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: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:Pilot Mountain State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (168 miles – 2 hours and 39 min) Charlotte (101 miles – 1 hour and 35 min) Raleigh (125 miles – 2 hours) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:36.34228, -80.46389Trail Access:From Winston-Salem drive north on U.S. 52. Pilot Mountain should be very evident as you get near. Take the exit for Pilot Mountain State Park and turn left onto Pilot Knob Park Rd. Drive 0.6-mi to the visitors center on the right and find a parking spot. The trails are located across the street.Pilot Mountain State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountain Trail – Grindstone Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Jomeokee Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Grindstone TrailHike Distance:~9.3 miles Hike Configuration: Small loop and big loop Elevation Gain: 2,090 feetHiking Time:3 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:12-13-15, Sunday at 2:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — The trails are in great condition. You might find the Ledge Spring Trail to be rocky and steep in places. Hike Difficulty:Moderate — This is an easy, fast-paced hike. The only real climb is on the Grindstone Trail and the Ledge Springs Trail is rocky in places. Isolation:Low — The only solitude you’ll get is on the Mountain Trail. Every trail along the top of the mountain is overcrowded, even during the winter. Highlights:Countless sections along the bottom and tops of cliffs, Jomeokee Trail around Big Pinnacle, outstanding views of Big Pinnacle and the Sauratown Mountains Lowlights:Too many people everywhere!, this is one of the busiest parks in the state, Lack of views on the Mountain and lower Grindstone TrailsGoogle Photos album link
Pilot Mountain is truly one of the iconic summits in North Carolina. The mountain, a monadnock and the westernmost peak of the ancient Sauratown Mountains, dominates the surrounding Piedmont and can be seen from many landmarks. Due to its ease of access directly off freeway U.S. 52 north of Winston-Salem, this state park is popular and is overcrowded during the summer months. Avoid the crowds and hike this park in the offseason when the leaves are down and the temperatures are milder than the Blue Ridge Mountains. A full loop of the mountain can be achieved using the newly extended Mountain Trail, with the addition a result of a fire break during a forest fire in November 2012. From there use the Grindstone Trail, the only trail leading from the base to the summit area. Once you attain the crest you are in cliff heaven as the trails hug the top and bottom of 100+ foot cliffs crawling with rock climbers. The highlights may be the Ledge Spring Trail, Little Pinnacle, or the Jomeokee Trail, it all depends on your preference. For those in a rush or wanting a shorter hike, you can do the shorter 2.7-mile loop from the upper parking lot. This is a great day hike for anyone who lives in the Triad or Triangle metropolitan areas.
Location:Bearwallow Gap, Gerton, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (19 miles – 33 min) Charlotte (104 miles – 2 hours and 12 min) Raleigh (257 miles – 4 hours and 12 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.46042, -82.36845Trail Access:From the I-40/I-240/U.S. 74 ALT interchange in Asheville head southeast on U.S. 74 ALT for 12.5 miles. In Gerton, NC turn right onto Bearwallow Mountain Road and drive 2 miles to the crest of the road at Bearwallow Gap. Parking for the trails is on the southern side of the gap.Hiking Upward link to hikeBearwallow Mountain – 2.4 miles, 740 feet elevation gain, 1 hour, moderately easyBlue Ridge Pastures – 4.9 miles, 1,410 feet elevation gain, 2 hours and 30 minutes, moderateCombined:Hiking Trails:Bearwallow Trail – Trombatore TrailHike Configuration: Out and back, twiceHike Distance:~7.3 miles Elevation Gain: 2,150 feetHiking Time:3 hoursDate of Hike:12-20-2015, Sunday at 2:25 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — The Bearwallow Mountain Trail was recently completed and features excellent switchbacks. The Trombatore Trail was also recently completed, and also sometimes follows existing forest roads.Hike Difficulty:Moderate — This is right in the middle in terms of distance and elevation gain. I would not consider this too long or too difficult for the majority of hikers Isolation:Low — Bearwallow Mountain is popular and based on proximity I imagine Blue Ridge Pastures sees a decent amount of hikers as well year-round. Highlights:Awesome views in three directions from Bearwallow Mountain, easy summit trail, eastern view of Hickory Nut Gorge from Blue Ridge Pastures Lowlights:No eastern views from Bearwallow Mountain, communications complex diminishes the scenery, lack of solitude on both trailsGoogle Photos album link
On this bitterly cold day before the winter solstice I left Catawba Falls, grabbed some lunch in Black Mountain, then drove toward my second hike of the day in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. Although Hickory Nut Gorge is a popular hiking and tourist destination, I have rarely traveled through the area. It is a longer drive than most hikes in the region due to road access. Every highway through the area is full of switchbacks, single lanes, and generally slow travel for many miles. Other than Chimney Rock I haven’t hiked anywhere else, and on this day it was time for a change. Since I hiked earlier in the day I chose two hikes that were short and relatively popular in order to avoid navigation problems. I drove up to Bearwallow Gap, which has two beautiful hikes that begin at the same spot.
Location:South Mountains State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (72 miles – 1 hour and 17 min) Charlotte (63 miles – 1 hour and 19 min) Raleigh (198 miles – 3 hour and 8 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.60236, -81.62917Trail Access:This is a confusing park to get to via maps and GPS directions. Just insert 3001 South Mountain Park, Connelly Springs, NC 28612 into your GPS and try not to get lost!South Mountains State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:High Shoals Falls Loop Trail – Upper Falls Trail – Shinny Creek Trail – Headquarters Trail – Hemlock Nature Trail – River TrailHike Distance:~8.0 miles Hike Configuration: Loop Elevation Gain: 1,745 feetHiking Time:4 hours and 45 minutesDate of Hike:04-26-15, Sunday at 11:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — Most of the trails in the park are former forest roads and in great condition. The hikers’ only trails are is mostly good condition. Hike Difficulty:Moderate — The first major climb is assisted by stairs, the second major climb is a doozy. Otherwise it’s all downhill from there. Isolation:Average — You will likely never be along visiting the waterfall, it is easy to get to. The farther you get into the western backcountry the farther away you get from people Highlights:Sights along Jacob Fork River, High Shoals Falls and the incredible rocky gorge, intimacy of Shinny Creek Lowlights:A complaint I always have of the park is too many forest road trails, but it makes easy walking. Otherwise the 100% cloud cover obscured the few views you’d normally have Google Photos album link
What do you do when the forecast is for rain and low-lying clouds all day? If you’re like me, you look for a hike featuring water. Views are secondary to the power and majesty of mountain streams and waterfalls, and no matter what the conditions you’ll be able to see these things up close. I had only visited South Mountains State Park once a few years prior, so I picked this as my destination. On my first foray I did a popular loop that included Chestnut Knob, Shinny Creek, and High Shoals Falls. This time I eliminated Chestnut Knob since it would socked in by clouds, and instead include the central ridges dividing the Jacob Fork River and Shinny Creek watersheds.
South Mountains State Park is the largest park in North Carolina and contains a huge variety of trails. The South Mountains are an isolated range with peaks between 2,000 and 3,000 feet. What they lack in height, they compensate with deep gorges and lots of water. This loop is what I would call a frontcountry option since it stays relatively close to the parking area. At 8 miles it is doable in a few hours, and you can easily shorten or lengthen the hike as desired. If you only have an hour or so, you can still enjoy the beautiful High Shoals Falls and many sights along Jacob Fork.
