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Summer in North Carolina

 

Summer is just around the corner, and with the earliest possible Memorial Day and the latest possible Labor Day, there are 15 exciting weeks of summer this year!! That means even more time to explore all that beautiful North Carolina has to offer during this extended season of possibilities! With long, warm summer nights just a few days away, I couldn’t help but day dream about all the fun that was ahead.

So pack your bags and hit the coast where people of all ages can learn how to surf the emerald green waters of Wrightsville Beach or Topsail Island or take a historical excursion and visit charming New Bern, where you can tour the birthplace of Pepsi!

If you like waterfalls, then planning a trip to Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina should definitely be on your bucket list! With so many hikes to chose from and so many breathtakingly gorgeous waterfalls, what are you waiting for? Check out a recent blog post I wrote to see my favorite waterfall hikes in Blue Ridge.

If beating the heat with a smile on your face is your thing, check out the U.S. National Whitewater Center where your entire family can raft, bike and climb your way to lasting memories. This $38 million whitewater park is the largest in the world and home to the U.S. Olympic team. You don’t have to be a medal-holder to take a guided raft trip on the challenging, 3/4-mile, artificial recirculating whitewater river, though. Alongside are mountain-biking and running trails, a climbing center, ropes courses, ziplines and a canopy tour.

And if you covet a respite from the heat, revel in an even more refreshing option like Transylvania County where you can enjoy a heart-racing slide down Sliding Rock into refreshing mountain waters or a romantic trek to any of the area’s 250 idyllic waterfalls.

Lastly, I suggest you join the millions who have walked across the famed Mile High Swinging Bridge — so named because the 228-foot suspension bridge with steel cables is a mile above sea level and spans an 80-foot chasm. On the way up are marked viewing areas to see bears, cougar, deer, eagles and more in their natural habitats. You can even watch playful otters above in the open and below in an aquarium-like viewing area!

 

Where will summer take you this year?

Best Waterfall Hikes In Blue Ridge Parkway

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If you like waterfalls, then planning a trip to Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina should definitely be on your bucket list! With so many hikes to chose from and so many breathtakingly gorgeous waterfalls, what are you waiting for?

Here are some of my favorites, just to name a few:

Crabtree Falls

This gorgeous 70-foot waterfall along the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Linville Falls, is accessed by a loop woodland hiking trail. An easier 3-mile hike to and from on the same trail with a steady descent and return climb. Or a more strenuous 3.5-mile loop trail that climbs a ridge above the falls. It’s a beautiful hike, complete with plenty of wildflowers.

Graveyard Fields Waterfalls

This popular hiking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway has two waterfalls. Second Falls is just 1/3 mile walk from the Parkway. Upper Falls is on a four-mile loop trail in the mile-high meadow. The area got it’s name years ago from the tree stumps and surrounding trees that looked like grave stones in a graveyard setting.

Setrock Creek & Roaring Fork Falls

Setrock Creek Falls is a hidden gem of a waterfall in the Pisgah National Forest at the base of Mount Mitchell. Take two one-mile roundtrip waterfall hikes, just a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Grassy Creek Falls

Located adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Little Switzerland, Grassy Creek Falls is a multi-cascade waterfall. A gentle hiking trail takes you to a beautiful collection of cascades. It’s a two-mile round trip hike: a gradual descent to the falls, so a gradual uphill hike back.

Some General Western North Carolina Mountains Hiking Tips:

  • Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Do research ahead and print instructions on hikes (since cell reception in the mountains is limited.)
  • Go early to avoid crowds and heat, and to take advantage of daylight.
  • Take extra clothes and rain gear, in case of a quick weather change.
  • Wear layers and good hiking shoes.
  • Stay on marked trails. Do not disturb any wildlife or plantlife.
  • Take plenty of drinking water. Although it may be tempting, don’t drink from the streams.
  • Take a cell phone in case of emergency. Coverage is surprising good on some mountaintops, although it is very spotty in valleys.
  • Take hiking maps and snacks, especially if you are going on a longer trail.
  • If you have an emergency along the Parkway, call 1-800-ParkWatch. Otherwise, call 911.
  • Trail lengths can be misleading if the trail has a big elevation gain. We do have the highest mountains in the eastern USA.
  • Dogs are allowed on most hiking trails (on a leash), except in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. See Pet Friendly Asheville for more info.
  • Follow principles of Leave No Trace.

