By Michael Lanza
I’m a hiking snob—I admit it. I want all of the hiking trips I take to feature five-star scenery. And for years, I’ve done most of my dayhiking and backpacking in the American West, with its vast wildernesses and infinite vistas, so I’m a little spoiled. But a weeklong trip to the mountains of western North Carolina upended my snobbery. Exploring the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, I discovered one of America’s richest stashes of stunning waterfalls and most biologically diverse forests, enough ruggedness to inspire a sense of climbing “real” mountains—and some pretty darn big vistas, too.