Spring is here although you can’t see it through all the snow and ice in Blowing Rock as I write this today. Nonetheless, as warmer weather approaches, my Missus and I can enjoy some day hikes somewhere nearby. We both prefer day hikes over pack hiking for a variety of reasons. One, we can be less concerned about the things we need to bring in (or pack out). That allows us to relax and enjoy the scenery around us, which ultimately is the whole point of hiking. Also, our “furry” family members are “inside” dogs, so we can’t be away from home too long to make sure they are fed and walked. Last, my Missus will NOT sleep outside. She is more than willing to accommodate my love of the outdoors, but at the end of the day, she expects a hot shower, a good meal, and a warm bed. Since I appreciate her willingness to make hiking something we do together, I think it is a fair trade.
So in preparation for our upcoming “wanderings,” I thought I would list a few of our favorite “leg stretchers” near Boone/Blowing Rock area of the North Carolina mountains.
I’ll start with my favorite hike first. Rough Ridge is on the Blue Ridge Parkway right before the Linn Cove Viaduct. Rough Ridge is part of the Tanawha Trail and is accessible from the Rough Ridge Overlook (Milepost 302.8), it is a 2.3 mile “up and back” hike. While the elevation change of around 800 feet is a little daunting for those not used to it, the effort is worth it with intermittent panoramic views of Grandfather Mountain, the viaduct, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are usually a lot of tourists on the lower part of the trail, but the elevation and poor shoe choices (I have seen people try and hike it in flip-flops) usually keep them from the upper part. While it can be a little short at just over 2 miles, you can lengthen it by parking at the Boulder Field Overlook (Milepost 302.4) and pick up the Tanawha Trail there.
I would argue it is one of the most photographed parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and once you hike it, you will know why. I cannot recommend this trail enough.
Moses Cone Flat Top Mountain Trail
This trail is also situated right off the Blue Ridge Parkway by way of the Moses Cone Manor house. It is a 5.1 mile up and back trail. Most of the path is accessible by those not used to hiking. After you pass the Cone gravesites and a high meadow, the trail gets a little rougher with a steep elevation change and switchbacks. At the end of the path, there is a fire tower that stands about four stories high that offers a panoramic 360-degree view of Blowing Rock and surrounding area.
My only complaint about this trail is that horse riders often use it. While I love to see these magnificent animals in action; as a hiker, I have to be mindful of the “horsey landmines” they often leave on the trail. That means I’m sometimes looking down at my feet instead of up at the scenery, and in the summer, the aroma is not a pleasing aesthetic of the experience.
Boone Fork Trail
Boone Fork Trail is an excellent 5.2-mile loop trek. The best access to the trail is starting at the Boone Fork Parking Lot. While there are no stunning views like Rough Ridge or Flat Top Mountain, this trail more than makes up for it with a lot of different features, including waterfalls, a high meadow, streams, and creeks and rock formations. Although the trail is next to a campground, it is seldom busy. Rated as “Hard,” we have never found the trail to be particularly strenuous. There are a few treacherous spots where you want to be sure of your footing, but otherwise, it is relatively straightforward. Elevation changes occur throughout the loop, but only near the waterfall does it get challenging.
My only real knock for this hike is part of the trail cuts through the Julian Price Campground. Walking past people’s undies hanging out to dry is not MY ideal was of communing with nature, but hey, to each their own!
For an excellent little “side trek,” do the Price Lake Loop trail on the other side of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This trail is excellent for “non-hikers,” being short at 2.2 miles. It is flat, with defined trails, and beautiful views of the lake and the nearby mountains. Consider that if you find the thought of a 5.2-mile hike a little daunting.
Linville Falls is one of the major scenic stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are three trails at this location; each one offers something a little different. As you might guess by the name, the primary feature for these trails are waterfalls. The first trail is the easiest, the Linville Falls Trail. This up and back trek is less than a mile, with little change in elevation and ending with a lovely view of the first Linville waterfall. Be advised; this trail is heavily trafficked with tourists most of the year. The second trail starts at the up and back Erwins View Trail. This moderate trail encompasses the Linville Falls Trail, so is 1.8 miles in length (adding a mile to the Linville Falls Trail). The moderate rating for this trail is primarily for the elevation change. For most of the year this trail is subject to a considerable amount of tourist foot traffic, but don’t let that stop you. The views of Linville Falls from different vantage points are worth it, culminating at Erwins View, showcasing a sweeping vista of Linville Gorge.
The last trail is the toughest in my opinion. That is the Plunge Basin Trail. This trail is a 1.9-mile loop, with a 500 elevation drop that takes you to the bank of the Linville River. Although this trail is rated “Moderate,” personally I would rate it as “Hard” just based on the rocky trail leading down to the river and then back. Walking by the river can be a little treacherous as well. But once you are on the river, you can see the waterfall “up close and personal”.
Access to these trails starts at the parking lot of the Linville Falls Visitor Center, which is right off the Parkway. Of the hikes listed here, this is the farthest from Boone, probably a 40-45 minute scenic drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Elk Knob Summit Trail
The last trail I’ll mention is the only one that is not accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Elk Knob Summit Trail is part of Elk Knob State Park, north of Boone in the township of Meat Camp. (I’m sorry, I’ll hike anywhere to a place called “Meat Camp.” It just sounds fantastic to a carnivore like me!). This trek is a 3.5 mile up and back trail, with a steady elevation change by way of switchbacks to around 1000 feet to reach the top. While the trail up is not particularly exciting, once you make it to the summit it more than makes up for it. Spectacular long range views of the mountains in all directions. Due to location, this trail is used more by locals than tourists and is often not busy. It is rated moderate for the incline. We found it to be a great place to pack a lunch or light snack and have a mini-picnic when we get to the top.
So there you have it, a few “leg-stretcher” hiking suggestions from a middle-aged geek who is in “reasonable” shape. If you make it to the Boone/Blowing Rock area of the North Carolina mountains, give one of these treks a try! If you have suggestions of other trails to consider, I’d love to hear them!