Peaceful waterfalls, dramatic mountain vistas, bountiful nature preserves, and, of course, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Parkthere’s no better place to hit the trails than the Asheville area. With the expert guidance of accomplished hiker and local author Jennifer Pharr Davis, you’ll find plenty of popular routes and hidden hiking treasures.
These 35 five-star hiking trails are for all levels and interests, and they range widely in elevation, distance, and difficulty. Davis details everything from easy strolls in the deep woods to thrilling treks atop mountains. GPS-based trail maps, elevation profiles, and detailed directions to trailheads help you get to where you’re going. Trail descriptions and expert insights into the history, flora, and fauna of the routes enhance your enjoyment along the way. Ratings for scenery, difficulty, trail condition, solitude, and accessibility for children help to ensure that you quickly find the perfect trip.
Save time and make the most of your hiking adventures. Experience the best of Asheville’s breathtaking scenery, varied terrain, and amazing wildlife. Lace up, grab your pack, and hit the trail!
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About the Author
In 2011, she set the overall record for completing the AT, covering the entire trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes and averaging a remarkable 47 miles per day. Even though this record has since been eclipsed, she remains the fastest woman on record to hike the AT.
She has logged more than 14,000 miles of North American trails. In addition to the AT, those treks include the Pacific Crest Trail, Vermont’s Long Trail, and the Colorado Trail. Traveling to six continents to exercise her hiking wanderlust, she cites Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and Australia’s 600-mile Bibbulmun Track among her international highlights.
Jennifer has written six books, including three North Carolina guidebooks; two hiking memoirs, Becoming Odyssa and Called Again; and her latest, The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience. She has also written articles for the New York Times, Outside magazine, Backpacker, and Trail Runner, and has been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Daily Beast, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and the CBS Early Show.
In 2016, Jennifer was the recipient of the prestigious Laurel Wreath Award, bestowed upon her by the State of North Carolina for her outstanding athletic achievements.
Jennifer lives in Asheville with her husband, Brew; daughter, Charley; and son, Gus. In addition to the important job of being a mom, she is also the owner and founder of Blue Ridge Hiking Company. For the latest on Jennifer, check out blueridgehikingco.com.
Read an Excerpt
SCENERY: 4, TRAIL CONDITION: 5, CHILDREN: 2, DIFFICULTY: 3, SOLITUDE: 2
GPS TRAILHEAD COORDINATES: N35° 53.520' W82° 49.289'
DISTANCE & CONFIGURATION: 4.5-mile loop
HIKING TIME: 3 hours
HIGHLIGHTS: Views of the French Broad River and Hot Springs, NC
ELEVATION: 1,314' at trailhead, 2,382' on top of the ridge
ACCESS: Free and always open
MAPS: National Geographic #782 French Broad and Nolichucky Rivers (Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests), USGS Hot Springs
FACILITIES: Pit toilet on the Silvermine Trail near the end of the hike
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: None
COMMENTS: This hike can be shortened by taking the Silvermine Trail from Lover’s Leap back to the trailhead. (Or it can be considerably lengthened by continuing on the Appalachian Trail to Maine.)
CONTACTS: 828-682-6146, www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc
Nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and beside the French Broad River, the quaint town of Hot Springs anchors the Lover’s Leap hike. The route follows the renowned Appalachian Trail (AT) beside the river and then presents a strenuous climb to Lover’s Leap overlook. This rocky outcrop provides views of Hot Springs, the serpentine French Broad, and the distant ridgeline of the North Carolina–Tennessee border. Past Lover’s Leap, the trail travels along the ridgeline before intersecting Pump Gap Trail. The route then follows Pump Gap Trail and weaves through the remnants of an old silver mining operation on its way back to the trailhead.
You will begin the hike from a parking area directly beside the French Broad River, whose headwaters begin south of Asheville. However, because it falls to the west of the Eastern Continental Divide, the water flows north, traveling a winding route northwest through the mountains before emptying into the Tennessee River.
From the parking area you can locate the trailhead by turning south and looking for a small footbridge that spans a nearby creek. During summer, the creek is lined with Japanese knotweed, an invasive exotic species that now grows rampantly throughout the Southeast. Rising above the knotweed is a trailhead sign with a white blaze painted on it. Follow this marker across the footbridge that spans the creek, and then continue to follow the white blazes that lead south farther up the river.
As if this route weren’t already confusing enough, when you literally hike south along the north-flowing river, you are theoretically progressing north on the most famous footpath in the world: the AT. The AT travels 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine, and it is marked the entire way with the white blazes that you are now following alongside this river.
If you hike this trail in the spring, you may be passed from behind by several rugged, sometimes smelly, thru-hikers who have set out to complete the entire trail in one calendar year. You may want to even consider bringing extra snacks in your day pack to share with these long-distance hikers. Sharing food along the AT is known as trail magic, and it is always appreciated.
