While subzero temperatures and dwindling daylight can really put a damper on our motivation to hit the trail, the Blue Ridge Mountains are never quite as dramatic and ethereal as they are in the depths of winter. Familiar trails are transformed as bare trees unlock long-range views, the balds sparkle under a thick feathering of frost, and visitors are few and far between. But perhaps the most powerful offering of the winter landscape are the waterfalls: sheaths of ice, rainbows suspended in frozen mist, the cascade slowed or suspended entirely. See for yourself at these four waterfalls in the North Carolina mountains to explore this winter. (Check out Frugal Backpacker’s Winter Hiking Basics.)

1. Trashcan Falls

Waterfalls in Asheville, Trashcan falls
Trashcan Falls is more beautiful than the name may suggest.
Justin Fincher

No WNC outdoor enthusiast should let a winter pass them by without spending a weekend in the High Country. Between skiing, cold-weather bouldering, and endless miles of pristine hiking trails, there is no shortage of frozen adventure to be found just two hours north of Asheville. Boone’s old fashioned downtown has enough pubs, college eateries, and cozy cafes to keep you warm and dry after a day out in the snow.

Located on Laurel Creek, a tributary of the Watauga River, Trashcan Falls is a beautiful place to explore. Don’t be put off by its mysterious name — this 15 foot cascade is perfectly pristine. Just a quick dash down a wooded trail from the parking area, this waterfall is quickly and easily accessible. Allow yourself plenty of daylight to explore because the falls and the gorge downstream are irresistibly wild and alluring in the winter. Ice swirls in the eddies, flowers in patterns on the boulders, and chokes the current where the creek narrows. Winter offers a striking new perspective on this pocket of wilderness that is often crowded with swimmers and sunbathers during the summer.

2. Looking Glass Falls

Waterfalls in Asheville, Looking Glass Falls.
Looking Glass Falls in winter is a dazzling landscape.
Sarah Zucca

Looking Glass Rock, the pluton dome that rises from within Pisgah National Forest to an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet, got its name because of the way sunshine reflects off its shining granite face. In the wintertime, this “looking-glass effect” is sharply enhanced as a sheen of ice coats the sides of the rock. A visit to Looking Glass as it lies sparkling under the winter sun should be on the top of every hiker’s cold-weather bucket list.

One of the few roadside waterfalls in the Blue Ridge, the 60-foot Looking Glass Falls can gather some crowds during the summer months. In the winter, however, you’ll most likely be exploring the cascade alone. The ice formations that bloom alongside the veil and the rugged landscape of whipped, frozen whitewater that lays just downstream is a spectacular site. The sounds of falling water and cracking ice ring throughout the still, bare forest.

If you’re looking to make a day of exploring the marvelous ice formations around Looking Glass, nearby waterfalls nearby include Daniel Ridge Falls, Cove Creek Falls and Sliding Rock, just to name a few.

3. Crabtree Falls

Icicle collects in a curtain beneath Crabtree Falls, one of Asheville's waterfalls.
Icicle collects in a curtain beneath Crabtree Falls.

Thick with wildflowers in the spring and blazing with color in the fall, Crabtree Falls is a lovely site in any season. The diamond clear water of Big Crabtree Creek sifts 70 feet down mottled black rock, creating a gauzy veil as thin and fine as white lace. When the temperature dips below zero, ice glazes the edges of the rock and daggers of icicles cling to every surface in the dark emerald pool below. With the striking atmosphere of a leafless hardwood forest and the quiet solitude of the freezing mountains, this waterfall may be most enchanting in the winter. Just 45 minutes outside of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this moderate 3.5-mile (roundtrip) hike is the perfect remedy for a case of cabin fever.

4. Dry Falls

Waterfalls around Asheville, Dry Falls.
Ice feathers the rocks at Dry Falls.

Just about 80 miles outside of Asheville, the vast wilderness of Jackson County, North Carolina, makes for an epic winter day trip. The rivers become a maze of ice and rock with the current coursing beneath the surface, and the steep, cliff-studded hillsides are bright and quiet after a snowfall. Driving the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, which twists and turns past several waterfalls in Cullasaja Gorge, is a particularly dramatic experience in winter.

One of the most famous sites in the region, 75-foot Dry Falls, can be viewed from the byway. In the summer, it’s possible to explore behind the veil without a single drop of water landing on you. This becomes a decidedly dicier mission during the winter months, as that space is slick with frozen spray and decorated with icicles that could break off at any moment. Still, it’s worth descending the staircase that leads from the viewing platform and examining the walls of ice and frost formations up close.


