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Beech Mountain Resort

Intro

Sitting at 5,506 feet in the heart of Appalachia, you’ll find Beech Mountain. Beech features amazing skiing and snowboarding terrain accompanied by an array of après activities that are sure to make your visit memorable. Grab your skis or board and make the two hour trip from Asheville.

Who is Going to Love It

Beech Mountain Resort takes pride in cultivating new shredders to enjoy the mountain. They offer free skiing and snowboarding lessons with the purchase of rental equipment, Monday-Thursday. Beech is a certified Burton Learn To Ride (LTR) Center. The field of instructors make learning to ride a blast and the learner specific equipment has beginners shredding in no time. Snow Kamp is also available for children 3-5 years old and provides parents with an all-day childcare option.

What Makes It Great

Beech Mountain Resort boasts eight impressive lifts including a high-speed quad that takes skiers and riders directly from the base to the top of the mountain. The eight lifts service a total of 95 skiable acres on 15 slopes. Check out the Beech Mountain Trail Map for more details on the terrain.

You’ll also find the Powder Bowl freestyle terrain park maintained by a core group of shredders. Powder Bowl is home to advanced and intermediate features including boxes, rails, and kickers. Beginners can hone their skills in the rider-friendly Meadows freestyle park.

The View Haus, Beech Mountain Resort’s largest facility, was recently renovated to provide a comforting mountain lodge atmosphere with all new amenities. How about an local craft brew for your après ski thirst quencher? Beech Mountain Brewing Co. is located in the Ski Village with a brand new deck and ski-in ski-out access! You’ll find plenty of dining and entertainment options at Beech, making this the choice for longer North Carolina skiing and snowboarding stays.

Beech Mountain Resort hosts many large and small events including live music, trivia, and the totally tubular Retro 80s Weekend.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The drive from Asheville to Beech Mountain Resort will take you 1 hour and 45 minutes. Check out lift ticket rates and current conditions before you head up the mountain.

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Featured image provided by Courtesy of Beech Mountain Resort

Wolf Ridge Ski Resort

Intro

 “Come Ski the Wolf.” Wolf Ridge Resort offers this enticing invitation. How could a skier or snowboarder turn down an invitation that sounds so cool? The greatest thing about coming on up to Ski the Wolf? It only involves a 35 minute scenic drive from Asheville!

What Makes It Great

Wolf Ridge Resorts stands five miles off of I-26 on a scenic highway. The Wolf is a favorite of locals looking for a quick trip to the ski slopes. The Wolf operates on 62 acres of enjoyable ski terrain that is covered in an average of 60-80 inches of snow per year. Skiers and snowboarders will enjoy Wolf Ridge’s recent terrain makeover which includes updates to the park and widened trails which provide better access to the lodge. Wolf Ridge’s Lower Lodge serves as a full service ski station for visitors, offering tickets, rental equipment, dining, and a gift shop. Wolf Ridge Resort has a variety of year-round accommodations available that provide a wonderful base camp.

Wolf Ridge is a family oriented resort. They help “share the stoke” with kids and beginners through their PSIA/AASI accredited Snow Sports School and their “magic carpet” serviced tube run.

  • Number if Slopes: 15
  • 40% Beginner
  • 40% Intermediate
  • 20% Advanced
  • Annual snow average 60-80 inches
  • Annual snow record: 148 inches

Download the Wolf Ridge Trail Map for an in-depth look at their terrain.

Who is Going to Love It

While it’s a primarily geared towards beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders, there are also deals for everyone!

  • 2 For Tuesday: Buy 1 Lift Ticket, Get 1 Free
  • Women’s Wednesday: ½ price lift tickets for all ladies
  • Thursday College Night: $15 lift tickets with student ID
  • Active Military: $15 off lift tickets with ID

Wolf Ridge is also open for night skiing.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Wolf Ridge is the closest ski resort to downtown Asheville. A 35 minute scenic drive up I-26 will bring you to the base of Wolf Ridge Resort.

Tickets are reasonably priced and start at $40 for adults. Visit Wolf Ridge’s website to purchase lift tickets in advance.

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Featured image provided by Photo Courtesy of Wolf Ridge Resort

Sugar Mountain Resort

Intro

Sugar Mountain Resort boasts one of the highest vertical drops and largest amounts of skiable terrain in Western North Carolina. From Asheville, a scenic hour and forty minute drive into the North Carolina high country will have you skiing on one of the area’s finest resorts. Make the trip for a day of fun in the snow or check into one of Sugar Mountain’s variety of lodging options for a multi-day winter excursion.

What Makes It Great

Sugar Mountain Resort is known not just for skiing and snowboarding, but for an array of activities to entertain the entire family. Not comfortable on the slopes? Sugar runs a 700 foot tubing run which is serviced by a “magic carpet lift” that stays open late for evening entertainment. Adjacent to the tube run is a 10,000 square foot ice skating rink. If you are looking for winter exercise, Sugar Mountain offers guided snowshoe tours throughout the week. Tours include a one hour hike and snowshoe rentals.

  • Summit Elevation: 5,300 feet
  • Base Elevation: 4,100 feet
  • Vertical Drop: 1,200 feet
  • Total Skiable Acres: 125 (100 at night)
  • 14% expert
  • 52% intermediate
  • 34% beginner
  • Number of Lifts: 7

Who is Going to Love It

Skiers and snowboarders love the terrain offered at Sugar Mountain during the winter.

In recent years, Sugar has also begun to offer year round activities. If you find yourself visiting the North Carolina mountains in summer, Sugar Mountain is a great place to quench your thirst for hiking or mountain biking. Many miles of free access trails are available during daylight hours in the summer months. Get a detailed trail map before your visit and check out this video from Sugar Mountain Resort’s expert downhill track. Expert riders can experience the same downhill adventure as a USA Cycling National downhill racer on what is considered one of the most demanding and thrilling downhill courses on the East Coast.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The drive from Asheville to Sugar Mountain Resort is beautiful and takes 1 hour and 40 minutes from downtown. Lift tickets to Sugar are incredibly reasonable. Parking can easily be found at the resort and they also run a shuttle system to help you get around once you’re at the mountain.

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Featured image provided by Mark Clifton

One Day Sale

The Awesome 8 is back in 2017! The Awesome 8 offers a chance to grab stocking stuffers for everyone on your list (or get something spectacular for yourself). Each Tuesday and Thursday from Thanksgiving to Christmas, you’ll score major savings that last just one day and are available in stores while they last. Make sure you gran them before they vanish!

While your at the store, check out our free personal outfitting service, donate a coat to one of your neighbors (and save 20% off something new), or grab some gift cards (and score a gift for yourself).

Awesome 8 #5 — December 12: Kelty Riot Daypack for Just $40

Wide, stable shoulder straps and grooved back padding will make the Riot 15L your go-to pack for hiking, biking, and every day use. The modified vest suspension keeps the pack balanced and comfortable, and an external pop-out hydration sleeve (reservoir not included) keeps you hydrated all day. Supplies are easy to grab with the side access zippered pocket, front shove-it pocket, and stretch mesh shoulder strap pockets. Whether you prefer exploring the world on two feet or two wheels, the Riot is built to keep up with you. Regularly $69.95, you can grab a Kelty Riot 15L for just $40 on Tuesday, December 12. Kelty Riot available at our store in South Asheville’s Parkway Center (1378 Hendersonville Road) only.

Awesome 8 #4 — December 7: Bridgedale Merino Wool Gloves for $19.99

Super soft and comfy, Bridgedale merino wool gloves will become your best friend during winter for both everyday use and casual trail hikes. MerinoFusion® technology ensures you’re not only kept warm, but any excess moisture is quickly wicked away. An everyday winter essential, don’t leave home without them. Great for gifting or for your own personal use, grab as many as you like for just $19.99 per pair on Thursday, December 7 (reg. $33.95).

Awesome 8 #3 — December 5: 50% OFF Columbia Fleece

Columbia’s pure, clean fleece lends warmth and rugged style to these versatile pullovers. The ultimate three-season layering piece for warding off the chill during cool morning commutes, showing style at concerts, and keeping out the draft during outdoor adventures. Available in a variety of colors, snag the Glacial III for $25 (reg. $50) or the Harborside for $30 (reg. $60) on Tuesday, December 5. Columbia fleece available at our store in South Asheville’s Parkway Center (1378 Hendersonville Road) only.

