Hiking: 48 Hours in Pisgah National Forest, NC

Posted on July 26, 2013

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A national treasure famous for its many waterfalls, clear streams, and forests replete with rhododendron and mountain laurel.

Lila enjoyed a little jaunt with some cousins down to the far western reaches of North Carolina this week, and spent some time hiking the trails in Pisgah National Forest. Sometimes one needs a break to refresh one’s outlook on life, and this is a good one!

Thanks to a relative who lives in Brevard, NC, Pisgah National Forest has become something of a tradition for Lila and the cousins. Sometimes we gather there for a holiday; this time for no particular reason, other than a mid-summer break from the usual grind.

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Sunlight catches the mist in the forest.

We’re no spring chickens; as often as Lila shamelessly claims 23 years to her name (maybe I should up that to 35 sometime), no one is ever going to buy that! But we set ourselves a couple of challenges: the first was John Rock, the mountain that overlooks the Pisgah Forest State Fish Hatchery. The five-mile hike starts out easily enough, but it is no casual stroll, with a 1000-foot gain in elevation topping out at 3,320 feet above sea level before the often rough trails return you to your start point at the Hatchery. Well, never let it be said that we shy away from biting off more than we can chew. So off we went, over trails as muddy as we have ever seen them, and with nary another soul in sight. The occasional quagmires we encountered (one wonders where all that water comes from, so high up on a mountain), were interspersed with upward climbs worthy of a Stairmaster workout. About the time that we were cursing our idiocy, consulting the map in vain hopes of a shortcut home, and ready to declare ourselves unwilling to take one more upward step, we found ourselves at the heavily forested summit and the trail started steeply downward. The wailing and gnashing of teeth subsided and we perked up as the trail once again became more level, with occasional scenic stream crossings, until we made our way back to the Hatchery and cooled our feet in the stream there.

NCHike-RockysTo sweeten our moods even more, we stopped in the town of Brevard for our first-day, post-hike ice cream at Rocky’s Soda Shop – another tradition. Rocky’s, with its red vinyl and chrome, is a throwback to the ice cream and soda shops of the 1950s. Being summertime, it was packed with very satisfied customers, but we are happy to keep up our Rocky’s habit even in the dead of winter.

The following day, we headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway for Mount Pisgah, the 5,712-foot peak that dominates the Pisgah Forest landscape and is easily distinguished by the communications tower at its summit.

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We have to WALK up there?!

We thought this hike, with its 750-foot gain in altitude and 3-mile round trip on the trail, would be easier than John Rock the day before. Maybe it was, but it didn’t seem like it (did I mention that we’re not spring chickens?)! While John Rock was longer and had more vertical gain, Mount Pisgah is some 2,400 feet higher above sea level (with a corresponding decrease in oxygen levels), and the trail had practically no level stretches to break up the climb, making it seem much steeper than John Rock.

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The Mt. Pisgah trail. Up, and up, and up.

On the other hand, the Mount Pisgah trail was much more popular, and we encountered many hikers on the way up and back. The summit rewarded us with spectacular 360-degree views and a cool breeze, something not to be found in the thick forests on the mountainsides.

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The view from Mt. Pisgah.

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All the antennae on the tower bring back Signal Corps memories for Lila!

We were chipper enough on the way home to make a quick side trip to see Jackson Falls, an easy walk to an unexpectedly tall and attractive waterfall. This trail, more open and bright than the others, treated us to butterflies and blackberries as well as the cool spray from the falls.  The river we crossed over – clear and cool – was also popular with families and trout fishermen.

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Lila, photographing Jackson Falls.

Conveniently, Dolly’s Dairy Bar is located along the road headed back into town, doing brisk business in the summer. We found the outdoor atmosphere somewhat campground-like, but the ice cream – in flavors ranging from basic to unique, and served in forms ranging from cones to sundaes to banana splits – was delicious. We may have just found a new post-hike tradition!

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The “Bear Benches” at Dolly’s are almost as popular as the ice cream.

Whether river tubing, swimming, fishing, sightseeing, camping, hiking or just browsing the shops in the quaint town of Brevard, there is something for everyone. As far as we’re concerned, we can’t go too wrong with hiking followed by ice cream, especially on a hot summer day!

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