Category Archives: Blue Ridge Parkway

Crabtree Falls

Success at last! (If you’ve been reading the last few entries..) There is an actual waterfall picture with this waterfall.

Crabtree Falls is located on a 2 mile loop accessible from Crabtree Meadows on the Blue Ridge Parkway (near Spruce Pine). There was once a campground here but it has mysteriously disappeared from all Parkway literature and in fact you’ll cross through the overgrown remains of it (ghost campground!) on the hike.
First though, there’s an awesome bit of open pasture between the parking area and the campground which is full of milkweed (and thus butterflies) in midsummer.

Milkweed with butterflies
Milkweed with butterflies

After that you have several choices. The trail makes a loop with a couple access points to the campground loops. Going counter-clockwise to the falls is steep and rocky with a lot of steps and switchbacks, however, it’s also shorter. The clockwise route is more gentle and more scenic following several tributaries and then Crabtree Creek down to the falls.

Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls

These falls are easily visible from a bridge as well as access trails on both sides.

Barnett Knob

First a note of warning – this is not a very interesting hike. In fact it’s probably not even worth an entry. Barnett Knob is one of those lookout towers we’ve driven past on the BRP a dozen times and so we finally decided to hike up and check it out.

Barnett Knob

This is just a few miles from the southern terminus at Cherokee/Smoky Mountains NP. There’s a forest road up to the summit but not much of a view once you get there. Some nice wildflowers along the way is about the best we can say for this hike.

Indian Paintbrush

Fryingpan Tower

We’ve passed Fryingpan Mountain about 100 times without ever hiking up to the tower on top. It’s located just about a mile down the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Pisgah Inn.

Fryingpan Tower

The hike is a little less than a mile up a forest road, not particularly interesting in itself. The tower was closed for renovations when we went up there but the view is still impressive, especially during the peak of Autumn colors. The view below is looking south towards Pilot Mountain.

View from Fryingpan

Besides being an easier hike the view is much better than from Mt. Pisgah which is completely covered in large towers.

Middle Prong Wilderness

The Middle Prong Wilderness is the less-visited half of the Balsams. Shining Rock – just across 215 gets far more hikers. We’ve climbed Mt. Hardy in the past but from the other direction (Blue Ridge Parkway). This time we approached from NC 215.

MST in Middle Prong

 The Mountains-to-Sea Trail winds up to the ridge north of Mt. Hardy.   This is actually a fairly confusing area as the long trail to Green Knob and Sunburst branches off as well as several short trails to lookouts and campgrounds.   There are no blazes due to the status as a Wilderness Area so it’s pretty easy to get turned around.    The ridges towards Green Knob have spectacular views of the Balsam Mountains just to the east.

Glassmine Falls / Walker Knob

Glassmine Falls
Glassmine Falls

At 800 ft. high, Glassmine Falls is one of the highest in the Eastern US. It’s seasonal and this overlook off of the Blue Ridge Parkway is about the only vantage point. It drops into the Asheville watershed which is closed to all activity including hiking.

Painted Trilliums
Painted Trilliums

From the Glassmine overlook, the Mountains to Sea Trail runs north to the Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell.  This section crosses over Walker Knob (not to be confused with the Walker Knob above Montreat, which is probably visible from here).   In May there are a lot of wildflowers in this area including the painted trilliums above, and the fringed phacelia below.

Fringed Phacelia
Fringed Phacelia

Silvermine Bald

From the Black Balsam parking lot, it’s about a 5 to 6 mile loop along the Little Sam trail to Chestnut Bald and then back around to the Balsams on the MST and the Art Loeb Trail.

Berry Field
Berry Field

In early August, we were able to collect a bit more than a pint of wild blueberries. We could have almost any number of blackberries if we’d wanted as well but we have plenty of those in the meadow at home.

View towards Looking Glass Rock
View towards Looking Glass Rock

This is the view south from the saddle between Chestnut Bald and Silvermine Bald, neither of which are particularly bald these days. There are good views further along the Art Loeb Trail and also good open meadow campsites.

Gage Bald

This entry could be called Round Butt Bald because that’s the mountain we circled but since we didn’t summit it that seemed wrong.

Wet Camp Gap
Wet Camp Gap

From Bearpen Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway we took the connector trail to the Mountains-to-Sea trail and followed that to Wet Camp Gap. Wet Camp is a high open meadow filled with blueberries, blackberries and assorted wildflowers. There’s also a small pond in the center but it was mostly empty on our visit except for a couple remnant pools that were packed with tadpoles.

Summit of Gage Bald
Summit of Gage Bald

There’s an unofficial but easy-to-find trail leading southwest out of Wet Camp Gap. This eventually becomes a steep manway to the summit of Gage Bald where there are excellent views of the surrounding mountains. We had a bit of a picnic up here. By the way, these little sling chairs are incredibly light but they’re a bit tricky to set up and it’s definately a learned skill to get out of them with any modicum of grace.

