As outdoor public relations pros living in the outdoor mecca of the east, we love scoping out the best spots for a day hike, backpacking trip or trail run (it counts as work if we're field testing our clients' gear...right?). Heading to WNC soon (or lucky enough to already live there)? Hike like the locals on our 8 favorite trails in the Asheville area.
Angie Robinson: Mountain to Sea
Well, we don’t really hike in our family…we’re more trail runners and cyclists, so I’ll share my favorite Asheville trail run – it’s like hiking, only faster? Nothing beats the Mountain to Sea Trail for me. It’s close to town, the trail is rugged and there are so many different points to hop on and get in a 3, 5, 7 or 10 mile run in. For Ashevillians, it really is convenient and a beautiful representation of the ruggedness and biodiversity of this area, from the Shut-in Trail to Mount Mitchell. There’s plenty of water too, so Pooky can always join no matter the season!
Ashleigh Sherman: Roan Highlands
Roan holds a special place in my heart, as it was a favorite spot of mine during my A.T. thru-hike. It has remained a favorite spot of mine since moving to Asheville – though the climb up the 6,286-foot mountain is significantly easier without a fully loaded pack on my back! I love parking at Carvers Gap and heading north for stunning, 360-degree views from Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald. There's no better picnic spot in WNC (except maybe for Max Patch)!
Coral Darby: Mountain to Sea
I love any section of the Mountain to Sea…the trail runs adjacent to the parkway, and I can climb west for crazy elevation gain and a helluva workout, or I can enjoy the rolling hills east of 74A near the Folk Art Center and Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. Never do I feel alone even when I take to the trail solo – people, bears, snakes, the Mountain to Sea has it all. Just follow the white dots and go.
Cory Van Auken: Panthertown Valley
It’s hard to beat the “Yosemite of the East” in the beautiful Nantahala. Panthertown Valley has miles of trails that feature granite domes, gorges, waterfalls and incredible biodiversity. The 10-mile Panthertown Loop packs a lot of awesome features into a moderate loop. At one point during the hike, you’ll pass lazy streams with white sandbars followed by awesome scenic views of the valley and granite domes. Just watch out for the carnivorous plants…and the bears when you camp...mostly the bears.
Dan Arnett: Big East Fork Trail
This is a great hike because it gives you so many options. Running along the banks of the East Fork of the Pigeon River, the trail ends a little less than 4 miles from the trailhead located right off of 276. Going out and back makes for a great day hike, and there are plenty of spots to hang up a hammock beside the stream. The river is full of wild brook trout, and there are some great runs and pools (though I'm not saying where!), so bring a rod with you. If you're looking for more than a day trip, the trail links up with the Grassy Cove Trail, which will take you up to Ivestor Gap and then on to Black Balsam for some unbeatable views.
Erin Crowley: Grandfather Mountain
A two-day excursion at Grandfather Mountain started on the Profile Trail. This character-building adventure was a variety of beautiful landscapes, elevation (and weather) changes, and many rock faces, but not just any ol’ rock face: Grandfather Mountain’s face. As if an elder of Rushmore, Grandfather will give you the natural, kindred feels of a weather-carved character as you near his edges and pellets of ice carve out your own face. Car camping warmed our spirits at a campground nearby as we headed to the base of the mountain. We thawed our hearts out from the first frothy day, contented by a fire pit and a 20-degree temperature increase.
Day 1: 32-degree weather, sunshine and 60-mph winds, patches of snow and ice, a frozen scramble, and a profile (trail) view of Grandfather. We hiked in our micro-down jackets and buffs up to our eyeballs. Windburn was the only rough patch.
Day 2: 180 degree switchback, beginning with a 70-degree start and clear, sunny skies, tanktop weather in a rock climbers’ paradise with boulders all along the trails and waterfall meditation stations. But forgotten among winter gear of the day before was our sunscreen. Eventually we bouldered our way into a broken ankle and wore forgetful sun-and-wind-burned faces.
Katie Richter: Shortoff Mountain
Overlooking Linville Gorge, the Shortoff Mountain trail is a challenging 4.5 mile round-trip with incredible views of Lake James to the south and Linville Gorge to northwest. On the way up the mountain, scorched tree trucks serve as a ghostly reminder of two major forest fires that outbroke in 2002 and 2007. The post-fire landscape has bounded back, as nature does. The juxtaposition of charred trees towering above flourishing undergrowth and wildflowers is haunting, yet reassuring: nature will always find a way to heal itself.
Once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” You might even see folks trad climbing below – the gorge is very popular rock climbing spot! Feel free to camp overnight as there are many awesome spots at the summit. Just make sure you get your permit through the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest and leave no trace!
Expert’s Tip: Hit up Fonta Flora Brewery at Whippoorwill Farm for a post-hike pint.
Suzanne Hermann: Max Patch
My favorite hike may seem like an obvious choice, but it’s popular for a reason. Max Patch and the adjacent section of the Appalachian Trail are my absolute faves! The view from the bald is breathtaking, and if it’s too crowded up top, just strike out along the A.T. for a gorgeous and challenging day hike through what feels like multiple ecosystems all in one place.