Written by Marla Hardee Milling
Looking to work off all those Thanksgiving meal calories? Consult the Capital at Play guide to day hikes in Western North Carolina.
Life is built on choices, and this Thanksgiving you can choose to recline after a big meal and watch football games all afternoon, or you can choose to work off that meal by hitting a trail.
We’re blessed in Western North Carolina to live in a place where it would be virtually impossible to walk the entire myriad of trails that crisscross our landscape. You can find everything from an easy stroll to a moderate hike to a strenuous, muscle-burning climb. The biggest challenge is deciding where to go. We’ve narrowed it down by some fun categories—see if there’s a trek that piques your interest. There are a few tips that you know, but certainly worth repeating: Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, take plenty of water and any snacks you might need, dress in layers, maintain “Leave No Trace” ethics on your journey (i.e., if you pack it in, pack it back out), and know the rules for particular trails before you go—for example, there are some places you can’t take dogs with you. [Note: Links are provided, but detailed info about most of the trails can be obtained simply by Googling them. Also, scroll down to view our map detailing the locations of each trail.)
Attractions Open Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving is typically one of those days when many attractions close their doors, but there are a couple of places with hiking trails that will continue to roll out a welcome mat, even on November 24.
Biltmore Estate is one of them. With dining options on the estate—including a big buffet Thanksgiving feast at Deerpark—you might want to make a whole day of it. Enjoy the food and then head out on a trail without leaving the property. There are nearly 22 miles of hiking trails at Biltmore and quite a bit of variety with trails running beside the French Broad River, dipping through the forests, or cascading through open meadows. Tip: Stop by the Bike Barn or Outdoor Adventure Center at Antler Hill Village for a detailed trail map and orientation. Regular estate admission applies.
Here’s a quick look at some of the Estate trails:
Farm Trail: This is a 6-mile round trip with flat gravel and dirt trail winding along the French Broad River. It also leads to the Arbor Trace Trail (a 3.5-mile round trip) that meanders in and out of the woods and showcases views of agriculture on the estate and the historic Cottage on Biltmore Estate.
Lagoon Trail: The paved 3-mile (round trip) trail passes the French Broad River and estate farmland, along with a great view of the west side of Biltmore House.
Deer Park Trail: Leading from the Lagoon through Deer Park and up to the South Terrace (a 2.5-mile round trip), it also provides access to the estate gardens and Bass Pond.
The North Carolina Arboretum
A great way to experience the Winter Lights outdoor holiday light exhibit on a nighttime stroll. It runs from 6PM to 10PM, November 18 – January 1, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. While this might not be a typical hike, it will get you moving outdoors and provides plenty of amazing displays along the way. Keep in mind, tickets are date specific and must be purchased in advance.
Carl Sandburg Trails
The Carl Sandburg National Historic Site in Flat Rock is closed for Thanksgiving, but staff there says visitors can still access the grounds and hike the trails on the property. There are five miles of trails here, including the Glassy Mountain Trail to the top of Big Glassy Mountain. It begins behind the house, but you can also access it by crossing a field across from the goat barns.
Best View Payoff
If you are looking for trails that lead to stunning 360-degree views of the Western North Carolina mountains, there are several that quickly come to mind. Of course, how far you can see on any particular day depends on the weather conditions at the time.
If it’s a clear day when you reach the summit at Clingman’s Dome, you’ll likely have a panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s right at the North Carolina/Tennessee line and rises 6,643 feet—the highest mountain in the Park, the highest point along the Appalachian Trail, and the third highest peak east of the Mississippi. It’s 23 miles from Cherokee.
Craggy Pinnacle Trail
Fairly moderate, this 1.4-mile round trip hike leads to spectacular views at a summit elevation of 5,892 feet. Located at milepost 364.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the parking lot for this trail is found just past the Craggy Gardens Visitor’s Center. Go through a short tunnel and then turn left into the lot. Pay attention to signs—there are fragile, endangered species here, so stay on the marked trails to protect them.
Sam Knob Summit Trail
Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, this 2.2-mile round trip hike begins at 5,800 feet and climbs to 6,050 at the double peak of Sam Knob. To get there, drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 420 and then turn right on Forest Service Rd. 816. Go 1.2 miles to the parking area.
Table Rock Trail
A more challenging hike, but the views make it worth it. It’s about a mile to the summit of Table Rock, which is located on the eastern edge of the Linville Gorge. This is where you’ll find a popular rock climbing spot known as The Chimneys and have a chance to see Peregrine Falcons in the area. Dogs must be leashed; use caution taking kids because of some exposed cliffs and rock scrambling required to navigate to the top. For detailed directions check the website.
Trails Around Waterfalls
It’s only been in recent years that the trail to Catawba Falls has become public, with the United States Forest Service acquiring the surrounding land in 2010 from the Foothills Conservancy. Located near Old Fort, the trail to the falls follows the Catawba River and is a 3-mile round trip.
Head up the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Little Switzerland and turn into the Crabtree Meadows Recreation Area at milepost 339.5. The trail is a fairly moderate 2.5-mile loop. The payoff is a gorgeous 70-foot waterfall. It’s okay to take dogs, but they must be leashed.
Dupont Forest Falls
Dupont State Forest is a waterfall lovers dream, with several to explore: Triple Falls, High Falls, Hooker Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Wintergreen Falls, and Grassy Creek Falls. Start at the Hooker Falls parking lot on Staton Road. From there you can walk to Hooker Falls and stand on the observation deck. Proceed on (about a 7-minute walk) upstream to Triple Falls, and High Falls is about 15 minutes past that.
