Thanksgiving is about food and family. A house is chosen, sometimes in a rotation, and everyone who doesn’t live there hops on the road and starts driving. Around this home’s table the family convenes for gluttony and reminiscing with most likely some football to follow. Some families get along better than others, but hopefully on this day even the most contentious differences can be set aside in lieu of turkey (or, heaven forbid, tofurkey), cauldrons of gravy, and cranberry sauce, canned or otherwise.
The harrowing nature of attempting to juggle catching up the family with the last year of events, all the while eating through an eight layer plate. This can result in a serious need for some outside time. A digestif with a view. Look at the couch. There is an uncle or cousin laying in the fetal position. He went down hard after the third helping of chess pie. Most likely he will not be joining in any after meal activities, so leave him to his blissful misery and, rest assured, he will recover in due time.
Whether by luck or purposeful genius, you are in Western North Carolina, and somewhere nearby there is a hike that will get you out for a jaunt, a view, and a more intimate conversation with your favorite relative (be honest, we all have one). If the four pounds of food consumed between noon and two didn’t kill you, a little fresh air and natural beauty certainly won’t.
Here are a few trail options that provide good routes for a family day trip. Some are easier than others but all are manageable, beautiful, and seasonally appropriate. Locations are in areas that are well established with signage. Ranger stations and visitors centers can provide handy on site help to get you started. The bugs are long gone but a bit of sunscreen never hurts. Neither will these treks. On a day of giving thanks it is better to be gasping at the majesty of a mountain range than buckled over for want of air. Bring layers to keep out the chill (the warmth of family may not suffice). Leftover sandwiches and a sleeping uncle will be waiting by the fire when you return.
1.5 miles • N.E. of Asheville, NC
Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 264, depending on where you access “America’s Favorite Drive,” head North or South till you get there.
This is a really cool spot. You won’t catch the rhododendron blooms this time of year but the views are impressive year-round. Options, including the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, are varied in difficulty between easy and easy. At 1.5 miles round-trip the Pinnacle is a lot of view for very little effort. A section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs through this neck of the woods and, for a day when you aren’t warped with tryptophan, this is a great way to scout the access point to Douglas Falls, for a must see hike at a later date.
1 mile • Blowing Rock, NC
Tucked into Moses Cone Memorial Park is a petite lake that lends itself to bird watching, trout fishing, and Thanksgiving recovery walks. Moses and Bertha Cone, some folks I would have liked to meet, left a benevolent footprint everywhere they stepped. This park is a fine example of conservation estate planning and has well placed walking paths spanning the property. The Manor House is certainly worth a look for the historically minded and the Craftsman Trail is a quick, half-hour (factoring in the full stomach) walk.
Just outside the town of Blowing Rock, Trout Lake is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as Highway 221. You can also find Shulls Mill Road anywhere from Foscoe, North Carolina, to Blowing Rock as well as follow the signs to Trout Lake as you exit the Blue Ridge Parkway around mile marker 294.
Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park
under 2 miles • Lake Lure, NC
The entrance to the park is located off Highway 64 on the west side of Lake Lure, right where the Broad River enters the lake.
This grand park is closed on the day of Thanksgiving but provides ample entertainment for a day trip and picnic with the whole family. This will give you a bit more time to explore the area and work up an appetite (as well as recruit folks to join you). There is something here for everyone to enjoy. 5 hikes, each under 2 miles round trip, and most under a mile. Easy pickings, I would recommend the Skyline for a starter. The hike is a bit steep and a whopping 0.7 miles round-trip. Yes, 0.7, you can handle it. If you get done with that and need a bit more ooomph, try the Four Seasons Trail for another mile and a half. Start slow on a day like this. Bring a lot of water to prevent cramps from excessive food intake. If you have a two-year-old with you the “Great Woodland Adventure,” while probably the least adventurous trail I have ever seen, is a little over a half mile and may give the little one a chance to get his or her hiking legs a try.
Looking Glass Falls
under 0.5 mile • Pisgah Forest, NC
Along with many other notable activities, this scenic attraction is accessed through the intersection of Highway 64 and Highway 276 in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. Just stay on Highway 276, past the Davidson River campground and Pisgah Ranger station, the falls are located about a half-mile past the left turn to the “Hatchery.” The parking lot for access will be on your right. Less of a hike and more of an outing. Sections of the falls are visible from wheel chair accessible points and the paths are very well maintained. Located close to Sliding Rock on the way into Pisgah near Brevard, there are various sights to take in, and access made easy for those who shouldn’t be excluded (and wouldn’t want to be). Mark Inglis, a double amputee, climbed Everest. Old or young, fit or not, here is a chance to get rolling on that New Year’s resolution that hasn’t happened yet.
Explorer Loop Trail
3 miles • Asheville, NC
One of the longer selections on this list at three miles. The Explorer Loop Trail is still reasonably flat and pleasant. There are some Rhododendron thickets and intermingling Laurel that diffuse the wind and add texture to the scenery. Located off of I-26 and Brevard Road, getting in is easy and worth going a bit off the beaten path. Less mountainous and more like a naturally occurring garden nestled into middle ground.
This is a hike I originally found in a list of hikes compiled by Ruthie Gibson in Out Under The Sky. My grandmother, Betty Haywood, knew her and reflected that even Park Rangers asked Ruthie for directions. Mrs. Gibson has since passed, but leaves the legacy of a hiker and adventurer worthy of remembrance and admiration. I was not fortunate enough to meet her, but I intend to hike every hike on that list. Perhaps then I will know her a little better.