Want to really see the Blue Ridge Mountains?

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Flame Azalea

Hike them!

After being tourists in Asheville for a couple of days, we were back to what delights us the most – submerging ourselves into nature through our hiking – this time in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We were thrilled when we learned that our home base in Candler, Western NC was only 4.5 miles from the access road to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The RV park was really quaint, with only six sites and the added bonus of a creek running right through it!  We will miss the sounds of that water running by the back of the rig as we enjoyed our fires and at bedtime.  Steve’s review of Stony Fork Creek RV Park is here.

Stony Fork Creek RV Park, Candler, NC

Stony Fork Creek behind our site

On the image below, numbers 1 and 2 (clicking on the numbers takes you to the related post) mark the sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway we explored last year.  This time we explored the southern end of the parkway, marked number 3 below.  The Blue Ridge Parkway begins at Mile 0 in Shenandoah National Park, VA and goes all the way down to Mile 469 at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Driving out of our campsite toward our first trailhead, Steve noted an opportunity when we climbed the very curvy and steep grade up Highway 151 towards the Blue Ridge Parkway access.  He blurted out that it would really be fun to coast down this curvy road on his bike. Of course, I tried to shut down his excitement by telling him it’s too dangerous and that he’s getting too old for that kind of crap.  That didn’t go over very well, so I patiently reminded him that our medical coverage isn’t quite as “comprehensive” as it used to be.  He admitted that was a good point.

So, bright and early the next morning he had his bike on the car, and back up the hill we went anyway.  I dropped him off at the top and he waited while I located a nice sharp turn halfway down from which to witness the carnage.  Since I’m no action photographer,  the shot below is the best I could get as he whizzed by with a huge smile on his face.  In 10 minutes he had coasted down the 4.5 miles back to our campground, and I couldn’t even catch him in the car after snapping the picture!

Lowes RV Adventures

There’s the crazy biker…

With that bit of insanity out of the way, we headed back for our real workout, climbing mountains.  Beware, lots of mountain photos ahead.

Overlook signs and some plaques are placed along the Blue Ridge Parkway that point out and explain the interesting cultural history of that area, and ID the captivating mountain scenery.  Trailheads can also be seen alongside several of the overlooks, and that’s where we began each of our hikes.  During this stop, our hikes were all completed between Milepost 407 to 431 on the parkway.

Milepost 431 – Richland Balsam Hike

This is  a 1.5-mile loop hike that rises about 400 feet to the summit of Richard Mountain at 6,410 feet.  It is the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  At the beginning of the trail was a box that should have contained laminated self-guided tour maps to tell us what the markers along the trail were describing.  But as usual it was empty, so we stopped at each marker and tried to guess what it represented.  Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Milepost 431 Blue Ridge Parkway

Richard Balsam mountain

Richard Balsam summit in the background

This was a pretty trail, and not overly strenuous.  It passed through a spruce-fir forest and over the summit of the 10th highest peak in the eastern United States.  The term “balsam” is commonly applied to Fraser Fir and Red Spruce trees, whose scents permeate the fresh air on the trail.  This was a refreshing hike, as there was little sunlight and the forest floor was cool and moist at the high elevation.

Richard Balsam Summit

No mountain view at the summit, but still a nice hike

We encountered just one cute little rabbit, who posed quite nicely for me.

Rabbit at Richard Balsam Mountain

The cutest rabbit I have ever seen with really bright clear eyes!  Steve said he was getting a hankerin’ for some stew…

After the hike, we drove north to the next overlook and found a young lady reading while enjoying this captivating vista of the Cowee mountains.  The sun was not blazing that day, nor were there any crowds.  So she had those mountains all to herself (well, until we showed up).

Cowee Mountains Overlook

Cowee Mountains Overlook

Milepost 422 – Devil’s Courthouse Hike

This hike was short, but a strenuous half-mile to the top with rewarding panoramic mountain views.  The trail started from the overlook parking area beside the mountain, and was mostly paved until we approached the peak which resides at 5,720 feet.  The bare-rock profile was so named because of its sinister appearance and legend, according to the sign at the overlook.

