When it came to planning out our trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, the challenge was how to balance the desire for diverse views with the want to limit driving. After much research and experimenting with different options, my three day itinerary achieved this goal.
The one barrier which I did not anticipate was our own energy depleting towards the end, which eventually led to us ending our adventure early in favor of relaxing at the Air BNB.
Day 1: Clingman’s Dome and Andrew’s Bald
We set out from Asheville, North Carolina and drove a little over an hour to Cherokee. We stopped at the visitor’s center and walked through grounds that recreated pioneer life; it was nice, but forgettable.
Clingman’s Dome & Andrew’s Bald: Clingman’s Dome raised mixed feelings. The actual structure itself was a disappointment, as clouds obstructed the view due to the height; slightly lower, the views from the parking lot were much clearer than what could be seen from the actual attraction.
What’s more, crowds ran amok and detracted from the experience. For a much more pleasant experience, skip the paved path in favor of the quick trial through the woods. Here, you’ll have woodsy lookouts all to yourself and can even pose with the Appalachian Trail sign.
Branching off from the same parking lot is the trail to Andrew’s Bald. This 3.5 mile in-and-out path is almost entirely downhill on the way there, meaning that it’s almost entirely uphill on the way out. Though the trail will test individuals’ endurance, we saw individuals of all athletic abilities making the trek, each traveling at their own pace. There is a mix of stone-based steps with dirt paths, so there will be no need for scrambling up rocks or traversing over thick roots.
This hike made the time spent in the car worth it. The trail was mossy and surrounded by lovely firs and spruces mixed in autumn-colored plants and stripped-bare trees.
Due to the higher altitude, the surroundings are moist enough to make the plants thick and vibrantly colored.
As for Andrew’s Bald itself, the grassy clearing is a wonderful finale for the hike (though the path does continue onward). This meadow on a mountain yields a wonderful view of the Great Smokey Mountains. The bald is a great place to picnic, as we did with local baked goods, jerky, fruit, and roasted corn. Take note that there are no water fountains along the trail, so bringing plenty of water is vital.
To visit Clingman’s Dome and Andrew’s Bald took a little over three hours, including our picnic break.
Where We Stayed the Night: Following our hike, we drove to our Air BNB just outside of Cherokee.
Day 2: Black Balsam Knob Via Art Loeb Trail– The Highlight of Our Trip
Located around Milepost 420 in the Pisgah National Forest, this tough hike was our favorite of the entire trip. Nay, our entire lives. Crowning the ridges of treeless mountains, this string of balds provided spectacular views.
This was a lot more physically-demanding than the hike we did the previous day (we also went the more strenuous direction on the loop), but it was also more rewarding.
We started the hike along the Graveyard Fields trail, which was the tamest (and dullest) part of our adventure; while the rest of our trek was bone dry, this particular portion was bogged down with large puddles that required some jumping and sloshing about.
When we turned onto the Art Loeb Trail and it didn’t take long for the uphill climb and beautiful views to take our breath away. The lack of trees results in almost 360-degree views of rolling mountains that were arguably the best we witnessed from our whole trip along the Blue Ridge Highway.
We encountered a slight trickle of individuals (including two women carrying their pet chickens), as well as young adults camping on top of the balds themselves. What’s important is that you know to bring your hiking boots and camera to document this unsung American gem.
Tips: A tip that we read but failed to heed was to wear sunscreen. As a result, I got a bit red on my nose and shoulders. Don’t make the same mistake as us!
Additionally, from what I read, it can get pretty crowded during prime season so, if you’re visiting in the summer, try to hike early or on a weekday.
A commonly provided tip is to expect the mountains to be 10-15 degrees colder than what is in Asheville. To further build upon this piece of advice, I suggest that you wear layers. Joe and I wore long pants because we expected a chill, but the sun beating down on us and the exertion from the hike made us swiftly regret our choice. Therefore, keep in mind that you WILL get sunshine .
Where We Stayed the Night: We stayed the night in Burnsville.
Day 3: Crabtree Falls and Linville Falls
The last day kicked-off with a trip to Crabtree Falls. It was a 2.5 mile loop to-and-from the falls, and the hike certainly wasn’t easy. However, the view of the falls were more than worth breaking a sweat.
The path brought hikers close to the water, and it was possible to climb about the rocks and trees. What’s more, there wasn’t an obnoxious amount of people.
Linville Falls was not nearly as enchanting. The walking trails were located too far away from the falls, and were congested with people. The gorges themselves were attractive, but ultimately Linville Falls proved forgettable compared to the other sites we had seen in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After Linville Waterfall, we were supposed to go to Beacon Heights, the Mile High Swinging Bridge, and Rough Ridge. However, the day’s previous hike had left us physically drained, so we ultimately decided to skip the other stops and drive straight to our Air BNB in Charlotte.
The Blue Ridge Mountains and Smokey Mountains are gorgeous. My suggestion to anyone trying to visit this region is to avoid the more popular attractions. To truly experience the grandeur of the mountains, it’s better to physically push yourself along the ragged Art Loeb trail than to shuffle about crowded pavement.