up to Cumberland Knob. This is one of those recreation areas on the parkway that doesn’t offer much in the way of hiking and scenery, so usually people skip right over it. After checking this park out, I was going to head south to a little known trail on Saddle Mountain. I’m dividing these hikes up into two separate posts, so check out the Saddle Mountain Trail here.
Location:Julian Price Memorial Park, Blowing Rock, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (172 miles – 2 hr 44 min) Raleigh (198 miles – 3 hr 7 min) Trail Access:From Deep Gap head south on Blue Ridge Parkway for 15.8-mi and park at Price Lake Overlook on left. The Price Lake Trail crosses through the parking lot. An alternative starting point is the Price Lake picnic area.Trail information can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Price Lake Trail – Boone Fork Trail – Price Lake Trail Hike Configuration:Figure eight Hike Distance:~8.4 miles Elevation Gain: 660 feetHiking Time: 3 hours and 40 minutes Date of Hike: 09-01-14, Monday at 12:30 PM Trail Condition:Very good – Both loop trails are in great condition despite the traffic Hike Difficulty:Moderately easy – Price Lake Trail is almost flat, Boone Fork Trail is easy except for the area around Hebron Falls Isolation:None – Boone Fork was overrun with people. Price Lake had more isolation but still encountered many hikers and canoes Highlights:Lots of cascades on Boone Fork, boulder field below Hebron Falls, great views along Price Lake Lowlights:Bee Tree Creek not particularly scenic, too many people on Boone Fork Trail Google+ photo album link
Originally I planned on hiking the two mountain summits at Moses Cone Memorial Park on what I thought would be a nice Labor Day Monday with partial cloud cover. As I arrived at the Blue Ridge Parkway the clouds over the area were dark and threatening around noon. It didn’t look like the best day to be on exposed trails. When I got to the park, the parking lot was a mad house and that helped me make the decision to move on. Just down the road is Julian Price Memorial Park, followed by Grandfather Mountain. I decided on Julian Price since it had multiple hikes in the woods. Unfortunately the Price Lake picnic area was even crazier than Moses Cone so I almost gave up and drove an hour to Linville Gorge. Luckily there were some parking spots at the Price Lake Overlook down the street and I finally got started around 12:30 PM. My plan was to hike the Boone Fork Trail then continue on the Price Lake Trail in a figure-eight loop. This hike is roughly 8 miles and very easy. After that with a few hours of daylight left I drove over to Sims Pond and hiked the short Green Knob Trail, finishing all 3 major loop trails in Julian Price Memorial Park.