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Big Creek Campground

Intro

When we take the time to relax beside the roaring waters of an Appalachian stream, something incredible happens to our psyche. The roaring thunder of the water drowns out all the worries and doubts you carried from “real life.” The continual flow of a mountain stream ignites an innate sense of oneness with our surroundings and reminds us that time marches on.

What Makes It Great

On the Northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a stream rambles in perpetuity from the balsam covered mountains above until reaching its confluence with the mighty Pigeon River below. The headwaters of this stream are born from some of the highest peaks in the park: Mt. Sterling, Big Cataloochee and Mt. Guyot. As the tributary waters rush down these steep slopes, they are purified by the lush flora of the Smokies before combining their efforts into what is known as Big Creek.

The Big Creek Campground is peacefully located right beside the cool, rushing waters of Big Creek. A total of 12 spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground has easily-accessible and well-maintained restrooms that also provide drinking water. All of the sites at Big Creek Campground are considered walk-in, meaning you will have to leave your car in the parking lot and walk a short distance to a tent-only campsite. Each site is conveniently outfitted with a leveled tent pad, charcoal grill, and picnic table. The sites are strikingly beautiful and surprisingly serene considering Big Creek’s popularity.

The true beauty of the Big Creek Campground lies in its location. From the campground parking lot, visitors have easy access to one of the area’s most popular swimming destinations, Midnight Hole, via a 1.5-mile hike up the gently graded Big Creek Trail. Baxter Creek Trail also starts from the parking area and leads to stunning views from the fire tower atop Mt.Sterling. Also within striking distance from the campground is the Chestnut Branch Trail which climbs to the famous lookout tower atop Mt. Cammerer. The bold can take their kayaks down Big Creek and families can enjoy a guided rafting trip on the nearby Pigeon River.

Who is Going to Love It

Adventurers love the location of Big Creek’s Campground for its access to hiking, fishing, and flowing whitewater. However, you don’t have to embark on an epic adventure to enjoy the serenity of this area. Families love the placid picnic settings and creekside accommodations the campground has to offer.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

To reach the Big Creek Campground from Asheville, travel west on Interstate 40 to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line and take the exit 451 for Waterville. Take a left and cross over the Pigeon River via a bridge shared by the Appalachian Trail. Continue on this road until you reach a four-way stop. Go straight through this intersection and follow the signs for Big Creek Campground. Big Creek Ranger Station is located a quarter of a mile past this intersection on the right. Stop here to get more information on the area and a detailed map for a requested $1 donation.

Continue up the road for 1 mile until you reach the parking lot for the Big Creek Campground.

The Campground is open May-October and sites are $14 per night.

Featured image provided by Patrick Mueller

Hiking Mt. Sterling

Intro

Mt. Sterling towers above the Pigeon River Gorge on the northern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sterling is a mountain steeped in history and covered in an elegant mix of hardwood and evergreen forestry.

The mountain was mistakenly named after a 2 foot streak of lead that crosses the Pigeon River on the Northern foot of the mighty mountain. Prospectors flocked in search of silver that was never found. Nowadays, visitors still come in search of metal, in the form of the east coast’s highest remaining fire tower.

On Sterling’s 5,842 foot summit stands a rickety and rusted, 60 foot tower which peaks above the surrounding forestry to give brave onlookers a sprawling view of the surrounding beauties of Southern Appalachia. It’s actually the tallest existing true fire tower in the South. (Want to explore WNC fire towers?)

What Makes It Great

In terms of a view, the one achieved from braving the harrowing and narrowing steps of the Mt. Sterling fire tower is unparalleled. Once you’ve adjusted to the swaying old fire tower, you can enjoy panoramic vistas in all directions.

The most popular approach to Sterling’s summit starts out at Mt. Sterling Gap and involves a 5 mile round-trip through the woods. The Gap is in the middle of a remote and rugged stretch of road that is historically known as “The Old Cataloochee Turnpike.”

