Hiking in North Carolina - Part 1 (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

Hiking in North Carolina - Hike the Great Smoky Mountains and protect your head from the sun

This is part 1 of a 2 part series about 'day-hiking' mountains in North Carolina.  This series is reproduced with the permission of the Meanderthals Hiking Blog (internetbrothers.org)

North Carolina has a diverse landscape including shorelines, a flat Coastal Plain, the rolling hills of the Piedmont and of course the rugged beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian Mountain range is the largest in the eastern United States, ranging from Alabama/Georgia all the way up through the 'New England' states, before entering Canada. The Appalachians are home to the most-visited national park in America, the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, as well as the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

North Carolina is consistently one of the top 10 most visited states, and is home to 10 national parks and close to 40 state parks. The 250 miles of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway traverses through the state, providing an easy way to enjoy breathtaking views from/of the Appalachians. Along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina is home to Mount Mitchell State Park, Pisgah National Forest, Grandfather Mountain State Park, Elk Knob State Park, Chimney Rock State Park as well as lesser known Gorges State Park, South Mountains State Park and the Nantahala National Forest... There's absolutely loads of hiking trails to choose from!

Below is an excerpt from the Meanderthals hiking blog, providing a trail report from one hiking trail in the state...

Balsam Mountain Trail to Laurel Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hiking in North Carolina - Hike The Great Smokey Mountains and protect your head from the sun

Pre-sunrise from Heintooga Road

This remote corner of the Smokies isn’t easy to get to, but your efforts will be rewarded with solitude, quiet, peaceful 2nd growth forest, and a pensive wandering. The Cherokee lived on one side of the ridge. The Cataloochee settlers on the other. They met in the middle to graze their cattle on “The Ledge” between the two. The bald knobs are reforested now, but I found myself thinking about what it was like to be here a century ago.

The last two times I’ve visited Heintooga, first to Flat Creek and then to Polls Gap, the elk were out in full force. So Ken and I timed our arrival for pre-dawn hoping to catch some of September’s elk rut action. We went the full length of Heintooga Ridge Road without seeing a single elk, plenty of turkeys, but nary an elk in sight. Bummer.

Balsam Mountain Trail starts immediately uphill, and for the first quarter mile is probably the steepest ascent of the full distance to Laurel Gap. Still, it is only a moderate grade. I like to get the worst of the climbing out of the way early when I’m still fresh, so this was ideal for me. The woods start as a northern hardwood forest, also filled with rhododendron, mountain laurel and flame azalea. As you can imagine, it puts on quite a display in latter Spring. Nearer the top the forest changes to evergreen, mostly spruce and fir.

From Ledge Bald, the trail dips a bit to Beech Gap, and the meeting with Beech Gap Trail at the 2.3 mile mark. This is a very pleasant cove area where the Cherokee indians and the residents of Cataloochee would meet to range their cattle. We took a little break here and while doing so I imagined this as open meadow where the cow hands of two entirely different cultures would meet and chit chat about the extreme mountain beauty that surrounded them.

The second ascent begins soon after Beech Gap and climbs to the eastern flank of Balsam High Top. The forest now changes to fir and spruce...

For the full story and complete trail report, including GPS maps and plenty more photographs, please visit the Meanderthals blog post at http://internetbrothers.org/2016/09/11/balsam-mountain-trail-to-laurel-gap-great-smoky-mountains-national-park/

From the author: The Meanderthals Hiking Blog is a series of trail reports for many of the best hikes in Western North Carolina. I am fortunate to live in this beautiful environment, this “Land of Waterfalls,” and have the opportunity to day hike every week. I am passionate about hiking and the beauty that Mother Nature blesses us with. Living in Western North Carolina as I do, I am in an area that is a Mecca for hiking and biking enthusiasts. Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests are right out my door, and there are thousands of miles of trails found within them. Most posts on this blog will be about hikes available in this area. So, load your pack and join me.

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