Hiking in North Carolina - Part 2 (Nantahala National Forest)

Hiking in North Carolina - Hike the Nantahala National Forest and protect your head from the sun

This is part 2 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!

The amazing Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) is also located in North Carolina. This 1,150 mile long trail from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks (Barrier islands - a few miles offshore of the mainline) is composed of 18 segments, including parts of three national parks, two national wildlife refuges, and three national forests as well as connecting to seven state parks. This trail showcases the state’s diverse landscape, including hardwood forests, tea-coloured swamps, fading tobacco crossroads as well as urban centers, courthouse square towns and rugged gorges, remote lighthouses (including the nations tallest) and mountain overlooks. You can backpack the entire trail end to end, do multi-day segment hikes, or just hike for a day.

Speaking of day hikes on the MST, below is a colorful excerpt from the Meanderthals hiking blog.


Mountains to Sea Trail Near Old Bald, Nantahala National Forest

Hiking in North Carolina - Hike Nantahala National Forest

The trail was lined with a treasure trove of wildflowers

Love the high country in summer. It’s like getting an extra month of spring. For much of its length through the Western North Carolina mountains, the Mountains to Sea Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is an area near mile marker 434 on the Parkway, beneath Old Bald, where the MST winds through mixed forest and high mountain meadows teeming with wildflowers. The air is cool and the vistas impressive here in the Great Balsam Mountains. There are also plenty of old logging roads making this playground one that is suited for exploration. Our plan was to take the Mountains to Sea Trail to Old Bald Ridge and Earl Ammons meadow, then return.

We started our day by driving up Scenic Hwy 276 through Pisgah National Forest and up the Pisgah Ridge to the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there it was 21 miles of picturesque mountain scenery to our destination. Along the way we stopped at overlooks for pictures and breathtaking views. Some of the sights we stopped to look at included Pilot Mountain, the Middle Prong watershed, the Cowee Mountains, and the highest point on the BRP at Richland Balsam. We were already having a delightful day even before we hit the trail.

High above you on the north side of the Parkway are the sheer granite cliffs of Old Bald. The trail immediately dives into a mixed forest and then turns south. After about a hundred feet, the Mountains to Sea Trail comes up from below on your right, and the trails merge. The first half mile into the woods I’m going to call the monarda trail. Lined on both sides were hundreds of white and lavender monarda wildflowers, also known as bee balm or bergamot. Some people even call it horse mint. There is bound to be quite a history for this flower to have so many names. We also began to notice the first of what would become many phlox.

As we progressed, this path was more and more grown up with tall plants bending over our route...

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/2016/07/11/mountains-to-sea-trail-near-old-bald-nantahala-national-forest/

About 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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