Written by Toni Sherwood
The holiday season kicks off this month with Thanksgiving leading the fray. Soon we’ll be tempted to overindulge at office parties, football games, and family feasts. Why not coax everyone out of the dining room and into the woods to commune with nature—and each other? These hikes are as accessible as they are family-friendly.
Check out the Map to see the locations.
Bent Creek – Lake Powatan Loop
Just moments from downtown Asheville, The Bent Creek Experimental Forest offers visitors an abundance of trails. The 6,000-acre nature preserve is located within the Pisgah National Forest. Established in 1925, it is the oldest federal experimental forest east of the Mississippi River. Its purpose is to allow for scientific experiments in forest management practices that further restoration and promote sustainable forestry.
There are many trailheads to explore, but the Hard Times trail is a local favorite.
This wide gravel road gives hikers plenty of room to walk and comfortably share the trail with mountain bikers, dogs, kids, and strollers. It’s a short trek from the parking area to the creek where the trail makes a ‘T’.
At the creek, go right toward Lake Powatan. The route loops around the lake at a fairly steady elevation. There are fishing areas, a beach, and, at the end of the loop, a dam that pours into Bent Creek. The trail narrows as it circles the lake. At the end of the loop you will see the bridge you have previously passed. Cross the bridge to head back toward the parking lot. The lake loop takes approximately 20 minutes.
Alternately, go left at the ‘T’ and continue along the creek on the wide flat walkway. In about 30 minutes, you will arrive at a back gate to the Arboretum, which is accessible without any fees when the gate is open (sunrise to sunset). You can enter the Arboretum here and continue further, or simply turn back and retrace your steps.
All trails are well-marked and well-maintained.
Parking: It can be tight on busy days. There are approximately 12 paved parking spaces at the Hard Times Trailhead, and an additional 10 or so along the road just before you reach the paved parking lot. (Tip: From here, there’s a feeder trail that will take you to the main trail.)
Dogs: Yes, on leash.
Local Wildlife: Bears roam Bent Creek Experimental Forest, and owls can be heard in the woods near the lake. Many migratory birds stop here as they head south for the winter.
Restrooms: Outhouse at the main parking area.
If you’re more of a stroller than a hiker, steer the family toward the Arboretum.
Within the boundaries of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest, lies The North Carolina Arboretum. The main entrance is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway where it meets Hwy. 191. This 434-acre public garden includes one of the most renowned Bonsai collections in the country, as well as a year round flower and botanical exhibit. With both indoor and outdoor displays, restrooms, plenty of parking, and well-marked trails, it’s a stress-free destination.
Take a leisurely self-guided tour of the 200-piece indoor/outdoor Art Walk or connect with a guide at the information desk. Be sure to check out the beautiful grounds of the Quilt Garden, an exhibit of flowering plants using the traditional Rail Fence Quilt Block pattern.
But if you’re hankering for a hike, there are 10 miles of trails to work off that second helping of mashed potatoes. One easy walk is the Bent Creek Road, a 12-foot wide gravel-surfaced trail for bikes, pets on leashes, and hikers. This trail is 1.3 miles and follows Bent Creek, with many side trails.
Guided hikes are also available Tuesdays and Saturdays at 1PM, rain or shine through November. Guided walks last one to two hours and are not recommended for children under eight. Topics are seasonal and can include plant species identification and natural history. There is no fee for guided hikes. Walks begin at the Baker Exhibit Lobby on a first come, first-served basis.
Daylight becomes scarcer as we head into winter, but the Arboretum is one place to walk safely after dark. Starting November 20 the Winter Lights event kicks off. The three-acre nightly walking tour of the gardens includes the Quilt Garden and the Bonsai Exhibit. This year there are newly programmed animated displays that move to the beat of classic holiday tunes, as well as family-friendly activities throughout the garden. Winter Lights happens nightly, November 20-January 2, 6-10PM.
Parking: Plenty with the fee.
Dogs: Yes, on a leash no more than six feet.
Local Wildlife: Bears have been spotted within the fenced boundary of the Arboretum, but generally this is an uncommon occurrence. A wide variety of bees, butterflies, and birds, such as hummingbirds, are attracted to the multitude of flowering plants during warm weather seasons.
Fees: $12 vehicles, $50 commercial vehicle,
Hendersonville/Flat Rock: Historic Heights
Jump Off Rock
Thanksgiving and hiking go hand-in-hand. Jump Off Rock is a scenic overlook that gets its name from local folklore. The tale has it that a Cherokee Indian Chief fell in love with a young Indian maiden. They would meet on the rock ledge and look over the valleys and rolling hills. When the chief was called to war, the maiden vowed to wait for him at their favorite spot. But when word came that the chief had died in battle, the heartbroken maiden jumped from the precipice. Some say her spirit still haunts the bluff.
The Jump Off Rock scenic overlook is just five miles from downtown Hendersonville. “This is a great destination for a variety of skill levels,” Michelle Fleming, communications
coordinator for the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, says. “There’s a trail to fit everybody.”
There are three trails that vary in length and intensity. The blue trail is the shortest and easiest, it’s about an eight-minute walk. The yellow trail is moderately strenuous and about a 15-minute walk. The red trail is a good three-mile stretch. It’s more challenging and takes about an hour.
But if the view is what you’re after, the observation area is an easy stroll. “The panoramic view is just 100 feet from the parking lot,” Fleming says.