From the Mt. Sterling Gap Trailhead, hikers begin their journey on the aptly named Mt. Sterling Trail. For 2.3 miles, the trail winds upwards 2,000 feet along Sterling’s flanks through old-growth fir forests lined with fascinating flora. Once you’ve completed this section of trail, the path turns to the right and gently follows the ridge line of Mt. Sterling for another .4 mile to its summit. The summit is home to a fragrant evergreen forest and backcountry campsite #38.

Water can be found roughly .2 mile past the summit down the well-signed Baxter Creek Trail. Although beautiful, the summit itself does not offer any long range views. View seekers must make their way up the tower to obtain a scenic perspective.

Who is Going to Love It

Adventurous hikers who desire a memorable view are really going to find what they are looking for on this mountain. The tower provides some incredible photo ops and an almost unimaginably expansive view of the Smokies, as well as Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. If you enjoy the pungent aroma of evergreens, then the forests of Mt. Sterling are the perfect place to come to stimulate your sense of smell.

Hikers looking for a more strenuous day can take the Baxter Creek trail for a strenuous 6.2 mile approach to Sterling’s summit from the Big Creek Campground area.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville, take Interstate 40 west to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line and take exit 451 for Waterville. Turn left and cross the bridge onto Waterville Road. After 2 miles, you will come to a four-way intersection. Take a left onto Mt. Sterling Road and continue for 6.7 miles on the gravel road until reaching the sign for Mt. Sterling Gap.

If you are up for a scenic drive after your hike, continue in the same direction on The Old Cataloochee Turnpike into Cataloochee Valley to view historic sites and famous wildlife. Well marked signs will help you return from Cataloochee Valley to Interstate 40.

No fees or permits are required for a day hike to Mt. Sterling but you must register ahead of time for a spot at backcountry campsite #38.

Featured image provided by Miguel Vieira

Hiking Max Patch

Intro

The Appalachian Trail follows the crest of the Appalachians along the North Carolina and Tennessee state line. In between the soaring mountains of the Great Smokies and the rolling hills of Hot Springs, the AT passes over the grassy bald known as Max Patch. The man-made meadow on top of the mountain was once home to large herds of grazing cattle. Today, the luscious green summit is home to one of the most acclaimed view-points in the Southeast and the herds have switched from bovine beasts to outdoor enthusiasts. A variety of trails can be used to access Max Patch. The most popular and pedestrian of the choices leads hikers to the grassy summit on a short, half -mile climb to the top.

What Makes It Great

At 4,600 feet, Max Patch is not a particularly high mountain, yet the views from the top are highly acclaimed. The view’s infamy comes from its grass covered summit stage, which offers long range views in every direction. The view is framed to the southwest by the northern giants of the National Park: Mt. Guyot, Mt. Sterling and Big Cataloochee. The Plott and Great Balsam Ranges paint the southeastern skyline while the towering crest of the Black Mountains stands guard to the east and the Roans to the north. The Patch is surrounded by picturesque rolling hills and mountains leading up to these mighty ridge lines in three directions. To the west, however, an uninterrupted view over the lush expanse of Tennessee allows for a famously stunning sunset view.

Several trail options line the sides and summit of Max Path. From the parking lot, visitors can take the direct route to the summit for a 1-mile round trip or the 2.4 miles loop which circumnavigates The PatchThose looking for a prolonged jaunt through the woods can follow the AT north or south as far as their hearts desire.

Who is Going to Love It

Photographers will find life-list photo opportunities atop Max Patch thanks to its ideal location on the western edge of the Appalachians. Bring your tripod along and set up for spectacular stellar and sunset shots. (Looking for more photogenic landscapes?) Romantics can take full advantage of Max Patch’s beauty by packing a blanket and picnic lunch to the easy access summit. Cap off your romantic evening as you return towards Asheville by taking a dip in the dreamy waters of nearby Hot Springs Resort. Anglers, bring your gear and cast a line in the Forest Service pond just past the parking area. The brave even venture to The Patch in winter for skiing and sledding amongst the sublime scenery.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

A trio of route options leads to Max Patch from Asheville. If you choose to tackle these routes in winter, come prepared with an emergency kit and snow-worthy vehicle. There is no access fee for the trailhead. Camping is allowed in nearby areas, but is prohibited on the summit itself. Venture just past the summit for the prime locations. Bring your fury friend along for this outing: the area is dog friendly and they will thoroughly enjoy the grassy summit!

Featured image provided by Jake Wheeler

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Hiking Big Creek Trail

Intro

When we take the time to relax beside the roaring waters of an Appalachian stream something incredible happens to our psyche. The roaring thunder of the water drowns out all the worries and doubts you carried with you from “real life” to the trailhead. The continual flow of a mountain stream ignites an innate sense of oneness with our surroundings and reminds us that time marches on.

What Makes It Great

On the Northern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a stream rambles in perpetuity from the Balsam covered mountains above until reaching its confluence with the mighty Pigeon River below. The headwaters of this stream are born from some of the highest peaks in the park: Mt. Sterling, Big Cataloochee and Mt. Guyot. As the tributary waters rush down these steep slopes they are purified by the lush flora of the Great Smokies before combining their efforts into what is known as Big Creek.

The Big Creek trail starts from the upper side of the parking lot and follows an old logging road, up a gentle grade, for 5 miles before reaching the Backcountry Campsite known to locals as Walnut Bottom. The majority of the trail parallels the creek and offers picturesque views of the water. Massive, moss-covered boulders are strewn about the creek creating a symphony of rapids to enjoy throughout your hike. A mile and a half into the trail lies the infamous “Midnight Hole.” A short scramble, down a noticeably tracked-out trail on your left, leads to the base of a pristine swimming hole surrounded by large boulders that were seemingly placed for your jumping enjoyment!

Another half mile up the trail, on your left, lies Mouse Creek Falls which plunges out of a steep ravine into Big Creek at a photo-worthy confluence. After Mouse Creek Falls the trail continues to follow the contour of the creek for Creek another 3 miles until you reach Walnut Bottoms and Backcountry Campsite #37.

Who is Going to Love It

If you are a fan of Appalachian swimming holes bring your bathing suit and enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool waters of Big Creek. The creek runs cold all year long so be prepared for a polar plunge type experience that will rejuvenate your body and soul. The Big Creek trailhead has a large picnic area with charcoal grills located beside the river. Plan ahead and enjoy a nice warm meal beside the creek after your day on the trail. The easy grade and playful nature of the Big Creek Trail make this area great for all ages and ability levels.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

To reach the Big Creek trailhead from Asheville head west on Interstate 40 to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line and take the Waterville exit (451) on your right. Take a left and cross over the Pigeon River via a bridge shared by the Appalachian Trail. Continue on this road until you reach a 4-way stop. Go straight through this intersection and follow the signs for the Big Creek trailhead. The Big Creek ranger station is located a quarter of a mile past this intersection on the right.

Stop here to get more information on the area and a detailed map for a requested $1 donation.

Continue up the road for 1 mile until you reach the parking lot for the Big Creek Campground/Trailhead. There are bathroom facilities and a gorgeous picnic area located beside the trailhead.

There is no fee for day use but a permit and small fee is required to stay at the backcountry site in Walnut Bottom.

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Featured image provided by Steven Reinhold

Hiking Waterrock Knob

Intro

On the crest of the Plott Balsam range, at an elevation of 6,292’, stands the majestic Waterrock Knob. The Blue Ridge Parkway climbs high up the sides of Waterrock Knob to within a few hundred feet of its’  summit. Where the Parkway crosses the ridgeline, on Waterrock’s southern shoulder, an easily accessible recreational area awaits your visit. The recreational area provides picnic tables, restrooms and a large grassy field to entertain yourself and your furry hiking companions. A short, yet steep, trail gains 400’ in elevation as it leads visitors to the incredible long-range views atop the summit. The easily accessible beauty of this mountain makes the destination a go-to spot on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

What Makes It Great

The recreation area on Waterrock Knob is a mountain top playground with stunning views and easy access to ridge-line hiking atop the prominent Plott Balsam range. Around the turn of the 19th century a family of German emigrants made their way, with hunting dogs in tow, to the foot of these noble mountains. The family settled in the area and gained infamy through the hunting prowess of their “Plott hounds.” Today, the range bares the family’s name, and the Plott hound is North Carolina’s official state dog.

