Hiking is a popular pastime in the High Country — with many trails and paths within a quick drive of many of the popular towns in the region.
Edgar Peck, the director of the physical education activity program at App State, teaches a hiking class at the university. His hiking experience has taken him all over the High Country, but for him four hikes stand out the most.
The first is the Table Rock Summit trail at Linville Gorge, which Peck said is a moderate 3-mile round trip to the summit and back. He said a person who hikes this trail will see “stunning” 360-degree long-range views.
Peck said some key items to know about this trail is that the road to the Table Rock trailhead is a long, bumpy, gravel road. With a parking lot at the end. The road — Table Rock Mountain Road — can be reached via Hwy 181 south of Linville.
The gate is typically open April-December barring bad weather, Peck said. If the gate is closed, the summit can also be reached via the Mountains to Sea trail or Little Table Rock trail from the Spence Ridge Trailhead, which are both longer and harder routes.
Peck said an alternative to the Table Rock Summit trail is Hawksbill Mountain trail, which Peck said is a moderate 2.4-mile round trip out and back trail. He said it provides similar views with a less harrowing drive.
The second trail Peck recommends is the Elk Knob State Park Summit trail, which is a moderate 4-mile trail to the summit and back. The trailhead is at Elk Knob State Park, which closes at 8 p.m. in September and October, and at 6 p.m. in November.
Peck said this trail will bring spectacular long-range views of the mountains and piedmont. On a clear day, Peck said hikers can see Pilot Mountain in the distance. An alternative to this trail is the Beech Trail, which Peck said is an easy 1-mile loop through a beech tree forest.
His third hike is a portion of the Mountains to Sea Trail — a moderate 6-mile round trip to the Wilson Creek Overlook and back. Peck said a hiker will see small waterfalls, interesting rock formations and the Linn Cove Viaduct from below.
“This is a great trail to combine with a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Peck said. “For much of its route in the High Country the MST parallels the parkway. This also allows folks to choose virtually any distance. It is also one of the few High Country trails with mostly flat or gently rolling terrain.”
The trailhead is at the Beacon Heights parking area at the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Hwy 221. The alternative trail is Beacon Heights Overlook trail, which Peck said is an easy 1-mile round trip out and back trail to “amazing” views.
His final trail recommendation is the Grandfather Mountain Crest trail, which he said is a difficult 8.5-mile round trip lollipop loop out to McRae Peak onto McRae Gap and back on the Underwood trail.
The trailhead is at the Grandfather Mountain attraction visitor’s center and the purchase of an admission ticket to the Grandfather Mountain attraction in advance online is required.
Peck said the hikers will see long-range views of the high country and mountain flora and fauna. He said this trail is difficult and requires climbing steep, long, wooden ladders on exposed
rock faces. An alternative to this trail is the Daniel Boone Scout trail to Calloway Peak and is a difficult 6-mile round trip to the summit and back.
When hiking — especially in the fall — Peck recommends hikers should bring multiple layers rather than one thick coat, which allows the hiker to add or shed layers to regulate temperature. He also recommends hikers bring a shell — like a raincoat — as weather changes rapidly in the mountains and this outer layer preserves warmth by protecting the hiker from the wind.
“The temperature also drops about 4 degrees for every 1000 feet of elevation gained,” Peck said. “It might be sunny, warm, and protected at the trailhead, but could be raining with heavy winds and 10 degrees colder further up the mountain. Bring a backpack or waist pack. This makes carrying food, water and extra clothes easier, along with the ability to pack out any trash. Wear bright colors in the fall if you are in an area where people may be hunting.”
Peck also said that people typically think their phone or GPS will work on a hike, but in reality it doesn’t work well.
“Plan ahead and save your driving and hiking routes in advance and use paper maps,” Peck said. “It is easy to get lost on dirt roads with no street signs. This is a good thing. Wilderness and the mountains provide a chance to rest and recharge away from electronic devices.”
Peck also recommends people choose a trail within their skill and ability level and to be honest about their abilities. He also wants people to remember that 1000 feet of elevation gain is equivalent to climbing a 19-story building.
“Combine that with uneven, rocky, and slippery terrain, and you can begin to appreciate how elevation gain affects difficulty and hiking differs from walking on even, flat ground,” Peck said. “Note the time you left the trailhead and track your progress. A typical hiking pace in the mountains is 1-2 miles per hour. Ensure you have enough time to complete your trail.”
On a hike, Peck recommends people bring an emergency contacts-flight plan, backpack, topographic map, compass, food, water, water filter, rain gear, sunscreen, sunglasses, knife or multi tool, light, whistle, fire starter, first aid supplies, watch, trekking poles, clothes that are non-cotton and a phone. He said a hiker should put their name and number on their equipment.
Peck also wants people to practice the Leave No Trace when hiking and interacting in the wilderness.