The park is open year round sunrise to sunset
Parking: There are about 15 spaces in a horseshoe.
Dogs: Yes, on a leash no more than six feet.
Local Wildlife: Minimal bear risk, so take sensible precautions. “Squirrels are probably the most exotic animals you’ll see,” Fleming says.
Carl Sandburg house trails
Five miles of gorgeous trails steeped in literary history surround the Carl Sandburg House.
The trails are accessible sun up to sun down even when the house is closed. The easiest hike is the loop around Front Lake, a .4-mile flat path.
Most visitors walk to the main house and on the trail around Front Lake, but the trails behind the house offer more seclusion and opportunities for solitude. These trails can accommodate two people walking abreast.
From the House to Glassy Mountain is a 1.25 mile moderate to strenuous trek with a 523-foot climb in elevation, but it’s worth it for the view at the end. This trail offers the best views, and as the leaves fall it becomes less obstructed. You can see downtown Hendersonville from the peak. Simply follow your tracks back to return to the House.
The Memminger Trail is a moderate to strenuous loop of approximately .75 mile that crosses the Glassy Mountain Trail before heading back to its origin.
Occasionally, the park sees black bear activity. “Last year the oak trees were prolific with acorns and that attracts a lot of wildlife,” Sarah Perschall, chief of visitor services, says. “So far this year has been one of the least active bear seasons.” Regardless, Perschall advises hikers to err on the side of caution and avoid walking alone.
Carl Sandburg House trail map: www.nps.gov/carl/planyourvisit/upload/TM-2012.pdf
Parking: It can get tight on busy days with about 30 spaces available, including three oversized lots for RVs and buses. The Flat Rock Playhouse parking lot is available until noon for additional parking, and in the afternoons when a performance is not scheduled. Signs will be posted on performance days to restrict parking.
Dogs: Yes, must be on a leash no longer than six feet. Dog waste disposal bags are not provided so be sure to bring your own.
Local Wildlife: Turkeys, squirrels, birds, and the occasional bear. With so much activity on the property, bear sightings are rare.
Restrooms: Only available when the house is open to visitors; 9AM-5PM every day of the week.
Boone & Blowing Rock
Boone Fork Trail
This 5-mile loop is easy to find with the trailhead located at the Price Park picnic area.
“Up here everything depends on the weather,” Bob Heath of the Blue Ridge Hiking Club explains. When roads ice over, the Forest Service will close parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway. But Heath says if the Blue Ridge Parkway is open, the Boone Fork Trail is among his favorites. “I could take anyone who comes to visit me there,” Heath says. Heath has been coordinating hikes for the club for over six years. He leads one to two hikes per month.
Proper shoes and clothing are a must, especially in areas of higher elevation that tend to be colder and more prone to
weather fluctuations. “People come up here and think they can do Grandfather Trail in a pair of flip-flops,” Heath quips.
The Boone Fork Trail winds along a creek with occasional waterfalls. There are many stream crossings. For those who are unfamiliar with mountain hikes, Heath says it could be considered fairly strenuous.
If you’re up for a shorter hike, Heath recommends taking the trail to the right, going as far as you wish to go, then simply turning back. “That’s the prettiest part.”
The Blue Ridge Hiking Club organizes four weekly hikes; the easier hikes are Monday and Friday, whereas the Wednesday and Saturday hikes are harder and longer. Newcomers are always welcome.
Blue Ridge Hiking Club: www.boonenc.org/hiking/index.html
Parking: Plenty, over 150 spaces.
Dogs: Yes, must be on a leash no longer than 6-feet.
Local Wildlife: Heath has never seen a bear on the trails – a few hikers have, but it is rare. “Mostly I see deer, turkeys, groundhogs, and hawks,” he says.
Restrooms: Not open in November.
Cone Manor to Bass Lake
Another destination not to be missed is the Moses Cone Memorial Park, with 3,600 acres of pristine mountain terrain. Cone Manor (a.k.a. Flat Top Manor) now houses the Parkway Craft Center. This 20-room, 13,000- sq-ft. house was built in 1901 in the grand Colonial Revival style for Moses Cone, a prosperous textile entrepreneur, conservationist, and philanthropist. The Craft Center occupies the first floor, which is open to the public.
Like most of the trails in the park, Cone Manor to Bass Lake was originally a carriage trail so it’s possible to walk several people abreast on the crushed rock surface. Horses are also allowed on the trail.
The 2.5 mile roundtrip trail is considered easy with a steady uphill climb of approximately 400 feet in elevation from Bass Lake. It’s great for kids and the whole family. Although there are no spectacular mountain views along the trail, the hike features lush foliage with streams and trees, including huge white pines planted by Cone. Swans, geese, and mallards are among the birds that populate Bass Lake.
Moses Cone Memorial Park/Flat Top Manor is located at milepost 294 off the Blue Ridge Parkway, between US 321 and US 221. Bass Lake can be accessed from US 221.
When hiking in winter months, be sure to check road closures on the Blue Ridge Parkway before heading out.
Parking: About 50 spaces are available at Cone Manor, which can get crowded at times. There is an additional smaller parking lot at Bass Lake with approx. 10 spaces
Dogs: Yes, on leash.
Local Wildlife: Bears have been spotted in the park, take normal precautions
Restrooms: Available during Manor hours: daily 9AM-5PM.
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