This hike was a loop where we parked at Grassy Cove, walked a mile along Yellow Gap Road to the Thompson Creek trail, followed this up to the top end and returned to Grassy Cove on the Pilot Rock trail.
Thompson Creek trail is not heavily used at all. We saw almost no signs of any recent use. The trail is a bit foreboding on a map as it ascends almost 1800 feet vertically in just 2.4 miles. Both our topo map and our pisgah forest trail map show this trail as ascending right up the center of Thompson ridge. This is no longer accurate. After crossing the tributary the trail ascends along Thompson Creek – rarely going out of sight of the water. At the cross trail we backtracked to see how far our topo map was off. The old trail along the ridge is still there and can be fairly easily discerned (with some minor bushwhacking). The trail up to the Pisgah Inn also still exists. The traverse across the Thompson Creek headwaters is the most difficult portion.
The lower portion of Thompson Creek was completely hemmed in by flowering mountain laurels. The trail starts just across from the Pink Beds and the laurels definately carry over. The ascent along the creek is not really all that bad. The hideously steep bit is a series of switchbacks onto Laurel Mountain near the top of the trail. We had hiking poles with us and still found this very challenging. Ultimately, the Thompson Creek trail ends at the Pilot Rock trail about a mile from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Instead, we turned south and came back down on the generally easier Pilot Rock trail. There are some difficult rocky switchbacks on this trail and it’s amazing that mountain bikers managed to make it down and across some of the boulder fields. The trail traverses the top of Pilot Rock which we more or less completely failed to notice. Ok, that’s not exactly true. We stood there for a moment and wondered if this were the top of Pilot Rock and then decided it wasn’t dramatic enough so we moved on. Oh well. The roundtrip hike with the forest road is about 6 miles. We also followed parts of the old abandonded trail just because it was on the 1986 topo quad.
On Memorial Day, we bravely hazarded the stretch of US 276 through Pisgah Forest between Looking Glass Falls (approximate number of cars parked here = 40) and Sliding Rock. This is the location of the Moore Cove trail which is a 0.7 mile spur up to the falls.
This was after a day and half of rain so presumably the falls is often just a trickle. The trail mostly follows the creek upstream crossing on wooden bridges several times. There are other smaller falls in the vicinity as well.
The ‘cove’ portion of the falls is quite impressive on its own. There is substantial space inside the overhang.
The location of the falls is well-shaded and the water was frigid but it was worth standing in nonetheless. Trout, of course, only stood in the falls long enough to get damp before finding some mud to lie in. We had intended to change into more serious hiking footwear after this trail and visit something a little more obscure but the rain moved back in shortly after we got back to the car and hasn’t really stopped since.
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?
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.
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.
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.
This section of the AT starts in North Carolina and finishes in Erwin, Tennessee. We parked at Uncle Johnny’s Hiker Hostel in Erwin and he shuttled us up to Spivey Gap which is about 11 miles away by trail.
There’s a bit of a climb out of Spivey Gap and a couple short climbs further on in the hike but for the most part it’s downhill with an elevation loss of 2000 feet from the highest point. There are plenty of stream crossings in the first half of the hike. No Business Knob Shelter (yes, that’s the name of it) is almost exactly halfway through this hike.
The last two miles of this hike is pretty much all down. There’s a long series of switchbacks descending into Erwin. To make up for this at every left turn (heading northbound) there’s a rocky overlook of the Nolichucky River with occasional views of Erwin as well.
With day-sized backpacks, this hike took us just a bit over 6 hours with two stops for food and one stop for a tragic shoelace emergency (thanks random thru-hiker with a lighter!)
Lover’s Leap is a popular overlook of the French Broad River and the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. It’s a fairly short hike up from the parking area just above the Hot Springs bridge.
This is the view about halfway up which also happens to be the Appalachian Trail through here. The rocks themselves are located at a trail junction and are named (supposedly) after a Cherokee legend.
If you’ve been hiking southbound on the A.T. this would be a sudden and dramatic viewpoint. If you’ve come up from Hot Springs though it’s just a slightly clearer view of what you’ve been looking at for the last half hour. From here, we continued on the Applachian Trail which wraps around the ridge to Pump Gap. About a half mile or so from Lovers Leap there are good views up the French Broad River.
Frank Bell’s rapid – the most difficult on the commercially rafted section of the French Broad is visible way off in the distance. At Pump Gap, we followed the pump gap trail back down to the trailhead which is a pleasant hike along a stream. Actually, it’s a particularly steep descent at first and having hiked up it in the past (see the Mill Ridge entry) we can say we much prefer going down it.
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.
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.
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.
Ok, so we were just at Max Patch a few months ago. However, since we were unable to get up the road to Snowbird Mountain, which was our intended hike, we came back to Max Patch.
