Take a Family Hike in North Carolina Mountains
Odds are if the weather's good and my family has the time, you'll find us hiking one of the hundreds of fantastic trails in the mountains of North Carolina. We were thrilled to share some of our favorites. Most of our hikes involve waterfalls, so as with all hikes, exercise caution. Rocks and trails can be slippery, so keep an eye on the kids and wear shoes appropriate for hiking. Also check park websites for possible trail closures before heading out.
Stone Mountain, three hours west of Raleigh, is a family favorite for hiking. Not only does it have the mandatory waterfalls that make a hike worthwhile in my 11-year-old son David's mind, it also has a sliding rock for cooling off. Trails range from 1 mile to 4.5 miles and are ranked as moderate or strenuous. The sliding rock can be accessed from the Lower Falls Trail.
If you tackle the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, start in the lower parking lot, which allows you to pace yourself. You'll walk through meadows with views of rock climbers and eventually work your way up the mountain.
Trout fishing is allowed in more than 20 miles of park streams during trout season. (Check with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for license requirements.) Fish for Fun is a catch-and-release fishing program on the Bullhead and Rich Mountain creeks. Purchase the required daily permit at the Bullhead Creek parking area.
If you are looking for more adventure, consider a canoe or kayak trip. About an hour's drive from Stone Mountain is Zaloo's Canoes, which has canoe, kayak and tubing for families. You'll take a bus up the river to the launching area, then drift down the river back to Zaloo's where snacks — and your car — await.
Stone Mountain is open daily, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. May-August. Hours vary throughout the year. Trips depart Zaloo's at set times, and fees range from $8 to $46. Visit the website for more information about times and pricing.
* Stone Mountain State Park
3042 Frank Pkwy., Roaring Gap, NC 28668
336-957-8185 • www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/stmo/main.php
* Zaloo's Canoes
3874 N.C. Hwy. 16 S., Jefferson, NC 28640-9264
800-535-4027 • www.zaloos.com
Deep Creek Trails,
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
These trails start at a parking lot just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, outside of Bryson City, which is five hours west of Raleigh. The trails through the forest are easy to moderate — just one of the features that make this the most kid-friendly option. Juneywhank Falls, an 80-foot waterfall, is just ¼ mile from the parking area. To see another nearby waterfall, start back at the parking lot and head a short distance up the main trailhead to Tom Branch Falls.
Between the hiking, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (GSMR) and the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), Bryson City and the surrounding area have something to keep everyone busy. There's tubing on Deep Creek if you want something relaxing or whitewater rafting on the Nantahala. Rafting trips through NOC are open to children as young as 7 years old or 60 pounds.
Several bed-and-breakfast inns in the area advertise being child-friendly. We loved the Charleston Inn, which is close to downtown.
Adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad Depot is Smoky Mountain Trains, a model-train museum with more than 7,000 Lionel train cars, engines and accessories. Admission is free with the purchase of a GSMR ticket, or $5 for children, $9 for adults.
* Deep Creek Trails
Two miles north of Bryson City, off of Lakeview Drive
For park maps, visit www.greatsmokies.com/hiking.asp
* Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
Bryson City Depot, 226 Everett St., Bryson City, NC 28713
800-872-4681 • www.gsmr.com
Located on Catawba River Road in Old Fort (off I-40 at exit 73) and four hours west of Raleigh, Catawba Falls Trail is a great hike to the picturesque lower Catawba Falls. This hike involves water crossings, so wear appropriate shoes and be prepared to go knee-deep if it has rained recently. The moderate-level hike is about 2.5 miles round-trip.
The trail leads down into Pisgah National Forest. Only day hiking is allowed, and it's strictly carry in, carry out, so make sure you clean up after yourself. On the way, you'll find a small waterfall over an old dam; keep going and you'll find the falls.
There is no parking lot for the trail. Simply park on the left shoulder of the road before the bridge, making sure you don't block the neighbor's driveway.
Davidson's Fort, a replica Colonial-era fort, is a short drive away and open to the public on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., April-November. The fort is under construction, so when you visit you'll see modern builders working on the building, but can also meet volunteers in period costumes using skills of the time.
* Catawba Falls
Located on Catawba River Road, take I-40 West to exit 73 in Old Fort
* Davidson's Fort Historic Park
Lackey Town Rd., Old Fort, NC 28762
828-668-4831 • http://davidsonsfort.com
Linville is three and a half hours from Raleigh and only an hour away from Blowing Rock, with its outdoor outlet mall, fudge shop and great restaurants. One of our favorite hikes is at Linville Falls near Blue Ridge Parkway mile marker 316. The falls are gorgeous, and if you park at the visitor's center, the hikes aren't bad. All five views of the falls are within a 4-mile (various difficulty levels) hike. Only one is truly difficult (plunge basin) and there's still plenty to see if you decide to skip it. Public restrooms and a picnic area are available at the visitor's center, as well as plenty of space to run around and a river to soak your feet.
If you're willing to pay the entrance fee, Grandfather Mountain has 12 miles of great hiking trails (various degrees of difficulty), including the one that takes you up to the Mile-High Bridge. There's a gift and snack shop at the top. On the drive through the park, you can stop in at the animal habitat area and see black bears, river otters, cougars, deer and eagles, or stop in at the Nature Museum and learn about the natural history of the area. Trails are accessible from outside the park without paying the entrance fee if you're not interested in the animals and exhibits. You're also close to Linville Caverns, with its natural 52-degree air temperature for a cooler summer guided tour.
Linville Falls is open year-round, weather permitting. The Visitor's Center is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed for lunch 12-1pm through May 26). Grandfather Mountain is open in the summer, 8 a.m-6 p.m., adults $15; $7 for children 4-12. Linville Caverns is open daily in the summer 9 a.m.-6 p.m., $7 for adults; $5 for children 5-12.
* Linville Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway, 66 miles north of Asheville, near milepost 316.4
* Grandfather Mountain
US 221 & Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville, NC 28646|
1-800-468-7325 • 828-733-4337 • www.grandfather.com
* Linville Caverns
19929 U.S. 221 North, Marion, NC 28752
800-419-0540 • www.linvillecaverns.com
North Carolina is full of many great hikes. Most are free and many are listed by mile marker on the Blue Ridge Parkway. So grab your camera and a bottle of water and head out to enjoy some of the best North Carolina has to offer.
Kim Justen is a freelance writer who lives in Advance, N.C., with her two children.