Fall is approaching and the stunning mountains of western NC never disappoint, with some of the most scenic views in the state being located right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a sight to behold in itself. But if you haven’t experienced any of the hiking trails first hand, you’re missing out even more. These trails offer up-close views of lush, rolling forests with breathtaking waterfalls, rushing streams, grassy meadows and native wildflowers. They also vary by length and level of difficulty (from easy to strenuous). But all the hikes listed below are dog-friendly!
1. Beacon Heights (1 mile round-trip, easy)
Beacon Heights is a short, easy trail located off of Milepost 305.2. This trail offers spectacular views of Grandfather Mountain, with rock platforms where you can sit back and take in the scenery. You can also find other nearby hiking trails, along with Julian Price Park. That great campground is definitely worth a visit.
2. Crabtree Falls Trail (2.7 mile round-trip, relatively moderate)
This is a relatively-moderate hike with some strenuous spots, but it offers a lot of reward. With one of NC’s most spectacular waterfalls, Crabtree Creek plunges over 70 feet into a deep pool below. This trail descends through mixed hickory-oak forest and paths of rosebay rhododendron and wildflowers. Hikers should allow one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours for the entire hike.
3. Linville Falls Trail (2.2 mile round-trip, relatively moderate)
Located between Asheville and Boone sits Linville Falls, perhaps one of the most photographed waterfalls in NC. This hiking trail begins at the visitor center near milepost 316. Linville Falls dives deep between two rugged ridges, tumbling almost 2,000 feet below. Its landscape also includes three waterfall overlooks. Pack a picnic, sit down by the Linville River and marvel at the majesty of this area.
4. Mount Mitchell Summit and Balsam Nature Trail (1-mile round-trip, relatively moderate)
Mount Mitchell stands at 6,684 feet, the highest point of elevation east of the Mississippi River. This is relatively-moderate, family-friendly hike meanders along a paved trail. It continues through lush spruce-fir forest with dramatic panoramic views in every direction. Sunrise is a particularly beautiful time to go for a hike on this trail.
5. Mt. Pisgah Trail (2.3 mile round-trip, moderately difficult)
You can easily see this mountain (one deeply rooted in Asheville history) from downtown on a clear day. The mountain is the former home of the Buck Springs Lodge, the Vanderbilt family’s hunting outpost southwest of the Biltmore Estate. Though the hike isn’t necessarily easy, it is relatively short. Reaching the summit’s observation deck is well worth it, as you take in expansive views of the Appalachian mountains at every glance. The Pisgah Inn restaurant, deck and gift shop also sit at the top of the observation deck if you want to grab a bite to eat after the hike.
6. Craggy Gardens Trail (1.9 mile round-trip, easy to moderate)
This beautiful and relatively easy hike departs from the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 364. It abounds with rhododendrons, berries and wildflowers in late summer. Beginning at the summit with stunning panoramic views, the trail meanders down through green gnarled trees and rhododendrons to a grassy picnic area and then loops you back to the visitor’s center. Pack a picnic for this one and bask in the sundrenched light overlooking the mountains.
7. Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain Loop (5.1 mile round-trip, relatively moderate)
This is a relatively moderate, though somewhat longer hike on the Art Loeb Trail. And its views won’t disappoint. Enjoy this adventure over two bald mountains drenched in berries, wildflowers, rolling mountain tops, and grassy meadows. The summit is located at 6,000 ft elevation and is almost entirely devoid of trees, offering 360 degree views (including the waterfall-filled Graveyard Fields).
8. Fryingpan Mountain Tower Trail (1.5 miles round-trip, relatively moderate)
A short hike from milepost 409.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway will lead you to views of Pisgah National Forest from the historic fire tower near Mt. Pisgah. The 70-foot tower was built in 1941 by the United States Forest Service and is on the National Register of Historic Places. From the tower you can see Looking Glass Rock, including a close-up look at the famous Cold Mountain. Dogs on leash are allowed. However, you should know that the climb the tower is quite steep, and many dogs are afraid of the climb. You might end up carrying your dog back down.
9. Big Butt Trail to Point Misery (4.5 mi roundtrip, strenuous)
Don’t be put off by the comical name. Though strenuous Big Butt includes steep sections, it is very well marked and maintained. Once you reach the 5,000 feet elevation, you will be thankful you put in the work. This trail begins at the Walker Knob Overlook at Milepost 358.9, which is roughly four miles north of Craggy Gardens and four miles south of Mount Mitchell. This area is great for bird watching and takes you through a lush and diverse spruce fir forest full of mushrooms and wildflowers, waking all of your senses.
10. Richland Balsam (1.5 mile loop, easy)
Don’t forget to stop at the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at 6,410 feet in the air. There are two overlooks for Richland Balsam near milepost 431, and this worthwhile hike is only 45 miles from downtown Asheville. Park at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook to begin the 1.5 mile loop through spruce-fir forest up to the top of Richard Balsam, passing over the summit of the tenth-highest point in the eastern United States.
Get out of your car and hit the trails for one of these amazing hikes (or safe-cations!) off the Blue Ridge Parkway this Fall! The memories you make in the NC mountains will last a lifetime and leave you longing for more.