Location:Birkhead Mountains Wilderness, Uwharrie National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (80 miles – 1 hour and 32 min) Charlotte (69 miles – 1 hour and 18 min) Greensboro (34 miles – 36 min) Trail Access:From Asheboro follow NC 49 south for 3.1 miles. Turn left onto Tot Hill Farm Rd and in 2.6 miles look for the gravel parking lot on the left tucked in forest between two farms.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Birkhead Mountain Trail – Hannahs Creek Trail – Robbins Branch Trail – Birkhead Mountain TrailHike Distance:~12.0 miles Hike Configuration: Lollipop Elevation Gain: 1,062 feetHiking Time: 5 hours and 10 minutes Date of Hike: 05-30-16, Monday at 12:15 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — For a wilderness these trails were in great condition except for a little erosion near the water drainagesHike Difficulty:Moderate — This hike would be classified easy if it was under 10 miles Isolation:High — For Memorial Day, seeing only two groups of hikers to me meant this is typically an isolated area especially during the winter Highlights:Solitude, gentle trails, huge trees, excellent campsites Lowlights:Trails did not highlight the creeks in this wilderness, no viewsGoogle Photos album link
After a long, tiring Saturday in Great Smoky Mountains National Park I wasn’t up for another big hike on Memorial Day. I simply wanted to rest my feet and kick back, but after I woke up I realized I had little else to do. These are the times when I muster up the energy to explore local parks and forests when I wouldn’t otherwise. Hikes in the Triangle area are typically crowded and they lack the anticipation I feel when I’m planning hikes in the mountains. I always seem to enjoy them though, so I decided to strike out midday towards Uwharrie National Forest to get a quick hike in before the day was wasted. My plan was to hike the bulk of the trails in the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness, which also happens to be the closest section of the national forest. This small wilderness is located in the far northern tip of Uwharrie National Forest just outside of Asheboro and features a central loop with 4 connecting trails. The trail layout is commonly referred to as a hub-and-spoke. I started at the Tot Hill Farm Access for the Birkhead Mountain Trail, and circled back using the Hannahs Creek Trail and Robbins Branch Trail. This is the longest lollipop hike in the wilderness, and although bereft of views the forest is surprisingly scenic and makes for a pleasant walk in the woods.
Location:Annie Cannon Park, Blowing Rock, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (194 miles – 3 hours and 7 min) Charlotte (93 miles – 1 hour and 42 min) Asheville (90 miles – 1 hour and 38 min) Trail Access:Follow Main St through downtown Blowing Rock and turn right onto Laurel Lane. Drive 0.1-mi and turn left into the parking lot for the Glen Burney Trail.Click here for informationon the waterfalls and a map of the trailHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Glen Burney TrailHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 735 feetHike Distance:~2.7 miles Hiking Time: 1 hour and 25 minutes Date of Hike: 03-28-15, Saturday at 2:30 PMTrail Condition: Above Average — Starts as a nice forest road but deep in the gorge erosion is a big concern near the waterfalls Hike Difficulty:Moderate— The hike is short but it will be a steep return climb out of the gorge Isolation:Average — 3 waterfalls conveniently located inside a popular vacation town means you will rarely be alone on this hike Highlights:Intimate local trail along the creek, Easy access to the base of Glen Burney Falls Lowlights:Deadfall covering any view of The Cascades, deadfall and low water minimizes the beauty of an otherwise impressive Glen Marie FallsGoogle+ photo album link
Only hours earlier I had been freezing my *** off scrambling to put on every piece of clothing I carried as I hiked towards Flat Top Tower. Now as I was plodding my way back up New Years Creek Gorge I wondered why I bothered wearing my fleece, so I stripped and donned only a T-shirt as the winter sun beamed down on me. The difference was startling. It had been below 20°F with the wind on the western side of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, now it was nearly 45°F down in the eastern trenches and there was barely a trace of snow. Shortly after eating lunch at Bass Lake I felt I had plenty of afternoon time to tackle a trail I’ve been eyeing for a while. It was the Glen Burney Trail mere blocks away from downtown Blowing Rock in Annie Cannon Park. This trail drops steeply into the New Years Creek Gorge passing by 3 waterfalls in short succession. What more could you ask for?
