January Thaw – First Hike at Elk Knob State Park

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First  Hike at Elk Knob State Park 

It is just not a typical winter in North Carolina.  Instead of inches of snow, and power outages, we are counting 60 degree days at the lower elevations, and going on some sweet winter hikes that we normally can not do.    On a day that I had Roan Mountain in mind, Elk Knob crossed my view on my pc, and I realized that I have never been to this place, a location that was very close and accessible to the crossroads town of the northern NC mountains, Boone.

Elk Knob State Park currently has 1 main trail to the Summit, a 1.8 mile climb that ascends 1000 ft.  While this may sound rough, this was probably the most pleasant ,  easy to hike 1000 climb I have experienced.  The trail is brand new, full of fresh gravel and switches back and forth frequently until you arrive at the summit.  This summit is not full of crags and other rock formations to climb , it is just a nice grassy summit, that has a north and south view.   I stopped in for a visit at the temporary visitor center.  There was an sweet older lady working on this day.  We conversed about the new park, how long it had been here.  Sh gave me a very clear and accurate layout of the trail and what to expect.  She was very accurate too.  She told me that on a clear day like today, I could see 50 miles in all directions.  One of the last things she told me was that the winds would be very chilly up there and that I needed something to cover my neck and ears…she was very sweet!

Once the 1.8 mile ascent was complete, I remember thinking that I could not agree with her more.  There was not one viewpoint up here, but two, a north view and a south view, both with amazing shots.  Each one has a descriptive placard with a “virtual” map.  It shows accurately which mountains you see as you change your direction of view.  I think this is particularly a nice touch.  Some mountains I could clearly recognize like Pilot and Grandfather, others, I might not have known.  A cold front had just cleared the region the night before and  it was a very clear morning, making the views sensational, almost indescribable in words and pictures.   Some things, you really just have to see in person.

On the north side, the top attraction to me was clearly the viewing of   Pilot Mountain, which is actually over 90 miles to the east, well further than the 50 mile range I was expecting.  Pilot has this large knob on it, which makes it one of the most recognizable landmarks in western NC.    There are also some amazing views of Snake Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and Mount Mitchell.  The ski slopes of Beech and Sugar Mountain were clearly visible and also displayed the only…..snow to be found, amazing for this time of year. At an elevation over 5500 ft,  snow should be everywhere, I had a hard time finding any ice on rocks as well, it is just an unusually warm winter.

Once back at the vehicle, I made the short commute back into Boone for lunch at one of the great local sandwich shops.  I did stop by for an afternoon visit at Linville Falls, so look for that to come soon.


Elk Knob from the access road below, not much color this time of year, but the absence of leaves totally enhances the views along the hike!!





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