Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spectacular Hikes in Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the most spectacular hikes in Western North Carolina is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, beginning off the spur road that goes into the Black Balsam and Sam's Knob parking area at mile post marker 420.
View of Looking Glass Rock from atop Tennent Mountain
The trail section referenced here follows along part of the Art Loeb trail and into the Shining Rock Wilderness area.  The trail as we talk about it here is out and back so may be as long or as short as one wishes to make it or has time for.  Spectacular scenery begins soon after the hike begins, about 1/4 mile up the trail.






For those hiking with pets,  there is not a lot of water along the trail, but small springs are scattered here and there every few miles.  There are also several springs that are obviously used by hikers to filter or treat as a water source, especially around the actual Shining Rock area.  Once on this part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, elevations begin around 5000 feet above sea level, so bring extra clothes, layers and hats, even in many summer months.  You will notice a big difference in the flora and fauna at this elevation as well, making the area and hike all the more striking, interesting and beautiful.


  

There are two places to start this section of the Art Loeb Trail.  I prefer starting at the obvious trail head about 1/4 mile in on the paved spur road (off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MPM 420) on the right side of the road. This is such a popular section, there are almost always other cars parked there.  There is also a larger parking area another 1/2 mile further down this spur road and where the Ivester Gap Trail and old fire road merges.  There is a pit toilet at this parking area and several other fantastic hikes begin from this parking area as well.





From the first trailhead referenced above, you will climb up and turn left hiking up through a forest of Black Balsam trees.  After a fairly short hike, you will break through the trees, continuing up hill to the first bald and quickly out into the open at high elevation to take in breathtaking 360 degree views.

The trail is open and very exposed most of the way, so watch the weather and bring sunscreen.  There are rough and rocky sections, but because the start of the hike is at a fairly high elevation point to begin with (especially for the Eastern US), there are little ups and downs from mountain top to gap, but really not that much elevation change, especially compared to other hikes.  Balds you will cross include Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain and more.  We hiked 5 miles out to The Shining Rock and back for a 10 plus mile roundtrip hike, all day for us.   And the hike can take you all the way to Cold Mountain (yes, the Cold Mountain referenced in the book "Cold Mountain") for a longer adventure.  Make it as short or as long as you like, turning around at whatever point you reach.  This is a popular place to hike into for even just a mile and watch the sunset.  There are amazing views of Looking Glass Rock, Graveyard Fields and parts of the ribbon of The Blue Ridge Parkway.  All breathtaking with sweeping views!

lunch on "The Shining Rock" - a giant outcropping of Quartz boulders


Giant quartz vein is "The Shining Rock"

So white - it looks like salt hunks


If you need a place to stay, Asheville is about 30 miles away via the Blue Ridge Parkway and host to many bed and breakfast and vacation rental and cabin rental lodging options.