The Best Hikes Around Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina has quickly become one of the most popular mountain vacation destinations in the Southeastern United States over the course of the last decade. It is easy to see why–the big little city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains has a vast amount of different things to see and do for its many visitors. From enjoying many of the wonderful dining or drinking establishments, its rich arts and music scene, to its wide array of colorful and engaging shopping opportunities, one of the biggest draws is the vast amount of outdoor activities that exist within striking distance of the city center.
During the peak season of Asheville tourism, from the first vestiges of spring to the explosion of fall color, visitors from all over flock to the area for its out-of-doors activities. From the ever scenic Blue Ridge Parkway to the quaint mountain villages, travelers could spend a year here and still not see every vista or waterfall. We are here to highlight some of the most breathtaking outdoor hiking experiences that Asheville and its surrounding areas have to offer. On a single visit, one might not be able to hit all of them but the following hikes are the ones that we would recommend the most. Let’s get started!
The Catawba Falls hike is one of the most popular hikes in the Asheville area and it’s easy to see why. Not only are the falls themselves worth the trip, but the hike itself is beautiful and full of interesting features. Part of the headwaters of the Catawba River, the Catawba falls hike is located 26 miles east of Asheville near the town of Old Fort, North Carolina in the Pisgah National Forest.
The hike is a relatively easy three mile out and back trek that follows the river through a pleasantly balmy forest. Having set off on the trail, hikers will reach the Catawba River at just over a tenth of a mile. The trail crosses the river on the foot-bridge built in 2016. At three quarters of a mile, a small side trail leads down to the river where hikers can view a series of smaller cascades before continuing on. At just under a mile, hikers will cross a little tributary stream called the Clover Patch Branch. At this point another side trail leads down to another waterfall beside a small cave.
Once back on the main trail, hikers will come to one of our favorite parts of the hike–the ruins of the old dam and power station that was built back in the early 1900’s. What’s left of the structure is now being reclaimed by the forest and looks like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. As the trail continues to climb, it becomes rocky as hikers begin to hear the sounds of the nearby Catawba Falls.
The falls themselves have a mystic feel to them. The multi-tiered falls cascades over mossy rocks into a serene pool at the bottom. The base of the falls with its large surrounding rocks makes for a wonderful place for a picnic and in the hotter months, a refreshing dip. Hikers departing the falls will double back the way they came experiencing the hike in reverse. The length and ease of the Catawba Falls hike and the waterfall at the end makes for the perfect outing at almost any part of the year.
The Craggy Gardens hike is part of the Great Craggy Mountains or the Craggies as they are locally known. This subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina gets its name from the craggy outcroppings of rock that decorate its mountaintops. Located roughly 20 miles from Asheville on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway gets its name from the mountain range it exists in and the natural gardens of Catawba Rhododendron that bloom pink and purple from early to mid june.
This relatively easy 2 mile out and back hike can be accessed from either the South end at the Craggy Gardens visitor center parking lot or from the North end at the picnic area–both located off the parkway at mileposts 364 and 367 respectively. Starting at the visitor center, the trail climbs and winds through light forest filled with unique gnarly trees and the aforementioned rhododendrons. At a quarter of a mile, the trail passes under a trail shelter. At this point, hikers can take a side trail south to a peaceful mountain meadow with a west facing overlook with views of Pisgah National Forest and Craggy Pinnacle, the nearest prominent peak. On a clear day, Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig, the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River, can be seen.
Once back on the trail, hikers will ascend through a small clearing before the trail heads back into the forest and begins to decline in elevation. The forest on this part of the trail is filled with more unique gnarled hardwoods and dense thickets of wild blueberries and blackberries that are ripe in mid to late summer. At around one mile hikers will reach the picnic area for a mid hike break before turning around and heading back to the visitor center.
This hike has it all, mystical gnarled forest with tiny runnels of mountain water over mossy rocks, lovely wildflowers, scenic mountain vistas from a tall grass meadow, wild berries, and a sun soaked picnic area at the halfway mark. It is a wonderful hike to take your time and smell the mountain air, have a romantic picnic, enjoy the sunrise or sunset or all of the above.
Throughout the Appalachian Mountains, there exists a series of mysterious mountain balds so named due to the lack of trees that would normally grow on their summits. There are many theories as to why these balds exist, from Pleistocene megaherbivores to grazing deforestation by Native Americans and early European and American settlers. Whatever the reason, we are glad they are there. These altitudinous phenomena offer stunning mountain vistas and due to the lack of canopy are home to rare plants and wildflowers. These balds make for the perfect hike due to their massive scenic payoff.
Max Patch is one of the more popular of these balds. Max Patch is situated along the Tennessee state line in the Harmon Den area of Hot Springs, North Carolina. It is located about an hour and fifteen minutes from downtown Asheville. At 4,629 feet this bald offers 360-degree vistas of Mount Mitchell to the east and Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest. The Appalchian trail crosses right over the summit. This bald is also one of the most expansive in terms of deforested area. This makes it a perfect destination for a post-hike picnic or watching the sunset or sunrise.
These mountain balds are preserved by the Parks and Forestry services. They also need help being preserved by its visitors. Max Patch has been mistreated by careless sightseers in recent years and as such camping, fires, and shortcut trails are prohibited to help maintain the sensitive ecosystem and rare flora and fauna there. If you visit Max Patch, please follow the posted rules and the universal rules of leave no trace. If we all respect these natural treasures, future generations can enjoy them as we have.
Black Balsam Knob
Our favorite on this list is Black Balsam Knob. Black Balsam Knob is another mountain bald overlooking the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. This hike is about 26 miles from Asheville, North Carolina just off of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and at 6,214 feet high it is one of the tallest mountain balds in the area. The drive up the scenic parkway coupled with the beautiful scenic hike makes for a wonderful day long experience.
From the trailhead you will pass through a grove of aromatic balsam fir as you make your way up the mountain. Once out of the grove, it is a half mile to the first open area of the hike where one can see the first stunning views of the surrounding mountains.. From there it is roughly another half mile of rocky ascent to the majestic vistas of Black Balsam Knob.
Once you reach the top, this bald affords wide and out mountain vistas rarely seen for most Blue Ridge hikers. As with Max Patch, Black Balsam Knob is another great spot for mountain-top picnics, and sunrise and sunset viewings. The entire hike is a five mile loop that also includes Tennent Mountain which boasts its own stunning mountainous panorama. The hike alone would be worth the trip but the drive up the scenic parkway coupled with the beautiful scenic hike makes a trip to Black Balsam Knob a woderful all day experience.
As was previously stated with Max Patch, Black Balsam Knob is preserved by the Forestry Service. Even though it is a popular destination for day hikers, backpackers, and mountain vista enthusiasts, great care must be taken by all to protect its ecosytem of rare flora and fauna. Please remember to follow posted rules, leave no trace, and stay on marked trails so that we may continue to enjoy special places like these.