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: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: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: Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, West Jefferson, NC Distance from Hubs:Raleigh (189 miles – 3 hours and 2 minutes) Charlotte (118 miles – 1 hour and 59 minutes) Asheville (110 miles – 2 hours and 15 minutes)Trail Access:On U.S. 221 north 1.3 miles after the intersection with NC 163 turn right onto Mt Jefferson St Park Rd. Drive 2.0 miles to the Sunset Overlook. After you pass the park office the Sunset Overlook is the first large parking area on the left at a U-turn. The Mountain Ridge Trail Extension begins at the end of the parking lot.Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails: Mountain Ridge Trail Extension – Mountain Ridge Trail – Mt Jefferson St Park Rd – Summit Trail – Rhododendron Trail – Lost Province Trail – Rhododendron Trail – Summit Trail – Mt Jefferson St Park Rd – Mountain Ridge Trail – Mountain Ridge Trail ExtensionHike Configuration: Out-and-back with 2 small loops Elevation Gain:1,416 feet Hike Distance:~4.3 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes Date of Hike: 04-12-15, Sunday at 11:10 AMTrail Condition:Excellent and Incomplete — The portions of the Mountain Ridge Trail I hiked were not completed, they were scheduled to be finished by the end of 2015. Otherwise the short trails at the summit are excellent. Hike Difficulty: Moderately Easy — The summit trails are very easy and the incomplete trails require a little moderate climbing but nothing to pant about.Isolation: Below Average — This is a small state park where all the trails are easy and road accessible Highlights:Outstanding views from the two overlooks and Luther Rock Lowlights:Did not feel like a wilderness experience because most of it resembled the worst of state park trails due to proximity to road and picnic areas Google Photos album link
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is a place I always kept in the back of my mind. It is usually mentioned in North Carolina hiking guides, which generally means it is a worthy hiking destination. However, this park is very small and in the past only offered 2.2 miles of hiking trails. That is typically not enough for me to warrant a full trip. I frequently check the North Carolina State Park website for updates and pictures, and happened to check the trail map for Mt. Jefferson before I planned this hike. To my surprise there were brand new trails, the Mountain Ridge Trail and Track Trail, and they incorporate the park office and two road overlooks. Perfect I thought, here’s a trail that adds length and difficulty to what is otherwise a really easy, short hike. Instead of 2.2 miles, I figured it would be around 7 miles. (The state park map, trail naming, and mileage aren’t clear). It was supposed to be a clear, crisp mid-April Sunday so I was excited to check out a state park unit I’ve never visited. Keep reading to check out the great views in Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area.
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. At the park gate entrance turn right on Moores Spring Rd. In 0.3-mi turn left onto Hall Rd. and the large parking area for Lower Cascades Trail will be on your right in 0.6-mi. Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Lower Cascades TrailHike Configuration: Out and backTrail Condition: Excellent — Wide gravel path leads to an elaborate wooden staircase down to the falls Hike Distance:~0.9 miles Hiking Time:40 minutesDate of Hike: 01-19-15, Monday at 4:40 PMHike Difficulty: Easy — Flat hiking except for the stair climb on the way outIsolation: Average — The waterfall is popular due to its access and beauty Highlights:Staircase provides safe and easy access, Beautiful waterfall in natural amphitheater Lowlights:Nondescript hike, on weekends can get crowded Google+ photo album link
Hanging Rock State Park is popular for two reasons: views and waterfalls. On my recent adventure to Hanging Rock I took my friends on the Five Peaks Loop, a grand tour of all the best views in the state park. But I also had to show them the park has another superlative, an abundance of waterfalls. There are 5 waterfalls accessible by state park trails, and more via bushwhacking. This is the best location to view waterfalls east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the visitor center you can visit Upper Cascade Falls on an easy 0.2-mi hike or travel down the Indian Creek Trail on a slightly more difficult 0.6-mi one-way hike to Hidden Falls and Window Falls. All 3 of these waterfalls are crowded due to their location and ease of access near the visitor center, and not nearly as beautiful as Lower Cascade Falls. We were short on time and had already hiked 10 miles, so I decided that Lower Cascade Falls would be our one waterfall stop. Cascade Creek has much more water here than at Upper Cascade Falls, and the creek plummets ~35 feet into an amphitheater with an overhanging cliff above the waterfall. The setting is dramatic, and personally this is one of my favorite waterfalls in North Carolina. If you are visiting Hanging Rock State Park then plan on taking 45 minutes to see Lower Cascade Falls.