For more tips and info on other trails, visit hikewnc.info.

7 Helpful Hiking Hacks

Here are some tips, tricks and hacks that I have learned along the way through my many years of hiking. These easy and simple steps can have a tremendously positive impact on your hiking experience if you incorporate them into your routine, so what are you waiting for?

1. Even if you’re going on a short hike, bring the essentials.

Even if you're going on a short hike, bring the essentials.

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You never know when something unexpected is going to occur that might take you a different path with more difficult terrain, or unexpected weather, etc… There is nothing to lose by being prepared!

2. Line your backpack with a garbage bag for extra rain protection.

Line your backpack with a garbage bag for extra rain protection.

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If it doesn’t rain, you’ll have an extra bag for trash! If it does, hey! Your supplies will be protected!

3. If you’re prone to blisters in your hiking boots, coat those areas with petroleum jelly before putting on your socks and boots.

If you're prone to blisters in your hiking boots, coat those areas with petroleum jelly before putting on your socks and boots.

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Hikers swear by this trick to prevent abrasive rubbing in certain areas, which can lead to bad blisters. Something as simple as having a small dose of this in your gear can make a world of difference on your hiking experience. 

Get more on info on foot blisters here.

4. Keep your phone in a plastic bag inside your backpack just in case.

You want to be prepared in case it starts to downpour out of nowhere or you fall into a river (hey, it happens)—keep your phone in a sealed baggie and all will be fine. And hold on to those takeout utensil bags—they are the perfect fit for an iPhone, and you can use them at beaches and music festivals.

Keep your phone in a plastic bag inside your backpack just in case.

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5. Even if you’re going for a short hike, BRING DUCT TAPE.

Hardcore hikers swear by duct tape, which you can use to waterproof ventilated boots, fix a cracked water bottle, and protect painful blisters. Or wrap a few feet of tape around a lighter. That way you can bring 2 essential tools without wasting any space in your backpack.

Learn more about how duct tape can save your life here.Or wrap a few feet of tape around a lighter.

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6. Pack bandaids, antiseptic towlettes, a gauze roll, and a few aspirin in a prescription bottle.

The bottle will keep everything dry and in one place—and it’s mini size is perfect for packing light.

Get a list of hiker-approved First Aid materials here.

Pack bandaids, antiseptic towlettes, a gauze roll, and a few aspirin in a prescription bottle.

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7. Bring binder clips so you can hang wet clothes off of your backpack.

Bring binder clips so you can hang wet clothes off of your backpack.

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If you don’t have a clip, you can also wrap small pieces of clothing around handles and straps, but the binder clips help ensure they won’t fall off or get blown away.

10 OUTDOORS ACTIVITIES IN NORTH CAROLINA

“From the mountains to the woodlands to the coast, family experiences unfold on a variety of landscapes,” says Suzanne Brown, media relations specialist for VisitNC. “We are also a state with a full range of seasons, so there’s a variety of things to do all year.”

With so many options, finding the perfect destination for your next vacation or day trip can be a difficult decision. So to help, here are my top picks of fun outdoors activities to do in North Carolina:

See the wild horses along North Carolina’s coast.

North Carolina’s coast is home to several groups of wild horses: Corolla’s Wild Spanish mustangs; Beaufort’s wild horses at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve, Quarter horses, Shackleford Banks’ wild Banker horses; and Ocracoke’s Banker horses. In general, you can see the horses for free. All you need to see the horses in Corolla is a four-wheel drive vehicle so you can drive on the beach. Don’t have one? Several businesses offer four-wheel-drive guided tours.

Watch the sunset on top of Jockey’s Ridge.