Swallowtail and flame azalea
Swallowtail and flame azalea

Usually we expect to be scratched up after any sort of bushwhacking. We were after this hike but it wasn’t from Gage Bald, it was actually from the MST heading around Round Butt Bald back to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Haywood Gap. This section is narrow and treacherous, especially overgrown with blackberries and nettles. At the high point on this trail we considered hiking up to the summit of Round Butt Bald. The east approach to the top was pretty much a wall of blackberries and after donating some blood to them we abandoned the attempt and decided to try some other time in a less-summery season (like say, winter).

Green Knob

Green Knob is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway a little north of Mt. Mitchell State Park.

Green Knob Firetower
Green Knob Firetower

It’s a half mile hike from the parkway or it can be reached from the Black Mountain campground which is much longer and more arduous. There’s not much of a view on the way up but the tower is situated to give a spectacular view of the Black Mountains.Inside Green Knob Fire Tower

Inside Green Knob Fire Tower
Inside Green Knob Fire Tower

 The tower is open to hikers and slightly more comfortable than the rocks below it.    The top of the trail is overgrown in the summer and requires a bit of pushing through rhododendrons.  The view is also partially occluded in June, so it’s probably a better trip in early Spring or late Autumn.

Linville Falls

We took the scenic route back from Danville along the Blue Ridge Parkway.   Our intent had been to hike in the Linville area but it just kept raining and raining.   Finally we gave up and decided we were just going to get a little wet.   How bad can the half-mile hike to Linville Falls be anyway?

Linville Falls
Linville Falls

The falls are quite impressive, especially after several hours of rain.   There is an upper view point (just below those very top cascades in this picture) but by then we were soaked in a persistent downpour so we figured we might as well keep going.

Melanie at Linville Falls
Melanie at Linville Falls

Here are Melanie and Trout at the overlook.    Trout didn’t seem to consider this a proper sort of hike.  He would’ve been more than happy to jump in a river and swim around but he’s not thrilled to be rained on.

David at Linville Falls
David at Linville Falls

How much did it rain?   A lot.   Notice that you can’t see my toes in this picture and I’m standing on the trail.   There were pools of water six inches deep – but, we did get at least one small hike in.

Big East Fork Trail

This wasn’t our first hike of the year, but it was our first interesting hike – outside of the Asheville commuter section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Big East Fork trailhead is on 276 just north of the parkway.

East Fork Pigeon River
East Fork Pigeon River

There are a couple trails that leave from the area but we followed the Big East Fork trail which follows the Pigeon River all the way up to the headwaters of one particular branch. Just above that the trail meets the Mountains-to-Sea trail near the parkway.

Trout in a creek
Trout in a creek

Along the way are some great swimming holes. Since there was still snow in shaded valleys, we didn’t actually test this. Trout did though and he seemed to like it.

Mt. Craig

We’ve been lax about posting our hikes here lately, so even though this is a short one we’ll include it so we don’t appear to be dead or abducted by aliens.
The Black Mountain Crest trail is notoriously difficult. While we’ve hiked south from Mt. Mitchell back as far as the Blue Ridge Parkway, we hadn’t gone north on the BMCT yet. Our original intent was to travel several miles out. Upon leaving Mt. Mitchell the trail immediately drops several hundred feet. It then runs along a ridge before ascending up to Mt. Craig – the second highest peak in the Eastern US. This is where a rather sudden thunderstorm caught us. This picture is of the trail itself. Not a creek bed.

black mountain crest trail

 A 6000 foot ridge with sheer cliffs on either side is no place to be in a thunderstorm.   With no better option we spent half an hour or more crouched in a grove of spruce trees.   When the storm passed we were drenched.  Worse than that, the already difficult trail was now slickrock with water streaming down it.  We decided we should at least finish summiting Mt. Craig.     It turns out that just 100 feet up the trail or so was a huge rock overhand that would be useful in future pop-up storms.

BMCT

The view from Mt. Craig is worth the difficult, if short (1 mile each way) hike.  From the top you can see… well, we could see cloud.   Eventually the clouds cleared long enough for us to snap a few pictures and see the daunting line of thunderstorms across the western horizon making their way towards us.   Reluctantly we decided that it just wasn’t a good day to be hiking on the highest ridge around and we headed back to Mt. Mitchell.   We actually reached the car just seconds before driving rain started again, followed shortly by hail so perhaps that was a good decision.

Mt. Craig

Big Ridge / SlickRock Trail

This was actually sort of a composite day in the Pisgah Ranger District.   We started out hiking along the MST from Big Ridge Overlook.   It looks pretty impressive and much like most of the overlooks around here.

Big Ridge

After this hike we went down to Slick Rock Falls which is an easily accessible waterfall.  It’s visible from a dirt road in the Looking Glass area.  In fact the trail (which we also hiked) goes up to several of the rock climbing routes on the west side of Looking Glass rock.  

