Tucked away in the mountains of Western North Carolina, about an hour west of Asheville, Jackson County overflows with breathtaking vistas, scenic valleys and beautiful waterfalls. The best way to immerse yourself and take in the area’s natural beauty is by taking a hike along one of the area’s many diverse trails. With temperatures on the rise and nature bursting forth into new life, spring is a wonderful time to come and explore the Appalachian Mountains. There’s no better place to celebrate the new season and the arrival of warmer weather with your first hike of the year than with a scenic hike in the N.C. mountains.
Spring into Action
With trees sprouting new leaves and wildflowers blossoming, springtime is a fabulous time to get outside, breathe in the fresh mountain air and stretch your legs during a hike.
Start off with a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most visited national park in the country and home to one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the temperate world. The entrance can be found in Cherokee at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Here visitors will find the 18th-century replica Mountain Farm Museum within a short half-mile walk of the parking area, a favorite for kids! America’s Favorite National Park borders neighboring Tennessee and is a favorite for those seeking panoramic views of the mountains. With over 850 miles of hiking trails to choose from, the Great Smokies offer plenty of space for you to spread out and enjoy spring wildflowers such as rhododendron, azaleas, trillium and mountain laurel as they come to life! In Jackson County, this side of the Great Smokies is the less crowded side, so you can spend more time exploring rather than stuck in traffic. Jackson County also is home to a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the world’s first celebrated motor route. Both are free to explore and provide great fun for the entire family.
Taking in the View
For those looking to take panoramic pictures of the area’s mountain vistas, you’ll have a hard time choosing just one trail. Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 431.4, the Richard Balsam Overlook is 6,053 feet above sea level, which means you’ll have miles and miles of blue ridge mountains to photograph.
Geared toward more active hikers, the initially steep 1.2-mile roundtrip hike along Waterrock Knob Trail (part of the mountains-to-sea trail) provides a vigorous climb to reach the 6,292-foot summit. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking mountain views of Western North Carolina.
Those who prefer a more moderate trail will enjoy the 2-mile loop trail of the Whiteside Mountain Trail. Along this 90-minute hike up Whiteside Mountain, you’ll see one of the county’s most recognizable peaks with the highest vertical cliffs in the eastern U.S. at 1,800 feet. Visitors will enjoy a convenient parking lot right beside the trailhead, with restrooms maintained by the US forest service.
For a half-day adventure, the Pinnacle Park Trail (pictured above) is 7 miles roundtrip and includes streams, waterfalls and scenic views. Make sure you bring along a picnic to enjoy amidst the natural beauty. The trail is challenging and covered in boulders, so plan accordingly.
If you want a super mild hike, the Wet Camp Gap Trail along the Parkway is the one for you. This 1.33-mile hike takes about 30 minutes each way, with a 60-foot elevation change along the trail. This trail is especially popular thanks to its reputation as a favorite blueberry-picking destination and makes a perfect day hike.
Jackson County boasts numerous trails that lead hikers to some of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls. One of the most popular is the High Falls Trail, which is less than 1 mile, but contains a lot of steps – so be ready to climb. You’ll be glad you did when you see the 100-foot waterfall fed by the West Fork Tuckasegee River.
While you’ll need a map to conquer the hike to Schoolhouse Falls, it’s definitely worth the effort. These 18-foot falls are the most well-known of Panthertown Valley (located between Gorges State Park in Brevard and Sapphire,) and the views are gorgeous.
One of the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies at 811 feet total, Whitewater Falls will not disappoint. The path to the falls is short, less than half a mile, and was recently paved, making it easily accessible. You’ll want to visit the lower viewing platform for the best views, so find a set of steps from the overlook to the platform.
For a lovely waterfall view that doesn’t require much effort, Silver Run Falls is the perfect option. The path is not long, perhaps 500 feet, when it reaches a footbridge that crosses the Whitewater River. After crossing the footbridge, you’ll reach the base of the falls within minutes. A small pool awaits at the bottom of the falls if you care to take a dip!
A Break in Spring
Plan a weekend getaway to Jackson County to experience the warmer weather and colorful blooms of the season. Thanks to our many affordable accommodations, taking a vacation doesn’t have to break the budget. Order your free Visitor Guide today and start planning your own hiking adventure.