After 15 months of lockdown, I was ready to climb a (small) mountain (on an easy trail) near my North Carolina home.
A baby boomer in good shape, I was never the extreme outdoorsy type. I also don't like heights. And in summer’s heat and a knee brace to help tendonitis from too much walking, there were less than six degrees of separation between me and wimpdom.
Undaunted, I discovered two 60-minute hikes in the western North Carolina mountains with incredible summit views. Join me in a photo walk to a 400-foot waterfall in Chimney Rock State Park and up 5,500-feet at Craggy Pinnacle Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Each of the challenging-to-me hikes was about 40 minutes from our log cabin base in the village of Black Mountain. Armed with camera, carry bag, sunscreen, trusty hat, water bottle, and Hub, we headed south on twisty NC highway 9 for the first hike at Chimney Rock State Park.
Day 1 - Chimney Rock State Park
The Chimney Rock
544 steps to an ancient monolith at 2,280 feet
Fun Fact: Dirty Dancing was filmed at Lake Lure on the outskirts of Chimney Rock. Look for the lake at the top of The Rock.
Ok, today’s adventure was technically two treks in one. I always wanted to visit the iconic 535-million-year-old Chimney Rock, for which the state park is named.
The Rock, as it’s affectionately called, is reached by a winding 500-step staircase OR by riding an air-conditioned elevator inside a tunnel. I opted for elevator to save my knee for the longer walk ahead.
Once the elevator deposited us on the observation deck, we still had 44 steps up a narrow steel staircase to reach The Rock.
Gotta be careful walking around at the top because it’s a bumpy old rock with uneven, slippery surfaces.
I decided against maneuvering a narrow outcrop to the flagpole on the topmost layer. Just standing within 10 feet of that ginormous flag that can be seen for miles gave me chill bumps on a hot summer day.
the lower part
of this monolith.
Chimney Rock State Park
Hickory Nut Falls Trail
1.7-mile, up-and-back “easy” walk to a 400-ft waterfall at 2,590 ft
Fun Fact: Remember that waterfall scene from Last of the Mohicans? It was shot at this waterfall!
Once done ooh-ing and ahh-ing over The Rock, Hub and I rode the elevator down to today’s real challenge, the Hickory Nut Falls trail. This hike curled around the around the base of The Rock to North Carolina’s second highest waterfall at the summit.
I took it slow in the heat, stopping to rest my knee and snap photos. Even so, I was hot and huffing on the steady upward haul. I wasn’t sure I could make it to the summit, but hikers passing on their return lap assured me the first sounds of the fall’s rushing water were just around the next clump of towering rhododendron.
Another fun fact:
Day 2 - Craggy Gardens
Craggy Pinnacle Trail
Moderate 1.4-mile, up-and-back trail to a 5.5K -foot summit with a killer 360 view
Fun Fact: Craggy is named for jagged rock outcroppings or “crags” peppering the mountains here. Shrubs and grasses at the trail's summit added that “garden” feel. Craggy Gardens also bursts with thousands of purple rhododendron blooms each June.
My next challenge, Craggy Pinnacle Trail, was 20 miles west of Asheville, off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I was hesitant about attempting a more remote, rugged hike. Didn’t help that Craggy was in active bear country. Gulp.
(A bear had visited our cabin that night, tipping over an empty garbage can. Plus we spied a black bear moseying along the Parkway near the trailhead.)
When we reached the trailhead, crisp mile-high mountain air gave me courage.
I could do this!
Starting under a canopy of weather-beaten trees gnarled by the harsh climate, Hub helped me scamper over stepping stones and endless narrow crags. I was extra cautious after sliding on bits of broken rocks strewn on the trail.
from Craggy Pinnacle's outlook platform
at 5.5-miles high ...
all photos by Cat Michaels, Lumix GX7 and iPhone
Over to You
Where’s your favorite outdoor escape? Mountains? Woodlands? Or do lakes and oceans call you? Please share your special place in the comments, so we can dream about visiting there, too.
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