Featured image provided by Justin Fincher

Among the many perks of winter hiking (fewer people, the sweet silence that a blanket of fresh snow brings to the mountains, the diamond sparkle of frost on the grass), none can compare to the bright taste of a well earned hot toddy, the rich indulgence of a hot buttered rum, or that first sip of a toasty winter ale. There’s simply no time to hibernate when there are so many trails to explore and so many cozy pubs to hole up in afterwards. Cheers to these four Western North Carolina mountain hikes, perfectly paired with a libation!

1. Devil’s Courthouse & Hot Buttered Rum

Windblown and snow-covered trees from the Devil's Courthouse.
Windblown and snow-covered trees from the Devil’s Courthouse.
Alex Ford

Sometimes, the winter days of frost and weak sunlight demand an indulgent activity with little effort involved. For some, this might mean ducking under the covers for a movie marathon, but for outdoor enthusiasts whose sanity depends on escaping to the wilderness regardless of the plunging temperatures, the hike to Devil’s Courthouse fits the bill. The trail to the top of this somewhat sinister rock outcrop is only half a mile long, but the views from the top are simply decadent. North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee are all visible from the 5,719-foot summit, which is as steeped in folklore as it is in raw beauty.

Such a quick and rewarding adventure should be followed by an equally satisfying cocktail. Cover a pat of soft butter with brown and powdered sugar, tempered with the earthy-sweet flavors of freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Spiced rum and a float of homemade vanilla ice cream round out this rich winter favorite.

2.  John Rock Loop & Salted Caramel Hot Toddy

A hot toddy is the ultimate cold weather cocktail.
A hot toddy is the ultimate cold weather cocktail.
Timothy Krause

John Rock Loop is a WNC classic that concludes with sensational views of the sprawling Pisgah Wilderness, Looking Glass Rock, and the Southern Appalachians fading into a blue haze on the horizon. At the beginning of the hike, set your sites on the rock face in the distance, as you’ll eventually be standing on its summit. A rugged 5.5-mile loop trail will lead you through a forest of tulip trees, white pines, and hemlock, past a small waterfall sheathed in sparkling ice and (eventually) the exposed brow of John Rock.

In the evening, seek out the Salted Caramel Hot Toddy, made with caramel moonshine, fresh lemon juice, and black lava salt. This classic winter cocktail (and cold remedy, they say) pairs remarkably well with the traditional distilled spirits of the Appalachian Mountains. And after your strenuous cliffside excursion, you’re entitled to a little extra sweetness!

3. Chimney Tops & Highland’s Black Mocha Stout

Approaching the rocky summit of Chimney Tops.
Approaching the rocky summit of Chimney Tops.
Shannon McGee

Reaching the rugged, dual-pronged summit of Chimney Tops, one of the few bare rock summits in the Smokies, is not for the faint of heart. This adventure is perfectly suited for anyone looking to spike their winter weekend with a healthy dose of adrenaline.

The trail begins with a series of freshly constructed bridges that crisscross over the cascading waters of  Walker Camp Prong, before jutting upward for a steep and sustained climb to the ridge line. The journey is relatively short, but it packs a punch: in two miles, you’ll ascend 1,700 feet over an elaborate network of stone and log steps until you reach the even terrain and rewarding views of the ridgeline. The final leg of the hike is a highly exposed scramble to the top of the chimney, a nearly technical section of rock that is reminiscent of Colorado’s fourteeners.

Once you’ve returned to solid ground, treat yourself to a local beer that is just as bold and daring as the summit you so recently stood upon. Highland Brewing Company’s Kinsman Black Mocha Stout is part of their innovative Kinsman Project, where seasonal brews are infused with fresh and local ingredients. This warming winter ale is flavored with cacao nibs, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and chipotle peppers for a finished product that is chocolatey-smooth with a kicky finish.

4. Biltmore Trails & Spiked Hot Chocolate

Sunset in the Biltmore forest.
Sunset in the Biltmore forest.
Jonathan Goforth

Biltmore’s exquisite blend of open space and luxe amenities is especially festive when it’s decked out for the holidays. But even when the lights and trimmings are through for the season, 8,000 acres of meadows, forests, and gardens remain a lovely landscape throughout the winter, stark and dramatic or polished with snow. Although the micro-villages within the estate’s boundaries are always a hive of activity, there is solitude to be claimed along the 22 miles of hiking trails, particularly on the Deer Pond Trail and at the Lagoon.

