After our Iceland trip, (See the two other recent posts) we had the opportunity to go somewhere closer to home, the Blue Ridge Mountains. While We have been to Asheville in the past this was our first long weekend trip specifically in the mountains. And on this trip, we also had the opportunity to hike the highest mountain on the east coast and stay in a cozy mountain log cabin.
In this post we wanted to share our experiences in the Blue Ridge Mountains and a few places we particularly enjoyed. We will give a few of our recommendations up front if you are planning on visiting this area
- Stay in the mountains and/or Pisgah National Forest
- The Back Roads
- Check out Asheville!
- Hike Mt. Mitchell and check out Mt. Craig and Big Tom (Deep Gap Trail)
- Check out the waterfalls
- Drive the Blue Ridge Park Way
- Bring a Rain Jacket
If your unfamiliar with the Blue Ridge Mountains, this is a beautiful area close to the Tennessee and North Carolina boarder and is part of the Appalachian Mountain Range. We stayed up in the mountains in Pisgah National Forest, near Burnsville, NC in a beautiful cabin. This area is a little remote and some cabins and camps can be hard to get to without a 4x4 (steep gravel and dirt roads), and don’t expect much cellphone service or reliable internet (as we found out with the satellite internet at the cabin). However, this is a great place to get away from all the noise and onto the quiet mountain side.
There are plenty of little hotels, but Airbnb works great here. If you enjoy camping, there are plenty of campgrounds for tent camping, travel trailers, or RV's. If you do bring a trailer or RV, be prepared for the roads, as previously mentioned they are steep and often wet with sharp tight switchback turns. Just make sure you and your vehicle are up to the task.
The largest city in the area is Asheville, NC, which we first visited earlier this year and has plenty of entertainment and activities to offer. While this was an hour away from where we were staying, it was worth the stop into town to pick up supplies and hit up some of the larger shops. Asheville is known for breweries and the mountain views. There are some great hotels if you are looking to stay in Asheville such as the Grove Park Inn, Inn on Biltmore Estate, and the Grand Bohemian Asheville. Keep in mind these can get quite expensive pretty much year-round.
There is even more to-do in Asheville and the surrounding areas:
- Biltmore estate (can spend easily 4hrs here)
- Biltmore Village
- North Carolina Arboretum
- Grove Arcade
- Plenty of stores (shout out to REI)
- Tons of Golf Courses
- Breweries and Wineries (sorry no specific recommendations not really our thing)
Hiking Mount Mitchell
We loved hiking Mount Mitchell especially the Deep Gap Trail. We Highly recommend this trail however it is rated "Hard" or "Hard-to-Moderate" and did require some scrambling (using hands and feet to climb) in some areas. One little tip for this is get up early and head to the park; we were able to be on the trail just as the sun was rising, giving us a beautiful view.
If you are not ready for that, there are plenty of other milder hikes in the Pisgah Forest and on Mount Mitchell. There is an observation area at the summit after a short steep walk up from the parking lot at the top. There are plenty of great hikes around, you can use an app called All Trails or Gaia GPS to find ones that meet your needs. Also see the section about bringing a rain jacket below…
In addition to the hikes there are a ton of Waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest, which were much more beautiful than expected. As mentioned previously the apps like all trails helped us find the trails. However, make sure you download offline maps or have a handheld GPS as the trails often have no service, and split in other directions as multiple trails feed of the same entrance. We recommend seeing a few waterfalls while you are there, there are plenty to choose from. We were very surprised by Roaring Fork Falls, it was much bigger than expected and right after a small rainstorm it is beautiful.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway (just part of it as its over 400 miles long and stretches into Virginia)! if you are in Asheville or the Blue Ridge Mountain area, take the opportunity to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, as it is one of the most amazing drives we have ever taken. However, there are some things you should know. The speed limit is a max of 45 MPH in the park, and it is enforced. Like other roads in the parkway its steep in some areas and with tight winding curves. The weather often changes quickly from clear to rainy to foggy which can make the pavement slick. Additionally watch out for wildlife, we saw a few deer jump out and run across the road while we were driving in the morning. If you are interested in photography, or really just great view, there are plenty of pull-offs with some amazing views (just don't stop in the middle road). There are also other common rules as it is a National Park, so if you are planning on doing this check Blue Ridge Parkway website before you go for closures or alerts.
Bring a Rain Jacket
Just like our Iceland posts, bring a jacket because the weather changed rapidly while we were there. It went from clear with the sun shining, to pouring down rain in 10 mins (actual time). It did this almost every day we were there, sometimes it rained for only a few mins, one day it rained the entire afternoon into the evening. We talked to a few locals and even the Mount Mitchell Park had a sign warning hikers it has snowed every month out of the year in the park. It’s about 10F (5.5C) lower at the top of the mountain vs the valley below, which can make the mornings a little chilly especially with the wind (even in the summer). So, If you are doing that morning hike, bring some coffee or your favorite warm drink, along with a jacket and some snacks.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are an amazing piece of nature and it’s on the east coast. It’s one of our top recommendations especially if you are in the Tennessee and/or North Carolina Area. There are other National and State parks we want to explore in this area, but this is one of the first we were able to do this year and it did not disappoint.