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: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:Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (232 miles – 3 hours and 41 min) Charlotte (116 miles – 2 hours and 4 min) Asheville (47 miles – 1 hour and 4 min) Trail Access:If you are coming from the south or east you will be taking NC-80 north from Marion. After passing under the Blue Ridge Parkway at Buck Creek Gap, go 2.2 mi northwest on NC-80 and turn left on S. Toe River Rd. In 300 feet turn left on Busick Work Center Rd and the parking area is located in 0.2-mi at the end of the road.Click here for information provided by the USDAon theRoaring Fork Falls TrailHiking Trails:Roaring Fork Falls TrailHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 122 feetTrail Condition: Very Good — Almost the entire trail is a gravel road until a short dirt path to the falls Hike Distance:~1.5 miles Hiking Time: 40 minutes Date of Hike: 01-17-15, Saturday at 4:40 PMHike Difficulty:Easy — The trail is almost flat, no scrambling required Isolation:High — I only saw one person leaving the falls but this is likely because it was the middle of winter Highlights:This waterfall completely surprised me, it is much bigger than pictures suggest Lowlights:I was hoping the trail would be beside the creek, but it’s hard to complainGoogle+ photo album link
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.
Location:Black Mountain Campground, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (234 miles – 4 hours and 3 min) Charlotte (117 miles – 2 hours and 24 min) Asheville (49.9 miles – 1 hour and 20 min) Trail Access:If you are coming from the south or east you will be taking NC-80 north from Marion. After passing under the Blue Ridge Parkway at Buck Creek Gap, go 2.2 mi northwest on NC-80 and turn left on S. Toe River Rd. Drive 2.8 mi on the gravel road and you will enter Black Mountain Campground. On the left is a hiker’s parking area and trail information map. The hike starts here, crossing the river on a road bridge towards the campgrounds.
Click here for information provided by the USDAon theBlack Mountain Campgroundand theMt. Mitchell TrailHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Briar Bottom Group Campground Road – Mt. Mitchell Trail (Mountains-to-Sea Trail except for the Higgins Bald Trail section) – Higgins Bald Trail + Mountains-to-Sea Trail on the returnHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 3,684 feetHike Distance:~12.0 miles Hiking Time: 6 hours and 30 minutes Date of Hike: 01-17-15, Saturday at 10:00 AMTrail Condition: Average — Most of the trail is eroded with many exposed rocks and roots. In the national forest section the condition is above average but in the high elevations in the state park the trail is heavily eroded and in poor condition.Hike Difficulty: Strenuous — The trail continuously climbs almost 6 miles to the summit but the elevation gain is rarely more than 700 ft/mi. There are never steep sections that can tire you quickly, the difficulty of this trail is slightly overrated in this regard since there are much tougher trails in the region. Isolation:Above average — I saw multiple groups of hikers on this beautiful, sunny day. I suspect on the weekends you will always see some hikers attempting this difficult but popular trail. Although due to its length and difficulty it will never be crowded. Highlights:Ice sheets provided unique photo opportunities, large stand of spruce-fir forest, 360° panoramas from Mt. Mitchell observation tower with incredible visibility Lowlights:Heavily eroded trail in the state park section, no clear indication of waterfall along Higgins Bald Trail even though multiple guide books indicate one, few views on the way up except for the power line clearanceGoogle+ photo album link
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.
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:Appalachian Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (209 miles – 3 hr 30 min) Durham (212 miles – 3 hr 30 min) Raleigh (235 miles – 3 hr 53 min) Trail Access:Follow NC 80 north from U.S. 70 near Marion for 17.8-mi – turn sharp left on Colbert Creek Rd after bridge over South Toe River – small parking area on right in 0.4-mi with national forest information board Hiking Trails:Colbert Ridge Trail – Black Mountain Crest Trail – Woody Ridge Trail – SR 1155 – SR 1157 – NC 80Hike Configuration:Loop Date of Hike: 5-24-14, Saturday at 11:40 AM Hike Distance:~13.8 miles Hiking Time:8.25 hoursTrail Condition:Below Average — Colbert Ridge is steep and eroded along rocks and roots for 2-mi. Black Mountain Crest varies from good to badly eroded and steep. Woody Ridge extremely steep and rocky. Hike Difficulty:Very strenuous — Colbert Ridge and Black Mountain Crest have very steep, rocky and rooty sections. Woody Ridge is arguably the steepest downhill I’ve been on requiring constant scrambling and sliding.Isolation: Average – I passed 2 groups each on Colbert Ridge and Woody Ridge. The crest trail near Deep Gap was crowded, I passed at least 5 groups of people, north of that much more isolated. Highlights: Constant views from the Black Mountains crest in all directions – one of the best sections of trail in NC Lowlights:Very rocky and eroded sections on all trails, crest trail did not summit multiple 6k peaks, Woody Ridge Trail is a grueling downhill scramble, 3.7 miles of road walking to connect the loop. Google+ photo album link
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.