Late afternoon is a lovely time to explore Biltmore, which is located so close to Downtown Asheville that you’ll never have to face a long drive home or navigate a tricky descent in darkness. Experience the peace and serenity of a winter twilight alongside the French Broad River or stroll through the walled gardens as the sky deepens with the colors of sunset.

When you’re ready to warm up, duck into the Biltmore Inn for a Pillow Mint, a decadent hot chocolate triple-spiked with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, Bailey’s, and crème de menthe and topped with a pillow of whipped cream. As you sip your minted coco next to the roaring fireplace, descending into a state of sublime relaxation, you may find yourself wishing that winter never ends.


Featured image provided by Alexandre Normand

Although it feels like we were jumping into swimming holes and running through green mountain trails yesterday, the trees are bare, the earth is hard with frost, and the holidays are upon us.

Although our gratitude is never limited to one season, those of us lucky enough to live in Western North Carolina — encompassed by the beauty of the Blue Ridge — should take this time as an opportunity to slow down and appreciate all that we have at our fingertips. Here are six wild and adventurous reasons to be thankful that we live in the North Carolina mountains.

1. The Highest Highs

Sunrise at Mt. Mitchell.
Sunrise at Mt. Mitchell.
Kolin Toney

So we’re all aware that we live just 19 miles northeast of Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. But how often do we stop to consider how truly awesome it is to be able to stand on the observation deck, 6,684 feet above sea level, and bask in the assurance that everyone on the East Coast is below us? How surreal it is that we can sit and enjoy a picnic atop the very throne of eastern North America? Then we ride back into town for coffee, catch a movie, or continue with our backpacking trip on the Mountains to Sea Trail — knowing that for one moment we stood hundreds of feet above everything and everyone, even those in the highest skyscrapers in New York City.

Mt. Mitchell was one of America’s very first state parks and it remains one of the most spectacular. It casually encompasses Mt. Craig, the second highest peak on the East Coast, and several other peaks that reach over 6,000 feet. The trail options range from short summit jaunts to challenging ridgeline treks to drive by vistas and the views are sensational.

2. The Lowest Lows

If on Saturday you stood atop the highest point on the East Coast, then why not round out the weekend by spending Sunday exploring the lowest?  Linville Gorge, the deepest canyon in the east, is an adventurer’s paradise. Linville Gorge Wilderness is the third largest swath of wilderness in North Carolina and boasts 11,786 acres of hiking, top-roping, multi-pitches, bouldering, backpacking, backcountry camping, swimming holes, extremely difficult whitewater, and phenomenal views.

Catch a sunset at Wiseman’s View, one of the most breathtaking vistas in the Southeast. Be home in time to make dinner and watch a little Netflix before bed. That’s just a typical day for the Ashevillian. If you need just one reason to feel thankful this season, let it be the Linville Gorge — the “Grand Canyon of the East” — just over an hour away.

3. You Never Have to Leave

A winter ride through Richmond Hill City Park.
A winter ride through Richmond Hill City Park.
Melina Coogan

Those of us who live in the mountains of Western North Carolina never need to know the agony of the glacial, day-by-day countdown toward that one coveted vacation each year, nor the bleak return to work after your one week of freedom has passed. There are swimming holes in the summer. Foliage in the autumn. Skiing (and paddling and bouldering) in the winter. Hiking in the spring. Asheville is a year-round vacation destination for those inclined toward joyful pursuits in the wilderness.

We have our share of dreary February days, but there’s never a shortage of adventure. Why plan a pricey tropical trip when the rivers are pumping, the mountains are sparkling in white, and the cold holds at Rumbling Bald are grippy as ever? And if you do find yourself in need of a weekend away, just burrow away in a farm cabin or country cottage for a few nights.

4. Variety

If variety is the spice of life, then Asheville has a five-star rating. We can barely keep track of all our ranks, ratings, and raves. Singletrack says Asheville is “a beer town with a mountain bike problem.” Outside voted us one of America’s Best River Towns. We’re also included in Yoga Journal‘s Top 10 Most Yoga Friendly Cities in the Country. Diamond Brand Outdoor is frequently ranked among the top outdoor stores in the country.

Start your day with a brisk trail run through Bent Creek, sneak in a little afternoon SUP on your lunch break, and hit the nearby boulders for a post-work session. As for weekends, the broad range of adventurous opportunities can be overwhelming — whether you’re hoping for a relaxing float, a casual hiking loop, the white-knuckled gory glory of intense mountain biking, or the off-the-charts pucker factor whitewater.

