Ten Hikes for Winter in the North Carolina Mountains

Each season, we’re listing nice hikes around Asheville, Black Mountain and Old Fort, North Carolina. All trails are less than an hour’s drive from the Inn on Mill Creek (and some are just a short walk from the Inn). Winter weather conditions can be very unpredictable (proven this year by the amount of snow we’ve gotten compared to the past several years!) so it’s important to note that some hikes may be inaccessible during some wintry days, due to park closures, for example.

We still have over a month of winter left (I know, grumble grumble!) but if winter doldrums don’t get you down, put on some layers and your lip balm, check the weather forecast, call ahead to make sure a particular place is open, and enjoy the following hikes for wintertime in our part of Western North Carolina, in alphabetical order. There should be a little something for everyone in this list, from easy nature trails, to more strenuous hikes:

Bass Pond (Biltmore Estate) – If you’ll be enjoying a day at Biltmore (don’t forget, we have two-day winter passes here at the Inn on Mill Creek for $30!), bundle up and head outdoors through the gardens and down to the Bass Pond. From there, you can walk a half-mile easy loop around the pond, which is a fantastic spot for winter birdwatching. Then head back to Biltmore House for some coffee or hot chocolate at the Bake Shop near the Stable Cafe.

Carolina Mountain Trail (North Carolina Arboretum)The 1.2-mile Carolina Mountain Trail winds through three different forest types, include pine. The trail also has an overlook for checking out Bent Creek. The Arboretum website has a list of all its trails. It is best to call ahead to make sure that the trails are open in wintertime.

Heartbreak Ridge (Old Fort) – We did a short hike up the switchbacks to the top of the ridge with the pugs earlier this year and saw some great winter mountain views just from the short hike. The north end of the ridge leads 13 miles up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is part of the Off Road Assault on Mt. Mitchell mountain biking race each July. To access the trailhead, venture to the bottom of our road and turn left on Graphite Road. An old access road leads off to the right just past the church.

Kitsuma Peak (Ridgecrest) – Kitsuma Peak is accessed via the Young’s Ridge trailhead. To reach the trailhead, go east past Lifeway Conference Center in Ridgecrest, across Yates Avenue to the parking lot at the end of the road. The trail is a set of switchbacks leading up, up, up to the top of Kitsuma, which is a popular mountain biking trail. From the top, you can access a rocky outcropping that overlooks the Black Mountains, Ridgecrest and Montreat. For a more strenuous trail, continue along Young’s Ridge, which ends more than seven miles further at the Old Fort Picnic Grounds.

Mountains to Sea Trail at the Folk Art Center (Asheville) – For access to one of the easier sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), park at the Folk Art Center, off of I-40, exit 55. From here, you can hike an easy mile to where the trail crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you want to keep hiking, another 4.5 miles will bring you to Craven Gap (a nice Spring hike). Our friends at www.hikewnc.info say that this portion of the trail can be accessed even when the Parkway is closed by parking at the Tunnel Road intersection.

Point Lookout Trail (Old Fort) – One end of this 3.5-mile greenway bike/walking trail starts at the split where our road begins off of the paved road. The paved road is actually the former Highway 70, which was the main highway through the area before the construction of I-40. The trail provides beautiful views of Royal Gorge and the ridgelines near the Inn. The bottom of the trail is near the Old Fort Picnic Grounds. A little over a mile from the top of the trail is Point Lookout, one of the original overlooks in North Carolina. It looks out on Royal Gorge, the site of both Revolutionary War and Civil War activity.

Owl Ridge Trail (North Carolina Arboretum) – From the Arboretum website: The Owl Ridge Trail is the upper portion of a recreational loop for use by bikers, hikers and pets on leashes. This naturally surfaced section of the loop is about .94 miles joining Rocky Cove with Hard Times Road and a connection to the lower trail which crosses the creek to rejoin Bent Creek Road making the whole loop about 3.5 miles.

Rattlesnake Lodge (Asheville) – The short, yet fairly strenuous, Rattlesnake Lodge Trail is named for a physician/outdoor enthusiast’s early 20th century retreat, the stone remnants of which are still visible at the end of the hike. Part of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), this hike offers nice winter views. RomanticAsheville.com has detailed information about the trail and its historical significance.

Skyline Trail (Chimney Rock Park) For some stunning winter views of the Hickory Nut Gorge area, located just a half hour south of the Inn on Mill Creek, check out the Skyline Trail at Chimney Rock Park. The trail leads up to the highest point in the Park, Exclamation Point. For more Chimney Rock trails, visit the trails section of Chimney Rock Park’s website.

Stone Mountain Short Hike (Dupont Forest) – Located in parts of Henderson and Transylvania Counties southwest of the Inn on Mill Creek, Dupont State Forest is known for is its outstanding waterfall hikes. Waterfalls abound in this part of Western North Carolina. However, Dupont Forest also contains a few nice mountain hikes that offer 360-degree unobstructed views in the wintertime. One such hike is Stone Mountain. Visit the Stone Mountain hike section of Dupont Forest’s website for detailed information about this hike, which has both moderate and more strenuous options.

UPDATE: We’ve ten more hikes for winter in the NC mountains to the blog (February 2015)

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