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:Upper Creek Falls Trail, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (215 miles – 3 hours and 21 min) Charlotte (99 miles – 1 hour and 44 min) Asheville (64 miles – 1 hour and 15 min) Trail Access:From downtown Morganton follow NC-181 north for 21.6 miles to the gravel parking area on the right side of the highway. Once you pass the Brown Mountain Overlook on the right it is 2.0 miles to the trail head. The Upper Creek Falls Trail loop #268B begins on each side of the parking lot. On the left is the trail to the top of the waterfall and is described in this post. HikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Upper Creek Falls Trail #268B Hike Configuration: Loop Elevation Gain: 415 feetHike Distance:~1.7 miles Hiking Time: 1 hour Date of Hike: 03-15-15, Sunday at 5:50 PMTrail Condition: Good — Each trail descending into the gorge are in very good condition but more eroded once you follow the creekHike Difficulty:Moderate — No matter which direction you begin, you will face a fairly steep climb out of the gorge Isolation:Average — I only saw two groups of people here, but given it was almost nighttime on a late winter Sunday that is probably an anomaly. This is supposedly very popular in the summer for swimming. Highlights:Incredible waterfall with intimate access to multiple spots along the creek Lowlights:Two creek crossings could be potentially wet and hazardous, the old trail between the newer switchbacks isn’t disguised well and is likely used oftenGoogle+ photo album link
Upper Creek constitutes the western boundary of the massive Wilson Creek drainage in Pisgah National Forest. I drive by here a lot on NC-181, which climbs up the western ridges of the drainage on its way to Linville Gorge. There’s a sign for Upper Creek Falls on the highway, and I have never turned off. It didn’t seem like a destination to me – easy highway access + short trail to a waterfall = crowds and disappointment. Let me correct that wrong right now, it is a spectacular destination. Although it is likely popular with swimmers during the summer, Upper Creek Falls is one of the best waterfalls I’ve seen in North Carolina. There are taller waterfalls, and more powerful waterfalls, but this has the best attributes of both worlds in my opinion With easy access from the highway and a manageable trail you have to see this waterfall.
Location:Linville Gorge Wilderness, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (219 miles – 3 hours and 37 min) Charlotte (103 miles – 1 hour and 59 min) Asheville (66 miles – 1 hour and 23 min) Trail Access:From NC-181 turn south on Ginger Cake Rd, the road is a loop. If you are coming from the north take a right on the second Ginger Cake Rd. If you are coming from the south take a left on the first Ginger Cake Rd. After 0.3-mi veer left at a Y-split onto Table Rock Rd. Drive 2.4-mi and look for Sitting Bear Trail on the right.Click here for more information on Linville GorgeHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Sitting Bear Trail – Jonas Ridge Trail – Hawksbill Trail – Jonas Ridge Trail – Devil’s Cliff Trail – Jonas Ridge Trail – Sitting Bear TrailHike Configuration: Three out and backs stemming from Jonas Ridge Trail Elevation Gain: 1,910 feetHike Distance:~6.0 miles Hiking Time: 4 hours Date of Hike: 03-15-15, Saturday at 11:30 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — Most of the Jonas Ridge Trail is in very good condition, only the trails up the two mountains are trenched and in poor conditionHike Difficulty:Moderate— Excluding the steep but short climbs up Hawksbill, Sitting Bear, and after Celestial Point, the majority of this hike is easy and mostly level Isolation:Above average — Hawksbill will likely have people, but you could be alone beyond Sitting Bear Highlights:360° views from Hawksbill Mountain, multiple cool spots on Sitting Bear Mountain Lowlights:Very steep approach to Sitting Bear Mountain, no views on Gingercake MountainCombined with Devil’s Hole TrailElevation Gain: 3,078 feet Distance:~8.5 miles Time: 6 hours Difficulty:Very StrenuousGoogle+ photo album link
While most of the trails on the west side of Linville Gorge drop deep into the canyon and eventually end up near Linville River, the east rim of the gorge features spectacular trails that lead to cliffs and mountain summits. For this hike my plan was to explore Hawksbill Mountain and Sitting Bear Mountain in the northeast region. Both of these peaks feature short but steep trails from Table Rock Rd. In addition to these peaks I wanted to explore the area north of Sitting Bear Mountain. I had no definite plan and ended up exploring the Jonas Ridge Trail and stopping by Celestial Point. For the mileage and difficulty, this might be one of the most enjoyable hikes in the mountains of North Carolina. Hawksbill Mountain is an outstanding, exposed summit with 360° views while Sitting Bear Mountain offers countless side trails to lonely cliffs with eye-popping views of the gorge and Grandfather Mountain. This is one of those trips where you can have a lot of fun exploring the area without hours of endless hiking through forest. If you have enough time after you can always do more and explore Devil’s Hole Trail or Upper Creek Falls.