Ten Hikes for Summer in the North Carolina Mountains

The view from the highest peak in the eastern United States, Mt. Mitchell

Summer’s right around the corner, but the current temperature outside makes it seem like summer’s already arrived! The average 24-hour temperature at our elevation in the summertime is 72 degrees and average highs are in the low-80s at the hottest point of summer, but we’ve been seeing highs above 85 for the past few days. And even though we can’t promise that the hot weather won’t stick around, we can say that the higher you go, the cooler the temps.

So without further ado, here are ten hikes for summer in the North Carolina mountains around Asheville, with an emphasis on higher elevations or shady spots around our neck of the woods (and don’t forget…June 4 is National Trails Day!):

Balsam Trail (Mt. Mitchell State Park) – Looping near the 6,684-ft summit of Mt. Mitchell (less than five miles north of the Inn on Mill Creek as the crow flies, but about an hour’s scenic drive from the Inn mostly along the Blue Ridge Parkway), the 0.75-mile Balsam Trail is an easy trail and starts at the parking lot just below the observation deck. Mt. Mitchell is part of the Black Mountain Range, which contains six of the ten tallest peaks in the eastern United States. {We have Mt. Mitchell trail maps here at the Inn on Mill Creek for guests who want to take a hike around the highest peak east of the Mississippi.}

Black Rock Nature Trail (Grandfather Mountain) – About 45 minutes northeast of the Inn on Mill Creek, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, is Grandfather Mountain, a state park and globally-recognized nature preserve. The Black Rock Nature Trail heads out from one of Grandfather’s parking areas and leads through a forested area {read: shade} to some nice views. For more information on this hike, visit Grandfather Mountain’s website.

Craggy Pinnacle Trail (Blue Ridge Parkway) – Craggy Pinnacle Trail, part of the Craggy Gardens area, is a 1.5-mile moderate hike that starts at the Craggy Dome Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 364, about 40 minutes from the Inn) and ends at 360-degree views of the mountains. Rhododendron are in abundance in June, while we hear late summer offers the chance to pick wild blueberries. {We have Craggy Gardens trail maps at the Inn on Mill Creek for guests.}

Daniel Boone Scout Trail (Grandfather Mountain, backcountry hike) – This is a moderate-to-strenuous backcountry trail at Grandfather Mountain. There are ladders and cables to assist hikers on some portions of the trail as it heads to the summit of Calloway Peak, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range (The Blue Ridge Mountain Range and the Black Mountain Range are two different ranges, next to each other within the Blue Ridge province.) For more information on this hike visit Grandfather Mountain’s website.

Deep Gap Trail (Mt. Mitchell State Park) – This trail at Mt. Mitchell State Park crosses Mt. Craig, which is the second-highest peak in the eastern United States. It’s a 4.5-mile moderate-to-strenuous hike with spectacular views. RomanticAsheville.com has an excellent description of the first mile of the hike, to Mt. Craig, for those who want to go a shorter distance.

Green Knob Overlook Firetower (Blue Ridge Parkway) – Green Knob is a peak that stands more than 5,000 feet high, along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’re fond of it because you can actually see it in the distance from our apple orchard. We hiked the trail last June from the Green Knob Overlook to the fire tower, which you can read about here. The last time we hiked the trail in September of 2010, the Forest Service was doing repairs to the tower and the tower itself was closed. We’re looking into whether that work is still going on.

Greybeard Trail (Montreat) –  Greybeard Mountain is accessible by driving through the charming town of Montreat about 15 minutes from the Inn and just north of the town of Black Mountain. {There are more than 15 trails in Montreat; we have Montreat Trail maps available for guests of the Inn.} The trail is considered moderate, but takes 3-4 hours so it’s best to start out early. You’ll get to the top of Greybeard after almost 3,000 feet of elevation gain, to the highest point in Montreat at a little over 5,400 feet.

Mt. Pisgah (Blue Ridge Parkway) – Southwest of Asheville at Milepost 407 off the Blue Ridge Parkway is Mt. Pisgah, standing at over 5,700 feet above sea level. You can hike to the summit on a 3-mile roundtrip moderate trail that starts off from the parking area (where there’s also a fantastic restaurant called Pisgah Inn if you plan to be there at lunch or dinner). An interesting fact about Mt. Pisgah: It’s named for the mountain in the Bible where Moses first saw the promised land.

Rainbow Road Trail (Montreat) – Rainbow Road, located off of Lookout Road, is in Montreat, bordering the town of Black Mountain to the north. The trailhead for Rainbow Road is near the Lookout Mountain trailhead but Rainbow Road starts off in the opposite direction, through rhododendron thickets in the woods. It’s a nice and easy, flat trail with shady spots. Along the two-mile trail, you’ll see the trailhead for the more strenuous Rainbow Mountain Trail loop, at which point you’ll start heading back on Rainbow Road toward Lookout Mountain. That’s a good turning around point if you don’t want to go the whole way. But if you do, the trail ends at the split of the Old Mitchell Toll Road and the Old Trestle Road, two unblazed trails.

Skinny Dip Falls Trail (Blue Ridge Parkway) – The 1.5-mile moderate trail used to be not-so-well known, which may be how it got its name, but due to its rising popularity, bathing suits are now encouraged if hikers want to take a dip in the pools and tiered falls at the end of the trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 417. The water is cold, so a change of clothes is a good idea. For a  description of this hike, see HikeWNC’s website.

Finally, a few general tips for hiking in the mountains: Bring plenty of water with you on your hike; even though places like Mt. Mitchell tend to be 15+ degrees cooler than Asheville and Black Mountain, you still need hydration. Don’t forget your camera for pictures of wildflowers and possible wildlife (but tread lightly so as to keep the scenery looking nice for others). Keep in mind that cell phone service is spotty in the mountains. Oh, and bug spray is never a bad idea in the summertime. Lastly, be sure to check the weather forecast before you head out for a day of hiking. The weather can be temperamental in the mountains all year long.

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