Top 10 Secret Summer Adventures: Mountains

Paddle the riffly New River

Over the past two weeks we’ve been reminding you that summer is half over, and gently encouraging you to not let the rest of the season slip by without some good adventure. Not to suggest that you haven’t had one or two rousing outings already. But if that’s not the case, then listen up, because we’ve got not only 10 great adventures for you to do by summer’s end, but 10 great adventures that not all that many folks know about.

With a little planning and perseverance, you can get in enough adventure so that when summer ends and the gang gathers to swap stores, you’ll be the center of attention. To that end, we’re sharing some of our favorite off-the-beaten path adventures in North Carolina, this week in the Mountains.

  1. New River State Park, Wagoner Access, Laurel Springs. Camping, paddling. We’re fresh from researching this one. The Wagoner Access has several secluded, walk-in (50 to 75 yards) sites nestled in the woods. About 10 minutes up the road is Zaloo’s Canoes, where you can rent a kayak or canoe and take a 5-mile trip down the riffling New River — right back to your campsite. A large meadow at the campsite coupled with minimal nearby light pollution offers great stargazing. More info here.
  2. Check out a range of Southeastern mountains from atop 5,520-foot Elk Knob

    Elk Knob State Park, Todd. Hiking. From the 5,520-foot summit of Elk Knob you can practically throw a rock into Tennessee. You can also see a who’s who of Southeastern mountains, from Whitetop and Mount Rogers in Virginia, to Grandfather, Hawksbill and Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. And the hike up through a northern hardwood forest is testament to how accessible well-designed trails can make a peak. More info here.

  3. Gragg Prong Falls, Wilson Creek Area, Mortimer. Hiking, waterfalls. On a hot summer’s day, the gravel Brown Mountain Beach Road snaking up to Mortimer along Wilson Creek can be as packed as I-40 at rush hour. No surprise, considering some of the best watering holes in the area are a short walk. But head northwest out of Mortimer, then left on Roseboro Road and you’re at the far-less-well-known Gragg Prong Falls trailhead. A short hike, some water crossings and you’re at a series of stair-step drops, each of which ends in its own, isolated pool. More info here.
  4. Explore Wilson Creek’s lesser-known falls, on Gragg Prong

    Mountains-to-Sea Trail: Boone Fork Parking Area to Price Lake. Linville. Hiking. The 91-mile run of the MST from Grandfather Mountain to Devil’s Garden Overlook is best known for its rugged beauty. Yet one of the most beautiful stretches begins at the Boone Fork Parking area (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 299.9) and quietly meanders through an old growth forest and wanders through small meadows before reaching Price Lake. It’s a 5-mile ramble with an easy shuttle. More info here.

  5. Explore balds galore on the AT between Carver’s Gap and US 19E

    Appalachian Trail: Carvers Gap to US 19E, Bakersville. Hiking. The 14-mile run of the AT from Carver’s Gap north to US 19E is hardly a secret. In fact, it may be the most well-known — and loved — stretch of the AT in North Carolina. Here’s the secret: There’s access at the mid-point, at Yellow Mountain Gap, via an entertaining 5-mile drive up Roaring Creek Road from US 19E. The advantage to starting at Yellow Gap: easy access to Little Hump and Hump mountains and some of the best views in the Southeast. More info in “Backpacking North Carolina” (2011, UNC Press), Trip No. 23.

  6. South Mountains State Park, Connelly Springs. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, waterfalls. How the largest state park in North Carolina (at 18,400 acres) remains a secret is hard to figure. Yet unless you live nearby, odds are you’ve never heard of South Mountains and its 40 miles of trail, its six backcountry camping areas, its 80-foot waterfall and its trout fishing. If you’re looking to get away, it’s a natural. More info here.
  7. Hike into the past in Cataloochee Valley

    Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cataloochee. Hiking, wildlife viewing. Not crowded? First, there’s the fact it ain’t near Gatlinburg or Cherokee, the tourist gateways to the Smokies. Then there’s the windy, white-knuckle dirt road you take to get there. Finally, no gift shop. All that eliminates about 99.9 percent of the 10 million folks who visit the Great Smokies annually. And that’s why it’s one of our picks — that and the gorgeous valley at the heart of Cataloochee, the restored buildings from the town’s century-ago heyday (when it was home to some 1,200 people) and the healthy elk herd reintroduced in 2001. Take the trail over to Little Cataloochee for more scenic solitude. Learn more here.

  8. Lakeshore Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City. Hiking. Take Fontana Road/Lakeview Drive out of Bryson City to its conclusion at the Lakeshore Trailhead and enjoy some of the most quiet hiking in the Smokies. And be sure to start your hike from the road-to-nowhere by heading through the automotive tunnel that’s never seen an automobile. Miles of trail explore the remote fingers of Fontana Lake; if you’re a backpacker, there are a number of NPS-designated backcountry sites as well. More info here.
  9. Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock Wilderness, Robbinsville. Hiking. For tame adventure, check out the Joyce Kilmer side of this 17,400-acre wilderness, which is known for its massive stands of old growth hardwoods. Easy trail, short trail. For a 180 of Joyce Kilmer, venture, if you dare, into the Slickrock area for a hike along and in Slickrock Creek and up the adjoining slopes. An especially good trip if you’re working on your navigation skills. More info here.
  10. Davidson River Campground, Brevard. Camping. Sometimes, all you want to do is camp, in a nice campground, with shaded spots, nice bathhouses, quick access to town if you forget something vital (like a toothbrush or tent). You want a nice, cool trout stream nearby. Some trail, too, for when you’re feeling especially ambitious. And when you grow tired of beans and franks, perhaps some good restaurants nearby where you can retreat for non-camp cuisine. When that’s the case, head for Davidson River, which is just outside of Brevard, which has the two essentials — good coffee and brew pubs — for any mountain trip. More info here.

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In case you missed our previous installments …