Graveyard Fields Trail
Milepost 418.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway is the place to find this popular hiking spot. One of the trails here, the Graveyard Fields Loop (4 miles) is probably the most well traveled and leads to some beautiful falls.
High Falls Trail
Just a little north of Cashiers, this somewhat challenging 1.4-mile (round trip) trail leads to the High Falls waterfall at Lake Glenville. Here you’ll see the Tuckasegee River pouring over a 100+ foot cliff, creating stunning beauty. Park at the High Falls trailhead at Lake Glenville.
This is one of the most popular waterfalls in the region, with a Falls Trail that is easy and is only a 1.6-mile round trip. There are other trails here as well that lead to this spectacular three-tiered waterfall, including the more strenuous Gorge Trail (1.4 miles) and the Plunge Basin Trail (1 mile). You’ll find the Visitor’s Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 316.
Skinny Dip Falls
Park at the Looking Glass Rock overlook at milepost 417 on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). The trail to the falls is only a half mile and begins across the BRP from the parking area. It’s a fairly easy walk, although you will encounter a few climbs and rocks. Keep this spot in mind when next summer rolls around—it’s a popular swimming hole.
Trails Around Lakes
Beaver Lake, Asheville
It’s fairly new to be able to walk all the way around Beaver Lake in North Asheville. Park at the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary on Merrimon Avenue and access the trail at the far end of the parking area. It takes about 45 minutes to go all the way around the lake. There is a short stretch where you’ll have to walk on the sidewalk beside the very busy Merrimon Avenue, so keep your guard up.
Lake Louise, Weaverville
Follow the well-traveled path around Lake Louise in Weaverville. It’s a popular spot for walkers and joggers. The Town of Weaverville owns and maintains Lake Louise Park, and if you want to stop during your walk, there are picnic shelters, grills, a playground, restrooms, and fishing spots.
Julian Price Lake, Blowing Rock
Up in the High Country, it’s easy to traverse the 2.7-mile loop circling the 47-acre Julian Price lake. The first mile is a Kids Track Trail. Access the trail from the Price Lake Overlook (milepost 296.7 on the Blue Ridge Parkway) or the Boone Fork Overlook (milepost 297.1). There are many other trails in this area. Details of all the Julian Price Park Hiking Trails can be found online.
Kids in Parks Track Trails
If you’re planning to hit the trail with kids, there are some in our area designed specifically for young explorers. It’s part of the Kids In Parks Track Trail Program. Each trail features a self-guided brochure and prizes kids can win for tracking their adventure. Sign up free online, choose a trail to hike, track the adventure, and get prizes—it’s that simple. The website spotlights these trails in several states, including North Carolina. The very first Track Trail was installed August 29, 2009, at the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Asheville Visitor Center, located at 195 Hemphill Knob Road. The trail here is a looping 1.5-mile walk with a few hills and stairs. It follows part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail on both sides of the parkway. (Note: prepare for a road crossing.) We don’t have space to detail all of the Track Trails in our area, but here are a few to consider. Explore the others online. Along with the brochures, you can also find detailed driving directions and other information.
North Carolina Arboretum Track Trail
The trail here is an easy 1.3-mile loop that follows the Natural Garden Trail and winds through a mixed hardwood forest and formal gardens. Download brochures for two adventures here: Hide and Seek and Turtle Tales.
Chimney Rock State Park
There are four suggested adventures you can download, including Bug Off, Nature’s Hide & Seek, Need for Trees, and Track & Traces. These adventures can be used on any trail in the park, but young kids will particularly enjoy the Great Woodland Adventure Trail, which is a half mile loop with interpretive exhibits featuring Grady the Groundhog, the mascot for Chimney Rock.
Fletcher Community Park
Enjoy a 1-mile (round trip) walk that follows Cane Creek and Hoopers Creek. This Track Trail provides families with scenic views of distant mountains. There’s also access to many miles of trails around this park.
Other Family Favorites
The Botanical Gardens at Asheville
The gardens here are open free every day of the year from dawn to dusk and feature easy trails through a diverse collection of more than 600 plant species native to the Southern Appalachians. Walk beside the creek along a path up to the dog trot cabin, but note that pets are not allowed here.
Moses Cone Park Trails
There’s a network of fairly easy trails around the Moses Cone House near Blowing Rock. A fun way to start is to do the loop around Bass Lake and then follow the trail up to the historic house. The house, known as “Flat Top Manor,” is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center.
Requires More Stamina
If you’re up for a more strenuous challenge, there are trails that will certainly push you past your comfort zone.
This popular peak is located at milepost 407.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway—easy to spot from a distance because it’s the site of the WLOS-TV transmission tower. This 3-mile round trip hike is ranked moderate to strenuous as you work your way to the 5,721-foot summit. If you want to cover more distance, turn left shortly after starting the Mt. Pisgah trail and follow the trail (6-mile round trip) to Fryingpan Lookout Tower.
The Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain
This is an all-day hiking event taking you through one of North Carolina’s most rugged landscapes. There are steep inclines, boulder-strewn paths, and other obstacles.
One of the toughest climbs in the region starts at the Black Mountain Campground on the Toe River and heads up to the summit of Mount Mitchell, which, at 6,684 feet, is the highest peak east of the Mississippi. The total length of this rough and rugged hike is 11.4 miles.
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