There are very few spots in North Carolina where you can watch the sun set into a large body of water, but Jockey’s Ridge State Park is one of them. Through its popular Sunset on the Ridge summer program, you can climb to the top of the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern U.S. and watch the sun descend into the Roanoke Sound with the Atlantic Ocean behind you.

Take a plunge down Sliding Rock.

What could be more fun than a natural water slide?! Beat the heat this summer in North Carolina’s cool mountain water. Sliding Rock is a 60-foot natural waterfall/rock slide. At the base, there’s a 6-foot-deep pool for a refreshing splash at the end of your exhilarating slide.

See a bald eagle at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area has the largest population of bald eagles in the eastern U.S., and the best time to see one is during the spring migration (April-June). Arrive early morning or near dusk to increase your chances of spotting America’s national bird and find a location that gives you a wide view of the lake. Don’t forget your binoculars!

Admire the blue ghost fireflies in DuPont State Recreational Forest.

Chasing backyard fireflies at dusk is a favorite childhood activity, but you’ve probably never seen fireflies quite like these. Instead of a yellow glow, the blue ghost fireflies of Transylvania and Henderson counties emit a steady blue glow along the forest floor. The eerie light show is only about four weeks long starting in May and disappearing by mid-June. Check the Friends of DuPont State Forest website or call for information about occasional guided tours.

Climb to the top of Hatteras Lighthouse.

It’s a pretty steep climb with 257 steps, but you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views from the top of the tallest brick lighthouse in North America. You’ll also have a great view of the lighthouse’s previous home before it was relocated in 1999. The self-guided climb is not recommended for young children because of narrow stairs and only one handrail on one side.

Cross the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.

Named for its elevation, the Mile-High Swinging Bridge spans an 80-foot chasm. Originally built in 1952, the bridge was rebuilt in 1999 using galvanized steel for the cables, rails and floor boards. While there, visit the Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum, the 11 hiking trails and the seven wildlife habitats to see different animals such as deer, bald eagles, bears and more!

Visit the site of the first U.S. gold rush.

When you think of a gold rush, California immediately comes to mind, but you might be surprised to learn that the first gold rush in the U.S. actually occurred in North Carolina. NC state also led in gold production until 1848. Reed Gold Mine is now a historic site open for tours.

Climb to the top of Chimney Rock.

Take an elevator or make the strenuous climb up 26 stories of stairs to reach the iconic monolith, which is 535 million years old. From the top, enjoy the spectacular view of Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge.

While exploring the park, kids will love the discovery stations on the Great Woodland Adventure, an easy .6-mile hike to discover the lives of frogs, owls, chipmunks and more. Also, don’t miss Grady’s Animal Discovery Den with live animals, and make sure the kids visit Hickory Nut Falls, the second-highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

Visit one of Blackbeard’s favorite islands.

While on the island of Ocracoke, visit Teach’s Hole, a channel named for Edward Teach, the infamous pirate known as Blackbeard. Ocracoke was one of his favorite spots to drop anchor, and it’s also where he lost his life in a fierce battle. Young pirate fans will enjoy the Teach’s Hole “Blackbeard” exhibit and Pirate Specialty Shop.

Fall Festivals in North Carolina

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With the jaw-dropping foliage and the vibrant inspiration stretching across the state, fall in North Carolina is bursting with possibilities and must see beauty. With the diversity of seafood, beer, and music festival options available to you, there is no way you’re going to visit North Carolina without wanting to stay here forever. Regardless of where you visit this fall, inspiration is sure to find you in North Carolina.

The 23rd Annual North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival

The North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival will be held on November 7, 2015 and celebrates the annual harvest of the pecan crop! The festival will be showcasing both local and regional arts & entertainment. Held in historic downtown Whiteville and anchored at the North Carolina Museum of Forestry the festival includes a parade, antique car show, a pecan cooking contest, and free activities for children including inflatables and a train ride!