This season, every time you see a Subaru Outback loaded down with a boat and a mountain bike, the trunk overflowing with ropes and harnesses, take a moment to be grateful that as adventure loving “multi-potentialites” in WNC, we can have it all.

5. Our Commute is in a National Park

The Blue Ridge Parkway in Autumn.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Autumn.
Brian Leon

There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being trapped in traffic on the way out to the mountains. The irony of being stuck in gridlock when you’re trying to get off the grid is enough to make some city dwellers forgo their weekend plans all together. Asheville is the biggest city in Western North Carolina and, sure, we see a bit of stop-and-go at rush hour. But we never have to wallow in traffic too long. In fact, many of our favorite outdoor destinations are found alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest national park. Orbitz Travel ranked taking a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway as number one on their list of Seven Things You Absolutely Must Try in a National Park. No big deal, that’s just our daily commute.

6. Romance

It doesn't get more romantic than Black Balsam Knob.
It doesn’t get more romantic than Black Balsam Knob.
Melina Coogan

Can we all take a moment and be grateful of how completely effortless it is to find wild and adventurous romance in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Nothing is more beautiful than watching the morning mist rise over the Shining Rock Wilderness or viewing the lights of the city from Elk Mountain. There’s no quarrel that can’t be cured by sharing a sunset somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway, no deal that can’t be sealed by a box of local chocolate truffles and a picnic at Max Patch. From active dates in the great outdoors to funky neighborhoods filled with weird neighbors, love is always in the air in WNC. Love and gratitude — the two essential ingredients to a life well-lived.


Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

Since 1964, Diamond Brand Outdoors has been known as the place to go for personal attention from friendly local outdoor experts. We’re extremely proud of this heritage, and are excited to announce that we’re expanding our signature customer experience by offering Personal Outfitting Sessions.

Personal Outfitting Sessions give you the opportunity to come in before, during, or after business hours for one on one attention from one of our top experts. They’ll share advice and curate a selection of gear and apparel perfect for you. Plus, these sessions are absolutely free, with no minimum purchase. We think that Personal Outfitting is for everyone! Here are four of the reasons why you should give it a try.

1. You’re Super Busy

Have a schedule that keeps you slammed during business hours? Imagine being able head to your favorite store before it even opens, getting personalized attention, and finishing your holiday shopping before your first meeting of the day. An Personal Outfitting appointment allows you to do just that! To speed up your shopping, we can even pre-select a few items tailored to your needs and budget.

2. You Want to Try Something New

Have you always wanted to get into backpacking, but you don’t know what you really need? Are you planning to travel to a new destination, but aren’t sure what you need? Would you like an intimidation-free place to ask questions and get expert advice? Our highly skilled Personal Outfitters can walk you through the basics and help you pick out gear and apparel that perfectly matches your needs, preferences, and budget.

3. Because Sometimes Shopping is Frustrating

Have you ever spent 30 minutes trying on pants only to walk out empty handed? Or worse, taken a new pair of shoes home only to discover that they weren’t comfortable after all? Weeding through different brands, fits, and features can be a complex and frustrating tasks. Our Personal Outfitters are fit experts who personally try out all of our apparel, footwear, and gear offerings. They can do the weeding for you and recommend brands + styles that will match your needs + personal style.

4. It Makes an Awesome Gift

Is there a special person on your list who loves the outdoor lifestyle? Combine a Diamond Brand Outdoors Gift Card + Personal Outfitting Session for the ultimate gift. They’ll get an unforgettable experience, selecting gear + apparel that they’ll use for years, plus the appointment is complimentary.

Last year, you helped us get over 200 coats to those in our community who need them most. This year, we’ve set a goal of 300 coats for Eblen Charities and you can score a discount for doing good.

November 12-December 24, you’ll receive 20% off an item for bringing in a gently used coat. (There’s a limit of one discount per person during the length of this promotion.) You can drop off a coat at either Diamond Brand location or Frugal Backpacker. You’ll only be able to use the discount on one item, but if you’d like to bring in multiple coats during the drive, that’s awesome! We’re also not allowed to discount certain items like gift cards.

Eblen Charities is a non-profit organization whose outreach extends throughout the counties of Western North Carolina and through its numerous programs has helped thousands upon thousand of families each year with medical and emergency assistance through more than 70 programs yearly throughout the region.