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:Eno River State Park, Durham, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (15.4 miles – 25 min) Raleigh (34.8 miles – 40 min) Park Access:Off exit 170 on I-85 take a right on US-70 and the first immediate right on Pleasant Green Rd. Follow the road north for 2.2-mi then take a left onto Cole Mill Rd. In 0.9-mi you will pass the visitor’s center then a large parking area for Few’s Ford and Piper-Cox House will be on the right. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Few’s Ford access – Buckquarter Creek Trail – Holden Mill Trail – Buckquarter Creek Trail – Ridge Trail – Shakori Trail – Buckquarter Creek Trail – Few’s Ford access Hike Configuration: Triple loop (kind of like a 3-leaf clover) Elevation Gain:750 feetHike Distance:~7.0 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes Date of Hike: 9-21-14, Sunday at 4:10 PMTrail Condition: Excellent — All trails are well maintained and markedHike Difficulty:Moderately easy — This hike is easy but 7 miles raises the difficulty slightly Isolation: Below average — This is a popular state park beside Durham, lots of casual hikers check out the trails beside the Eno River Highlights:Many rocky spots along Eno River, remnants of Holden Mill, two 19th century cabins Lowlights:Lack of solitude near river, no sights on the long Ridge-Shakori loop Google+ photo album link
It was one of those days I did not feel like waking up early and driving a few hours to hike. Sometimes it is too much effort to get up on the weekend and drive 3 hours each way. My days usually come to 12+ hours with the hike and drive. It is difficult to do it every week without backpacking or changing my schedule entirely. I slept in and spent the early afternoon watching soccer and writing but the day was too nice outside to ignore. Located just outside of Durham,Eno River State Park is arguably the top outdoor destination in the Triangle. It boasts 3 sections with 28 miles of hiking trails along Eno River in the rugged foothills of the Piedmont. I’ve been to Eno many times throughout the years but primarily for short strolls along the river to see the power of the water after a large rain event. It does offer a lot of trails and my favorite section has always been in the West district along the river on the Buckquarter Creek and Holden Mill loop trails. My plan in the waning afternoon light was to tackle these loops and add the short out-and-back to Holden Mill and also the Ridge-Shakori loop. This hike samples some of the best trails Eno River State Park has to offer and provides a good half-day excursion conveniently located within the Triangle.
Location:Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (138 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Durham (141 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Raleigh (164 miles – 2 hr 37 min) Park 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 into the park for 3.3-mi. Turn left into the upper parking lot. Trail head begins on the left side of the bathrooms. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Wolf Rock Trail – Cedar Rock Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Middle/Lower Falls Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail Hike Configuration: Double loop with one out-and-back Elevation Gain:1,550 feetTrail Condition: Excellent — all trails are gravel or well maintained dirt paths Hike Distance:~9.0 miles Hiking Time: 4.25 hours Date of Hike: 7-20-14, Sunday at 1:00 PMHike Difficulty:Moderate — There are only a few steep sections with lots of flat hiking in between Significant Stream Crossings:2 big rock hops along Lower Falls TrailIsolation: None — This is a very popular state park. The waterfalls, homestead, and Stone Mountain were crowded Highlights:Stone Mountain, Wolf Rock isolation, Cedar Rock, views from Hutchinson Homestead, Lower Falls and Stone Mountain Falls Lowlights:Droves of people around Hutchinson Homestead and Stone Mountain Falls, Middle Falls had no apparent access for views Google+ photo album link
I was raring to go on a hike this Sunday but the weather and my sleep patterns were not cooperating. Most of the mountains were cloudy with a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Instead of my planned Linville Gorge hike I went to Stone Mountain State Park because of its convenience and its views are still abundant regardless of weather. I have hiked here multiple times, but wanted to get a GPS track of the big loop for Hiking Upward. My plan was to see all the sites in the main portion of the park by taking the Stone Mountain Loop and visiting Wolf Rock and Lower Falls as well. This is arguably the best loop offered in any state park in North Carolina because of all the rock summits and waterfalls
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.