Ivestor Gap Trail to Little East Fork Trail, Shining Rock Wilderness

When the Blue Ridge Parkway reopens each year in early spring, it is great to get back into the high country at milepost 420. That means the Black Balsam area and Shining Rock Wilderness. An oft overlooked trail on the west side of the wilderness is Little East Fork, a twisty path that follows the Little East Fork of the Pigeon River from Shining Rock Gap to the Daniel...

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The Pinnacle Trail at Pinnacle Park, Nantahala National Forest

Pinnacle Park is an 1,100 acre tract of land owned by the town of Sylva in Jackson County, NC that was previously used as the community watershed. In 1991 it was leased to the Pinnacle Park Foundation for developing hiking trails that pass by streams, waterfalls, and beautiful long distance vistas. The Pinnacle, where the park got its name, is a large rocky outcropping...

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Cataloochee Divide Trail to Hemphill Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cataloochee Divide Trail follows the eastern national park boundary for 6.4 miles from Cove Creek Gap to a junction with Hemphill Bald Trail. It is then another half-mile climb to the 5,520′ summit of Hemphill Bald. We shaved 4+ miles off the round trip by starting at Purchase Knob rather than Cove Creek Gap. You will pass fabulous views to the east and south...

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Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Purchase Knob is found on the far eastern flank of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Cataloochee Divide, north of Maggie Valley, NC. Near the summit and located at 4,850 feet, the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center is part of a network of what will be 32 centers supporting research and education about science in our national parks. The Purchase Knob...

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East Fork Trail to Devils Causeway, Flat Tops Wilderness

Acrophobia? Then you may want to stay home for this one, or at least don’t go all the way. That was my choice when my life-long fear of heights (that I thought I had conquered) kicked in. Devils Causeway, the destination for this hike on East Fork Trail in Flat Tops Wilderness, is an extremely narrow backbone atop a rocky ridge named the Chinese Wall that drops...

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Bowman’s Shortcut Trail, White River National Forest

Bowman’s Shortcut is an easy-to-get-to trail that tops a ridge that enables views of three different mountain ranges — Sawatch, Gore, and Tenmile. You’ll start out climbing through a pine forest with occasional glimpses of the distant peaks through the trees, then reach the bald ridge and the magnificent views of some of Colorado’s highest...

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Island in the Sky Trails, Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands preserves a wilderness of rock at the heart of the Colorado Plateau in Southeastern Utah. Water and gravity, this land’s prime architects, cut flat layers of sedimentary rock into hundreds of canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires. At center stage are two canyons carved by the Green and Colorado rivers. Island in the Sky stands more than two...

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High Windy Trail, YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly

Nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly is a full-service conference center situated on 1,200 acres of woodland beautified by mountain streams, wildflowers, ridges, valleys and spectacular views. What is little known about the property is the extensive hiking trail system. Primary among these is the High...

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Big Glassy Mountain Trail, Carl Sandburg’s Connemara

Carl Sandburg’s wife Lilian discovered the mountain farm named Connemara in the community of Flat Rock, south of Asheville, NC. From 1945, until his death in 1967, the famous American poet, biographer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author lived and worked on the 264-acre estate. The family then sold the property and donated the contents to the National Park Service...

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Forney Creek Cascade and Andrews Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Most people who head out Clingmans Dome Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are there to climb the half mile to the summit of the 2nd highest mountain in the East. But here at Meanderthals, we aren’t most people. Below Clingmans Dome are trails that explore the ridges and drainage on the south face. Included among those are Forney Creek Cascade, a classic...

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Big Bald Mountain on Appalachian Trail, Cherokee National Forest

Northeast of Mars Hill, NC, the Big Bald Range straddles the Tennesssee/North Carolina border and marks the boundary between Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. The Appalachian Trail (AT) follows the state line, as it does for nearly all its length between these two states. The destination for this hike is 5,516 foot Big Bald Mountain, another of the grassy balds that...

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Appalachian Trail from Beauty Spot to Unaka Mountain, Tennessee

High above the community of Erwin, Tennessee, the Appalachian Trail follows the North Carolina / Tennessee state line through the Unaka Range. From a grassy bald ridge with the appropriate name Beauty Spot, to the summit of 5,184′ Unaka Mountain, the trail winds northeasterly for a 4-mile section through a continuously changing ecology. Stand on the bald with...

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Appalachian Trail on Grassy Ridge, Roan Highlands

Located along the North Carolina/Tennessee state line, and where Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests merge, Grassy Ridge in the Roan Highlands is the longest stretch of grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian Trail navigates this stunning ridge, hopping from Carvers Gap to Round Bald to Jane Bald, and on to the 6,169 foot Grassy Ridge Bald. The...

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Appalachian Trail to Max Patch and Buckeye Ridge

Standing guard along the state line, Max Patch Mountain is a grassy bald with fabulous panoramic views of the surrounding North Carolina and Tennessee Great Smoky Mountains. Oh, and by the way, the celebrated Appalachian Trail crosses its 4,629 foot summit. So far as Southern Appalachian summits go, this one is moderately short and easy, but you can make a day of it by...