Vist here for more info on this festival www.ncpecanfestival.com/

Onslow Oktoberfest

Onslow Oktoberfest will happen on October 24, 2015 and will be held at the lovely downtown Riverwalk Crossing Park. There will be plenty of bratwurst, sauerkraut and beer for you to enjoy…and don’t forget your lederhosen!

Enjoy a day of family fun with over a hundred vendors. This is a great event to bring your kids to, with an awesome children’s area set up with a stage that will feature live entertainment, games, educational exhibits and a trackless train! Enjoy great bands and featured entertainers on the Main Stage throughout the day.

All proceeds benefit the local Soup Kitchen, Homeless Shelter and the Caring Community Clinic.

For more information visit www.onslowco.org.

Touchstone Energy Cotton Festival

The annual Touchstone Energy Cotton Festival is set for November 7, 2015. The event brings over 10,000 people each year and is a celebration of the cotton farmer and their contributions, as well as the cotton farming and harvesting heritage that plays an important role in the Dunn area.

During the festival, the local cotton gin offers free tours through the gin so that everyone can see cotton production up close and personal. There are also several blocks of carnival rides and games, stages of entertainment featuring a variety of music, a classic car show, food and crafts, downtown shopping from some of the most unique shops you can find, freebies and more!

For additional information visit www.nccottonfestival.com.

KingFest

KingFest has been rescheduled for November 7th, 2015 at King Central Park in King, North Carolina. Enjoy live music performed at the amphitheatre featuring 50s, oldies, bluegrass and gospel music. Also included in the day’s events are arts and crafts, children’s activities, a youth fishing tournament, a horseshoe pitching tournament, community-prepared country food, heritage demonstrations, miniature train rides, a classic cruise-in car show, kids’ Olympics, a corn hole tournament, contests and prize drawings. And ready for the best part?! Admission and parking are free!

For more information visit www.kingnc.com.

The Biltmore: Facts You Should Know

Known as the largest privately-owned estate in the U.S., The Biltmore House (and its gardens) is a renowned architectural feat and has become a popular tourist attraction in North Carolina.

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The grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt travelled to Asheville, N.C., with his mother for a short visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains. He fell in love with its charm and realized it was the ideal location for his perfect country home. The following year, construction began on the French Renaissance-styled home, and after six years it was complete. The Victorian chateau boasts 250 rooms including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.

Throughout the years, the house has played a pivotal role during hard times for the country. In 1930 the home was first opened to the public. This was in hopes the estate would increase tourism and revenue during the Depression. Then, the house became a safe haven for priceless pieces of artwork from the National Gallery of Art during World War II.

When visiting today, you can select from guided tours or go out on your own with a self-guided or audio-guided tour. Guided tours include the Rooftop Tour, the Premium Biltmore Tour, and the Legacy of the Land Tour where you can ride in a motor coach around the gardens and the grounds. You can make a day out of it by biking, hiking, and horseback-riding too.

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If you’re looking for the most opulent experience, stay on site. You can select from the Cottage (previously the quarters for Biltmore’s market gardener), the Inn that offers mountain views and refined cuisine or the newest of the accommodations, Antler Hill Village, which is only a few steps from the winery. There are restaurants located in all, and all are delicious.

In 1971 William Cecil (George’s brother) hired French winemaster Philippe Jourdain to aid in his vineyard venture and to refine the Biltmore wine. Now, you can take vineyard and winery tours and taste their award-winning and hand-crafted wines. The Red Wine and Chocolate Seminar and the Biltmore Bubbles Tour are two of the best choices.

The Vanderbilts have truly created a unique and serene place around the mountains in North Carolina. It offers history, entertainment, and beauty, which is why it has been a lasting tourist destination for so many years.
Info courtesy of Biltmore.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden

Jonathan Farber PhDThe North Carolina Botanical Garden is a hidden gem located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and operated by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The core mission statement of the Botanical Garden is: “To inspire understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants in gardens and natural areas and to advance a sustainable relationship between people and nature,” (Ncbg.unc.edu). For over 40 years, the North Carolina Botanical Garden has been a leading education center and plant conservation in the southeast, committed to serving the public.

