It’s been a long cold winter….maybe the winter wasn’t so bad, but January didn’t end until…April!! Read more
I was here only 3 days ago. I normally do not go to the same place back to back. As it happens, I found myself driving through the Linville Falls on the Parkway on my way to another destination. I got a quick glance of the Linville River, and noticed it was quite high. I was thinking, wow they must of got a ton of rain last night, much more than the sprinkles we received in the triad.
I have always wanted to see Linville Falls when the water was high, so today became my day. I pulled in, took the same Plunge Basin Trail I hiked over the weekend to see just the Plunge Basin View. Wow, it was awesome……
After this, I went back to the visitor center, and hiked the west side for a few views from the Upper Falls View, Chimney View, and Erwin’s View. This river was absolutely raging today and I was in awe most of my time there. I ended up with a nice 3 mile hike and some super views!!!
“Plunge Basin View” of Linville Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway, Mile Post 316.4, is the turn in to the famous Linville Falls. Linville Falls may not be the single most spectacular waterfall in North Carolina, but it is definitely one of the most popular. This is one of the BRP’s top attractions. It was one of the featured waterfalls in the movie “Last of The Mohicans”. The parking lot here is huge, not only for cars, but large buses and campers as well. Between spring and fall, this area receives tons and tons of visitors. It is this reason that usually keeps me away in the prime season. There are just too many people for me to truly enjoy it.
However, in 2012, the winter that wasn’t, the frequently closed off attraction is wide open, the gates are in place but open. The trails are wide open and in good shape, and people, while there are some others thinking just as I am, are so much fewer and far between. This….is the prime time to enjoy this waterfall. I was so surprised while stopping by this place after Elk Knob, that I decided to come back with my girlfriend and her family. There is one thing to keep in mind before coming this time of year. There is a very nice visitor center with a store and informative people to help you on your hike. There are also restrooms. Right now, the restrooms are boarded up and the store is closed until spring. The only resources that will be available to you when you arrive , are an informative map and an occasional drive-thru park ranger. Now to the falls we go…
Once at the visitor center there are 2 options, both leading to spectacular different views of this magnificent waterfall. The more traveled one is to the right or west side of the Linville River. This trail starts off wide and fairly level and will cross the river on a well built bridge. There are three attractions or view points here with the furthest one away being about 0.9 miles away, so plan on about a 2.5 to a 3 mile round trip hike to see all three of these views ( this includes the short side trails and steps at each view).
The first view is fairly easy to get to , the trail is level to this point. What you will see first is the “Upper Falls”. While this is considered part of Linville Falls, it is totally seperate and has a very large pool of its own. This will be on the left when you reach the end. On the right, is something I find to be very enchanting. After the pool, the river winds through this sharp S curve below you and narrows very tightly. The water is rushing at this point. At the very end on the right the water disappears into the rocks and spits out the other side in what we know as “Linville Falls” If you want to see that, you will have to back track and continue up the trail.
Once back on the trail, it will begin to climb, at somewhat of a moderate steepness. It is only about .3 of a mile or so to the next stop, then you will have to go down a few steps….which must be climbed back up of course. There are two views here in the middle. What you see is probably the best and most close-up shot of the entire waterfall, including the upper falls and the main falls. Trees make getting the perfect view and picture a challenge though. Once back on the main trail, it is only about .3 mile or so to “Erwins View” at which point you will be at your highest elevation. It gives a distant but more unobscured view of the entire falls, and also a good look at the famous “Linville Gorge” at this point looking up and down the river from this point.
Now, I will focus on my favorite hike here, on the left side or east side of the river. A trail leads to the left of the visitor center to what is known as the “Plunge Basin View”, and the river bottom. This trail is only about .5 mile from the visitor center but it starts going up and ends going down, somewhat difficult but not too bad. This well designed view is from the side of the waterfall and is my favorite view by far. It is the closest to the waterfall, and there are no trees to deal with, just yourself the large rock cliffs that go way above the waterfall itself, the waterfall, and large pool below. In addition to the most detailed view of the waterfall, you can also get a view up into the rocks, and see the once wide river, rushing through a very tight and narrow chute, falling powerfully and slowly chipping away at this beautiful cliff and rock formation. After enjoying this, head back up the trail and there is a side trail that goes to the river bottom. I caution you, this is steep with some steep steps, roots and rocks to manage in places, but it is well designed and managed, so I consider it safe, just tiring. Once down here, you can rock hop fairly close to the left side of the waterfall but still at a distance. The sound down here really shows off the power of this treat provided by mother nature. It is a very large pool as well, too bad there is no swimming allowed in the parkway waters.
If you have enough time and energy to explore both sides of the river, you will walk away with something close to a 5 to 6 mile hike , seeing this waterfall from numerous viewpoints. It is truly worth the time and energy, and if you are fortunate enough to come when the crowds are low, you are in for a real treat.
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.