Location: Linville Falls and Gorge, Jonas Ridge, North Carolina
Can we have some real talk for a second? Maybe it’s the Rio Olympics going on now, but I am having all kinds of feelings about how much of an average human being I am.
When it comes to survival skills and outdoors-y-ness, let’s just say I would be screwed if the zombie apocalypse happened. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I even rank in the top 25% of my friends- many of whom have hiked the PCT or biked in the Pelatonia or built energy efficient homes in the wilderness. I’m just getting to the stage of getting a fire started without motor oil. Points for effort?
Living in North Carolina is making it easy to improve my repertoire of outdoor skills thanks to the wide variety of activities for adventure seekers! There are the mountains to the West (including Great Smokey Mountains and the Appalachian Trail) and 300 miles of beaches to the East. North Carolina is really known for its spectacular waterfalls and natural swimming holes. This summer, K and thought we would visit one of the most photographed waterfalls in the State: Linville Falls.
(Aside: it was also a huge filming location in the Hunger Games movies.)
We spent our weekend going as deep into the wilderness as we could muster. Since we haven’t camped in a while, our ruggedness was a little lackluster. I was particularly grouchy. After a torrential downpour the first day, we managed to get acclimated to our surroundings and ended up having a good time. Plus, that rainbow! Am I right?
It wasn’t back-country, but boy was it gorgeous. We managed 4 hikes in 2 days, and made a cast-iron pizza over the campfire in a rainstorm. These are impressive feats, okay.
The campground and the trails are located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Milepost 316.4, about 66 miles north of Asheville (we were sure to make a stop on the return trip). Our campsite was a great location, and was a mostly relaxed environment. We had met one of our fellow campers (whom we dubbed ‘Motorcycle Man’) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. He seemed to have a bad time with our louder neighbors, but we were fine.
You can hike to five viewpoints on two trails that leave the Visitors Center, which is located right down the road from the campground. Only one of the trails is strenuous and you can hike to all five viewpoints within four miles.
And the climbing! Linville Falls drops 90 feet into the 12-mile long Linville Gorge. Within the various hikes, we had the privilege of enjoying views of the waterfall from countless heights and angles and peer into the steep walls of the gorge.
Only one of the trails (Linville Gorge Trail) will take you 3/4 mile down to the base of the waterfall. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed because of the strength of the currents. This same starting point (Plunge Basin Trail) will also take you to the Plunge Basin Overlook (1/2 mile)- my favorite trail. For such an easy hike, the scenic views of the lower falls and the Chimneys are incredible. Bonus, unlike the more popular Linville Falls Trail, it’s much more secluded.
The third trail we hiked was Linville Falls Trail, alternatively dubbed Erwin’s View Trail (points for the best name). It’s a moderate walk of 1.6 miles round trip from the Visitor’s Center, but it offers four overlooks as it climbs, each providing a different view of the Falls.
For our final hike, we had to drive a fair way (about 8 miles on a winding dirt road). We made it to the top of Table Rock Mountain, which was reminiscent of Lion’s Head in Cape Town (minus the ladders and chains, of course). We had an entirely unparalleled view of the region from the top of the mountain. On the way down, it (briefly) stormed, and the sun peeking out from behind the rain clouds and flooding the sky is a moment I’ll relish for some time. Table Rock was undoubtedly the most difficult hike we completed. However, the 360-degree views of Pisgah National Forest from the summit are breathtaking. It begins to climb from the rim of Linville Gorge northeast of Asheville. Although the hike is only around 2 miles, it is rocky and steep and has stunning displays of dense rhododendron throughout the meandering climb to the summit.
In addition to the exercise, we spent a few hours reading and detoxing from our phones and computers. I can recommend camping to some people, but I can recommend dropping your devices to everyone. Decidedly not using networked technology–even for a time as short as this one–improves your focus, and your ability to enjoy the world around you.
Staying in Pisgah National Forest is an amazing privilege. It’s huge–spanning from Boone to Asheville. There are so many natural wonders in the area that it doesn’t make sense to list them all. Some of the best waterfalls in North America are there.
If you have a chance, go chase some!