The University of North Carolina’s first botany professor, William Chambers Coker is one of the main founders of the Botanical Garden. In 1903, Coker taught his students outdoors by showing them various plants and trees located on campus. In the mid 1920’s, Coker and one of his most passionate students, Henry Roland Totten, came up with the idea to create a larger, complete garden area just south of the main campus. Later, in 1952, Trustees of the University dedicated 70 acres for development of the garden, with another 103 acres donated shortly after.

William Lanier Hunt, a former student of both Coker and Totten not only donated those 103 acres for the Garden, but he also helped establish the Garden’s membership support organization, now known as the Botanical Garden Foundation. In April of 1966, the Garden had its first public opening, offering Nature Trails throughout the Garden for all to enjoy.

Jonathan Farber PhDOver the years, the Garden has acquired major establishments, including the Coker Arboretum, the Mason Farm Biological Reserve, Battle Park, and the University of North Carolina Herbarium. The lands have expanded to over 700 acres and is now a nationally recognized conservation that offers a wide array of programs for those interested to participate in. Some of these programs include: conservation programs, horticultural therapy, botanical illustration, native plant studies, and educational collections.

In addition, the North Carolina Botanical Garden is a vital resource for experts studying wildflowers and native plants of North Carolina. Its Center for Plant Conservation is one of just 36 institutions throughout the United States to hold a National Collection of Endangered Species. The Garden is also a pioneer of various plant rescue techniques and was the first garden in North America to establish an exotic pest plant policy.

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is undoubtedly a beautiful resource that North Carolina is proud to own. For more information about the garden, please visit their website here.

The Lure of Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has recently been ranked one of the best cities to live, work, and visit. But those who are unfamiliar with the city are probably wondering why it is so alluring – what makes Chapel Hill so great compared to other cities? Here are just some of the many reasons why people from all over love Chapel Hill, North Carolina:

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Downtown Chapel Hill’s tree-lined streets are filled with wonderful restaurants.

First, the livability, which is made up of a wide range of elements, is very appealing. From its mild climate and favorable location, located between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, mixes the charming mountaineer lifestyle with the lure of the sea – both easily accessible. Chapel Hill also combines a young atmosphere with rich history and southern tradition, especially when it comes to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s game days. An article published by Streetdirectory.com notes that, “Money Magazine recently ranked the town as the number one best place to live in the southern US,” (Adams, The Top 5 Reasons to Live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina).

The Chapel Hill community is another reason many residents and outsiders alike enjoy the city. With a small-town friendly vibe, people are not hesitant to wave hello or give a helping hand. According to Streetdirectory.com:

“With tree-lined streets, great schools and centuries of history to discover, Chapel Hill is also great to meet people with like-minded interests. The community offers a multitude of youth and adult programs with everything from arts and crafts to sports and exercise programs, among others,”(Adams, The Top 5 Reasons to Live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina).

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The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

If you’re new to town, you’ll be sure to find a group of people you can affiliate with according to your interests. Chapel Hill is known for making sure its residents are happy and healthy, and with the University and UNC Hospitals spread throughout the city, there are plenty of free programs for you to join and feel the wonderful sense of community that Chapel Hill exudes.

The arts and culture scene in Chapel Hill is another flourishing aspect of the community. For music lovers, nature appreciators, theatre personas, and sports fans – there is never a lack of activities to take part in, no matter what interest pertains to you. Streetdirectory.com notes, “The town prides itself on being a community that values culture and has established an ordinace to allocate funds to be specifically used for promoting the arts,” (Adams, The Top 5 Reasons to Live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina). With the well-known Festifall Street Fair that happens each October, to the dozens of museums, arboretums and historical centers around the area, you’ll find that the arts are a huge part of what makes Chapel Hill so appealing.

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Festifall is one of Chapel Hill’s most well-known art festivals that takes place in October.

For more information about why people from all around the country are flocking to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, check out Streetdirectory.com’s article here, which includes details like the positive employment rates throughout the city, along with the great education systems.