Devil's Courthouse

Devil’s Courthouse

There were a few Catawba Rhododendron blooming along the trail, and the bees were just all-a-buzz about it!

catawba rhododendron

Catawba Rhododendron buds

There was a nice overlook at the top, and supposedly from here we could see North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.  I don’t know about that, but we saw a lot!

Devils Courthouse Peak

A compass points out everything we could see from here

Devils Courthouse

Steve pointing to our car at the overlook parking

Devils Courthouse Peak

Somewhere behind us is South Carolina 🙂

The Devil’s Courthouse’s “devilish” look has apparently contributed to some superstitious folk tales, which is probably why someone left two plates of fresh fruits and a drink at the peak.

Devil's Courthouse

I had to stop Steve from eating the grapes on the offerings

Milepost 420 – Black Balsam Hike

This is a very popular trail and we learned why.  The Black Balsam area includes some of the most spectacular “mountain balds” in the Southern Appalachians.  A mountain bald is part of a mountain range rising along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.  This one includes Black Balsam Knob, a knob being a projecting part of a mountain, usually round in shape – like a doorknob.  To reach the summit of Black Balsam Knob, we hiked about 1/2 mile through the forest to reach the open, grassy and rocky mountain meadows, then we took a section of the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail.  This memorial to Art Loeb, an activist from the Carolina Mountain Club, is a trail with a plaque that reads “he deeply loved these mountains.”

Black Balsam Trail

Steve hiking toward a grassy knob on the Art Loeb trail

From our vantage point at Balsam Mountain, it was obvious that the Blue Ridge Parkway lives up to its name.  The photo below shows a section that crests the  Blue Ridge Mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Can you see the Blue Ridge Parkway?

This trail was almost entirely devoid of trees, and we were exposed to the UV rays for several hours.  The 6,214 foot Black Balsam Knob is the 23rd highest of the 40 mountains in North Carolina.  It is lush and green around its top, and I could just imagine how these mountains would look in fall foliage.  Hmm, it might not be a bad idea to swing back through here in October!

Art Loeb Trail

Art Loeb Memorial


Black Balsam Mountain

Going down the twisted metamorphic rocks

I can’t believe we did all of those hikes in one day – we were exhausted!

Milepost 408- Frying Pan Tower

On another day we wanted to hike to the Frying Pan Overlook Tower.  Instead of taking the easy way and walking up the 3/4-mile gravel road from the Frying Pan overlook, we began this hike from Mount Pisgah so we could have a longer trek of about six miles.  I’m glad we took the longer hike, for we passed many undisturbed blooming wildflowers.  We could tell this trail was less-traveled, seeing nobody else as we walked through plenty of spider webs, and noticing the overgrown vegetation had not been trampled for a while.  Perfect!

Frying Pan Tower Trail

Pam, I remembered your “tick alert” as we walked through here.

False Solomon

Clusters of False Solomon were blooming

Lowes RV Adventures

Even Steve was attracted to the bright orange Flame Azalea

Flame Azalea

Steve’s photo of a Flame Azalea – not bad for a rookie!

And just a few more pretty flowers we saw on the trail.  I can’t identify the one on the left – maybe one of you can help me?

Our destination for the Frying Pan Tower hike was the 70-foot tall tower built in 1941, which I learned later is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The steel tower atop the 5,340-foot Frying Pan Mountain was designed to provide extensive views to watch for fires until the early 1990s.  However, hikers like us are the only ones experiencing the beauty today, not to mention the howling winds at the top.

Frying Pan Tower

Chatting with fellow hikers and RV’ers near the tower

Although the tower platform was locked, we climbed five flights of stairs to just underneath it.  And wow, the view was just fantastic!

Looking Glass Mountain

Looking south toward Looking Glass Mountain

Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking northeast, Blue Ridge Parkway in the center

Frying Pan Tower

Looking west toward Cold Mountain, the wind blew my hat off!

I’m exhausted just re-living these hikes, and I didn’t want it to be such a long blog.  But I’m afraid there are more hikes with more beautiful scenery ahead!


Next up:  Our final hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains