Ten Hikes for Summer in the North Carolina Mountains (updated)

View from Mt. Mitchell, highest peak in the eastern U.S.

You really can’t beat summertime in the mountains of Western
North Carolina. The average highs are in the low-80s at the hottest point of
summer. And that’s just our elevation. Drive 20 minutes to the Blue Ridge
Parkway and hop on for a scenic drive up to elevations of 5,000+ feet and
you’ll often experience high temperatures in the 70s, and sometimes even the
60s, in July and August.

To make the most of your summertime visit to the Inn on Mill Creek, we’ve
updated our list of ten hikes for summer in the North Carolina mountains near
Black Mountain, Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Old Fort. Many of these
trails will take you to shady spots, while others end at cool (literally and
figuratively) waterfalls, and still others bring you to high elevations where
the views are spectacular:

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. It’s
a nice summertime spot – the all-time high temperature there is something like 83
degrees – and has several trails. The Black Rock Nature Trail is a moderate
trail that heads out from one of Grandfather’s parking areas and leads through
a forested area [read: shade] to some nice views. Note that there is an
admission fee for Grandfather Mountain, but the views are well worth it! For
more information on this hike, visit Grandfather
Mountain’s website
.

Catawba Falls (Old Fort) –  A moderate 3-mile
roundtrip hike, the Catawba Falls Trail leads you through beautiful forested
land, and ends at a 340-foot cascading waterfall near the headwaters of the
Catawba River. Catawba Falls has been part of Pisgah National Forest for
decades, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina along with the National Forest Service and McDowell County, the
88 acres providing access to the falls is now held by the National Forest
Service as well, allowing for preservation of the land, and for the public to
get to the falls much easier. A new parking lot is located right at the
trailhead, about 20 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek.

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.

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.

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
actually more than 20 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.

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.

Roaring Fork Falls (off Highway 80 and the Blue Ridge Parkway) –  Head east from the Inn, through Old
Fort, and up scenic Highway 80, crossing over the Blue Ridge Parkway at
Milepost 344. Just a few miles north is the trailhead for Roaring Fork Falls,
an easy 1.5 mile hike to the bottom of a zig-zag waterfall. For more on this
hike, check this earlier blog post of ours.

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.

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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