Awesome 8 #2 — November 30: 1/2 OFF White Sierra Cozy Blankets

White Sierra’s Cozy Blanket is made from their softest fleece to keep you nice and toasty from watching a Friday night football game to camping in the woods to cozying up in front of the fireplace. The blanket is a perfect for two (60″ x 60″ square) and folds up into a pillow. Available in purple, pink, and brown, the Cozy Blanket is a great stocking stuffer, teacher’s gift, or addition to your snuggly collection of throws. Regularly $40, snag as many as you like for $20 each on Thursday, November 30.

Awesome 8 #1 — November 28: 40% OFF Luci Solar Powered Inflatable Lights

The Luci light was created as an inflatable solar light with the goal of making an affordable clean energy product that can be used in any situation — from outdoor camping adventures to backyard parties to everyday living for people in developing countries without electricity. By tapping into a source of light that’s limitless and readily available to everyone, Luci lights put the power of the sun into a device that fits in the palm of your hand. Life doesn’t stop when the sun goes down and there’s no reason it should. Get one for everyone on your list for 40% OFF (limit 8 per customer).

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  • Awesome 8 #6 — December 14
  • Awesome 8 #7 — December 19
  • Awesome 8 #8 — December 721

In-stock items only. Color and selection may vary by location. Select styles, sizes, and colors apply.

Lake Julian Festival of Lights

Time spent with family creating lasting memories is what the holiday season is all about. Lake Julian’s 17th annual Festival of Lights is a local favorite with games, crafts, s’mores, and an impressive collections of 50 animated light displays. Drive through tickets are $10 per passenger vehicle at the gate, but stop in any Diamond Brand Outdoors location or Frugal Backpacker to purchase advance tickets for just $7 per vehicle (excludes large vans, motor coaches, and buses). The park is open nightly from 6:00-9:00 p.m. through December 23.

Your ticket purchase also helps the community. 20% of proceeds are donated to Buncombe County Special Olympics, while the remaining income is reinvested by Buncombe County Recreation Services to enhance the Festival of Lights for the following year. Be sure to add this magical journey to your holiday bucket list. Watch the lights twinkle over the lake and turn on your favorite yuletide tunes!

More about Lake Julian (from Romantic Asheville)
Lake Julian Park is a family recreational facility located on the banks of 300 acre Lake Julian in Arden. The park offers picnicking, boating, fishing, a playground, outdoor games, and special events. Lake Julian has an abundance of bass, catfish, brim, crappie, and imported Tilapia. Because Lake Julian is used as a cooling agent for Progress Energy the lake is “thermal.” Some of the best fishing occurs from October through March. Six picnic shelters are available for rent at Lake Julian Park. In addition to the shelters, many tables and grills are available at no charge on a first-come first-served basis.

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Feature image provided by Buncombe County Recreation Services

Cataloochee Ski Area

Intro

Cataloochee is home to great skiing and snowboarding in the Great Smoky Mountains. Make your way over from Asheville and you are sure to agree with this sentiment. With expansive views, varied terrain, a full service lodge, and friendly staff, Cataloochee offers one of the most memorable winter experiences in the Southeast.

What Makes It Great

Cataloochee Ski Resort lies just outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The view from the top of the mountain is incredible and overlooks the resort’s namesake, Catalaoochee Valley. The lodge sits directly at the base of the mountain and hosts a restaurant and bar with a massive deck overlooking the slopes. “The Looch” has impressive snow-making infrastructure and is able to cover 100% of the terrain. This ability leads to a long season for one of the southernmost ski resorts on the east coast. If you and your family are looking for a day of fun on the snow, it’s a great mountain for all skill levels to play on.

Slope Breakdown: Cataloochee has a total of 18 trails and 5 lifts: 1 quad, 1 triple, 1 double chair, and 2 moving carpet surface lifts for the beginner learning areas.

  • 44% beginner terrain
  • 39% intermediate
  • 17% advanced
  • Top Elevation: 5,400 feet
  • Base Elevation, 4,660 feet
  • Vertical Drop 740 feet

Cataloochee is also proud to offer the Cat Cage Terrain Park which features creative features that are varied throughout the year.

