Fall colors are beginning to peak in areas of Western North Carolina this week, and according to several area experts, the leaves will be showing off their true colors very soon, making this week and next the perfect time to take a fall hike.
According to past Asheville Citizen Times reporting, Beverly Collins, a biology professor and fall foliage forecaster at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, said the higher elevations (3,500 to 4,000 feet and above) will be at their peak the weekend of Oct. 14. She also said that even though some of the highest elevations begin to pass their peaks, they still offer a look into the valleys and views that are seeing the best color.
Collins said the coming week and weekend of Oct. 21 will bring peak colors to lower elevations, including Asheville and Hendersonville, in what Collins called “peak color all around.”
With the fall colors near their peaks, everyone is looking for the best hikes to see those colors. The Times-News reached out to David Huff, who is an avid hiker, mountain biker and award-winning photographer based in Asheville. He is head of communications for the WNC hiking group Carolina Mountain Club, and he is responsible for maintaining a 2.5-mile section of the Appalachian Trail.
Huff also serves on the board of trustees for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and is the founding chair of the George Masa Foundation.
“I stay pretty active which is why I keep coming back to these mountains,” he said.
Huff gave a list of his favorite hikes in WNC, all of which have portions maintained by Carolina Mountain Club, and they are listed below with his descriptions of each:
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1. Craggy Pinnacle
Where: Blue Ridge Parkway
Elevation: 5,892 feet. Elevation gain is 242 feet.
Description: Take the parkway north of Asheville to Milepost 364 to the Craggy Pinnacle trailhead. This is a 2-mile roundtrip, moderate hike (1 mile out and 1 mile back). There are 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, including the Craggy Mountains and Black Mountains, with beautiful views along the parkway. This is a popular place to view the sunset. Carolina Mountain Club will be doing trail rehabilitation work on Oct. 14. All are welcome. No experience is necessary.
Directions: Take the Blue Ridge Parkway north and pass the Visitor Center. Proceed to the Craggy Dome parking lot at Milepost 364.1. The entrance to the trail is on the left side of the parking lot.
2. John Rock
Where: Pisgah National Forest, Davidson River Area
Elevation: 3,320 feet. Elevation gain i 1,066 feet.
Description: A 4.6-mile lollipop moderately challenging hike. CMC has been working on sections of the Cat Loop trail. The top of John Rock is a granite outcrop, which offers sweet views of neighboring Looking Glass Rock and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our friends at The Pisgah Conservancy and Pisgah Area SORBA are very active in this area of the forest building and maintaining trails.
Directions: Take N.C. 280 going to Brevard and go for 16 miles to the intersection of U.S. 276 and U.S. 64. Turn right onto U.S. 276 (entering Pisgah National Forest) and follow signs for the Fish Hatchery. Take a left on Forest Road 475. The center will be 1.5 miles ahead. The trail leaves from the paved road on the left (FR 475C).
3. Max Patch
Where: Pisgah National Forest
Elevation: 4,616 feet, Elevation gain is 308 feet.
Description: A 1.5-mile loop. Most of the hike is in a clockwise direction which is slightly easier. Hike it both ways for a different experience. Max Patch offers stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area has received extensive rehabilitation in the past few years to protect the native plants and wildlife. Carolina Mountain Club Ambassadors volunteer on the weekends to share information about this local treasure. The Appalachian Trail runs across the top of Max Patch. There is parking but no facilities, so plan accordingly.
Directions: From downtown Asheville and Hendersonville, take I-26 West toward Weaverville/Woodfin to Exit 19A to merge onto U.S. 25 North/U.S. 70 West toward Marshall. Stay on this road for 17.7 miles into Hot Springs. Then take Highway 209 for 7.3 miles to Meadow Fork Road. There is a sign here and at all the other junctions to direct you to Max Patch.
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4. Mount Pisgah
Where: Blue Ridge Parkway
Elevation: 5,721 feet, elevation gain is 720 feet.
Description: A 2.4-mile out-and-back moderately challenging hike with the iconic tower on top. Offers views of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, the Great Smoky Mountains and Cold Mountain. It’s a lovely drive along Blue Ridge Parkway in both directions with many viewpoints along the way and the Pisgah Inn is nearby.
Directions: From Asheville and Hendersonville, take the parkway south to milepost 407.6 to the Mount Pisgah Parking Area. The trailhead has a sign near the end of the parking lot.
5. Sam Knob
Where: Blue Ridge Parkway/Pisgah National Forest
Elevation: 6,050 feet, elevation gain is 564 feet.
Description: A 2.5-mile out-and-back moderately challenging hike. Lovely walk through an alpine meadow leading to the base of Sam Knob. Offers views of Blue Ridge Parkway, Middle Prong Wilderness, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Carolina Mountain Club rehabilitated most of this trail this year … enjoy.
Directions: Off N.C. 191, turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway near the North Carolina Arboretum. Take the parkway south and proceed to Milepost 420, Black Balsam. Turn right onto Black Balsam Road and go 2 miles to the parking lot.
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6. Waterrock Knob
Where: Blue Ridge Parkway
Elevation: 6,247 feet, elevation gain: 426 feet.
Description: A one-mile out-and-back hike with lovely views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and surrounding mountains. It has a National Park visitor center, gift shop and comfort station with plenty of parking. It is one of the highest spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Directions: Off N.C. 191, turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway near the North Carolina Arboretum. Take the parkway south and proceed to Milepost 451.2. The trailhead is near the end of the parking lot.
Huff said the Carolina Mountain Club is the oldest hiking and trail maintenance organization in the Southeast.
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“It is a volunteer-run organization with over 1,000 members. The club leads 200 hikes per year and maintains over 420 miles of trails in Western North Carolina,” he said.
Dean Hensley is the news editor for the Hendersonville Times-News. Email him with tips, questions and comments at DHensley@gannett.com. Please help support this kind of local journalism with a subscription to the Hendersonville Times-News.