Nepali food is a dynamic mixture of cuisines from all over the world, as complex as the people who make up this wonderful and mysterious country. To better understand the food, we will first have to take a look at the people. Nepal is a landlocked central Himalayan country in South Asia with an approximate population of 26.7 million people. Nepal is bordered by India on three sides and China to the north. The citizens of Nepal are known as Nepali or Nepalese. Generally speaking, Nepalis do not equate their nationality with ethnicity, but with citizenship and allegiance.

Ordering Thali is a great way to try several curries, spices and flavors on one plate.

One of the most famous Nepali dishes is the Momo. From the Chinese pot sticker, to the Japanese gyoza and Taiwanese soup dumpling, it seems each Asian country has their version of this tasty and popular snack. It can be made with a wide variety of different fillings. Meats commonly used are pork, chicken, goat and even water buffalo. As with most dished in Nepal, a vegetarian options is almost always available and is generally made from chopped vegetables. Momos can be steamed or fried and are served with a dipping sauce, which is usually tomato based and a little spicy. You’ll find these tasty treats in the homes of the Nepali people, and at just about every restaurant you come by.

Nepalese traditional dumpling momos served with tomato chatni and fresh salad in restaurant

Another popular meal in Nepal is called Thali. However, Thali by name simply means plate. Thali is an Indian style meal made up of several dishes served on a platter, many times this is on a beautiful brass platter. Nepalese Thali can consist of Dal (a soup made of lentils and spices), rice, pickles – the variety of Nepali pickles is said to be in the thousands, and a curry (can be mutton, chicken or vegetable and is much lighter than it’s Indian counterpart). The traditional way of eating Thali is with your hand (right hand only, please!). Many restaurants serve their own variation of Thali – generally with a vegetarian and meat option.

Nepali food is surprisingly lighter than the food of its neighbor, India, but retains all of the flavor. Gone are the heavy cream sauces and most dairy in general. The robust spices and fiery chilis remain. Nepali food is an instant favorite for those looking for a fun change of pace.


The Asheville Outdoor Show makes its annual appearance on September 17 from noon to 4:00 p.m. at Salvage Station. Since we’re at a new spot, we figured you might have some questions. We’ve got answers.


Salvage Station is located at 466 Riverside Drive in Asheville’s River Arts District, in between Downtown and West Asheville.


There is limited parking at Salvage Station. PLEASE plan to carpool, bike, walk, or take an Uber or Lyft.

Who To Expect

We’ve invited a mix of local gear makers, national innovators, and nonprofit organizations. Check out the full list!

Family Friendly

Bring the kids to the KEEN Family Adventure Zone for face painting, sidewalk chalk, and Camp Cedar Cliff‘s AH-MAZIN’ Climbing Wall.

Giveaways + Raffle

The first 1,000 folks through the door will receive exclusive discounts at Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker including a $10 gear card to each store! Other booths will have stickers, keychains, and other fine schwag to collect. Everyone will have a shot at winning a handsome reward in the form of our raffle packages.


Stop by the Asheville Trails and Trailful tents for your shot at taking the top spot in a contest to pack a backpack the quickest. Marmot will also have contests that test your speed when it comes to pitching a tent and getting in and out of a sleeping bag.

Food and Drink

The venue has a full menu featuring eclectic Southern and Appalachian inspired choices and food trucks, as well as a full bar. Outside food and drink is not allowed.


Local legends The Blue Dragons will be bringing positive vibes to the Osprey Outdoor Stage throughout the day.


prAna is hosting 20-minute riverside yoga sessions at 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30. Just bring your own mat!


From Salvage Station’s website: “Service animals only. We have a large number of natural wildlife animals around our site that we are trying to be respectful of in the coming years. Also, we plan to have several high volume events that would not be conducive to having large groups of animals here. We apologize for the inconvenience in advance.”



Famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the grounds at Biltmore with visitors in mind. Flowers, shrubbery, and trees were his brush strokes as he intended the landscape to resemble a “walk through painting.” If you are looking for an upscale adventure close to town come play on the meticulously manicured grounds of Biltmore.

What Makes It Great

Construction of George Vanderbilt’s 250-room French Renaissance chateau began in 1889. An entire community of craftsmen came together, over a six year period, to construct this architectural marvel. It is a well-known fact that Biltmore is the largest private residence ever constructed in the United States. It may however surprise you to learn that Biltmore hosts a variety of outdoor activities available to all guests and season pass holders.