As always, the views are superb. The meadows had recently been mown so there was more picnicking and camping than usual on the summit. We hiked up to Max Patch along the Appalachian Trail from where it crosses the forest road. After summitting, we followed the trail back down through a patch of forest. Ultimately it follows a series of meadows that make up an equestrian trail on a parallel ridge.
Roaring Fork Shelter is only a couple miles north of Max Patch Road. It doesn’t have direct access to the Roaring Fork river but you’ll have crossed the stream a couple times getting there and its a good place to stop for a snack.
On the hike back, we followed a combination of the equestrian trail and the Max Patch loop trail which stays below the summit but still crosses some big meadows and has excellent views into North Carolina. Trout found meadow hiking to be altogether confusing as it’s difficult to determine where the trail is.
This hike started and ended at the Hendersonville Resevoir parking area. If you head south from the trailhead, the Trace Ridge trail leads down to the N. Mills River. The last tenth of a mile or so of this trail is extremely steep. It meets the river trail near the confluence of Wash Creek at a very pretty spot.
The Nat’l Geographic Pisgah map shows the N. Mills trail ending here but it actually extends to the east as far as Yellow Gap Road. To the north and west, the trail runs for about 2 miles to meet a forest service road which connects back up to the trailhead. We did this hike during the drought (yet another drought) due to the high number of river crossings it entails. In fact, we counted 10 river crossings (11 if you start at Yellow Gap Road). One of these has a suspension bridge option, but the rest involving wading. A couple of the crossings were knee deep, even at very low water levels. There are quite a lot of good swimming holes along this trail and it’s a rather popular fishing spot as well.
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.
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.
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.
The TurkeyPen trailhead is in the southeastern corner of the Pisgah Ranger District. It’s got a couple advantages – first there’s a ton of interconnecting trails here so it’s pretty easy to customize a loop of the size you want. That’s actually a rarity in western NC. Secondly, many of the trails run along rivers and creeks so it’s a good area when it’s hot out, or when your dog wants to spend all day lying in rivers and creeks.
Our dog wanted to spend all day lying about in creeks. This is the Mills River. It’s an important feature of the Turkeypen area because several trails cross it. Most of them literally just run into the river and continue out the other side (see it over there?). If there’s been a lot of rain recently this can be a very wet proposition.
There is one suspension bridge over the river. Dogs apparently are not fond of swinging bridges. There were quite a lot of people in the area during our hike. Probably more than half of them were fishing along the Mills so we only saw a handful of other people along the trails.
We did come across this snake though. It’s impossible to tell from this picture but this was actually about a 4 foot long snake. We think it was a racer and it was probably either pregnant or it had just eaten one of those annoying yap dogs we’d passed earlier. Kudos to the snake either way.
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.
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.
Before our hike we spent a little time along Cold Creek in the Harmon Den area. There were hundreds of butterflies drawn to the salt deposits along the road so we have a few dozen pictures that look like this.
Mid-May is a great time to hike in the area because of the wildflowers. We headed north bound on the A.T. from Brown Gap, which starts with a decent climb but is relatively gentle and rolling after that.
The trilliums were particularly abundant. They’re a bit hard to see in this picture but all those specks of white and pink are trillium. It was pretty much deserted on this part of the mountain until we reached Max Patch. We decided not to climb to the top on this particular day. Instead we let Trout lie in a stream and cool off while we studied the map.
We decided we could take an alternate route back to Brown Gap. This started by taking the A.T. southbound for a quarter mile or so to the junction with the Cherry Creek Trail. We then took the Cherry Creek trail for maybe a half mile or so until it intersected an old forest service road (named 3533 on some maps). We left Cherry Creek Trail and followed the road along the ridge. This worked out great for a while at least. The road was broad and easy to follow and it was paralleling the A.T. about 200 ft below it. This is how it looked with a dog in the middle:
About halfway back to Brown Gap the road ends. This was not entirely unexpected as our A.T. map also showed the road ending. Our plan was to orienteer from here by following the 4000 ft. contour line around the ridge until it intersected the A.T. which would be descending towards Brown Gap at that point. Even in May the forest was pretty thick and there was a lot of sharp foliage (blackberries in particular). So when we encountered a really old road bed we decided to follow that instead. This road bed was long unusued and had substantial trees growing in it as well as fallen across it. It was quite clear that bears and deer used it though. Melanie’s theory was that it would connect directly into Brown Gap as we had noticed an old road leaving from a campsite there on our way out. In the end, she was right although it’s a bit of a circuitous route it takes to get there. We did it all with the A.T. map, a compass and an altimeter but I think if we did it again, a better topo map might help. On the other hand, it would be hard to get seriously lost in this area since everything on this side of the Appalachian Trail drains down to Harmon Den Road.
