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.

Continue reading “Black Mountain Crest Trail – Pisgah National Forest, NC”

Woods Mountain – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

View #1 of Armstrong Creek watershed
View #1 of Armstrong Creek watershed

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.

Continue reading “Woods Mountain – Pisgah National Forest, NC”

Crabtree Falls – Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

 

Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls

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.

Continue reading “Crabtree Falls – Blue Ridge Parkway, NC”

Roaring Fork Falls – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

Roaring Fork Falls
Roaring Fork Falls

If you are camping or hiking in the South Toe River Valley or simply traveling along NC-80, Roaring Fork Falls is worth a stop. The drive and trail are easily accessible beside NC-80 as it passes through Busick. I’ve recently tried to include quick stops before or after my long hikes, simply to explore more of the beauty around western North Carolina. Most waterfalls are easily accessible and often crowded, so they are rarely the focal point of my day hikes. I had a little time after my Mt. Mitchell Trail hike so I took advantage of the remaining daylight to check out Roaring Fork Falls. Fortunately I only saw one hiker coming the other direction from the falls and I had it to myself. Kevin Adams, dean of NC waterfalls, describes Roaring Fork Falls as the “quintessential southern Appalachian waterfall” and it’s hard to argue with his claim. This is one of the prettiest cascades I’ve seen in North Carolina.

Continue reading “Roaring Fork Falls – Pisgah National Forest, NC”

Mt. Mitchell Trail – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

Mt. Craig and northern Black Mountains
Mt. Craig and northern Black Mountains

The Mt. Mitchell Trail has been beckoning me for years, and I had always wanted to hike it during the winter to get the full mountain experience. The weather was supposed to be sunny but bitterly cold and windy on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, which sounded perfect to me because visibility would be outstanding. I woke up extremely early on Saturday and drove to the Black Mountain Campground in Pisgah National Forest to begin my ascent. The Mt. Mitchell Trail is one of few trails in the mountains of North Carolina that boasts many similarities to a summit trail out West or in the Northeast. It starts deep in the South Toe River Valley far below the Black Mountain range and climbs unrelentingly for 5.5 miles to the summit. As you climb you’ll experience a multitude of ecosystems as the forest changes from Appalachian and northern hardwood forests to dense rhododendron and mountain laurel to tall pines and eventually the rare southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest near the summit. Mt. Mitchell, standing at  6,684 feet, is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains and the eastern United States. You can drive to the summit, mill around the visitor’s center and stroll a few hundred yards to the observation platform before leaving. Or you can conquer this peak the old-fashioned way by hiking the Mt. Mitchell Trail.

Continue reading “Mt. Mitchell Trail – Pisgah National Forest, NC”

Maple Camp Bald and Mt. Mitchell – Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

 

Northern Blacks from Mt. Craig
Northern Blacks from Mt. Craig

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.

Continue reading “Maple Camp Bald and Mt. Mitchell – Mount Mitchell State Park, NC”

Colbert Ridge to Woody Ridge – Pisgah National Forest, NC

 

Looking south from the shoulder of Celo Knob
Looking south from the shoulder of Celo Knob

Last year I really enjoyed my first trip to the Black Mountains. I assumed that the views would be restricted with the mountains covered in conifer forests. Despite my fears, the views from Maple Camp Bald, Mount Craig, and Mount Mitchell were outstanding. However, most of the hike was on well-trodden trails with quite a few people. This time I wanted to explore the northern Blacks beyond Deep Gap because they lie outside of the state park. My plan was to take the Colbert Ridge Trail up to Deep Gap, then take the Black Mountain Crest Trail north towards Celo Knob before heading back down on the Woody Ridge Trail. This forms 3/4 of a loop – without a shuttle it requires a couple of miles of road walk to get back to the original starting point. I knew I would get some views according to blogs I’ve read, but I did not expect miles of them on one of the finest stretches of trail in North Carolina.

Continue reading “Colbert Ridge to Woody Ridge – Pisgah National Forest, NC”