As an innkeeper, I get asked a lot about local attractions and activities, and one of the most common of those is where the best hiking trails are located. Because I am still new to the area, I didn’t really have much knowledge about the local trail systems, so I determined to venture out, get my dog and I some fresh air, and discover some of these trails firsthand. Here are a few comments on my first hiking trail experiences; all of these are within a short drive of the Waynesville area. While they vary in difficulty, all are beautiful and well worth the effort.
The first trail I visited was Water Rock Knob, which is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and is one of the closest trails to the inn. Only about a 20 minute drive from Waynesville, the site features a parking area complete with Ranger Station. The summit is the highest point on the Parkway and the trail is well-maintained and easily accessible. It is a pretty easy hike to the top with only about 1.2 mile round trip. The views along the way are excellent, with even spectacular views from the parking area. For those with limited experience hiking or with limited mobility, this is a worthwhile stop for anyone driving the Parkway.
The second trail was further afield, but much more famous; the Appalachian Trail. The section that crosses through North Carolina is not huge (only about 95 miles of the AT are in NC proper with about 220 more miles on the Tennessee border), but those miles are spectacular. I started my short 4 hour trek up at Newfound Gap in the Smoky Mountain National Forest. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this trail was very well maintained, covered in a tree canopy with beautiful vistas all along the way. I actually encountered a whole family of deer who just stood and watched as I walked past less than 10 feet away. Along the way I visited with multiple other hikers I encountered and got to hear their hiking stories. While no means a difficult hike, there was something magical about my first visit to the famed Appalachian Trail.
The third trail was one I hadn’t heard of before I encountered it on the roadside – the Mountain-to-Sea Trail. While looking for a roadside trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I discovered this amazing trail system. While not as robust as the AT, the MTS was perhaps more visually stunning. With access points all along the Parkway, the trail varies in difficulty, but these offer some great out-of-the-way hikes for the more intrepid traveler.
While none of these trails are as steep and dramatic (or terrifying) as those the Andes or the Swiss Alps, the kinder, gentler slopes of the Smoky Mountains are still breathtaking, especially when awash in the colors of the autumn leaves. I look forward to discovering more of these trails in the future, and would love to hear suggestions about other trails and hikes in the area others might recommend!