We were pumped to revisit our glory days in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, especially since as southbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, we just breezed through without paying much attention in our quest to finish. However, our plans for hiking the Smokies were thwarted by some needed camper repairs and foul weather.
However, even without a visit to the most western mountains, North Carolina opened its arms to us in the form of a hospitable new family and incredibly scenic state parks!
On our first day, we drove into North Carolina from the northwest quadrant of South Carolina (as outlined in a previous post). We were in need of repairs to our camper and found respite at our best man’s parents’ house in Rutherfordton!
We never pass up an opportunity to explore though, so chose to do a bit of sightseeing en route. First, we stopped at the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Sandburg was a famous poet/biographer and a three time Pulitzer Prize winner! After his death, his wife offered his house and property to the government to create a national park.
They left the house exactly as they lived in it, as though they had only stepped out to the market and would return at any moment.
Most impressive to me was that Carl was not the only talented Sandburg. His wife was a world famous goat breeder. She held the record for single goat milk production for over 20 years through her careful breeding. The story goes that one time she was visited by a foreign breeder hoping to learn from her and he asked, “and what does your husband do?”
Then, we drove on to Rutherfordton, where we got AMAZING help and hospitality from Mikey Wikey (pictured below) and his wife Colleen. We ended up staying there for about a week!
We fell in love with their dog, Maggie.
On our “second” day, we forced ourselves to leave our cozy new home away from home and headed up to Asheville, where we stayed with a Boondockers Welcome host just 3 miles outside of the downtown area!
We wasted no time getting back to our rigorous fun schedule with a visit to the North Carolina Arboretum. The Arboretum features a number of well maintained trails.
The park also boasts an education center and museum with quite a few fun hands on learning activities (which Reuben always loves!)
The grounds near the museum are filled with formal gardens and statues.
On our way back into town, we stopped in at the Silver River Center for Chair Caning, part of the Blueridge Parkway National Heritage Area. The center is a working museum where you can learn about chair caning and see it in action!
On our third day, we were eager to get out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and head into the mountains! We first stopped at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitors Center, where we learned that our chosen route was actually blocked by road closures! However, we were cheered up by the incredibly well produced film they show in their theater. Go watch it!
So, instead of driving into the Pisgah National Forest to boondock, we opted to stay at the more accessible Catawba Falls Campground, which turned out to be very convenient for a hike on the Catawba Falls Trail.
We were also surprised by some random art in a yard across the street!
In the afternoon, we drove to nearby Montreat, a “treat” of a small college town, with numerous hiking trails. We selected the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail and really enjoyed it!
That evening we were further treated to getting to hang out with some old hiking friends of ours at a local brewery!
On our fourth day, we finally got a chance to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we just had to get to it from the eastern side. Our goal was to visit Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River.
Once we entered Mount Mitchell State Park, there was clear guidance on how to get to the top viewing area. You can drive almost to the top but then have to walk a few hundred feet on a paved path to the platform.
Since we had driven to the top, we decided to hike around the mountain on the Mount Mitchell Loop Trail. It was a cold and breezy day, but perfect weather for the strenuous hike! We were very lucky for such clear views!
On our fifth day, we continued our way east with a visit to the recommended South Mountains State Park. We have really come to appreciate the effort most state parks, especially North Carolina, put into the visitors centers. We always enjoy these mini-museums!
Next, we climbed up the most strenuous, but not too difficult, Chestnut Knob Trail.
That evening, we stayed at the Harvest Host Catawba Farms, where we enjoyed a wine tasting and hanging out with the many animals! Of significant note, we LOVED Michael, the owner, who entertained us with many stories of his exciting and interesting life.
On our sixth day, the “odds were ever in our favor” for a visit to Henry River Mill Village, where they filmed the District 12 scenes from the Hunger Games series. The fee to visit was fairly substantial, but the money is going to a great cause in the development of the former historic mill village into a cultural center for the region. The tour guide is funny, educated, and very invested his work!
And of course I had to include lots of pictures of Katniss’ house!
Next, we traveled from the harrying District 12 to the Uwharrie Vineyards, where we set up camp and enjoyed a tasting! If you like sweet wines, you would really like these wines. They are ALL sweet.
Despite the sugar rush from our wine tasting, we headed out for an afternoon hike at the nearby Morrow Mountain State Park, but first stopped to enjoy yet another fine visitor center museum on this history of the area!
With dwindling time, we decided to hike the short Hattaway Mountain Trail. The “mountains” here aren’t super great for views, but the ridge walks were quite lovely.
On our seventh day, we woke to a beautiful sunrise over the winery!
We planned to spend the morning hiking in the Uwharrie National Forest. There is an national scenic trail that traverses the forest, so we chose to hike a small portion of the trail from Jumping Off Rock. The last picture below is frog eggs!
In the afternoon, we had planned some epic kayaking at Falls Reservoir. However, they have apparently banned it! So, we just spent some quality time relaxing together instead :).
While we were in Old Salem, we explored this cute museum/college town with some geocaching adventures!
In the early afternoon, we set up camp in Tobaccoville at a Boondockers Welcome host site. We are always so thankful to our hosts, especially when the site is as good as this one!
We especially loved the location of our host site because of it’s proximity to Pilot Mountain State Park. You can see Pilot Knob from miles away!
Once at the state park, we opted to hike the Jomeokee and Ledge Spring Trails, that combine to make a very scenic hike around the Pilot Knob and Little Pinnacle Mountain.
The state park is also notable for rock climbing opportunities, with dozens of routes and provided bolts.
On our ninth and final day on the western side of North Carolina, we visited Hanging Rock State Park.
This state park also offered many trails to choose from, so with limited time, we chose Indian Creek Trail to Hidden and Window Falls. It was a short walk to waterfalls, but the falls were only so-so (if I’m being honest).
The best hike was up to Hanging Rock! It starts out easy on a paved path, but then gets pretty steep and rocky up multiple sets of rock stairs to the top!
We loved the rock formation! It looked like a shiny oyster shell…pictures don’t do it justice!
In the afternoon, en route to Greensboro to meet up with our friend Marshall, we stopped in at Korner’s Folly. We appreciate the occasional bygone era house tour, but this one was different! Jule Korner, who built the house, was a renowned interior designer and used this house as his playground. The house is a maze of cool features, including a playhouse in the attic!
Also, hilariously, Reuben was too big for a lot of the spaces that were created for the children :).
Thank you for reading along with our adventures in western North Carolina! We enjoyed our time here and hope you enjoy these resources in your own planning. Be sure to stay tuned for the corresponding YouTube episode.