Location:Brown Gap, Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (48.5 miles – 57 min) Knoxville (75 miles – 1 hour and 17 min) Charlotte (162 miles – 2 hours and 45 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.75821, -82.97711Trail Access:Take exit 7 on I-40 and follow Cold Springs Creek Rd 3.7 miles. Turn right onto Fall Branch Rd and drive 0.3-mi to the gate. The trail is just beyond the gate on the left.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:No official trail, a usage path follows Little Fall Branch to the waterfallHike Distance:~0.6 miles Hike Configuration: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 135 feetHiking Time:25 minutesDate of Hike:02-19-17, Sunday at 1:40 PMTrail Condition: Good — The usage path is in good shape considering how little traffic it receives.Hike Difficulty:Easy — The trail is almost flat except for a few boulders at the end. Isolation:High — Not many people know about this waterfall. Highlights:A nice, secluded waterfall with colorful cliffs just 10 min from the road. Lowlights:In drought conditions this would not be worth your time.Google Photos album link
This short hike to Little Fall Branch Falls is worth a quick stop if you are hiking in the Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area of Pisgah National Forest. If you are hiking toMax Patch (like I did after this stop), or having a nice outing at the Cold Springs Picnic Area, then this 30-minute detour will most certainly surprise you. Little Fall Branch is very tiny, and it seems impossible that an impressive waterfall would be located on this watercourse. The waterfall is ~40 feet high and hemmed in by a cove of moss-covered cliffs. It would at its most spectacular in the summer after rain when everything is really green. Although the trail to the waterfall is unofficial, the path is easy and appropriate for any hiker. This waterfall is not listed on any map, I found out about it from the excellent new North Carolina Waterfalls Third Edition book by Kevin Adams. I highly recommend purchasing this book if you love hiking to waterfalls.
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: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:Sams Gap below I-26, NC/TN Distance from Hubs: Asheville (29 miles – 33 min) Charlotte (150 miles – 2 hours and 34 min) Knoxville (109 miles – 2 hours and 10 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.95238, -82.56080Trail Access:Follow I-26 north from Asheville and leave the interstate at exit 3. Head north on U.S. 23A for 3.1 miles and prior to passing under I-26 there is a parking area on the left. The Appalachian Trail is across the street on the right side of I-26.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~13.1 miles Elevation Gain: 3,270 feetHiking Time:6 hours and 15 minutesDate of Hike:01-16-16, Saturday at 11:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is a popular stretch of the Appalachian Trail and I found it in very good condition except for the section below Big Bald which was eroded.Hike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — For the mileage this is on the easy side of the scale. There are few stretches of strenuous elevation gain, the grades are mostly very forgiving. Isolation:Average — I doubt you’ll be in crowds of people because of the length of the hike, but I also doubt you’ll ever be alone considering its appeal and access. It’s hard for me to judge considering the weather, but I saw at least 10 people anyways. Highlights:Beautiful trail through hardwood forests, delightful mix of rime ice on trees and shrubs, icy wonderland at the summit Lowlights:Really the obvious lowlight was the constant cloud cover, I didn’t get the views I expectedGoogle Photos album link
My plan was to hike to Big Bald, supposedly one of the finest of all the grassy balds in the southern Appalachian Mountains. If you can get a sunny day in the winter, nothing beats crystal clear views from an open summit. There’s just too much haze in the summer to compare. The forecast started with clouds in the morning, clearing out for sun after noon in the low 40s °F with a light wind. As I drove north on Interstate 26 from Asheville I was beginning to doubt the veracity of the NOAA forecast. Usually they’re spot on, but as I approached Sams Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border all I could see was a low cloud ceiling covering every peak. Big Bald, at 5,516 feet, is the tallest summit of the Bald Mountains along the state border and the tallest mountain on the Appalachian Trail for 148 miles. It requires a long hike from either direction. Sams Gap is the typical hike since it is located right off the interstate. I expected beautiful scenery every step of the way, but what I got was an icy wintry wonderland and an unforgettable experience.
Location:Elk Mountain Scenic Highway junction with Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (8.6 miles – 20 min) Charlotte (131 miles – 2 hours and 11 min) Raleigh (249 miles – 3 hours and 52 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.66439, -82.47912Trail Access:Follow N.C. 694 north from Asheville for 6.3 miles until it ends at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left on the parkway and drive 1.6 miles to the junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway on the left. You can park at the pullout on the parkway or on the sides of Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses the highway at this junction. Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~11.3 miles Elevation Gain: 2,960 feetHiking Time:5 hours and 30 minutesDate of Hike:04-03-16, Sunday at 12:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is an excellent section of the Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — There are a couple of sections of steep climbs, but everything else felt easier than the elevation gain suggests. Isolation:Average — You will encounter quite a few hikers around Rattlesnake Lodge, however they disappear beyond the lodge which was confounding to me. Highlights:Historical remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, beautiful sections of the MST including the high ridgeline, view from Lane Pinnacle Lowlights:I was hoping that Rattlesnake Lodge would be a cabin, not enough open views from the trail although I missed a big view just beyond Lane PinnacleGoogle Photos album link
How do you end a hazy bachelor party weekend in Asheville? With a hike of course! It was the first weekend of April, and I was staying in Asheville with my friends Friday through Sunday. We had to vacate the house before noon on Sunday, and everyone was leaving town anyways. The weather was perfect for a hike, sunny with no clouds and cold but no wind. My body and mind weren’t perfect for a hike, but I went ahead with it anyways. I decided to drive northeast on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Craggy Gardens, a place I never get to because of drive time. I did no research beforehand, and had only brought a couple of maps and books in my car for reference. Unfortunately the parkway was still closed because of Tanbark Ridge Tunnel construction, or because it was still winter at the high elevations. I had a backup in mind, and it fortunately started at the road closure. Here the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) crosses the parkway at the T-junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. From here my plan was to hike east towards the historic remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, then ascend a high ridgeline in the western Great Craggy Mountains to Lane Pinnacle at 5,230 feet. This was not a bad backup plan, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this section of the MST.
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: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: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.