Who is Going to Love It

Cataloochee has a giant sale on future season passes every spring. Keep an eye on their website in March to grab yourself a pass at up to half off regular price!

Cataloochee offer an awesome beginner’s skiing package to help “sell the stoke” to first timers. The Slide in 5 program is a multi-lesson beginner’s package which includes a free pair of skis. The package includes lift tickets, ski rentals and lessons for any five days during the year.

Directions, Parking, + Regulations

The drive to Cataloochee from Asheville winds through scenic Maggie Valley and climbs high atop the Great Smoky Mountains. Cataloochee’s website provides detailed driving directions for visitors from all directions.

Before you head up the mountain, check out Cataloochee’s webcams and their detailed Snow Report.

Current pricing on Lift Tickets can be found on Cataloochee’s website.

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Featured image provided by Steven Reinhold

Hiking Chimney Tops

Intro

The twin-peaked, rugged profile of Chimney Tops gained infamy with its appearance on the cover of Horace Kephart’s classic, Our Southern Highlanders. The summit of this 4,724-foot peak has weathered away over the centuries leaving behind a backbone of folded metamorphic rock which has turned into a playground for the adventurous. The trail to the Chimneys was badly damaged several years ago by torrential downpours and flooding. Thanks to the Great Smokies’ Trails Forever Program, a newly renovated trail takes hikers from the trailhead to the airy summit by way of a steep, intricately constructed, two mile trail.

What Makes It Great

The trail to the Chimneys quickly becomes beautiful as it passes over Walker Camp Prong – thanks to the newly constructed and environmentally friendly bridge system– right out of the gate. Get ready to climb after crossing the creek: Chimney Tops’ trail gains 1,700 feet in elevation as it introduces your quads to hiking in the highlands! The trail’s forever crew has created a network of 360 rock steps and nearly 300 log steps which lead to the top of this “stairway to heaven.”

After finally gaining the ridgeline, your legs may be wary Give them a rest to refresh for the fun to come! A short traverse on an airy ridgeline leads to the highlight of the trail: a short, but very exposed, scramble to the crown of the Chimneys. Although technical gear is not needed to ascend this last section, you will see many tourists humbly end their day at the base of this scramble. Take your time, maintain at least three points of contact with the rock at all times, and carefully make your way up the rocky backbone leading to the summit and 360 degree views.

Who is Going to Love It

Thrill seekers will find just what they are looking for atop the Chimneys. An unsanctioned, yet unbelievably fun climb past the first Chimney, across a rocky ridge, and onto the second Chimney will get your blood flowing and guarantee solidarity atop this popular destination. However, this shot at solitude is not for the faint of heart. The route begins with a mandatory down-climb and technical maneuvers are required across some highly exposed sections to reach the second Chimney.

The view westward (across the rolling expanse of Eastern Tennessee) is uninterrupted and affords spectacular sunset views for those willing to descend under the glow of a headlamp.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Chimney Tops Trailhead can be found off route 441, on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Drive from Asheville takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. Experiencing the Chimneys is worth every second of it! Hiking does not require any fees or permits.

Due to terrain and National Park regulations, dogs are not allowed on Chimney Tops Trail.

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Featured image provided by Stewart Photography

7 Short Hikes with Spectacular Views Near Asheville

If it seems too good to be true, than it probably is. These are wise words to live by, yet living in Asheville is the rare exception to this rule. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can find wild, rolling meadows, exposed peaks of bare rock, and views of heart-melting beauty — and all reachable by trails so short, you’ll barely break a sweat.

1. Devil’s Courthouse

Devil's Courthouse sunrise
The hike to Devil’s Courthouse is short, strenuous, and well worth every step.
Frank Merenda

According to Cherokee legend, the sinister, bare-rock profile of Devil’s Courthouse is the dwelling place of Judaculla, the slant-eyed giant that dances in the caves below the summit. And while there’s no telling what sort of apparition you might see lurking in those mysterious hollows of rock, the view from the top is guaranteed to leave you breathless. Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina unfurl in every direction in a rippling expanse of mountains. The journey to this ominous 5,720-foot peak is a mere half-mile from the parking lot. Remain on the trail to protect the abundance of fragile, high-altitude plants that cling to the rock and ensure that the giant lurking beneath you remains undisturbed.