Grassy Ridge is the oft-overlooked third peak over 6000 feet in the Roan Highlands area.
Climbing up from Carver’s Gap one first has to summit Round Bald and Jane Bald. The day before this hike it had been 65 degrees in Asheville, but it was spitting snow by the time we finished the hike. The snow on the west side of the conifers atop the balds was proof that it had been snowing recently as well. That is Grassy Ridge in the background of the first picture.
The views along this entire hike are spectacular. The Black Mountains including Mt. Mitchell are clearly visible on the NC side. The city of Roan Mountain, TN and surrounding area including Strawberry Mountain are visible to the west. From Grassy Ridge the ski areas around Boone and Grandfather Mountain are visible (including the horrendous bit of construction atop Sugar Mountain). Here are Melanie and Trout resting atop Jane Bald. We had intended to have a bit of a picnic atop Grassy Ridge originally, but once we got there the wind was so intense that we had to hide in the lee of rocks near the summit just to have a conversation. Three layers of clothing were apparently not enough.
One thing about hiking in the highlands north of Roan is that it isn’t hard to follow the trail. Here it can be seen stretching a mile or more towards Jane Bald (foreground), Round Bald (middle ground), and Roan High Knob (background, and an entirely different hike). We’d recommend this hike on a slightly warmer day.
Mill Ridge was a small farming community located on the east bank of the French Broad River just up from the town of Hot Springs. Nowadays there are a couple of forest roads, a lot of mountain biking trails and a few foundations remaining. The large open areas up here were once tobacco fields.
The AT leads southbound up into the Mill Ridge area from Tanyard Gap (US 25/70 outside of Hot Springs). There’s also a forest road that leads up to a parking area for the bike trails. Where the AT leads back down into the forest there’s an old dam with a large pond above it. We followed the AT as far as the Pump Gap loop trail which makes a circle with the AT.
Along with the dam and some building foundations, the old Mill Ridge Cemetery is located just a little ways off the Pump Gap trail. Most of the stones have fallen over or been broken but it’s still a curious thing to find out in the middle of the forest.
Overall this is a fairly easy hike of about 5 to 6 miles. It’s probably more difficult if done from Hot Springs due to the elevation gain. We did come across a couple of salamanders, but they refused to hold still for photographs, so we have to include this fungus instead.
Harmon Den is a mountain along the NC/TN border just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It actually has its own exit off of I-40, which is just a gravel road that leads down the valley towards Max Patch. We hiked fromÂ Brown Gap (accessible via a rough road up from Harmon Den) to Deep Gap at the base of Snowbird Mountain and then back along the Appalachian Trail.
In late April, this highlight of this hike were the wildflowers, particularly trillium which were prolific on the wetter, cooler slopes of the mountains.
The top of Harmon Den Mountain, a spot also known as Hawk’s Roost in some AT guides is not as impressive as nearby mountains such as Max Patch and Snowbird. Even without leaves on the trees, the views are good but not fantastic. The Smokies, Newfound and Snowbird mountains surround Harmon Den.
From Harmon Den it’s a steady long descent to Deep Gap (one of dozens of gaps with the same creative name in and around the Smokies). Deep Gap itself is a nice shaded campsite. An old abandoned logging road led up to the gap from the Tennessee side so sections are nicely graded. Groundhog Creek flows into North Carolina from the gap and the Groundhog Creek AT shelter is just a quarter mile east of the gap.
There are several ways up Roan Mountain by trail and one by road. The AT ascends to Toll House Gap from both north and south. From the north (near the town of Buladean) is a rugged 2000 ft climb over about 3 miles. The AT intersects the road in Toll House Gap which was once the site of the Cloudland Hotel. Now it’s just a nice grassy bald with great views into both Tennessee and North Carolina.
From here there is a spur trail that leads along the ridge, parallel to the road out to Roan High Bluff. This is a particularly worthwhile hike in shoulder seasons (like March) because the road up isn’t open yet so the top of Roan is almost certainly going to be deserted. The view from Roan High Bluff is also fantastic.
From Toll House Gap to the north along the AT is a more popular hike down to Carvers Gap which has a large parking area. Along the way is the highest shelter on the AT at a slight side trail to Roan High Knob.
At 6285 and 6267, both Roan High Knob and Roan High Bluff qualify among the 40 peaks that make up the South Beyond 6000 challenge sponsered by the Carolina and Tennnessee Eastman Hiking Clubs. In fact, these are two of the easier peaks to get to (no bushwhacking). The Knob is marked by a USGS benchmark and is a basically a rock outcrop just past the shelter.