If it seems too good to be true, than it probably is. These are wise words to live by, yet we’ve discovered the rare exception to this rule. Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western Carolina, if you know where to look, you can find wild, rolling meadows, exposed peaks of bare rock, and views of heart-melting beauty—and all of them reachable by trails so short you’ll barely break a sweat. This coveted combination of huge payoff and minimal effort might sound too good to be true, but the mountains never lie. Here are seven short hikes with enormous rewards.

1. Devil’s Courthouse

Devil's Courthouse sunrise
The hike to Devil's Courthouse is short, strenuous, and well worth every step.

Frank Merenda

According to Cherokee legend, the sinister, bare-rock profile of Devil’s Courthouse is the dwelling place of  Judaculla , the slant-eyed giant that dances in the caves below the summit. And while there’s no telling what sort of apparition you might see lurking in those mysterious hollows of rock, the view from the top is guaranteed to leave you breathless. Four states—Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and North Carolina—unfurl in every direction in a rippling expanse of mountains. The journey to this ominous 5,720-foot peak is a mere half-mile from the parking lot. Remain on the trail to protect the abundance of fragile, high-altitude plants that cling to the rock and ensure that the giant lurking beneath you remains undisturbed.

2. Max Patch

Purple mountains at Max Patch.
Purple mountain majesty from the summit of Max Patch on an early morning.

Marcos Gasc

The greatest reward awaiting you from the airy summit of  Max Patch  is the deepest breath you’ve been able to draw in a long, long time. The feeling of tranquility and expansiveness that this rolling Appalachian meadow will instill in you is similar to that inspired by the ocean. Layer upon layer of mountains unfold into the distance in a 360-degree panorama, and the sky above you is a perfect blue dome. The road to Max Patch is long and winding, but the hike is short and sweet: a half-mile trek to the top, where you’ll find the Appalachian Trail cutting a neat path along the ridge line.

3.Waterrock Knob

The Blue Ridge Mountains at Waterrock Knob.
From the summit of Waterrock Knob, ethereal blue layers of mountain fold into the distance.

Doug Waldron

The summit of  Waterrock Knob  is best enjoyed on the first morning after a rain, when the atmosphere is clean and polished. Waterrock Knob is located in the Plott Balsam Range, the chain of mountains that connects the Smokies to the Great Balsams. From its soaring peak 6,292 feet above sea level, the view stretches for more than 50 miles across Maggie Valley and into the Smokies beyond, including some of the tallest peaks within that range. The trail is just half a mile from the parking area (which also yields extraordinary views, and is a lovely destination if you are not ambulatory.) The trail includes many overlooks and opportunities to wander off and claim a few moments of solitude.

4. Linville Falls

A view of Linville Falls.
Linville Falls is a powerful spectacle in every season.

Stephen

The power of water—ancient, patient, and unyielding—may be the most moving and humbling force on the planet. Linville Falls, a 90-foot cascade that drops into the  Linville Gorge , is a spectacular example of such power. From the visitor center, a stair-cut, three-quarter mile trail leads to the base of the falls, where the pounding of whitewater drowns out all other sound, and the riverside boulders beg you to climb and explore. Swimming is not allowed, as the current could quickly sweep you over Lower Falls and into the canyon. The two trails that begin at the visitor center lead to five separate viewpoints, including Plunge Basin Overlook, which allows for a bird’s-eye-view of Lower Falls and The Chimneys.

5. Green Knob Fire Tower 

View from the Green Knob Fire Tower.
Quite fittingly, the summertime view from Green Knob Fire Tower is one of innumerable shades of green.

Michael Sprague

There’s a beatnik romance to fire towers , an undeniable lure to these mountain structures that have become, if not completely anachronistic, then at least an aging relic of Americana. Half a mile on an overgrown and nearly hidden trail will lead you from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the summit of Green Knob Mountain, where the fire tower is perched along the Eastern Continental Divide. Although the cab has recently been closed to visitors, the vista at the top of the staircase is worth the rickety climb. A grab-bag of Carolina’s most impressive peaks, the view includes the Black Mountain Range, Mt. Mitchell, the Great Craggy Mountains, and the distinguished profiles of Table Rock and Grandfather Mountain.

6. Black Balsam Knob

Take a stroll through the goldenrod on the summit of Black Balsam Knob.
Take a stroll through the goldenrod on the summit of Black Balsam Knob.

Melina Coogan

Black Balsam Knob is nothing short of heavenly. This grassy bald lies atop the Great Balsam Mountains, drenched in open sky, with a 360-degree panoramic view. A short, switchbacking trail leads from the parking lot to the summit, where it intersects with the 30-mile  Art Loeb Trail . For an easy overnight, settle in at an established campsite on the summit, taking care to Leave No Trace. On a clear evening, you will be treated to a water-color sunset and a dome of shooting stars. Just don’t be surprised if, in the morning, the mountains beckon and you find yourself following the Art Loeb Trail toward the Shining Rock Wilderness. The landscape of high mountain balds is utterly irresistible.