The intricate beauty of Biltmore grounds is something that is best enjoyed “one step at a time.” Take a stroll through the meadows at Deer Park, amongst the estate’s noble forests, or along the placid French Broad River on Biltmore’s 22 miles of hiking trails. If you find yourself visiting in the warmer months, explore the labyrinth of Garden Trails which lead you through a variety of gardens adorned with a worldly display of flora.

Who is Going to Love It

Biltmore has a variety of activities for anyone: hiking, biking, horse back riding, and a Land Rover Ride-Along.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Access to outdoor activities at Biltmore is limited to pass holders, plan your visit and get your passes here.

Here is a free tip; if you are visiting and want to make the most out of a one day pass, purchase your ticket after 3pm and it will grant you access to the grounds for the following day as well. If you live in the Asheville area, take the plunge, buy a season pass and have year-round access to the outdoor wonders of Biltmore!


Featured image provided by Doug Letterman

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.

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.


Originally written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Barry Peters


Bald is beautiful. Especially when referring to the grassy bald known as Black Balsam. A short ramble through a fragrant forest of Balsam Fir trees leads you to panoramic views atop the Great Balsam Mountains on this high country adventure. A picturesque drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway climbs from the fertile French Broad River Valley up into the highlands of the Pisgah National Forest for stunning 360 degree views. Ease of access, endless views and a short summit hike of less than a mile make this a mountain worth visiting.

What Makes It Great

Heading north along the Art Loeb,the trail meanders through a short stretch of evergreen forest before a dramatic panoramic vista and view of the summit suddenly appears. The beauty of the area and the high mountain experience will drench your senses from here on, as every step offers uninterrupted Appalachian views.

Follow the well-defined trail the rest of the way to the summit. Drink in the views and take your time on top; make sure to never rush a summit experience!

A camera is a must have for this hike! Black Balsam rises high above its surroundings and offers clear lines of sight for spectacular sunrise and sunset views. Consistent morning fog in the river valleys below creates the feeling of being on an island in the sky and blankets the foreground for spectacular photo-ops in the mornings.

The National Forest service requests visitors follow Leave No Trace principles to protect the fragile ecosystem atop Black Balsam. A wide variety of established campsites lie on the slopes and summit plateau of Black Balsam. Bring plenty of water since none will be available on the top and leave the place cleaner than it was when you arrived!


  1. Show up early, stay late and head out on a weekday to beat the crowds which can grow quite large on weekends.
  2. The Alpine summit of Black Balsam is one of the premier areas in the southeast for a moonlight ramble. Gather your headlamps, a group of friends and a light up Frisbee for some real fun in the dark.
  3. Early fall is peak season for wild blueberries atop the Great Balsams. You won’t find any on the summit itself but venture out to nearby areas where you can pick handfuls in stride.
  4. Get there early and pick a campsite sheltered from the wind; face your vestibule eastward and enjoy a gloriously warm sunrise and warm beverage from your sleeping bag.

Who is Going to Love It

Bring the family and friends along for this adventure. This trail is suitable for all ages and ability levels, and the bonds we make on a mountain live with us forever so bring your crew to share the experience.

Make your day even more memorable by bringing some quality food along to enjoy a scenic picnic on the summit. Don’t skimp on your menu items for this picnic; with the proximity of the trailhead, it’s easy to carry all the goods to the top.

Expect temperatures to be 10-15 degrees cooler than in Asheville. Weather conditions can change rapidly on top of a mountain; come prepared for cooler temperatures and varying weather conditions.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville, catch the Blue Ridge Parkway near the North Carolina Arboretum and head south for 25 miles.

The drive will wind up a beautiful mountain grade until the Parkway begins to parallel a towering ridgeline with expansive views of the Pisgah National Forest below. Just after mile marker 420 there will be a sign on your right for the Black Balsam area. Take a right on this road (816) and follow it upwards for nearly 1 mile until the road levels out amongst a stately grove of Evergreens. Park your vehicle here and look for the white blaze of the Art Loeb Trail (right hand side of road).Spring, summer, and fall are all wonderful times to visit the Great Balsams. Spring and summer provide the opportunity to see the blooms of native wildflowers and Mountain Laurel. Fall brings wild blueberries and even wilder color schemes to the surrounding landscape. Black Balsam is also beautiful in the winter but access can be difficult with the Blue Ridge Parkway closing frequently for snow and ice. Access in winter is possible via the Flat Laurel Creek trail off of road 215. Check road conditions on the parkway before you go.

Featured image provided by Abby Crahan


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