My Favorite Trails!

     These are some of my favorite trails in the Blue Ridge between Mount Mitchell and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are not necessarily picked for their scenic beauty, but for their interest to the Naturalist. I rate the trails as easy moderate and difficult. This is for an average person who might be a moderate smoker, and 45 to 50 years old, and perhaps not in the best of shape. (Take that you non-smoking fitness nuts!) Back to Homepage.

     The Fish Hatchery is located off US 276. Take US 64 to Pisgah Forest, get on 276 going West into the Pisgah National Forest. Follow the signs to the state Fish Hatchery. From the parking lot there are several trails. All along Grogan's creek you can find Trilium, May Apple, Wild Ginger, and in April you can find a curious plant called Gay Wings ( Polygala paucifolia).          The Cat Gap and Butter Gap trail is a great place to wander, with a waterfall on the way. At the fork, where you choose your trail (Cat Gap or Butter Gap), the left hand fork takes you by a very nice mountain bog complete with Sphagnum. The right hand fork takes you through a lovely mountain meadow. If you are a hardy soul, you can take the loop, which is about 5 miles. To the bog or meadow, I would rate the trail as easy to moderate. I would not hazard a guess on the loop.

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   To get to Catawba Falls, go to Old Fort on I-40, and get off at the eastern exit for Old Fort. This means that if you are on 40-West, take the first exit. If you are coming down the mountain from Asheville,  take the second exit. The road is  the first one on the south side of the Interstate, and is Catawba Falls Rd. Follow it 'til it ends at a bridge, which has a locked gate. There is a No Trespassing sign on the gate, but this does not (I'm told) apply to the road. Follow the road, and do not stray from it until you cross the river. Here I have seen a large patch of Hepatica on private land. (Look but stay off.) About a quarter mile up the trail there is a nice stream crossing, and some nice salamander habitat. Tree Frogs lay eggs in pools near here and there are usually some tadpoles. This a classic Southern Hardwood forest with some higher country overtones. I have seen Pawpaws growing near the old mill dam about half way up.

Easy to moderate, the one problem is getting across the river.

     I have contacted the US Forest Service about access to this place. The road is on private land, and it would be a good idea to talk to the land owner before going onward. McDowell County is negotiating with the land owner for access, but it isn't there yet.

     This is one of my favorite places.

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     Craggy Gardens is on the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville. It is a remnant of a Southern Appalachian Heath Bald. From the Ranger station there are two trails. The Southwards trail will take you to the top of the gardens, where the Catawba Rhododendrons grow. They bloom about the last of May or the first of June. They are spectacular. This whole area is a fantastic representation of a Northern forest in the Southern Appalachians.You can see all sorts of Northern plants like Moosewood or Witch Hobble (Viburnum alnifolium), and Striped Maple (Acer pennsylvanicum). Just explore the area and enjoy. It would take me too long to enumerate everything you can see here.

     I call this a remnant bald because all our balds in the Southern mountains are succeeding to forest. This may be for a variety of reasons, but I feel that it is because of the absence of browsers like Elk and Bison who would have eaten the hardwood saplings away, and kept the balds cleared of trees. Of course the Cherokees may have been right...(See Myths and Legends of the Cherokee by Mooney).

Relatively easy, just watch the elevation if you are from the low country.

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     Kephart Prong Trailhead is about 10 miles North on US 441 from Cherokee NC. Stop in the Oconaluftee Visitor's Center just outside of Cherokee for a map, or the Sugarlands Visitor Center if you are coming from Gatlinburg TN. This trail is very easy, and has the finest wildflowering in the state in the Spring. You can see Hepatica on the roadside at the trailhead that span the red to blue color range! Never seen that anywhere else.

 If you follow the trail in, you end up at a quaint little trail shelter that has a chain link front (to keep the bears out). Several crossings of the mid-sized stream are made on footlogs. All along the trail is the most lovely stream that brings to mind a famous beer commercial. It is truly beautiful. Small streams cross the trail and are great places to look for salamanders, just remember to put your rocks back!

Easy to moderate, just watch your footing on the footlogs.

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   North Mills River is located off NC 280 going toward Brevard from Asheville. There will be a sign directing you to the North Mills River recreation area; go to the parking lot at North Mills River , get out of your car, and follow the bridge across the river, there is a lovely bog on your right hand side as you go down stream. You will pass a water treatment plant and enter a wildlife habitat improvement area where there is some fair birding. There are many other trails in this area, and you can find out about them from trails maps sold at any outdoor store in this area.

Very easy.

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   Mount Pisgah is a lovely area on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville and has a number of trails to play around on. The main trail is the one going up the mountain from the parking area, and is a very nice example of a Northern Hardwood Forest grading into a Spruce Fir association at the very top of the mountain. All along the trail there are thickets of  Rhododendron, and Mountain Laurel, and you can  see Dutchmans Pipe, and Bluets at times seem to blanket the ground. If you take some of the side trails, you can find Birch and Maple associations, and if you go to the campground you can find a streamside bog that is rich in a variety  of plants. On the trail from the parking lot to Mt. Pisgah Inn, you can find wild Columbine growing in a meadow along with a variety of other wild flowers.

This one is moderate, and can blow you away if you are not used to the 5000+ foot elevation.

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   Bent Creek is a lovely place to hike in the winter and early Spring. Don't go there in the Summer time. Talk about the crush and press of humanity! Bent Creek can be found off the Parkway just south of Asheville at the NC 191 exit. After exiting the Parkway, go left several hundred yards and look for the Lake Powhatan Recreation Area sign. Proceed to the parking lot at the end of the pavement (fee area) and proceed down the road to the lake where three or four trailheads branch off. Along the road there are some Beaver ponds and backwaters that are home to Wood Frogs in the early Spring. There is also fair Trout fishing in the lake if it has been stocked. The loop trail around the lake is very nice for a variety of wildflowers in early Spring, and the lake usually has some Bufflehead Ducks in the Winter, and Wood Ducks in the Spring and Summer. Iy is also the site of our very own NC Arboretum.

Most of the trails here are easy. Also easy to get lost. Get a map, and follow it. Several nice trails. The famous Shut In Trail heads here, and is a monster. Take it only if you have plenty of time, and are in training for the Olympics.

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