Don’t worry, summer is not over and there’s still time for an awesome summer adventure! Sure, you look at the calendar, slap your forehead and realize that it’s almost Labor Day, and you’ve let the summer slip away.
Maybe you don’t have time for that epic, week-long hike you promised yourself at the beginning of June. But you can get in a respectable adventure that will yield good Instagram-worthy photos and maybe even a bragging right or two.
We have highlighted five of our favorite places to hike or walk. These trails will help you explore our beautiful state at your own pace.
I’ll tell you why each is a favorite, and then I’ll give you two options for each: one that gives a taste of the place and is perfect for beginners and another that involves a bit more exploring, for all you experts out there.
Shining Rock area
Pisgah National Forest, Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 420.2
We say the Shining Rock “area” because we’re talking about more than just the 18,479-acre designated Wilderness Area. Rather, we refer to the area including Graveyard Fields to the east, Little Sam Knob to the west, and the entire Black Balsam area from the Blue Ridge Parkway north into the actual Shining Rock Wilderness. Shining Rock has some of the best and most ubiquitous views in the Southeast, views that can be had with both hike options.
Beginner: Black Balsam Knob, at 6,214 feet offers panoramic views that you wouldn’t expect for a relatively easy three-quarter-mile hike. Start where the Art Loeb Trail crosses Black Balsam Knob Road just off the Parkway and head north, through a balsam forest to the summit.
Expert: From the Black Balsam parking area, head north on the Investor Gap Trail, an old roadbed that’s rocky in spots, but relatively flat. At its first intersection with the Art Loeb Trail, go right on the Art Loeb and take if over both Tennent Mountain (also referred to as Tennet Mountain) and Black Balsam Knob for two awe-inspiring 6,000-foot summits. About 4 miles total.
More info here.
Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountain Crest Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park/Pisgah National Forest, Burnsville
An easy way to salvage summer is to summit the highest peak east of South Dakota’s Black Hills, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell. Does it matter that the summit “trail” is paved and just a few hundred yards? Maybe a little, because while you’ll get a feel for the snack bar and gift shop, you won’t get a sense of the unusual red spruce and Fraser fir forests that dominate above the 6,000-foot mark. You can make that happen in one of two ways:
Beginner: After planting your flag on the summit, take the 3/4-mile Balsam Nature Trail, which takes you through this delightful forest, and also exposes you to the highest spring in the eastern U.S. (and one of the coldest: the water is typically about 36 degrees).
Expert: From the north end of the main parking lot, head north on the Deep Gap Trail/Black Mountain Crest Trail, which goes 4.3 miles over more 6,000-foot peaks, including Mount Craig and Big Tom. This is a rocky trail with scrambling required in spots.
Special note: It may be 90 degrees when you leave home (depending upon where home is), but it will be much cooler atop Mount Mitchell, possibly not getting much above 60. Check the weather here before heading out.
More info here.
Grandfather Mountain State Park, Banner Elk
Grandfather Mountain is perhaps the most singularly impressive work of nature in North Carolina, standing alone as an imposing massif along the Blue Ridge Escarpment and reaching nearly 6,000 feet. We suggest experiencing the true grandeur of Grandfather by starting your exploration from the Profile Parking Area off NC 105, at the base of the mountain’s northwest flank.
Beginner: One of Grandfather Mountain’s unsung attributes is the spectacular hardwood forest at its base. The first mellow mile of the 3.6-mile Profile Trail explores this gem before commencing to climb. Stick with the climbing to the 2.5-mile mark and you’ll be rewarded with a view of the profile for which the mountain is named.
Expert: Continue on the Profile Trail for another mile or so past your profile peek and you’ll reach the rocky and raucous Grandfather Trail, which explores the crest of the mountain. Boulder fields, ladders, cables to help you cling to the mountain — that’s what you’re in for on the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail.
More info here.
Little Long Mountain: Uwharrie Trail
Uwharrie National Forest, Asheboro
You climb Little Long Mountain for one reason: the best view in the Uwharrie Mountains.
And it’s a sweeper, letting you see east to where the Uwharries disappears briefly into the Piedmont, then the coastal plain beyond; south, where the Uwharries extend for another 30 miles, and west to the Badin Lakes area and Morrow Mountain State Park. The mountaintop meadow includes a shelter and is the perfect destination for a well-earned lunch.
Beginner: From the Joe Moffitt Trailhead off gravel Thayer Road, it’s a 0.8-mile climb to the top. Not a bad climb, but a climb nonetheless, with a decent payoff.
Expert: Perhaps our favorite hike in the Uwharries, this one begins from the Jumping Off Rock Trailhead on Flint Hill Road and climbs, then drops, to pick up Poison Fork, a creek that’s your companion for a little more than a half-mile. Leave the creek and commence climbing, initially on an old roadbed, then on singletrack, gaining 400 vertical feet in less than a mile on one of those climbs that, just when you think you’re to the top, there’s a little bit more. About 4.5 miles roundtrip.
More info: “Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide: Second Edition” (2014), by Don Childrey, and here.
Umstead/Crowders Mountain/Hanging Rock state parks
Raleigh, Charlotte, the Triad
Another thing we also appreciate about August is that it is back-to-school time, as well as back-to-work/I-have-no-vacation-remaining-time. In short, you may not have time to drive to one of our distant destinations: you may need to stay close to home. If you live in the Triangle, Charlotte or the Triad you can find great hikes right in your own backyard, thanks to our North Carolina State Parks. In the Triangle, the 6-mile Company Mill Trail at Umstead State Park is a rolling hike that seems to always have a fall-like feel; cut it short to just Crabtree Creek for a 2-mile out-and-back option.
At Crowders Mountain west of Charlotte, from the Visitor Center take either the 2-mile Pinnacle Trail to a great overlook to the west, or lose yourself on the 6.2-mile Ridgeline Trail, which meanders into South Carolina. And at Hanging Rock State Park north of the Triad, you’ve got elevation and views (the 4.2-mile Moore’s Knob Trail, the 1.3-mile Hanging Rock Trail) and waterfalls (0.3-mile Upper Cascades Trail, 3.6-mile Indian Creek Trail). More info: click for Umstead State Park, Crowders Mountain State Park, Hanging Rock State Park.