Location:Pilot Mountain State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (168 miles – 2 hours and 39 min) Charlotte (101 miles – 1 hour and 35 min) Raleigh (125 miles – 2 hours) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:36.34228, -80.46389Trail Access:From Winston-Salem drive north on U.S. 52. Pilot Mountain should be very evident as you get near. Take the exit for Pilot Mountain State Park and turn left onto Pilot Knob Park Rd. Drive 0.6-mi to the visitors center on the right and find a parking spot. The trails are located across the street.Pilot Mountain State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountain Trail – Grindstone Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Jomeokee Trail – Ledge Spring Trail – Grindstone TrailHike Distance:~9.3 miles Hike Configuration: Small loop and big loop Elevation Gain: 2,090 feetHiking Time:3 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:12-13-15, Sunday at 2:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — The trails are in great condition. You might find the Ledge Spring Trail to be rocky and steep in places. Hike Difficulty:Moderate — This is an easy, fast-paced hike. The only real climb is on the Grindstone Trail and the Ledge Springs Trail is rocky in places. Isolation:Low — The only solitude you’ll get is on the Mountain Trail. Every trail along the top of the mountain is overcrowded, even during the winter. Highlights:Countless sections along the bottom and tops of cliffs, Jomeokee Trail around Big Pinnacle, outstanding views of Big Pinnacle and the Sauratown Mountains Lowlights:Too many people everywhere!, this is one of the busiest parks in the state, Lack of views on the Mountain and lower Grindstone TrailsGoogle Photos album link
Pilot Mountain is truly one of the iconic summits in North Carolina. The mountain, a monadnock and the westernmost peak of the ancient Sauratown Mountains, dominates the surrounding Piedmont and can be seen from many landmarks. Due to its ease of access directly off freeway U.S. 52 north of Winston-Salem, this state park is popular and is overcrowded during the summer months. Avoid the crowds and hike this park in the offseason when the leaves are down and the temperatures are milder than the Blue Ridge Mountains. A full loop of the mountain can be achieved using the newly extended Mountain Trail, with the addition a result of a fire break during a forest fire in November 2012. From there use the Grindstone Trail, the only trail leading from the base to the summit area. Once you attain the crest you are in cliff heaven as the trails hug the top and bottom of 100+ foot cliffs crawling with rock climbers. The highlights may be the Ledge Spring Trail, Little Pinnacle, or the Jomeokee Trail, it all depends on your preference. For those in a rush or wanting a shorter hike, you can do the shorter 2.7-mile loop from the upper parking lot. This is a great day hike for anyone who lives in the Triad or Triangle metropolitan areas.
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: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:Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury, NC Distance from Hubs:Raleigh (124 miles – 2 hours and 14 minutes) Charlotte (110 miles – 1 hour and 55 minutes) Asheville (172 miles – 2 hours and 52 minutes)Trail Access:Follow NC-89 north from U.S. 311 for 10.3-mi passing through Danbury then take a left onto Hanging Rock Park Rd. Park at the visitor center parking lot – Hanging Rock Trail begins on the far left side. Free trail maps and restrooms are available at the visitor center. If you want to take this loop counterclockwise follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the parking lot entrance towards the lake. Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails: Hanging Rock Trail – Wolf Rock Trail – Cook’s Wall Trail – Magnolia Springs Trail – Moore’s Wall Loop Trail – Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Configuration:Loop with 2 out-and-back sections Elevation Gain:2,076 feet Hike Distance:~10.1 miles Hiking Time:5 hours Date of Hike: 01-19-15, Monday at 11:20 AMTrail Condition:Very Good — The state park trails are in excellent condition and the least used sections are still well-worn dirt pathsHike Difficulty: Moderate — Although it is 10 miles the grades are easy to moderate and there are only a couple of extended climbs that will be tough for the casual hikerIsolation: Low — Hanging Rock and Moore’s Knob are very popular destinations while the other peaks are visited less often Highlights:Outstanding views from all 5 peaks, 360º views from Moore’s Knob, nice fishing pier in the lake Lowlights:The crowds at Hanging Rock and Moore’s Knob somewhat marred the scenery, it is tough to get pictures in these spots without strangers on the rocks Google+ photo album link
One of my favorite hikes in North Carolina is the Five Peaks Loop which takes you on the grand tour of Hanging Rock State Park. If I have friends who want advice on a good day hike not too far from the Triangle, usually this is my first suggestion. Hanging Rock State Park encompasses the bulk of the Sauratown Mountains – a small, ancient range running east-west in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Although the tallest of the Sauratown Mountains, Moore’s Knob, only reaches 2,579 feet these mountains rise over 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside. This hike is nicknamed the Five Peaks Loop because it crosses all five named rocks and mountains with fantastic views in the central district of the park. Starting from the visitor center, you can take this hike clockwise or counterclockwise. I chose to head to Hanging Rock first, the most popular view in the park. From there the trail heads west towards Wolf Rock and then a short out-and-back to House Rock and Cook’s Wall. The loop continues north ascending steeply up Huckleberry Ridge to the phenomenal views from the Moore’s Knob observation tower, before the finish wrapping around Hanging Rock Lake on your return to the visitor center.