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Appalachian Trail to Charlies Bunion, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Appalachian Trail straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina state line in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for more than 70 miles. A particularly scenic day hike on the AT is the four mile stretch from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion, a remote and rugged outcropping that sits on the ridge between the states. Along this sharp ridge you will pass magnificent views of...

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Funneltop Mountain and Squirrel Gap to South Mills River, Pisgah National Forest

Southeast of the Cradle of Forestry National Historical Site is a remote area of Pisgah National Forest with trails that will take you along ridge lines with views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Looking Glass Rock, then follow creeks and streams as they tumble down the mountains to the western end of South Mills River. You will encounter names like Squirrel Gap, Glady...

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Cat Gap Loop to Cedar Rock, Pisgah National Forest

Cedar Rock is one of several granite pluton monoliths found in the Davidson River area of Pisgah National Forest. More difficult to get to than its nearby brethren, Looking Glass and John Rock, Cedar Rock has outstanding long distance views from both the east and west sides of its summit. You will have to work to get there, climbing nearly 1,700 feet from the valley...

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Rough Creek Watershed, Haywood County, North Carolina

The Rough Creek Watershed is 870 acres of protected mountain land north of Canton, North Carolina, in Haywood County. This is privately held land, so there are rules for hikers and mountain bikers, but it is open to the general public. The trail system is more than 10 miles, and incorporates historical road beds with well maintained single tracks for foot and bike...

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Mountains to Sea Trail Over Green Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway

Quite frequently in winter, the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed for snow and ice. Not great fun for those who wish to drive along the beautiful ridges. Ah — but it’s the perfect time for hikers to get out on the trails that parallel the Parkway — like the Mountains to Sea. Between Pigeon Gap and Bennett Gap at miles 412-414 the Mountains to Sea Trail...

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Ivestor Gap Trail and Fork Mountain Trail to Birdstand Mountain, Pisgah National Forest

The Black Balsam area of Pisgah National Forest is surrounded by Middle Prong Wilderness on the west, and Shining Rock Wilderness on the east. Some of the best hiking found in Western North Carolina lies in this high country just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the end of Black Balsam Road at milepost 420 on the Parkway, the Ivestor Gap Trail will take you deep into...

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Mountains to Sea Trail to Green Mountain Trail, Middle Prong Wilderness

Between mileposts 423 and 424 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Scenic Hwy 215 crosses at Beech Gap. If you head about 1/4 mile north on 215, the famous Mountains to Sea Trail crosses from the Black Balsam area into Middle Prong Wilderness. The MtS winds through an ever-changing forest that runs the gamut of evergreens found in the high country of Western North Carolina. Past...

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Cascade Falls, Little Bearwallow Falls, and Bearwallow Mountain, Hickory Nut Gorge

Hickory Nut Gorge runs from Bearwallow Mountain in the northwest to Lake Lure southeast. Included in its 10-mile length are majestic cliffs of granite, inspiring waterfalls and scenic wilderness that beckons to the explorer in you. Chimney Rock State Park, Florence Nature Preserve and Rumbling Bald all offer excellent hiking within the gorge. Up in the northwest corner...

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Pilot Rock Trail, Pisgah National Forest

Pilot Rock is another of the granite plutons found in the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. Not as spectacular as it’s more famous cousin, Looking Glass Rock, Pilot still offers remarkable views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and national forest, including the Cradle of Forestry National Historical Site. It’s a short mile climb of almost 700 feet...

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Cat Gap Trail to John Rock, Pisgah National Forest

The always popular Cat Gap Loop Trail is a jumping off point for many great hikes within the Davidson River area of Pisgah National Forest. Included among them is the picturesque John Rock, one of the area’s plutons that stand over the recreation area. With views of the Fish Hatchery, Looking Glass Rock, Pilot Mountain and the ridges that run to Graveyard Fields,...

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Mt. Pisgah, Pisgah National Forest and Blue Ridge Parkway

Named after the Biblical mount where Moses first saw the Promised Land, Mt. Pisgah is the landmark that gave Pisgah National Forest its name. Located on the border of Buncombe and Haywood counties in NC, close to the point where Transylvania and Henderson meet them, the mountain is easily accessible via a hiking trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mt. Pisgah is topped...

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Mt. Sterling Trail and Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Crowning the Mount Sterling Ridge, 5842 foot Mount Sterling is another of the tall peaks that give the Great Smoky Mountains their character. Located in the far eastern area of the national park in North Carolina, the 7-mile Mount Sterling Ridge rims the scenic Cataloochee Valley to the southeast. There are trails to the summit of Mount Sterling from every direction, but...

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Art Loeb Trail to Grassy Cove Top, Shining Rock Wilderness

Milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway is where you will find Black Balsam Road. It’s a short drive to a spruce forest where the Art Loeb Trail crosses the road and heads up onto the balds. This is North Carolina high country. There are several mountains greater than 6000 feet with treeless summits, affording spectacular 360° views of the surrounding Blue...

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Art Loeb Trail to Pilot Mountain, Pisgah National Forest

Pilot Mountain stands 5084 feet above the western edge of Pisgah National Forest, near the Blue Ridge Parkway and Looking Glass Rock. There are three ways to get to its summit, but the one I enjoy most is the section of the Art Loeb Trail from Gloucester Gap along Forest Road 475. It isn’t particularly long, but it is quite strenuous. You will get your exercise...

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