“No one is perfect, but these are guidelines to help people be reflective about how they can minimize their impact on the environment and preserve these resources,” Peck said.
LNT is a set of ethics that Peck said people should follow to minimize their impact on the wilderness. They include respecting wildlife, disposing of waste properly and being considerate to others.
While Peck has his hiking recommendations, there are many other trails near the area. At milepost 294 on the Parkway, hikers will find the Moses Cone Manor, which has a preserved farm house and 1,000-plus acres of surrounding land that was turned into a park. At the manor, hikers will find a 2.5-mile trail to a climbable fire tower that overlooks Boone.
Further along the Blue Ridge Parkway, there is the Rte. 221 exit to Blowing Rock. After a potential hiker turns onto the exit, they will also see a sign for Shulls Mill Road. After about 7/10 of a mile on Shulls Mill Road, you will come across a metal fence with a wooden gate beside it by a small parking lot just past the one-way exit road for Trout Lake, which leads to the three mile Rich Mountain Carriage Trail. The trail is moderate and takes a hiker through the forest and up to the top of the mountain before heading back down to the trailhead.
Continuing on the Parkway, there is a parking lot for Rough Ridge Trail on the right, which is a very busy trail in the summer months and can be crowded. The trail is moderate and offers a shorter hike to a decent view and a longer hiker to an even greater view.
For experienced hikers, there is another demanding yet adventurous uphill trail to that leads to Grandfather Mountain that is free. That trail — Profile Trail — is an arduous trail that will take a hiker most of the day, but will give you views of the High Country that are hard to find elsewhere.
Just across the border into Tennessee lies the Carver’s Gap parking lot that is the staging area for the Roan Mountain Grassy Balds Trail. It’s about 20 miles from Grandfather Mountain and is part of the Appalachian Trail. The Roan Mountain trails are unique and spectacular, representing the largest stretch of grassy balds to be found in the whole Appalachian Mountain chain. Climbing to more than 6,000 feet, the views and the rare plants and flowers and different terrains found on the path are worth the trip.
At milepost 308 on the Parkway, there is an easy 30-minute hike on the right known as the Flat Rock Trail. The fairly flat trail leads through some wonderfully thick woods and ends up at a view that looks over the valley below. This is also known as the “Sunset Trail” as it is a superb place to watch a sunset, especially if nature is putting on a good show as the sun fades under the horizon.
At milepost 311 on the Parkway, you will take a left turn onto Old Jonas Ridge road, which will take you further into the Wilson Creek Gorge to some challenging yet rewarding trails. Once you turn left onto Old Jonas Ridge road, go two miles until you see a white church on your left at a big curve in the road. Beside the church is a gravel road that goes straight at the turn. That is Forest Road 464, aka Pineola Road. Once on Forest Road 464, you will see the trailhead for Big Lost Cove Cliffs on the left a couple of miles in, and three miles farther you will see a small parking lot on the right for the Little Lost Cove Cliffs trail. The latter is a shorter hike, but both of these moderately difficult trails lead to outstanding cliff-top vistas.
Back on the Parkway, within a few short miles you will enter the Linville Gorge and Linville Falls section of the High Country. For an easy and amazing view of Linville Gorge, go to the Rte. 221 exit at the 317 milepost on the BRP. Once exited, turn left onto Rte. 221 and then take another left onto Rte. 183 less than a mile ahead. About 7/10 of a mile on Rte. 183, you will find a gravel road on the right with signs that will lead you to Wiseman’s View and Linville Falls. This will be Rte. 1238, aka Old Route 105. The first parking lot you will see on the left are for two trails that show you different views of Linville Falls.
If you take Rte. 1238 for almost exactly four miles further, however, you will see the sign for the Wiseman’s View parking lot on the left. Turn left there and you will find a short, wheelchair accessible paved walkway that leads to a very special a view of Linville Gorge. The vistas seen there will simply take your breath away.
But, a quick warning: remember that Rte. 1238 to Wiseman’s View is a gravel mountain road, so if you have 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle, you should be fine. If you are in a vehicle that is only two-wheel drive, only go on the gravel road if it is completely dry. Watch out for the occasional ruts as you venture forth, otherwise the heart-stopping sights at Wiseman’s View are very much worth the effort.
Here is a more adventurous way to experience the other rim and the summits of Linville Gorge.
Back at milepost 312 on the Parkway, you will see the exit for Rte. 181. Once there, turn south onto Rte. 181 and look for the second right turn onto Ginger Cake Road, which will be across from a big wooden “Ginger Cake Acres” sign on the left. Once on Ginger Cake Road you will quickly turn left onto Table Rock Road, which eventually becomes a gravel road that will lead you to fantastic trails on the east side of Linville Gorge. As you travel along, you will see a parking lot about four miles in for the trail that leads to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain, which is one of the better hikes in the region.
These hikes allow people to relax and exercise while taking in the stunning views these hikes can offer.