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: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: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:Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (141 miles – 2 hr 26 min) Durham (144 miles – 2 hr 26 min) Raleigh (167 miles – 2 hr 50 min) Trail Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 4.4-mi, turn right on John P. Frank Parkway and follow the road around the north side of the park for 6.4-mi. Park at the backpack parking registration area. Trail head begins on the right side of the parking lot.Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Widow’s Creek Trail – Mountains-to-Sea Trail Hike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain:3,185 feetTrail Condition: Very good — Trail was mostly wide dirt road bed except near the parkway Hike Distance:~12.8 miles Hiking Time:5.25 hours Date of Hike: 7-3-14, Thursday at 12:50 PMHike Difficulty:Strenuous — The ascent of the MST leaving Widow’s Creek is steep and long for 2+ miles Isolation: Very high — I did not see anyone on this hike, the waterfall was crowded however Highlights:First mile along Widow’s Creek, foundation of aerial tramway Lowlights:Very steep trail up Scott Ridge, below average views at the top Google+ photo album link
I didn’t have a plan for my hike. It was the day before 4th of July, and I felt like taking the day off and exploring. Unfortunately the forecast was clouds and possibility of storms all afternoon. I set off in the direction of Stone Mountain State Park and had two options in mind – try the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to the Blue Ridge Parkway or do the full Stone Mountain loop. Both hikes are not dependent on clear skies for the views, and they both have creeks and waterfalls. Darkening skies and sprinkles prompted me to try the MST, I knew it was mostly in the forest and there was the shorter bail out option of the Widow’s Creek Trail. Despite the thunder and intermittent rain, I hiked the MST to Devil’s Garden Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped by Widow’s Creek Falls at the end. This is a brutal hike without much to see at the top, the best part is the section along Widow’s Creek.
Location: Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (97 miles – 1 hr 49 min) Durham (100 miles – 1 hr 49 min)Raleigh (123 miles – 2 hr 12 min) Trail Access: From U.S. 311 north in Walnut Cove, take NC 89 west for 11.4-mi past park entrance and take left onto Flinchum Rd for Dan River access. Parking lot at end of road, trail starts on the left. Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward trail linkHiking Trails:Indian Creek Trail Hike Configuration:Out and back Date of Hike:06-08-14, Sunday at 2:10 PMHike Distance:~8.2 miles Hiking Time:4 hours Elevation Gain:1,139 feetTrail Condition:Very good — well maintained state park trailsHike Difficulty: Moderately easy — This trail is easy with only a few uphill sections that make you work, mainly around the waterfalls Significant Stream Crossings:3 crossings with flat bedrockIsolation: Little — Mostly isolated below the waterfalls but lots of crowds from Window Falls to the top Highlights: Rock overhang and “cave” at Upper Window Falls Lowlights: Multiple stream crossings without easy rock hops, boring trail from gorge overlook to first waterfall, crowds around waterfalls Google+ photo album link
I recently got my first GPS device and have been wanting to try it out and compare it to GPS apps on my phone. After a long weekend I slept in Sunday and decided to try my GPS on a trail in Hanging Rock State Park I’ve never hiked before. The Indian Creek Trail (3.7-mi) travels the length of Indian Creek from the main visitor’s center to its meeting with the Dan River. I’ve never done this hike because it is a very popular trail with two waterfalls, but not much else to brag about. The two waterfalls – Hidden Falls and Window Falls – do not get much fanfare from hiking books so I’ve been saving this hike for a rainy day. As I was driving towards the park, that’s exactly what I got. The clouds turned darker and darker, and I even had some raindrops. That’s what I get for not checking the weather forecast. Luckily this is exactly the type of hike suited for cloudy and rainy conditions.
Location:Doughton Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (144 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Durham (147 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Raleigh (170 miles – 2 hr 47 min) Trail Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 5.2-mi, turn right on Longbottom Rd for 8.1-mi and gravel parking on left just before bridge over Basin Creek. Trail head begins across the bridge on the left of Basin CreekPark information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHiking Trails:Flat Rock Ridge Trail – Bluff Mountain Trail (MST) – Cedar Ridge TrailHike Configuration: Loop Hike Distance:~17.0 miles Hiking Time:7.75 hours Date of Hike: 05-11-14, Sunday at 11:20 AMTrail Condition:Very Good — All trails were well graded and not rocky, mostly single file paths
Hike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — Mostly due to length, Flat Rock Ridge Trail is moderately strenuous and there is a short steep climb up Bluff Mountain, combined with total mileage of hike makes this a long day Isolation: Very High — I saw no one on Flat Rock Ridge and Cedar Ridge, and one hiker on the MST. I passed multiple groups of people at overlooks along the BRP and Brinegar Cabin, but considering how beautiful this Sunday was the lack of people was astounding Highlights:View of Bluff Mountain from Flat Rock Knob, continuous views of Bluff Mountain from MST, Bluff Mountain summit, beautiful open balds along north side of Bluff Mountain for miles Lowlights:MST north of visitor’s center goes through campgrounds and lacks views, Cedar Ridge Trail has only 2 average views and is steep, Flat Rock Ridge Trail is long with multiple tough uphill sections Google+ photo album link
Finally, a current hike from this year and not an archived one from years past. I decided to start off the 2014 summer months with a whopper of a hike at Doughton Park. I’ve hiked here twice before, one time easy with many views, another time difficult with eventual payoff. This time I had my mind set on doing the longest possible loop hike in the park, 17+ miles. Doughton Park is the largest recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) and one of those unknown gems in North Carolina that doesn’t have the crowds because it isn’t a state park and isn’t close to Asheville. The park boundaries resemble a triangle, and all hikes from the base of the park conveniently start at the same spot then climb up ridges to meet the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) along the parkway. My loop started with the Flat Rock Ridge Trail (5.0-mi), then traversed the crest of the park along the Bluff Mountain Trail/MST (7.3-mi) before diving back down to the bottom on the Cedar Ridge Trail (4.3-mi).