Slick Rock Falls

BRP in Skyland

The first hike of the year, most of the Blue Ridge Parkway was still closed due to recent snows so we just went to the section of the Mountains to Sea Trail that parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway through Asheville. This section, from I-26 to US 25 is not exactly wilderness but it’s very close to town. It’s 3.5 miles between the two big roads but it’s such easy hiking that it seems substantially shorter.

mst

Walnut Cove to Chestnut Cove

Shut In Trail Sign

The Shut-In Trail (from the Biltmore Estate to Mt. Pisgah) and the Mountains to Sea Trail run together along the Blue Ridge Parkway west of Asheville. This is the Sleepy Gap parking area. From here it’s about a mile west to Chestnut Cove, not the most scenic hike but there are some camping areas near Truckwheel Knob and those are rare things along the Blue Ridge Parkway trails.

Grassy Knob

East from Sleepy Gap the trail goes out and around the north side of Grassy Knob where these cliffs are. The parkways tunnels under the far side of the mountain so this section is peaceful and relatively quiet. There are also a couple unofficial trails from here that lead down into the Bent Creek bike trail system although we saw no evidence of mountain bike usage on the MST.

Gentian

For the most part this is only a good hike if you happen to live in or near Asheville and don’t decide to go for a hike until 3 hours before sunset. Or if you happen to be section hiking the Mountains to Sea Trail. Or if you like the sound of hordes of motorcycles on the Blue Ridge parkway during fall foliage season.
This last picture is apparently some sort of gentian. We spent quite a while trying to convince Melanie’s camera to focus on it before we gave up and continued on.

BRP French Broad River

The Mountains to Sea Trail crosses the French Broad River on the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge.
French Broad Sign

The Shut-In trail also crosses here on it’s way from the Biltmore Estate to Mount Pisgah.   This section of the MST in general is pretty easy hiking and it parallels the parkway closely.   In fact, from Asheville this is probably one of the most accessible areas for trail running as long as you don’t mind out and back runs.
French Broad River

The MST website recommends parking at the French Broad overlook for hiking on this section, but unless you’re a big fan of crossing road bridges it’s probably easier to park on the east side of the river at the pull out where the MST heads back into the forest. 

frog

This frog (and a garter snake) are about all the wildlife we saw between the French Broad River and the I-26 bridge (bikers don’t technically count).   So it’s not exactly much of a quiet wilderness experience but it’s very close to Asheville (and our house) so it’s good for a quick hike.  It’s also a good rehab hike (which we seem to be specializing in the last few years). 

Potato Knob

Potato Knob

Potato Knob lies at the end of the Black Mountain Range on the border of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mt Mitchell State Park. It’s the highest point in Buncombe County, although it’s unclear if the summit is in Bumcombe or Yancey.  While the summit is just over 6400 ft, Potato Knob is not part of the South Beyond 6000 peaks.  We however felt that it need to be climbed anyway.  This is a view up at Potato Knob from the Mountains to Sea Trail just south of Mt. Mitchell Rd.

So now lets get all the disclaimers out of the way.  This is not a casual peak hike, it requires orienteering which means some skill with a compass and topographic map.  There are some seriously large cliffs on all sides of Potato Knob which mandate good route choosing.  Also, the south and east side of this mountain are in the restricted Asheville watershed which means that sections of it are completely off-limits (use the MST basically). 

Potato Knob Summit

Here is Melanie on the highest rock we could find on the summit of Potato Knob.  Note that there isn’t much of a view here in the rhododendron thicket.  The actual summit is a survey stake with blue and pink ribbons.  The only reason this summit is even slightly accessible is because the county line crosses it, which means there is a old, generally unused survey trail over it.  We took the hard way up (a re-entrant off of the MST which required about 700 vertical feet of climbing up rocks and downed trees).  The survey trail to the southeast is a bit difficult to follow and skirts some serious drop-offs but it’s much easier than the way we came up.  There are also some protruding rocks both near the top and scattered along the way that have spectacular views along the Blue Ridge.

Potato View

Craggy Pinnacle

Craggy Trail

With mom recovering from back problems, naturally we dragged her up a reasonably large mountain.  Actually, we’d never been up Craggy Pinnacle before but it was reportedly an easy hike with a good view.  Unfortunately the rhododendrons were not blooming yet.  The hike is about 3/4 of a mile, fairly steep.  I’m told that if you’re recovering from back problems it is quite challenging.

Craggy Dome

The summit of Craggy Pinnacle has several observation decks with good views in all directions along the Blue Ridge Parkway and back towards Asheville.  The Craggy Mountains are a small sub-range of the Blue Ridge which feature Craggy Pinnacle (we’re standing on it in this picture), Craggy Dome (that’s it across the parking lot from here), and Craggy Mountain (behind us).  Besides being creatively named, these peaks are all near 6000 ft although only Craggy Dome (the lump out there) is over 6000 ft.  We hiked it previously for the South Beyond 6000.  It looks gentle from here but there’s no real trail to the top so it involves foraging through blackberries and rhododendrons.  The summit does not have much of a view.  In fact, it looked vaguely like this up there when we previously visited:

Craggy Dome Summit