Looking westward from the recreation area, the eyes are rewarded with a panoramic view of the eastern side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail follows the prominent ridge line on the western horizon. From here, on-lookers get a real life “trail profile” of the highly acclaimed 70 mile section of the AT which bisects the National Park. After letting your eyes gaze upon the National park look southward to see the beautiful Tuckaseegee River Valley and the sprawling Nantahala National Forest.

A half mile trail leads from the parking area to Waterrock’s summit. The first .2 miles of trail are paved and lead to a pedestrian overlook. After the overlook the trail becomes rocky and picturesque as it climbs the final .3 miles to the prized summit.  Venture just past the actual summit to gain the mountain’s best available view from a perch atop a rock outcropping on the southern side of the peak.

Who is Going to Love It

Drive to access makes Waterrock Knob a great place to bring the family along for a mountain top experience. Bring your loved ones up for a quick hike and a picnic before enjoying a sunset. The short trail, which leads to the summit, provides hikers stunning views with minimal exertion. The area makes for a perfect place to introduce novices to the wonders of the outdoors. Fans of astrological events will find Waterrock Knob a dreamy place to observe the heavens with its high elevation and lack of ambient light.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Head towards Waynesville NC, From Asheville on interstate 40. Take exit 27 (Maggie Valley) onto US-74. Follow this highway for 13 miles; past the town of Waynesville and to the top of Balsam Gap. A well-marked entrance to the Parkway will be on your right. Once on the Parkway, follow the signs towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Heading south on the parkway, and upwards on you altimeter, you will climb 3,000’ in 7 miles before reaching the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center on your right.

There are no fees required to visit Waterrock Knob.

The area is very dog friendly and the grassy area by the parking lot provides a great place to play with your pup while drinking in the beautiful scenery.

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Featured image provided by Patrick Mueller

Hiking Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain

The Appalachian Mountains, the oldest mountain range in the world, is a crown jewel of the American wilderness. Grandfather Mountain, which lies just outside of Boone, North Carolina and boasts four separate summits of rippled rock and stunted spruce, provides one of the most dazzling views on the East Coast. An ocean of ridged and rolling mountains spread out in all directions, their emerald hues deepening to blue in the summer, bursting with scarlet and crimson in autumn, and frozen silver-white in winter.

One of the most popular routes to the top is the Profile Trail, so named because it offers its visitors a view of Grandfather Mountain’s iconic vertical profile, which resembles the face of a massive old man in deep repose. The trail climbs nearly 2,000 feet before linking up with the Grandfather Trail, on which hikers can access Calloway Peak, the tallest of the four summits.

Maeve Gould

The Profile Trail begins as a well-maintained and deceptively gentle pathway, rolling through wildflowers and crisscrossing the Watauga River. On a scorching summer day, hikers will enjoy filling their lungs with fresh, chilled air beneath the dense deciduous canopy and rhododendron thickets that leave the majority of the trail shaded and cool. Don’t allow yourself to get too comfortable though; the route soon turns sharply upwards as it begins its ascent up the backside of Grandfather Mountain. Thankfully, the climb is punctuated by breathtaking vistas, such as the Foscoe View at mile 1.7, which will whisk your thoughts away from your burning quads.

Before reaching the trail’s namesake lookout, you will come across a formidable walkway, created by hundreds of boulders artfully arranged on either side. The “Peregrine’s Flight,” created by two men using only hand held tools, is truly a triumph of trail engineering. Another notable feature is Shanty Spring, where crystal clear water bubbles out of rocks into shallow pools, creating an inviting spot to rest and fill your water bottle before tackling the final climb. The spring marks the beginning of the most strenuous portion of the trail, and also one of ecological significance as the hardwood forest transitions into Canadian fir zone.

