*Please plan ahead and make sure your hiking destination is open during this uncertain time before heading out
By Emma Castleberry
Even when social distancing isn’t a required part of daily life, it can be a healthy and pleasant activity for spring. Especially in such complex and confusing times, immersing ourselves in the natural world with a hike can offer peace of mind. Luckily, the weather has made a hard shift for spring. As more and more high-sixties, sunny days appear on the calendar, consider one of these beautiful spring hikes in our region.
3.8 miles round-trip
For those who like more than a summit at the end of their hike, Rattlesnake Lodge offers some beautiful wildflower viewing en route to the ruins of a 1900s-era lodge. This hike followers the Mountains-to-Sea trail, starting in a hardwood forest with stinging nettle, jewelweed and other wildflowers carpeting the ground. Also, watch out for poison ivy. The easy, fairly level hike travels about 1.5 miles before reaching the first of the scattered ruins of Rattlesnake Lodge, which make for great climbing and exploring. You can choose when to turn around, but the round-trip distance is less than four miles. The trailhead and parking area for the Rattlesnake Lodge hike are located off Ox Creek Road at Bull Gap, about 6.2 miles north of the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
2.5 miles round-trip
The brief-but-burning haul up Sam Knob is an iconic regional hike, especially in blooming season. The hike starts by meandering through a grassy meadow for about half a mile before entering dense forest and starting up the mountain. When you reach the treeline, keep an eye out for wild blackberries. The summit offers expansive, 360-degree views of the area, including Middle Prong and Shining Rock Wilderness and the rocky icons of Black Balsam Knob and the Devil’s Courthouse. Find the trailhead at Milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at the end of Black Balsam Knob Road.
7.4 miles round-trip
Shortoff Mountain offers an excellent option for those seeking a more challenging day hike. The mountain has a relatively low elevation for the region at just 3,000 feet, so it will warm up early in the season and offer nice, moderate temperatures in the spring. The first few miles of the hike offer views of Lake James and around mile three the rhododendrons burst forth before reaching the peak at just under four miles. Find the trailhead on Wolf Pit Road at the north end of Lake James.
The name of this trail is a little misleading, as the hike actually covers five peaks in a range, called a massif. The Catawba Rhododendron in the Roan Highlands are unmatched in their blooming purple glory. The out-and-back nature of the Roan Mountain trail allows you to do as much or as little as you want, starting from Carver’s Gap near the North Carolina/Tennessee border. Hike up less than a mile to the first bald with expansive views, and hike as far as Grassy Ridge Bald for a total of nearly five miles.
As for hiking at any time of year, anywhere, the rules still apply: leave only footsteps, and take only pictures. Always check the weather before departing, know detailed information about your hiking plan and share it with someone. This wilderness wisdom applies even for the simplest of wildflower hikes.
NC State Parks offers a search feature for easy to difficult hiking trails in the area on its website, NCParks.gov/find-an-activity/trails.