2. Max Patch

Purple mountains at Max Patch.
Purple mountain majesty from the summit of Max Patch on an early morning.
Marcos Gasc

The greatest reward awaiting you from the airy summit of Max Patch is the deepest breath you’ve been able to draw in a long, long time. The feeling of tranquility and expansiveness that this rolling Appalachian meadow will instill in you is similar to that inspired by the ocean. Layer upon layer of mountains unfold into the distance in a 360-degree panorama, and the sky above you is a perfect blue dome. The road to Max Patch is long and winding, but the hike is short and sweet: a half-mile trek to the top, where you’ll find the Appalachian Trail cutting a neat path along the ridgeline.

3.Waterrock Knob

The Blue Ridge Mountains at Waterrock Knob.
From the summit of Waterrock Knob, ethereal blue layers of mountain fold into the distance.
Doug Waldron

The summit of Waterrock Knob is best enjoyed on the first morning after a rain, when the atmosphere is clean and polished. Waterrock Knob is located in the Plott Balsam Range, the chain of mountains that connects the Smokies to the Great Balsams. From its soaring peak 6,292 feet above sea level, the view stretches for more than 50 miles across Maggie Valley and into the Smokies beyond, including some of the tallest peaks within that range. The trail is just half a mile from the parking area (which also yields extraordinary views, and is a lovely destination if you are not ambulatory.) The trail includes many overlooks and opportunities to wander off and claim a few moments of solitude.

4. Linville Falls

A view of Linville Falls.
Linville Falls is a powerful spectacle in every season.
Stephen

The power of water—ancient, patient, and unyielding—may be the most moving and humbling force on the planet. Linville Falls, a 90-foot cascade that drops into the  Linville Gorge, is a spectacular example of such power. From the visitor center, a stair-cut, three-quarter mile trail leads to the base of the falls, where the pounding of whitewater drowns out all other sound, and the riverside boulders beg you to climb and explore. Swimming is not allowed, as the current could quickly sweep you over Lower Falls and into the canyon. The two trails that begin at the visitor center lead to five separate viewpoints, including Plunge Basin Overlook, which allows for a bird’s-eye-view of Lower Falls and Chimney Tops.

5. Green Knob Fire Tower 

View from the Green Knob Fire Tower.
Quite fittingly, the summertime view from Green Knob Fire Tower is one of innumerable shades of green.
Michael Sprague

There’s a beatnik romance to fire towers, an undeniable lure to these mountain structures that have become, if not completely anachronistic, then at least an aging relic of Americana. Half a mile on an overgrown and nearly hidden trail will lead you from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit of Green Knob Mountain, where the fire tower is perched along the Eastern Continental Divide. Although the cab has recently been closed to visitors, the vista at the top of the staircase is worth the rickety climb. A grab-bag of the Carolinas’ most impressive peaks, the view includes the Black Mountain Range, Mt. Mitchell, the Great Craggy Mountains, and the distinguished profiles of Table Rock and Grandfather Mountain.

6. Black Balsam Knob

Take a stroll through the goldenrod on the summit of Black Balsam Knob.
Take a stroll through the goldenrod on the summit of Black Balsam Knob.
Melina Coogan

Black Balsam Knob is nothing short of heavenly. This grassy bald lies atop the Great Balsam Mountains, drenched in open sky, with a 360-degree panoramic view. A short, switchbacking trail leads from the parking lot to the summit, where it intersects with the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail. For an easy overnight, settle in at an established campsite on the summit, taking care to Leave No Trace. On a clear evening, you will be treated to a water-color sunset and a dome of shooting stars. Just don’t be surprised if, in the morning, the mountains beckon and you find yourself following the Art Loeb Trail toward the Shining Rock Wilderness. The landscape of high mountain balds is utterly irresistible.

