Even though the holidays are nearly over, you still might find yourself with too much to do. Too much, you think, to allow for an escape into the woods.
Maybe not for a day-long adventure, but certainly you could find an hour or two for a quick adventure. An adventure, by the way, that will do wonders for relieving the stress of the holidays.
Since mid-November, we’ve been sharing quick escapes throughout the state. We conclude our recommendations today with five quick-hit escapes in the Asheville area.
Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Asheville
From I-26 on the south side of town to the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway near U.S. 70 to the east, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs for about 14 miles. Part of the beauty here is that you can pick up the trail in a number of locations and hike as long or as short as you want; remember, the MST overall runs about 1,000 miles, from Clingman’s Dome on the Tennessee line east to Jockey’s Ridge on the Atlantic. You can access the MST within minutes from anywhere in town, and despite the fact it never strays far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and is never far from civilization, either, it has a remote feel. Hiking is through a mix of pines and southern hardwoods, some surprisingly mature in spots. Well-maintained, easy-to-follow trail frees your mind to focus on … nothing.
You can find out more by visiting here.
Graybeard Mountain, Montreat
Hiking at the Montreat Conference Center is one of the region’s best-kept secrets, though how you keep 30 miles of trail under wraps is hard to say. A loop from the Walk Jones Wildlife Sanctuary encompassing the Julia Woodward, Harry Bryan, Graybeard and Sanctuary trails gives you a good taste of the base of rugged Graybeard Mountain; the popular Graybeard loop takes you to the top of the mile-high mountain and through some gorgeous and rugged terrain. Or, take the Old Mount Mitchell Toll Road up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a very long day of escape. Well worth the 25-minute drive from town.
Bent Creek State Experimental Forest, Asheville
Bent Creek suggests a visit deep into the Pisgah National Forest, despite being on the south side of Asheville. With more than 40 miles of trail, the options are numerous, as are the options to link trails together for loop hikes. Hiking here is on a mix of singletrack trail and old roadbeds, and most of the trails are multi-use (open to mountain biking and horseback riding as well as hiking). If the Blue Ridge Parkway is open, there are several spots to access the trail between NC 191 and Beaverdam Gap. There’s also good access off SR 806; opposite the N.C. Arboretum, for instance, you can create loops short (less than a mile) and long. Best to take a trail map, which you can download here.
Find out more about Bent Creek State Experimental Forest.
Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Rattlesnake Lodge, Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 375
One of the best kinds of escape is one that takes you both into the woods and to a bygone era as well; one such hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway takes you to the old Rattlesnake Lodge on the eponymously named trail. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s a short, steep, half-mile hike (another route up from Ox Creek Road is a more mellow 1.4 miles) to the lodge, which from 1904 until 1918 was the summer home of Dr. Chase P. Ambler and family. Poke around and you’ll see remnants of what at the time was a special mountain retreat, including the swimming pool, tennis court, stables and the ledge, the ceiling of which was covered with rattlesnake skins, which fetched a $5 bounty — about a week’s wages at the time. It was the family’s summer retreat until
Mrs. Ambler’s death in 1918. The family never returned, and sold the lodge in 1920. It was destroyed by fire in 1926.
Carolina Mountain Trail at N.C. Arboretum, Asheville
The arboretum, located on the south side of town, has 10 miles of hiking and biking trail divided into 11 digestible paths ranging in length from 0.3 miles to 1.3 miles. The well-tended trails offer introspective walks (read: you’re not constantly on the lookout for rocks and tree roots, leaving your mind free to wander and wonder). The trails are interconnected, making long hikes possible (pick up a trail map). A good trail to start with: Carolina Mountain Trail, which connects the greenhouse and nursery with the Education Center and Core Garden areas, meandering along the way through forests of pine, mixed hardwood and ericaceous (heath and heather). A nice return is on the Bent Creek Trail, which spends considerable time with its namesake creek. A 2.6-mile roundtrip.