It’s been a long cold winter….maybe the winter wasn’t so bad, but January didn’t end until…April!! Read more
Linville Falls and Gorge is one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s top attractions. Linville Falls has the distinction of having the highest volume water flow of any NC waterfall, although it is certainly not the biggest or highest. With a nice gift center, restrooms, large parking lot, and numerous trails on both sides of the river leading to different and magnificent views, it is no wonder that this place attracts tens of thousands each year. Here I am on a Saturday morning, one of the busiest days up here, preparing a hike. What was I thinking? I had just stayed the night at the nearby Linville Lodge after attending the 1st annual Spruce Pine Barbecue and Bluegrass Festival the night before, so I was here and it was very convenient. The weather early on this morning was also perfect, so I could not resist. This day I chose to hike along the East side of the river or left side. This trail takes you to the Plunge Basin View and down to the bottom of Linville Gorge. The mileage is 0.5 to the Plunge Basin View, and 0.7 to the Linville Gorge. Do not let these relatively small mileage amounts fool you. It is some steep, rugged climbing down to the bottom, and then you have to climb back out.
The trail starts off relatively mild, taking you uphill. After 0.3 miles, you will reach a fork in the path where going straight takes you 0.2 to the Plunge Basin View, and going left takes you 0.4 miles to the the Linville Gorge. I begin by going straight here, you will want to see both views…trust me. Going straight, the path will level off and begin to drop, somewhat steeply, but nothing extreme. If stops at one of the finest views of Linville Falls, a side view known as the Plunge Basin View. You will be way above the falls here but a closer and more personal view of the falls and pool than the views on the west side of the river. The trails on the west side do however give a great view of the Upper Falls just above Linville Falls and an interesting view at how the river has cut its way through the rock to pop out on the other side like it does. All trails on both sides are must-hikes.
AAfter taking in this beautiful view for a few moments, it is time to keep moving. You will have to backtrack for 0.2 miles and head back to the fork in the path. It will now be 0.4 miles to the bottom of the beauty that you just viewed. For a trail that you know has to go way down, this fork trail surprisingly goes up for the first 0.1 mile. Then.. the trail turns down, way down. Steps, roots, rocks will have to be carefully navigated. The rocks will mostly be wet with mud puddles to avoid as well. Going down is always more dangerous than going up. There are no spots that require any kind of rope or anything, but please navigate this descent with care. Take your time. Here below is a view of the staircase that lets
After a few minutes you will find yourself at the river level and will need to rock hop upstream to get the best view possible. Once again, be careful down here. The views that will await you are phenomenal and will be well worth the short but strenuous hike.
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.