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: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: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: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: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.
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).