Third of Three Parts
In the final chapter of CSN survey of National Forests in North Carolina, we have come to my favorite, Pisgah National Forest.
The Pisgah NF is not the largest in NC, Nantahala is by about 30 square miles. Pisgah is spread out, and in three sections. One is near Brevard, one part stretches along the Tennessee border from Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and the other part stretches through the mountains from Asheville almost to Boone. There is a lot of populated land, as well as numerous recreational opportunities.
So what are my favorite places and favorite things to do? Well, I am glad you asked!
1) My all-time favorite place to go is not in Pisgah, but is surrounded by it. That is Mount Mitchell State Park. 2) Another great attraction is Linville Falls and Linville Gorge. 3) The Smoky Mountain Parkway goes mostly through Pisgah, and is a place to watch the leave change. 4) The Appalachian Trail also goes right through the Tennessee border section of Pisgah. 5) Grandfather Mountain is surrounded by Pisgah. 6) Biltmore House, near Asheville, is another major attraction. 7) There are many other tourist attractions in Pisgah’s 500,000 acres!
This time of year, watching the leaves change is one of the major activities in Pisgah, but other times of the year whitewater rafting, canoeing/ kayaking are very popular, hiking, backpacking, and camping bring many folks into the area, and, finally, the towns that are surrounded are tourist magnets.
Grandfather Mountain, all 2,446 acres of it, is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway and Hwy 221 near Linville, NC (be sure and see the falls when you go by!). This is now a NC State Park, and it is a great one. I was there a couple of summers ago. They have the tallest peak in the Blue Ridge (Mt. Mitchell is not officially a part of the Blue Ridge), a mile-high swinging bridge, several bears, deer, a cougar, and many other animals. It is NOT a petting zoo, the animals are in natural surroundings, and protected from the people. It is a UN International Biosphere Reserve, and there are lots of rare plants there.
You can backpack there if you like, but most people drive! There is a great restaurant and nature films running all the time (in case it rains!) If the leaves are in color, it is another wonderful place to see them. There is a website, and the phone is 1-828-963-9522.
For city-oriented people, Asheville is sort of the Chapel Hill of the Mountains. There is esoteric shopping (go walk down Wall Street!), some very interesting buildings downtown, a nice tunnel thru a mountain, and top shelf craft breweries, plus some good antique shopping down town. (Downtown is not dead yet!).
Almost to Asheville on I-40 is the Town of Black Mountain, where there is usually a street fair happening every weekend. It is a Mecca for folks who love mountain crafts and antiques. Mom and Dad will love the shopping, and the kids will enjoy the ice cream and food! Black Mountain information is on the web, and phone is 1-800-669-2301 or 1-828-669-2399.
Closer in to Asheville is the NC State Arboretum, off I-26 on NC 191. This park has a really good selection of NC Mountain trees and shrubs, with walking trails and specialty gardens. Phone number is 1-828-665-2492. In Hendersonville (actually Flat Rock) is the Carl Sandburg House, a national treasure. It is open every day, admission is free, and they have a website. There is a nice climbing trail, and you can tour the house and farm area.
Near Asheville the place that everyone else wants to see is the Biltmore Estate & House (8,000 acres & 250 rooms!). Commodore Vanderbilt bought up a lot of land in the late 1800s, built his own railroad into the place, and tried to copy some of the best Chateaus in France.
I paddled by it on the river one summer, and it is big! It is so big, it has its own town, but it is right there next to Asheville. You can spend days there, if you like. This is one of America’s castles, and has been the scene of several movies and TV shows. The gardens are wonderful, and it even has a winery! They host several distance races on the property each year with remarkable views.
There is, of course, a website (www.biltmore.com), and the phone is 1-800-411-3812. It is just off I-40, a little south and west of Asheville!
For just a nice place to camp out for hiking or as a base for car-touring, you might try Black Mountain National Campground, which is at the foot of Mt. Mitchell. There is a campground (Hot Springs Campground) walking distance from Hot Springs, NC, as well as the Hot Springs Spa (in the original, historic hot springs). The AT goes through Hot Springs and there are 5 B-&-Bs very close. In the summer, this is the end of a very exciting WW rafting river run, very much worth viewing.
The Blue Ridge Parkway does close in the winter, due to weather, but is open in good weather year around. This is a slow, but beautiful way to travel through our mountains, and it goes by several NC State Parks on its way to the GSMNP.
One of the places the Parkway goes by is Linville Falls & Linville Gorge. For the average, automobile tourist, the falls is a spectacular place to visit, on your way to somewhere else. For the hard-core backpacker Linville Gorge is a very hard hike, and there are a few rock/boulder climbs down there. I cannot recommend it, but the Linville River HAS been kayaked, so if you walk down there, you can ooh and ahh about that, as well.
There are indeed way too many places in the Pisgah National Forest to go in one lifetime, or to write about in one article, so this is it from me for this one, just to urge you to spend some time there, in all different times of the year. Soon, you will have your favorite and secret places there. I did not tell you all of mine!