By Emma Castleberry
It’s safe to say that hiking is a part of our culture in Western North Carolina. Residents and visitors alike will travel far and wide to experience our mountains, which offer scenic vistas, old-growth forests, rushing rivers and pristine lakes—truly something for everyone. Autumn offers some of the best hiking weather of the year, with mild temperatures, sunny days and beautiful color in the foliage. This precious season is in full-swing and, because of its late arrival, likely to be short-lived.
While many people enjoy the solitude offered by hiking through the woods, joy can also be found in the social aspect of this activity, as evidenced by the number of hiking clubs available across the region. With a hike scheduled on almost every day of the week, these clubs offer an opportunity for veteran hikers to experience a long-loved hobby in a new way, as well as an opportunity for new hikers to break into the activity safely and comfortably.
Carolina Mountain Club
The Carolina Mountain Club hosts around 200 hikes each year, with 32 of them scheduled between November 1 and December 31. The club also maintains more than 400 miles of trails in WNC, advocates on issues that affect hiking trails and forest use, and develops programs to train members and expose both adults and youth to hiking. “With all the discussion about young people spending too much time on their computers and other devices, and adults being encouraged to move more, this offers an easy way to get out and see nature,” says Randy Fluharty, the club’s president. On Saturday, December 1, Carolina Mountain Club will host a hike at Carl Sandburg National Historic Park for its Youth Partner Challenge, a program that encourages young people and their parents or another adult to hike together.
Formed in the late 70s, the private Pisgah Hikers Club offers five weekly hikes for varying ability groups. Their easiest hikes average three miles on moderate terrain and their most difficult hikes can be longer than 10 miles in distance and over 2,500 feet in elevation gain. There are other groups that cater to more middle-road hikers, averaging 4 to 8 miles at various speeds. New members are asked to familiarize themselves with the various hiking levels and contact a group leader before attending a hike for the first time.
High Country Hikers
The High Country Hikers club meets on Mondays and Thursdays each week. Often, the club will host an easier hike and a more difficult hike on each day. Every hike includes the phone number of the group leader, who should be contacted before new members join a hike. Upcoming hikes include a moderate, 5.5-mile loop on Cedar Rock Mountain in Dupont State Forest on Monday, November 5, and a more strenuous, 7.5-mile hike at Pinnacle Mountain on Monday, November 19.
Blue Ridge Hiking Club
The Blue Ridge Hiking Club schedules four hikes each week and boasts a large, diverse base of 200 members. “The purpose of the hikes is at least three-fold: exercise, getting out into Mother Nature and socializing,” says club president Dave Johnson. “What the club offers is the perfect prescription for a long and happy life, and that is no joke.” Upcoming winter hikes include a hike to the six-story observation tower on the Cone Estate.