Along the river, you may spot purple wildflowers such as the funny-sounding beardtongue (a common name for penstemon) or tall-growing spiderwort. After 0.2 mile of hiking, you will notice a concrete tower to your right. This tower once served to gauge the height of floodwaters on the French Broad. In another 0.2 mile the trail will take a sharp turn uphill. This is the first of many switchbacks that lead up the steep mountain. The multiple switchbacks will raise your heart rate, but after 0.3 mile your hard work will be rewarded with views from rock outcrops on either side of the final switchback.
The first rock outcrop is Lover’s Leap, for which this route is named. Cherokee legend suggests that this rocky ledge was the site where the fair maiden, Mist-of-the-Mountain, threw herself off the mountain, after she learned that her love had been murdered by a jealous rival. The next outcrop gives a better view back to Hot Springs and the French Broad River. This is also the trail junction with the Silvermine Trail. If you want to shorten your hike, you can take the Silvermine Trail down the mountain and arrive at the trailhead parking lot after 1.6 miles of total walking. Otherwise, remain on the AT and continue uphill.
The trail does not immediately flatten out but now climbs along the ridge of the mountain. In winter the bare trees reveal views of neighboring mountains to the north and south. After 1.4 miles of cumulative hiking, you will reach a nice level campsite on the ridge. Continue on the rolling ridgeline of hardwood trees and mountain laurel thickets for another 1.3 miles to a second small campsite on the left of the trail. Just past this campsite, the AT intersects the blazed Pump Gap Trail. Turn left onto Pump Gap Trail and follow it downhill beside a small stream.
The next half mile gives the feeling of hiking through a long green tunnel. Lady ferns and doghobble choke the forest floor, thick groves of rhododendrons flourish to your left and right, and tall poplar trees and Carolina hemlocks tower above. However, you may notice that many of the hemlocks are dead or dying, a state that is due to the nonnative woolly adelgid. You can tell that a tree has been affected by this tiny, sap-drinking aphid if the tips of its needles look white.
Over the past six decades, the woolly adelgid has decimated the hemlock population in the Southern Appalachians. Efforts are underway to try to protect the remaining hemlocks, but this tree remains an endangered species.
After nearly a mile, Pump Gap Trail widens into an old roadbed. It continues to follow the stream down the valley and past the remnants of old bunkers, which were once used to hold explosives. I like to think that the sticks of dynamite have been removed, but the "danger explosives" sign keeps me from exploring the concrete shed too closely, and I recommend keeping a safe distance.
Continue on the old roadbed to Silvermine Group Campground. Stay on the road and rock-hop across a stream. In normal to dry conditions you should not have to get your feet wet. After passing several houses and after one more creek crossing, you will find yourself back at the trailhead and parking area.
A visit to the town of Hot Springs can turn this 4.6-mile hike into a full day’s outing. The main attraction is the Hot Springs Spa, where riverside hot tubs can be rented for an hour-long soak. These tubs are filled with water piped from the town’s naturally occurring hot springs. After a relaxing dip in the tubs, be sure to satisfy your hiking hunger with a trip to one of the Spring Street restaurants serving delicious food. Also, don’t leave town before visiting Bluff Mountain Outfitters. It’s a wonderful store with a knowledgeable staff who can help you prepare for your next adventure.
From Asheville, travel US 19/US 23 north (future I-26) to Exit 19A. Turn left off the exit and follow US 25/US 70 west 25 miles. Just before crossing the bridge over the French Broad River and entering Hot Springs, turn right onto River Road. After 0.1 mile turn left onto Silvermine Road and travel underneath the overpass. The trailhead parking is the empty dirt lot immediately to the right.
Table of ContentsOVERVIEW MAP
OVERVIEW MAP KEY
- Arboretum Explorer Loop
- Destination Center Track Trail
- Creek Overlook
- Lake Powhatan
- Rocky Cove
- Big Firescald Knob
- Craggy Gardens and Craggy Pinnacle
- Douglas Falls
- Hawkbill Rock
- Hickey Fork Loop
- Lover’s Leap
- Max Patch
- Rattlesnake Lodge
- Bearwallow Mountain
- Catawba Falls
- Florence Nature Preserve
- Mount Mitchell Circuit
- Mount Mitchell High Loop
- Carl Sandburg’s Connemara Farms
- DuPont State Forest Four Falls
- John Rock
- Lake Julia
- Looking Glass Rock
- Mills River Loop
- Turkey Pen Loop
- Black Balsam Knob High Loop
- Cold Mountain
- Cradle of Forestry
- Graveyard Fields
- Moore Cove Falls
- Mount Pisgah via Buck Spring Lodge
- Pink Beds Loop
- Sam Knob
- Shining Rock
- Skinny Dip Falls
APPENDIX A: OUTDOOR RETAILERS
APPENDIX B: HIKING CLUBS
ABOUT THE AUTHOR