By Michael Lanza

In a light mist drizzling from the fog embracing the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, I followed a well-worn trail downhill through a mixed deciduous forest just beginning to show its fall colors. A mile and a half down that path, I stood on rocks in the stream below Crabtree Falls, which plunges a nearly vertical 70 feet over numerous, shallow ledges. The photogenic waterfall seemed an auspicious start to a week of exploring one of America’s hiking meccas, the mountains of western North Carolina.

My trip culminated in backpacking a 34.3-mile loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the lead photo, above, was taken along the Appalachian Trail in the park). In between, I dayhiked the rigorous, 12-mile Black Mountain Crest Trail, over 13 named 6,000-footers, to the summit of the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell; hiked to numerous beautiful waterfalls from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Gorges State Park and the tallest in the East, 811-foot Whitewater Falls; explored mystical corners of the Southern Appalachians like Moore Cove; and hiked to glorious views of the Pisgah National Forest’s lush mountains at Looking Glass Rock and 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob on the Art Loeb Trail.

I just returned from a week of hiking and backpacking in the mountains of western North Carolina, at the invitation of The Big Outside’s newest sponsor, Visit North Carolina. I’d hiked in the region before, but never spent so much time there. The trip opened my eyes to the beauty that makes western North Carolina so popular with hikers (who comprise a significant number of the visitors that make the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park the first and third most-visited U.S. national park units).

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I’ll post numerous stories from this trip in the coming weeks and months. Meanwhile, check out the gallery of photos below from that trip.

Then visit the websites listed below the photo gallery to get ideas and help plan your hiking and backpacking adventures in western North Carolina.

 

For more information, see:

Visit North Carolina, visitnc.com

North Carolina Waterfalls, ncwaterfalls.com.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nps.gov/grsm

Blue Ridge Parkway, nps.gov/blri

Pisgah National Forest, fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=48114

Mount Mitchell State Park, ncparks.gov/mount-mitchell-state-park

Gorges State Park, ncparks.gov/gorges-state-park

North Carolina Division of Parks & Recreation, ncparks.gov

 

Do you like The Big Outside? I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by a USA Today Readers Choice poll and others. Subscribe for updates about new stories and free gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box at the bottom of this story, at the top of the left sidebar, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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