Don’t fall victim to the popular assumption that just because you’re going to the mountains, it will be cooler. While it is true that for every 1,000 feet of elevation gained, the temperature drops between 3 and 5 degrees (depending upon cloudiness), there are lots of places in the “mountains” where the elevation isn’t all that great. Asheville, for instance, tops out a little over 2,100 feet. Brevard is only slightly higher, at 2,200 feet.
That doesn’t even cool you 10 degrees if you’re coming from the Piedmont.
So you have to options: either go high, very high. Or seek out the cooling waters tumbling down from on high.
Our Cool Fun in the Summertime series concludes today — after touching on the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte earlier in the week — with a visit to the coolest of the cool — the mountains.

1. Mount Mitchell State Park
NC 128 off the Blue Ridge Parkway
Last week, our GetHiking! North Carolina’s Classic Hikes hikers were broiling in upper 98 degree heat. On Sunday morning, they stood bundled atop Mount Mitchell State Park, warding off the chill of a 44-degree start (on its way to a high in the 50s). The hottest it’s ever been on 6,684-foot Mitchell is 81 degrees; summertime highs in the 60s are more the norm, perfect weather for exploring the highest mountain range on the East Coast. From Mitchell, head north on the rugged Deep Gap Trail to Mount Craig (6,648 feet), Big Tom (6,651 feet), Balsam Cone (6,596 feet), Potato Hill and beyond. Shorter trails stick close to Mitchell, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through on its 1,150-mile journey across the state.
More information here.

2. Sliding Rock
Tubing (minus the tube)
Pisgah National Forest near Brevard
The spectating at Sliding Rock, located just off US 276 on its way from Brevard to the Blue Ridge Parkway, is nearly as refreshing as sliding. Participants pony up $2 (this is a National Forest fee area) to stand in line for the 60-foot slide down a smooth, sloping boulder. Spectators gather at the bottom, where unsuspecting participants plunge into a pool of water generally in the 50- to 60-degree range — then surface wide-eyed, gasping and scurrying for the nearest exit. Couples well with a hike up nearby Looking Glass Rock.
More information here.

3. Deep Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tubing (with the tube)
Bryson City
Access and scenic waterfalls on either side of the creek make this one of the most popular tubing destinations in the state. From Bryson City it’s a 10-minute drive to the mouth of the gorge, where tube rentals are available from several vendors. Walk up an old roadbed to the start of the lower section, suitable for beginners as well as seasoned though perhaps more laid-back tubers, continue a little farther to the whitewater section that begins at Indian Creek and rollicks through Deep Creek gorge. Additional trail will take you deeper into the Smokies, if you get the hiking urge.
More information here.

4. Mount Pisgah, Crabtree Falls, Mount Mitchell campgrounds
Pisgah National Forest
The problem with summer camping, as most campers know, is the evenings: the still, sultry, stifling evenings, when sleep is the thing of dreams (if only you could). The trick is to find a campground that flirts with elevations where nighttime lows in the 50s are possible. Three of our favorites: 1. Mount Pisgah, Milepost 408, Blue Ridge Parkway. The elevation of just under 5,000 feet makes for cool nights, the abundance of rhododendron offers a good deal of privacy. Quick access to hiking in the Shining Rock area. 2. Crabtree Falls, Milepost 339.5, Blue Ridge Parkway. The elevation is around 3,300 feet — seemingly low for our purposes. But the west-facing campsites catch the cool air swooping off the 6,500-foot Black Mountains one ridge over, offering a type of high Appalachian air conditioning. Two miles from the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. 3. Mount Mitchell State Park, NC 128 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. At 6,500 feet, you’ll want to be sure and bring a three-season bag — and perhaps some fleece. See above for hiking options.
More information here for Mount Pisgah, here for Crabtree Falls, and here for Mount Mitchell.

5. Wilson Creek
Hiking, backpacking, swimming, paddling
Pisgah National Forest, Caldwell County
While most of our destinations rely on elevation, water or a combination thereof, this one benefits from nearby elevation but relies strictly on water for its cooling effect. Wilson Creek is a 49,000-acre jumble of rock that sits at the base of 5,940-foot Grandfather Mountain and serves as the mountain’s drainage. Snaking through the area are several creeks — Wilson, Harper and North Harper among them — that feature falls and pools where hikers can (and in some cases must) cool their feet. Particularly popular is Hunt-Fish Falls; hike down a half mile from the road and the 20-foot falls looms, spilling into a deep, rock-rimmed pool that’s one of the best swimming holes in the state. One of the best primitive campsites in the state is a quarter mile down the trail.
More information here.