7. Rough Ridge

The view from Rough Ridge.
The boulders alongside the Rough Ridge provide easy opportunities for stunning photography.
David Clarke

Life can be exhausting. Some days, you simply need to find the edge of the world, sit with your legs dangling into the ether, and just breathe. Luckily for the explorers of Western Carolina, there is a trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway, just outside of Blowing Rock, where you can do just that. Rough Ridge is a dazzling, one-mile section of both the Tanawha and Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The splendor begins only a third of a mile from the parking area, when the boardwalk trail emerges from the forest into an alpine, rock-studded landscape. Continue for another half mile to the 4,773-foot summit, a steep rock fang with views of Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge, and the lights of the Piedmont glimmering in the distance. Make sure and scramble to the top of boulders along the way, and savor the dizzying sensations of elevation and exposure.

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Featured image provided by Erich Burton

10 Lesser Known Autumn Adventures in North Carolina

Autumn is that seasonal sweet spot between the balmy, bug-bitten days of summer and the frigid frost of winter. Fall is a time when fiery foliage makes outdoor excursions even more alluring. While leaf-peepers flock to the mountains of North Carolina, some of the state’s most stunning natural spaces remain nearly devoid of visitors. This fall, soak up North Carolina’s stunning seasonal color in the state’s overlooked wild places.

1. Medoc Mountain State Park

The 10 miles of hiking trails are an excellent way to explore Medoc Mountain State Park.
The 10 miles of hiking trails are an excellent way to explore Medoc Mountain State Park.
bobistraveling

Just outside the town of Hollister, Medoc Mountain State Park is an inviting, but often ignored, autumn retreat. Laced with 10-miles of hiking trails, the park offers everything from gentle, streamside rambles to more rugged loops over the park’s rocky bluffs. Take to the placid waters of Fishing Creek or bring a picnic and set up shop for the day in the midst of the park’s sprawling, fall-color-tinged meadow.

2. Falls Lake State Recreation Area

Falls Lake State Park offers excellent hiking, paddling, and mountain bike opportunities.
Falls Lake State Park offers excellent hiking, paddling, and mountain bike opportunities.
Razvan Orendovici

Enjoy autumn colors at one of the state’s most unique outdoor spaces, Falls Lake State Recreation Area in Wake Forest. A veritable paddler’s paradise, the recreation area actually consists of a series of access sites dotting the forest-fringed fingers of a massive 12,000-acre reservoir. Beyond the water, many of the access points also feature campsites, mountain biking trails and hiking trails, including an extensive segment of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, which hugs the lake’s southern shore.

3. Middle Prong Wilderness

The Middle Prong Wilderness is one of the least visited parts of the Pisgah National Forest.
The Middle Prong Wilderness is one of the least visited parts of the Pisgah National Forest.
Joe Giordano

Tucked away in the massive Pisgah National Forest, the Middle Prong Wilderness is one of the vast recreation area’s most rugged and least-visited corners. The 7,900-acre wilderness located near Asheville is loaded with challenging terrain dominated by high peaks, precipitous drop-offs, and craggy ridgelines. For real solitude seekers, Middle Prong Wilderness is managed to show minimal signs of human impact. While there are ample hiking options, including access to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, signage is minimal, so plan on using those well-honed navigational skills.

4. New River State Park

New River State Park features both hike-in and paddle-in campsites.
New River State Park features both hike-in and paddle-in campsites.
bobistraveling

One of the state’s wildest parks, New River Park showcases one of North Carolina’s most stunning waterways. Distinguished as a National Scenic River four decades ago, the New River flows past some of the state’s most dramatic, mountain-loaded landscapes. The park features a handful of hiking trails, but the real highlight is the mighty river itself. The state park is also loaded with pristine backcountry retreats, offering an array of primitive hike-in and paddle-in campsites spread throughout the 750-acre recreation area.

5. South Mountain State Park

A misty morning in South Mountain State Park.
A misty morning in South Mountain State Park.
Charlie Cowins

Clinging to the Jacob Fork River, South Mountain State Park is a blissful escape for backpackers. There are 50 miles of sylvan trails, trout-loaded steams, and dispersed backcountry campsites to explore. Besides just hiking, the park also boasts 18 miles of mountain biking trails and 33 miles of bridle trails. High Shoal Falls’ tumbling, 80-foot cascade is a beautiful waterfall that is especially alluring when framed by autumn’s palette of burning colors.

