Sure, Thanksgiving is a time for family and reflection of our blessings, but it’s also a great time to to take a late fall hike and enjoy views through leafless trees, cool temperatures, and fewer fellow hikers. These are some of our favorite Western North Carolina hikes chosen for their friendly terrain and incredible payoff: nature’s beauty. We invite you to try any one of them (or all), and burn off a few of those holiday calorie indulgences while you gulp down the gorgeous scenery with good company.
Black Balsam Knob – An instant favorite for its panoramic views from Tennet Mountain and Black Balsam Knob along the Art Loeb Trail, this trail also has great blueberry picking just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (prime season mid-August).
The course is a 5.2 mile hike from the Black Balsam parking area at the end of Black Balsam Knob Road. It starts out along Investor Gap Trail, a former logging railroad bed, and skirts along the Shining Rock boundary. There you can skim about a mile off the distance by heading up the Art Loeb toward Tennet Mountain. The trail turns a little more technical here with deep ruts and roots– trekking poles can be really helpful. Cresting Tennet is the payoff: 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains on all sides as far as you can see.
You’ll take a short, but tricky trip down and back up to Black Balsam Knob where you get rewarded with another great view and can even see Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah National Forest. From there, following the Art Loeb Spur Trail provides canopy of rhododendron and mountain laurel back to your vehicle.
If you’re looking for something short and sweet, park at the dirt lot along the right side of Black Balsam Knob Road. From there, it’s about a mile hike up the Art Loeb Trail to Black Balsam Knob. Heading back in from there gives you all of the pleasure in just two miles of hiking.
Plan your trip: Black Balsam Knob Road is at mile marker 420 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parking area is 1.2 miles down the road, the turnout is about .6 miles. Bring water and a snack, and definitely a camera; your Facebook friends will thank you!
Dupont State Forest Four Falls – Worth the trip and every footfall of the hike, this trail shows off the beauty of dramatic mountain waterfalls near Brevard. The full loop is nine miles, but any out-and-back distance is rewarding. Within the first 1.5 miles of the loop, You’ll be treated to breathtaking views at Triple Falls and High Falls. Or just take the Hooker Falls out-and-back section for an easy 1.6 miles of hiking with a wide waterfall finish.
The full route includes a 3.6 out-and-back jaunt to Bridal Veil Falls, used for a stunning scene in the movie Last of the Mohicans. You’ll also have an opportunity to lounge by Lake Imaging for a break on your way back to Hooker Falls and your vehicle.
Finding the hike: From I-26, take Exit 40 and turn right onto NC 280 toward Brevard. After 16 miles, turn right onto US 64 for 3.7 miles to Crab Creek Road. Take another right and drive 3.7 miles to Dupont Road. Right again for 3.1 miles to the Hooker Falls trailhead and parking area on the right.
Mount Mitchell & Black Mountain Crest Trails – Just the drive up the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is worth a visit to Mount Mitchell. It’s the highest mountain east of the Mississipi offering spectacular views from the .2-mile paved path up to the summit from the parking area. Besides the gift shop and snack bar, Mount Mitchell has a lot more to offer.
There are several trails in the state park, however Black Mountain Crest Trail is an opportunity to see some of the most spectacular views in the state without someone else’s kid in your photo. The official circuit is a 10.5 mile balloon trekking up, over, and back down several 6,000 ft+ peaks on some pretty technical terrain. An out-and-back from Mount Mitchell over Mount Craig, and onto Big Tom Mountain offers the best of the course in a short 2.5 mile jaunt.
Continuing on a two-mile out and back to Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak and Potato Knob will carry you down to Deep Gap for the full-length distance; however, the inbound spur on Trail 191-A to the Buncombe Horse Range Trail is quite technical and treacherous without the good views. If you’re in for an adventure you won’t forget, go for it! Or just stick to the Black Mountain Crest Trail and catch those amazing views one more time.
Be prepared: While the short distances are enticing, they can be slow going. Bring plenty of fluids and snacks. Also, the temps can be 20 degrees lower than Asheville proper, and quite unpredictable. Bring a jacket and dress in layers. To get there, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north to mile marker 355. Look for signs for Mount Mitchell and turn left onto NC 128. For this hike you’ll want to continue on 3 miles to the Mount Mitchell Summit Parking Area.
Whatever way you plan to share you holiday, be well, and happy trails! Here is a sample of what you will see at Hooker Falls.