Things to Do on Your Next Trip to the Outer Banks

jonathan farber phd gallery_beaches_1_lrgThe Outer Banks in North Carolina are a great summer vacation spot for both North Carolina residents and out-of-staters alike.  From the beautiful, quaint town of Avon, to the northern towns of Corolla, Nags Head, and Duck, there are plenty of fun activities you can engage in to make your stay worthwhile, especially if you are traveling with family. The following are some tips on what to do the next time you find yourself surrounded by the blissful serenity of the Outer Banks:

Jonathan Farber PhD ferryFirst, you should know about the free ferry ride from Hatteras to Ocracoke, which many people think costs money. Try to go during off-peak hours, because lines tend to get quite long during prime hours. The ferry ride lasts for 40 minutes and brings you right to the village of Ocracoke, filled with some of nature’s most breathtaking beauty like wild horses and near-vacant beaches filled with sea shells. Local attractions of the village include small coffee shops, ice-cream parlors, and various places to shop. But keep in mind, it will be hot out and you will most likely be walking around for a while because the shops are spread out – so don’t forget to pack sunscreen!

Another great activity to partake in during your stay at the Outer Banks is to kayak on the canals. You can either rent kayaks from local tour spots, which will offer lessons and safety precautions (especially for the younger ones), or bring your own if you’ve got them! A peaceful kayak ride amongst the soothing waters of the canals is one of the best forms of meditation there is. Plus, if you go with a loved one, it can be very romantic.Jonathan Farber phd Lighthouse

Next, you should visit the Hatteras lighthouse, one of the Banks’ most famous landmarks that is usually a bit crowded. But, there’s always reasons for a crowd – and this lighthouse is no exception. Despite the hot climb to the top, the views once you conquer it are worth every penny – you won’t regret it. There’s also a visitor’s center with free park programs, a small museum, and access to the beach if you feel like taking a dip in the water to cool off.

Speaking of the beach, it may sound cliche but make sure you enjoy every second of relaxing in the sun with the soft sounds of waves crashing and seagulls singing as you close your eyes – you are on vacation after all. Be content with being in the moment, and utilize that salt water to it’s fullest, it really is healing.

For more information on things to do during your stay on the Outer Banks, check out this blog by Carrie Higgins.

Best Hikes in Asheville, NC

Asheville, North Carolina, is the largest city in Western North Carolina, located in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains and at the confluence of the Swannanoa River. Though the city is widely known for its laid-back atmosphere, kind people, and artistic vibes, Asheville is also home to some of the best places to hike in North Carolina.

Whether you’re in Asheville for a visit, or you’re lucky enough to live there, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t spend a day hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here’s a look as some of the best places to hike in Asheville:

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  1. Mt. Pisgah – A popular, 3 mile round-trip uphill climb, this hike may seem on the shorter side, but it is strenuous. Standing at 5,721 feet, you can see Mt. Pisgah from downtown Asheville on a clear day.
  2. Black Balsam Knob – This is a great hike if you want to experience some breathtaking views of North Carolina. It is part of the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail, so hikes can last as long as you want them to.
  3. Fryingpan Tower – A quick, 1.5 mile hike at a moderate-level, great for setting aside some time to catch a beautiful view of the sunset along its historic fire tower. If you want an even shorter, 1-mile hike with equally beautiful views, try out Devil’s Courthouse.
  4. Richland Balsam – A 1.5 mile easy loop that takes you along the Blue Ridge Parkway through the shady forest trees. A great hike to try out if you have kids or dogs who need get tired on longer, steeper trails.
  5. Waterrock Knob – A difficult, 2.4 mile hike to the summit, which stands at 6,292 feet as the 16th highest mountain in the Eastern United States. You’ll have to pace yourself for this hike, but you will feel a great sense of accomplishment when it’s over – definitely worth it!

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For more information on where to hike, either in Asheville or other parts of North Carolina, check out EveryTrail, a website dedicated to hiking in North Carolina.