6. Merchants Millpond State Park

Merchants Millpond features excellent paddling.
Merchants Millpond features excellent paddling.
bobistraveling

Foliage-seeking shutterbugs will relish in Merchants Millpond’s photogenic potential. The tannin-tinged backwater makes for a stunning backdrop of iconic fall portraits. Aside from just aesthetics, hikers can enjoy the state park’s 9-miles of trails while paddlers can explore Merchants Millpond from the water. For a longer getaway, the park also offers family-style campgrounds, backcountry tent sites, and even a few rustic paddle-in campsites.

7. Uwharrie National Forest

Uwharrie National Forest features some of the oldest mountains on the continent.
Uwharrie National Forest features some of the oldest mountains on the continent.
emily accipiter stewart

A little more than an hour’s drive from Charlotte and Greensboro, the Uwharrie National Forest harbors seemingly untouched backcountry and some of the oldest mountains on the continent. The 51-acre national forest is also traversed by nearly 70 miles of trails, including two extensive routes perfect for color-loaded fall backpacking trips: the 10-mile Dutchman’s Creek and 20-mile Uwharrie Trail. Beyond the potential for backcountry forays, the national forest also boasts a bounty of scenic lakeside campsites at the Badin Lake Campground.

8. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is filled with birds and other wildlife to see, including black bears and a small population of red wolves.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is filled with birds and other wildlife to see, including black bears and a small population of red wolves.
USFWS SE Region

Fall is still prime paddling season along North Carolina’s coast and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has an abundance of options to suit any skill level. Fringed by the Alligator River and the Albemarle, Croatan, and Pamlico sounds, this wildlife refuge includes more than 15 miles of well-marked paddling trails plus plenty of terrestrial trails and bike-able public access roads. The mammoth refuge is also one of the state’s most unique wildlife areas. This sanctuary harbors more than 200 different birds, a booming black bear population, and most notably, a small population of endangered red wolves, reintroduced from captivity in the late 1980s.

9. Three Top Mountain Game Land

A hike at Three Top Mountain can take you to elevations 4,800 feet above sea level.
A hike at Three Top Mountain can take you to elevations 4,800 feet above sea level.
James Lautzenheiser

Managed by the Nature Conservancy, Three Top Mountain in the North Carolina High Country is still off the radar of many weekend warriors. Named for the three distinctive rock outcroppings dominating the protected area, Three Top Mountain is loaded with seasonal color, in large part, due to the preserve’s unique geological composition. This includes amphibolite bedrock, rarely found in regional ecosystems. The 2,308-acre preserve’s high country hiking trails still feel undiscovered and include gritty climbs to elevations of 4,800 feet above sea level.

10. Goose Creek State Park

Explore the coastal ecosystems at Goose Creek State Park.
Explore the coastal ecosystems at Goose Creek State Park.
bobistraveling

Nestled along the confluence of Goose Creek and the Pamlico River, Goose Creek State Park showcases a stunning array of coastal ecosystems, from cypress swamps to mixed hardwood forests. The park is also loaded with recreational opportunities including 8 miles of hiking trails and an abundance of recreational paddling on both Goose Creek and the Pamlico River. For a starry night away from the urban grind, pitch a tent in the park’s pine shaded campsites.

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Featured image provided by David Siu

10 Reasons to Wake Before Dawn in WNC

Dawn patrol is the practice of heading out before sunrise and beginning the day with a paddle, run, ski, hike, or whatever form of outdoor adventure you most crave. Crawling out of bed into the cold and making your way to the trailhead in darkness requires deep motivation, commitment and prior planning — but the payoff is enormous. Soet the alarm, ready your things the night before, and see for yourself how dawn patrol sets the stage for a fulfilling and invigorating lifestyle. Here are ten reasons for Asheville explorers to head for the hills before daybreak.

