Hiking Information

Not all hiking trails are created equal, but it’s difficult to go wrong when choosing any of the High Country’s footpaths. Whether you’re an experienced hiker who lives for challenging terrain or a couch potato who can’t walk a quarter-mile without huffing and puffing, these mountains and valleys offer something for everyone. Do you want an easy stroll through the park or a climb to dizzying heights?

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Falls Creek slips gently over the rocks on its way down the Blue Ridge escarpment. One of my favorite High Country hikes is the Cascades Trail, which is located at Milepost 271.9 of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Ashe County. This self-guiding loop is located in E.B. Jeffress Park and offers descriptions of several trees and other vegetation located along the path.

Of course it also provides two observation areas from which to view the Cascades waterfall, for which the trail is named.

The .5-mile loop is predominantly easy, except for a few series of steps leading to and from the falls observation areas. It is not handicapped accessible, but anyone without serious medical conditions should be able to enjoy it with relative ease.

The gravel and dirt path is mostly graded, but does feature roots and larger rocks in a few areas. I recommend hiking shoes, sneakers or other closed-toe footwear, but those wearing sandals or flip-flops could probably negotiate the path in dry conditions as well.

Getting There:

From the intersection of Highways 421 S. and 194 N. at New Market Center in Boone take Highway 421 south toward Wilkesboro. Go almost 10 miles and turn on to the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north (left).

Then go about five miles, and the Cascades parking area will be located on the right. The journey from Boone to the Cascades parking area should take between 15 and 20 minutes.

The trail’s parking area features several picnic tables and a large, grassy area ideal for tossing a football or baseball, throwing a Frisbee or just lying out in the sun.

Shortly after its start the trail splits in two at one end of the loop. Follow the path to the right, which remains level for a while before beginning a gradual descent to the falls area. There are a few benches located along the way for those wishing to rest or just enjoy being out in nature.

At the falls there are several stairs leading to and from the two observation areas, which offer picturesque views of Falls Creek as it cascades gently down a series of boulders and rock formations. The creek later joins the Yadkin River and eventually pours into the Atlanta Ocean in Winyah Bay, S.C.

This isn’t one of the 200-foot, sheer drop falls, but it is still well worth the time and effort. As always, be careful around waterfalls. One wrong or careless step could result in serious injury or death.

The walk to the parking area along the trail’s other branch parallels the creek, providing hikers with the peaceful sound of babbling water.

Along the trail hikers will view a wide variety of trees, including the Tuliptree, which is the tallest broad-leafed tree in North America.

Other trees and vegetation visible from the path include flame azalea, chestnut oak, dog hobble, birch, rhododendron, witch hazel, eastern hemlock, red maple, pignut tree, black locust, serviceberry, mountain laurel and white oak.

This hike should take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your walking rate, how often you stop to read vegetation descriptions and how long you take to enjoy the view of the falls.

Hiking Courtesy Tips

Now that I’ve offered some trail selections I’d also like to suggest a few tips (requests) enabling you to enjoy your time outdoors without ruining others’ experience in nature. Some of these suggestions may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised how inconsiderate some people can be.

Cell Phones For Emergencies Only – Many of us go hiking to escape technology and the drudgery of the workaday world. The last thing we want to hear is the annoying and grating sound of a ringing cell phone. Worse still is the ensuing loud conversation we inevitably have to hear. Cell phones are good in case of emergencies – you break your ankle or cousin Fran needs to let you know that aunt Gertie has fallen and can’t get up. Don’t invade others’ peace and quiet by calling Bob just to tell him where you are.

Please Don’t Shout – If you must talk to your hiking partners, talk quietly. I don’t care if your boss has been grumpy lately or if Henry has been cheating on his income tax returns – and neither does anyone else (except perhaps the IRS). Enjoying the outdoors means appreciating the sights, and sounds, of nature.

Be Prepared:

Hiking Cautions:

As the old saying goes, if you don't like the weather up here, wait 15 minutes. In other words, some sort of rain gear should be taken along on a hike in the NC mountains.

Hikers in the High Country would be well-advised to know that these mountains are considered part of a temperate rain forest. This means rain, and usually quite a bit of it. Most of this comes in the form of snows and rains throughout the winter, but summertime brings sudden and dangerous thunderstorms in the afternoons. Like the mountains and the trails, weather in the High Country can also change rapidly, but this time in a matter of 15 to 30 minutes. Strong winds and dangerous lightening can be encountered, especially at higher elevations. Check weather forecasts before heading for the trail, and be sure to carry your rain gear!

Over the next many pages, the Summer Times lists the area's top trails - over 40 excellent outdoor adventures that await only a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a good friend and a few hours of leisure time.

Hiking Groups:

For those interested in hiking, but do not know the area, or do not have a partner to hike with, local hiking clubs in the area offer group outings throughout the year.

Chargers/Rechargers Hiking Club:

Named because some of its members like to charge while others need to recharge occasionally, this group is open to hikers of all ages from eight to eighty. The group hikes throughout the High Country and in adjoining states. Contact Frank Young at (828) 963-5188 for details, or visit their website at http://www.boonenc.org/hiking.

Women Outdoors:

This group is a local chapter of the National Women's Outdoors organization and is dedicated to "womensports" in the great outdoors. Activities include backpacking, caving, camping, rockclimbing, whitewater rafting, canoeing and diving. This club is open to women of all ages and outdoor experiences. Some trips are for members only and some are for members and their families. Contact Leslie Lundquist at (828) 264-4739.

More Information:

Interested in doing some extensive hiking or primitive camping in the High Country? Maps and additional information are available at the following locations:

Blue Planet Map Co., 828-264-5400
NC High Country Host 828-264-1299
Mast General Store 828-963-6511
Footsloggers 828-262-5111

Blue Ridge Parkway:
Headquarters
200 BB&T Building
One Pack Square
Asheville, NC 28801
PHONE 828-271-4779
Web: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/

(Local Ranger Station):
Attn: Bob Cherry
5580 Shulls Mill Road
Blowing Rock, NC 28605
PHONE 828-295-7591
Web: http://www.therangerstation.com/forums/showthread.php?p=690850

Pisgah National Forest:
Grandfather District - USFS
109 East Lawings Drive
Nebo, NC 28761
PHONE 828-652-2144
(covers Linville Gorge, Wilson Creek Wilderness Area, parts of Avery County, Burke, Caldwell and McDowell counties)

Appalachian/Toecane District - USFS:
P.O. Box 128
Burnsville, NC 28714
PHONE 828-682-6146
(covers Roan Mountain, Mt. Mitchell parts of Avery county, Mitchell, Yancey and Buncombe counties)

Roan Mtn. Visitor’s Center:
527 Highway 143
Roan Mtn. TN 37687
PHONE 423-772-3303
(for information on trails at the top of Roan Mountain contact Pisgah National Forest Tocane District)

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