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: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 hours 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:River Trail – Raven Rock Trail – Benn Knob Trail – Lower CCC Trail – Fox Trail – Jacob Branch Trail – Upper Falls Trail – High Shoals Falls Loop Trail – Hemlock Nature TrailHike Distance:~16.1 miles Hike Configuration: Loop Elevation Gain: 3,261 feetHiking Time:7 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:06-04-16, Saturday at 10:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — Almost all trails are forest roads in good shape. The few hikers’ only trails are also in good shape.Hike Difficulty:Strenuous — There are few extended climbs other than the initial ascent on the Raven Rock Trail. This is mainly strenuous due to length. Isolation:Above Average — This is an average of isolation being very high for the majority of the hike while anywhere near the waterfall you’ll always see people year-round. Highlights:Immaculately maintained trails, manmade views from various trails where there are no natural views, secluded campsites Lowlights:Forest roads get monotonous after a while, long section on paved road, views few and far between, way too many people at High Shoals Falls and surrounding areaGoogle Photos album link
South Mountains State Park is a great area for exploration and gear testing in a relatively calm environment. The trails are immaculate, and are mostly former forest roads built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are signs and blazes everywhere, it is impossible to get lost unless you really try. There are frontcountry and backcountry options for hikers of various physical fitness levels. It is also one of my fallback options when the weather doesn’t look so good in the bigger mountains ranges of western North Carolina. The South Mountains lie east of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a smaller, separate mountain range with peaks ranging between 2,000-3,000 feet. The state park is the largest in North Carolina, and that doesn’t include the vast South Mountains Game Land to the west. This is a huge area and much of the interior of this mountain range feels very wild and remote. On my previous two trips (including my recent post about High Shoals Falls) I did smaller loops that didn’t quite reach the state park interior boundary. My goal was to do the full southern perimeter of the state park which included peakbagging Benn Knob, one of the tallest peaks in the South Mountains. Since this hike either follows Jacob Fork or the ridges surrounding the headwaters, I dubbed this hike Jacob Fork Rim. I wasn’t sure what else to call it since I hiked so many different trails on this one big loop.
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: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 – Devil’s Hole Trail – Sitting Bear TrailHike Configuration: Out and back from Jonas Ridge Trail Elevation Gain: 1,280 feetHike Distance:~3.1 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours Date of Hike: 03-15-15, Saturday at 3:15 PMTrail Condition: Average — Very rocky in the middle stretch, otherwise not too badHike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous— For the short mileage this is a steep trail that will punish you on the way out Isolation:High — Compared to the peaks around this area this trail doesn’t seem to have much traffic Highlights:Intimidating cliff walls surrounding Linville River Lowlights:Very rocky in stretches, no discernible trail to the river leads to bouldering down creek Combined with Hawksbill Mountain and Sitting Bear MountainElevation Gain: 3,078 feet Distance:~8.5 miles Time: 6 hours Difficulty:Very StrenuousGoogle+ photo album link
Devil’s Hole lies deep within Linville Gorge, a beautiful stretch along Linville River hemmed in by steep bluffs and soaring cliffs. Most people use the Sitting Bear Trail to access the high points along Jonas Ridge, but you can also venture deep below the east rim on this rugged trail. Devil’s Hole Trail immediately dives off the ridge and traverses a boulder field before following a tiny but beautiful stream as it plunges towards the river. There is an excellent campsite at the end of the trail but to get down to the river you’ll have to boulder down the last 100 feet of the stream. On this beautiful Saturday I decided to tack on Devil’s Hole Trail after my hikes along Jonas Ridge Trail to Hawksbill Mountain and Sitting Bear Mountain, which proved to be more strenuous than I imagined. If you want to visit Devil’s Hole then consider it as part of a trip to Hawksbill Mountain or Sitting Bear Mountain, but maybe not both.
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.
Location:Pisgah National Forest, North Cove, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (223 miles – 3 hours and 27 min) Charlotte (107 miles – 1 hour and 48 min) Asheville (42.3 miles – 52 min) Trail Access:From the intersection with NC-226 in Marion head north on U.S. 221 for 11.2-mi and turn right on American Thread Rd. Drive 1.2-mi and turn right onto Good Rd. The road dead ends in 0.6-mi, there is a pull out for parking on the left side of the road. The hike begins on the forest road heading south beyond a gate along the North Fork Catawba River.HikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Good Road – Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 3,281 feetHike Distance:~11.3 miles Hiking Time: 5 hours and 10 minutes Date of Hike: 12-31-14, Wednesday at 10:50 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — Mountains-to-Sea Trail is narrow and rarely used, but the switchback sections are well graded Hike Difficulty:Moderately strenuous — The trail is not difficult but steadily climbs all the way to the summit with a long section of switchbacks and a couple of sections of steep grade along the ridgelineIsolation:Very high — I saw no other hikers, and I think even during summer weekends you may have this place to yourself Highlights:Plentiful views west of the Black Mountains, Unique perspective of Linville Gorge Lowlights:Long forest road approach to eastbound MST, Unclear where Dobson Knob summit was on first attemptGoogle+ photo album link
Bald Knob and Dobson Knob loom large over Marion and the North Fork Catawba River Valley. Standing separate from Linville Gorge, these peaks feel remote despite relatively easy access. The region of the Pisgah National Forest around the North Fork Catawba River Valley is largely unknown to me. If I’m driving in this direction I head to the Linville Gorge Wilderness or go farther towards the Swannanoa River Valley. However, I’ve been hearing a lot about these peaks with incredible views of the gorge and the Black Mountains. I knew I had to check it out, and it would continue my tradition of trying a brand new hike on New Year’s Eve. The plan was pretty simple, find the Mountains-to-Sea Trail crossing over the North Fork Catawba River and take it all the way up to Bald Knob and Dobson Knob. From there I’d hopefully have some awesome views to myself in a little known section of the national forest. I did not quite make it to Dobson Knob because I turned around before the true summit. It is safe to say that the hike to Bald Knob is well worth the effort and the views of Linville Gorge and the North Fork Catawba River Valley are outstanding.
Location:Linville Gorge Wilderness, North Cove, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (195 miles – 3 hr 25 min) Raleigh (217 miles – 3 hr 48 min) Trail Access:From I-40, take exit 94 for Dysartsville Rd north and turn left on US-70 going west for 1.7-mi. Turn right on Bridgewater Rd for 1.3-mi and turn left on Benfields Landing Rd. In 2.2-mi turn right on NC-126 going east. After 3 miles turn left on Old NC Highway 105 and the Pinch In trail head is 7.4-mi on the right.Information about the wilderness can be found hereWEBSITEA wealth of information about the gorge can be found hereHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Pinch In Trail – Linville Gorge Trail – Conley Cove Trail – Rock Jock Trail – Old NC 105Trail Condition: Below Average — Most of LGT and Rock Jock are overgrown, rocky, and steep. Sometimes difficult to follow the Rock Jock Trail beyond the first mile.Hike Configuration: Loop Hike Distance:~11.1 miles Elevation Gain:3,640 feet Hiking Time: 7.5 hours Date of Hike: 8-3-14, Sunday at 11:45 AM Hike Difficulty:Very strenuous — This is an extreme hike and with no flat sections, the elevation changes are very steep and even the section along the river is rocky and up-and-down. You have to be in good shape to do this within 8 hours or else you’ll be stuck fumbling in the dark. Isolation: High — We passed 6 groups of hikers, but Rock Jock was complete isolation Highlights:Rocky views along Pinch In, view of The Chimneys from Linville River, multiple outcrops along Rock Jock at the beginning and end Lowlights:Not the most scenic stretch of the LGT plus it was overgrown and rocky, Rock Jock Trail south of the first mile is overgrown with shrubs, has many boulders and is difficult to follow in drainages Google+ photo album link
I’ve been looking to do a serious hike in Linville Gorge for a while now. Previously I’ve hiked Shortoff Mountain and the northwest section of the gorge multiple times. The southwest end boasts some serious trails that luckily form a loop. My idea was to start at Pinch In, hike down to the river and go north, then connect back to my starting point using Conley Cove and Rock Jock. In the southwest region I had only hiked Conley Cove once so I did not know what to expect. My friend and frequent hiking buddy Nick wanted to join me for a tough hike. We got a slightly late start to this hike close to noon, and completed the loop in 7.5 hours. This hike is not for the faint-hearted, it is very difficult and boasts serious elevation gain for the mileage. It is one of the hardest hikes I’ve tackled in North Carolina. If you try it you will be rewarded with aching feet but amazing stretches of views into the gorge.