1. You Don’t Have to Travel Far

One of Asheville’s greatest assets is its proximity to the wilderness. Your morning mission could take you as far away as Cataloochee Ski Area or as nearby as Richmond Hill Park. Ease yourself into the realm of dawn patrol with a sunrise run on a greenway, work your way up to a trail run at Bent Creek, or take an illuminated ride at Pisgah. When the Blue Ridge Parkway is shut down in the winter, it creates a beautiful track of clean snow (469 miles long) for hiking and cross-country skiing. Whatever gets your heart beating and fills your lungs with fresh air makes a suitable morning conquest.

2. Achieve the Coveted Work/Life Balance

Asheville sparkles in predawn light.
Asheville sparkles in predawn light.
Pulaw

Achieving a healthy work/life balance is very possible in a small city such as Asheville. When your life is partly defined by outdoor adventure, however, the limited daylight of winter does present a challenge. Practice alarm clock discipline, arm yourself with warm layers and a headlamp, and fearlessly face the pre-dawn darkness to infuse each day with outdoor endeavors before you even clock in.

3. Appreciate the Comforts of the Office

There’s nothing like coming in from the cold to help you appreciate everyday luxuries so often taken for granted. Those first few lungfuls of frigid mountain air might feel harsh, but dawn patrol will help you revel in the comforts of office life as you never have before: placid temperatures, hot water, your lumbar-supporting office chair. Even that brown bag lunch you brought from home will be a source of gleeful anticipation to your stoked appetite.

4. Catch a Blue Ridge Sunrise

The sun rises over Graveyard Fields, a popular hiking destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The sun rises over Graveyard Fields, a popular hiking destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Jenn Deane

Greeting the dawn is one of the healthiest rituals you can incorporate into your life, and the ethereal Blue Ridge Mountain range puts on a truly spectacular sunrise. Catch the show from Mt. Mitchell State Park, Sam’s Knob, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or any place where you can glimpse those first rays. The tranquility, awe, and invigoration you experience will fuel you straight through your 9 to 5.

5. Shoot Stunning Photos

Perfecting the camera settings to catch those elusive moments of daybreak.
Perfecting the camera settings to catch those elusive moments of daybreak.
Matt Paish

Western North Carolina is photogenic. But Western North Carolina at sunrise is really, really photogenic. Dawn patrol can yield some breathtaking captures: silhouettes and sun rays, the delicate colors of dawn seeping through the forest or brightening the streets, and you (in a glorious selfie), looking burly and alive in the first light of day.

6. Stick to Your Exercise Plan

Experts agree that the most effective way to stick to a workout plan is to exercise first thing in the morning. So while you’re outside, being uplifted by nature and extolling in the many virtues of dawn patrol, you’re turning this healthy practice into part of your daily routine and upping the chances of meeting your fitness goals.

7. Avoid a Congested Commute

Don’t hit that snooze button: the earlier you’re up and at ’em, the emptier the roads. Asheville’s growing traffic issues are never as apparent as they are during peak commuting hours. By heading into the mountains before dawn, not only will you skip the morning commute, you’ll also save yourself from battling post-work traffic as you try to make it to Bent Creek before nightfall.

8. Coffee in the Mountains…

Coffee in the mountains sure beats the drive-through line at Starbucks.
Coffee in the mountains sure beats the drive-through line at Starbucks.
Martin Cathrae

Coffee tastes better on the side of a mountain or sipped from a thermos as you stroll alongside the French Broad river. That pleasant caffeinated buzz hits you harder when mixed with fresh air and exercise endorphins. Simply put, dawn patrol coffee is one of life’s most amazing offerings. Enjoy it as often as possible.

9. …Espresso in the City

Enjoy your second round of coffee at one of Asheville's many cafes.
Enjoy your second round of coffee at one of Asheville’s many cafes.
Unsplash

You’re back in town and ready to start the work day….but not until you’ve finished a second cup, this one purveyed at one of Asheville’s many coffee shops.  Treat yourself to an espresso and a glazed twist; after all, it’s 9 a.m. and you’ve already earned it.

10. The Breakfast Beer

Once in a while, your morning conquest might just turn into a ”mental health“ day.
Once in a while, your morning conquest might just turn into a ”mental health“ day.
Jay Johnson

If your morning conquest somehow turns into a full blown snow day, this is the perfect time to try out a “breakfast brew.”

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Featured image provided by Caleb Morris