Greg Walters

Three miles from the parking lot trailhead, Profile Trail joins up with Grandfather Trail. At this point, take a left on Grandfather to continue your way to where the route opens up onto an exposed ridgeline that will lead you on a magnificent finale to your summit reward. Calloway Peak, engulfed in sky at 5,946 feet, earns its title as “The Grandaddy of High Country Hikes.”

The trailhead is located 12 miles from Boone on Highway 105, ¾ of a mile North of the intersection of Highways 105 and 184. Trail access is free since Grandfather Mountain came into state ownership, but you must fill out a permit at the kiosk and bring the bottom section of the ticket with you on your hike. The Profile-Grandfather Trail to Calloway Peak is 7 miles round-trip and includes sections that are strenuous, rocky, and require very deliberate footwork, but the views at the top…priceless.

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Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Kolin Toney

10 Best Hikes in Asheville

You’re holed up at a coffee shop in downtown Asheville, sipping an espresso and pouring over a stack of trail guides. What would you like to do today—summit the East coast’s highest peak, or explore the East Coast’s deepest canyon? Scramble up the chutes and ladders of Grandfather Mountain, or weave gently through a verdant valley to reach a 70 foot waterfall? From this eclectic, craft-beer fueled city, nestled inside a lush basin in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the choice is yours. The peaks and forests of Western Carolina are brimming with a dazzling array of hiking adventures. Here, ten trails to cross off your Asheville hiking bucket list.

1. The Grandfather Trail

Black bears on Grandfather Mountain.
Black bears on Grandfather Mountain.
Kolin Toney

At times, the Grandfather Trail may feel more like an obstacle course than a hiking path. An intricate series of ladders, walkways, and steel cables zig-zag up and across the three separate peaks of Grandfather Mountain. This is an out-and-back trail, featuring 2.4 miles of hoisting, scrambling, and hand-over-hand climbing each direction. The route edges along the crest of the mountain, ducking through stunted spruce trees and skirting across exposed rock faces.  The views from the first two peaks are astonishing, but the true reward lies at the top of the third and tallest summit, 5,946 ft Calloway Peak. Come and see why John Muir once described Grandfather Mountain as “the face of all heaven come to earth.”

2. Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls on a crisp fall day
Crabtree Falls on a crisp fall day
Matthew Blouir

Even before coming in site of the waterfall, visitors to Crabtree Meadows are captivated by the lush carpet of wildflowers that bloom in spring and early summer. The forest floor is awash with over forty varieties of flowers, creating a bejeweled background for the popular Crabtree Falls Trail. This 2.4 mile loop begins with a series of switchbacks, gently descending to the base of its namesake falls: a wispy white curtain of water cascading over a 70 foot beehive of dark rock. The remaining 1.5 miles climb out of the enchanted forest through creeks and over split-log bridges.

3. Looking Glass Rock

Looking Glass Rock in autumn.
Looking Glass Rock in autumn.
Jeff Gunn

Looking Glass Rock  is a steep granite monolith, rising like a cargo ship from the rolling waves of Pisgah National Forest. The trail to the top, however, is surprisingly benign; while certainly a challenge, the constant switchbacks really take the edge of the steep gradient. The single trail etched into the mountainside is an out-and-back that makes for a journey totaling 6.4 miles. The summit of Looking Glass is an anomaly in the Blue Ridge: flat-topped, thickly forested, and not particularly tall. In fact, you’ll be gazing up at the mountains that engulf you, not down upon them. It is the exposure factor, the thrill of standing on the edge of a sheer vertical drop off, that make this one of the most thrilling and popular hikes in the region.

4. Old Mitchell Trail

Sunrise in Mt. Mitchell State Park.
Sunrise in Mt. Mitchell State Park.
Kolin Toney

The Old Mitchell Trail leads you to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak East of the Mississippi River. From that lofty perch, surrounded by sky, immersed in chilled mountain air, allow yourself ample time to sit back and observe the world from one and a quarter miles above sea level. There are many options that lead to the top, and Old Mitchell is a classic: a four-mile loop with an out and back extension to the summit, and every step is above 6,000 feet! You’ll encounter the typical backcountry obstacles: a relentless climb gnarled with roots, rocks, and raspberry cane. However, to reach the top and be engulfed in a world of rippled Appalachian peaks, standing high above them all, is an experience that no hiker should miss.

5. Shining Rock

A sunset at Shining Rock Gap
A sunset at Shining Rock Gap
Daniel Meacham

Perched high in the Great Balsam Range, the glittering quartz formations at the summit of  Shining Rock make for a gorgeous and unusual spectacle. The bright swirling rock, emerging like frozen ocean waves from a dark coniferous forest and surrounded by soaring mountain views, creates a scene so lovely and dramatic it appears almost otherworldly. A section of the Art Loeb Trail, beginning at the Black Balsam parking area and meandering over a series of grassy balds is particularly exquisite way to reach “the crystalline cliffs.”

6. Waterrock Knob

Sunrise from the parking area of Waterrock Knob
Sunrise from the parking area of Waterrock Knob
Patrick Mueller

The picturesque summit of Waterrock Knob is a mere half mile from the parking area, but don’t even dream of writing it off as a roadside attraction. With breathtaking views and readily accessible ridge hiking unspooling in both directions, Watterrock is the perfect jumping off point for exploring the Plott Balsam Range. The wide, grassy meadow at the start of the summit hike may be the most dramatic locale for a family picnic on the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway. To claim the best view possible, sneak past the summit onto a rock outcropping on the Southern side of the peak, and behold the lush Tuckasegee River Valley and the Nantahala National Forest spread out below, the Great Smoky Mountains unfurling into the distance.

7. Craggy Gardens

The Craggy Pinnacle is an incredibly photogenic destination.
The Craggy Pinnacle is an incredibly photogenic destination.
Sarath Kuchi

The Blue Ridge Parkway delivers you nearly to the pinnacle of Craggy Gardens, a heath bald of grey rock and pink-blooming rhododendron that soars 5,892 feet above sea level. At the summit, high-mountain grasses wave placidly in the foreground, set against panoramic mountain views. The trail is 1.4 miles round-trip and climbs only 252 feet in elevation: a huge payoff for minimal exertion. Cool tunnels of mountain laurel, twisted birch trees, and the occasional lookout make for an enjoyable journey as you meander to the top.

8. Hawksbill Mountain

Sunset from Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge.
Sunset from Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge.
JenjazzyGeek

The rocky summit of Hawksbill Mountain affords one of the most spectacular views in all of North Carolina. Two thousand feet below you, the Linville River threads through the bottom of the canyon, enveloped by nearly 12,000 acres of unadulterated wilderness. Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, and Shortoff Mountain cut stately profiles against the peak-rippled horizon. This three-mile loop features a steep climb on the way up and a gentler, more gradual descent. The trail is accessible from Forest Service Road 1264 in Pisgah National Forest. Be aware that this road is closed from January-March.

9. Max Patch

The heavenly view from Max Patch.
The heavenly view from Max Patch.
Jim R Rogers

It’s no wonder that Max Patch Meadow is considered the most gorgeous section of the entire Appalachian Trail. The summit is rounded and soft with grass, surrounded by rolling woods and pastureland that gradually swell into mountains, eventually becoming the sharp peaks of the Black Mountain Range, Blue Ridge, and the Smokies in the distance. Although the summit is only a few minutes walk from the parking area, jump on the Appalachian Trail for a day trip to Lemon Gap—or hike all the way to Maine, for that matter!

10. Lookout Mountain

The summit of Lookout Mountain in autumn.
The summit of Lookout Mountain in autumn.
David Clarke

Just fifteen minutes east of Asheville, the Lookout Trail swoops up the side of Lookout Mountain in a short and punchy half mile of rock scrambling and wide stairs hacked into the hillside. The view from up top is more intimate than the typical Appalachian vista. A series of peaks affectionately known as The Seven Sisters of the Black Mountain Range feel so close, it’s as if you could reach out and touch them. To add an extra hour to your hike, and to escape the crowds that can converge on the small rocky summit, descend via the East Ridge Trail. This leads to the Blue Gap Trail, which will bring you back to the parking lot.

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Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Barry Peters

Hiking Looking Glass Rock

Intro

Dare we say that Looking Glass Rock suffers from Half Dome syndrome? It’s prominent presence can be seen from virtually all viewpoints within the Pisgah National Forest. The granite walls of this 600’ Rock Pluton beckon adventurers from all around to come and cling to its’ cliffs. The outdoor paparazzi perpetually take aim at Looking Glass Rock from a variety of vantage points throughout the National Forest. Fair weather adventurers flock to the summit on pretty days by way of the Looking Glass Trail. Yet, once on the summit visitors find an ironic twist of fate, similar to the one found atop Half Dome, comes to fruition. Once you’re on top you lose sight of what everyone has come to see, Looking Glass Rock itself! The tradeoff, for losing sight of The Rock,is paid off in panoramic views and the ability to, one day, stand at those overlooks with an inner smile and acknowledgment that “I’ve been up there.”

What Makes It Great

Not all who venture into the Pisgah are willing to look The Rockin the face and get a close up view of its’ world renowned “eyebrows.” If clinging to cams and clipping to bolts isn’t your cup of tea – yet you still desire to summit Looking Glass – venture to the top on the 3.2 mile Looking Glass Rock Trail. This well maintained, and well-trodden path begins just outside of Brevard, NC on Forest Service road 475. The trail gains a total of 1,700 vertical feet on its way to the 4,000’ summit of Looking Glass. Lucky for your legs, a seemingly endless swath of switchbacks aid in your elevation gain on this trail.

Roughly two miles into the trail hikers will pass a relatively flat rock clearing with a large, painted “H.” From the air this “H” signals a landing pad for helicopter crews who come to rescue injured climbers. From the ground let this “H” stand as your reminder to watch your step during the rest of your journey! A spur trail leads from the back of the helicopter landing zone to the Lower Looking Glass Cliffs. Taking this short spur allows views of the main cliff face and a chance at solidarity from the crowds.

Continuing on the main trail, from the helipad, a steep pull will bring you to the summit where there are prime campsites but no view. Passing the summit, a short descent, will bring you to the precipice of Upper Looking glass Cliffs! The rounded face allows for an amicably flat sitting area on top with panoramic views. Once on top, lesser travelled “man-ways” can lead to more secluded vantage points. Exercise extreme caution in these areas especially during wet conditions!

Who is Going to Love It

The panoramic views will help any hiker quickly forget about the burning quads from the hike to the summit. Trust us, if you can make it up there, it will be worth it!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The parking area can be found off of Forest Service Road 475 in the Pisgah National Forest. A 45 minute drive from Asheville will lead you to the trailhead which is on the right, .4 miles up Forest Service Road 475.

Access to the Looking Glass Rock Trail is free to the public.

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Featured image provided by Osajus

Hiking John Rock Loop

Intro

The 5-mile John Rock Loop is a hike that, on a clear day, affords some of the most stunning views of Pisgah’s wilderness and mountains. The hike takes you to the top of John Rock, which is a large open face that you stare at as you climb.

After a brief start on Forest Service Road 475, the trail links up with the Cat Gap Loop Trail. It immediately travels up through a mixed forest of hardwoods and lush rhododendron. There are a few stream crossings (some with a footbridge, some with some fairly easy rock-hopping), and just before an intersection with the Butter Gap Trail, you’ll see (and hear) the Cedar Rock Falls.

The trail continues to climb steadily and surely, and eventually, it will come to a four-way intersection just south of John Rock. From here, take the John Rock Trail to continue to the top. It will be a fairly steep and substantial climb without switchbacks.

The trail will eventually pop out onto John Rock itself. Soak up the incredible view for as long as you’d like and then it’s time to head back down and complete the loop.

What Makes It Great

Once you get the top of John Rock, you’ll be given views of the outstretching valley below, the Pisgah Ridge, and across to Looking Glass Rock. The hike will also take you past a nice waterfall and, during spring, there are beautiful wildflower meadows in the Picklesimer Fields.

Who is Going to Love It

This is a fairly difficult hike, as the climbing is pretty steep (about 1,000 feet of elevation gain), so experienced hikers will enjoy this hike more than first-timers will. You’ll want to hike counter clockwise so you’re going up the really steep part, so the walk down is more gradual. It’s tough to hurt yourself on steep uphill, but steep downhill is a different story.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The trailhead is located at the Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery, just off of Forest Service Road 475. It will be a left off of this road, and then just over a bridge about a mile and a half in, there will be a parking lot.

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Featured image provided by Jake Wheeler

Events

Motorcycle Camping

Do you have a love for exploring on your motorcycle + an interest in camping? Perhaps you’ve been riding for a while, but feel under equipped to take a multi night excursion in the mountains. Maybe you’ve already been there + done that, but still have a desire to take your experience to the next level. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, this class will help ensure that you are packing properly + safely to have the best possible experience.

In this class, we’ll cover:

  • A variety of different tents + shelters — + which is right for you
  • Sleeping bags + sleeping mats
  • Cookware + food essentials
  • Medical + safety equipment
  • Storage + packing of all of these items. Whether you have state of the art boxes or are simply working with bungee cords, we will show you how to make it work for you!

All participants will receive a $10 Gear Card good towards any purchase in our store!

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Kids + well-behaved pets with owner on leash are welcome at this free class.

Cover photo courtesy of Pierce Martin/Flickr.

 

DB Outdoors for More: Food Connection

Each month, we donate 10% of a day’s sales to support a local nonprofit’s work. Shop on Tuesday, October 24, to support Food Connection.

Call it civic pride or mountain spirit, but we think supporting the work of those maintaining trails, cleaning waterways, connecting youth to outdoors, and doing other awesome things to keep WNC a place we can all enjoy…well, it’s the right thing to do. As the area’s first outdoor store, we’ve enjoyed the support of our friends and neighbors since 1964.

Food Connection rescues surplus freshly prepared meals from events, caterers and restaurants via Asheville Taxi and delivers it to nonprofits who feed the hungry. Recipients include BeLoved House, Trinity Place Shelter for Runaway Youth, East Asheville Welcome Table, MusicWorks After School program and more. Fresh items such as beef brisket, crab cakes, roasted local veggies, kale and quinoa salad are now staying out of the compost and trash, and instead going to those in our community who need it the most. In two and a half years over 50,000 meals have been rescued and delivered. More at FoodConnection.co.

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Sherpa Night: Celebrate Nepal

Sherpa Adventure Gear weaves together the latest designs and technology with the rich heritage and time-honored beliefs of Nepal. The company was founded by Tashi Sherpa as a living memorial to the unsung heroes of Mt. Everest. For decades, climbers have always been grateful for having a Sherpa companion on the treacherous slopes of the Himalayas. It is the Sherpa who makes the route, carries the load, and sets the ropes to the top and back.

Join us to experience Nepalese culture through sight and taste. We’ll show a short documentary focusing on Nepalese culture and enjoy authentic food samples and traditional tea. Mark Johnson of Hobnail Trekking Company will present information about expeditions from the USA to Nepal. You might be inspired to experience it firsthand!

We’ll have some giveaways for all and a special gift with any Sherpa Adventure Gear purchase that evening. For every piece of Sherpa Adventure Gear’s purchased, a donation is made to provide scholarships to children who grow up in remote Himalayan villages, bringing the spirit of the Sherpa full circle.

RSVP on Facebook

This free event is open to the public. Kids and well-behaved pets with owner on leash are welcome.