7. Rough Ridge

The view from Rough Ridge.
The boulders alongside the Rough Ridge provide easy opportunities for stunning photography.

David Clarke

Life can be exhausting. Some days, you simply need to find the edge of the world, sit with your legs dangling into the ether, and just breathe. Luckily for the explorers of Western Carolina, there is a trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway, just outside of Blowing Rock, where you can do just that. Rough Ridge is a dazzling, one-mile section of both the Tanawha and Mountains-to-Sea trail . The splendor begins only a third of a mile from the parking area, when the boardwalk trail emerges from the forest into an alpine, rock-studded landscape. Continue for another half mile to the 4,773-foot summit, a steep rock fang with views of Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge, and the lights of the Piedmont glimmering in the distance. Make sure and scramble to the top of boulders along the way, and savor the dizzying sensations of elevation and exposure.

Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Erich Burton

While subzero temperatures and dwindling daylight can really put a damper on our motivation to hit the trail, the Blue Ridge Mountains are never quite as dramatic and ethereal as they are in the depths of winter. Familiar trails are transformed as bare trees unlock long-range views, the balds sparkle under a thick feathering of frost, and visitors are few and far between. But perhaps the most powerful offering of the winter landscape are the waterfalls: sheaths of ice, rainbows suspended in frozen mist, the cascade slowed or suspended entirely. See for yourself at these four waterfalls in Western Carolina to explore this winter.

1. Trashcan Falls

Waterfalls in Asheville, Trashcan falls
Trashcan Falls is more beautiful than the name may suggest.

Justin Fincher

No outdoor enthusiast living in Western Carolina should let a winter pass them by without spending a weekend in the High Country. Between skiing, cold-weather bouldering and endless miles of pristine hiking trails, there is no shortage of frozen adventure to be found just two hours north of Asheville. Boone’s old fashioned downtown has enough breweries, college eateries, and cozy cafes to keep you warm and dry after a day out in the snow.

Located on Laurel Creek, a tributary of the Watauga River, Trashcan Falls is a beautiful place to explore. Don’t be put off by its mysterious name—this 15 foot cascade is perfectly pristine. Just a quick dash down a wooded trail from the parking area, this waterfall is quickly and easily accessible. Allow yourself plenty of daylight to explore, because the falls and the little gorge downstream is irresistibly wild and alluring in the winter. Ice swirls in the eddies, flowers in patterns on the boulders, and chokes the current where the creek narrows. Winter offers a striking new perspective on this pocket of wilderness that, during the summer, is often crowded with swimmers and sunbathers.

2. Looking Glass Falls

Waterfalls in Asheville, Looking Glass Falls.
Looking Glass Falls in winter is a dazzling landscape.

Sarah Zucca

Looking Glass Rock, the pluton dome that rises from within the Pisgah National Forest to an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet, got its name because of the way sunshine reflects off its shining granite face. In the wintertime, when a sheen of ice coats the sides of the rock, this “looking-glass effect” is sharply enhanced. A visit to Looking Glass, as it lies sparkling under the winter sun, should be on the top of every hiker’s cold-weather bucket list.

One of the few roadside waterfalls in the Blue Ridge, the 60-foot Looking Glass Falls can gather some crowds during the summer months. In the winter, however, you’ll most likely be exploring the cascade alone. The ice formations that bloom alongside the veil and the rugged landscape of whipped, frozen whitewater that lays just downstream is a spectacular site. The sounds of falling water and cracking ice ring throughout the still, bare forest.

If you’re looking to make a day of exploring the marvelous ice formations around Looking Glass, nearby waterfalls nearby include Daniel Ridge Falls, Cove Creek Falls and Sliding Rock, just to name a few.

3. Crabtree Falls

Icicle collects in a curtain beneath Crabtree Falls, one of Asheville's waterfalls.
Icicle collects in a curtain beneath Crabtree Falls.

Jdshepard

Thick with wildflowers in the spring and blazing with color in the fall, Crabtree Falls is a lovely site in any season. The diamond clear water of Big Crabtree Creek sifts 70 feet down mottled black rock, creating a gauzy veil as thin and fine as white lace. When the temperature dips below zero, ice glazes the edges of the rock and daggers of icicles cling to every surface in the dark emerald pool below. With the striking atmosphere of a leafless hardwood forest and the quiet solitude of the freezing mountains, this waterfall may be most enchanting in the winter. Just 45 minutes outside of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this moderate 3.5-mile (roundtrip) hike is the perfect remedy for a case of cabin fever.

4. Dry Falls

Waterfalls around Asheville, Dry Falls.
Ice feathers the rocks at Dry Falls.

Jenjazzygeek

Just about 80 miles outside of Asheville, the vast wilderness of Jackson County, North Carolina, makes for an epic winter day trip. The rivers become a maze of ice and rock with the current coursing beneath the surface, and the steep, cliff-studded hillsides are bright and quiet after a snowfall. Driving the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, which twists and turns past several waterfalls in Cullasaja Gorge, is a particularly dramatic experience in the winter.

One of the most famous sites in the region, 75-foot Dry Falls, can be viewed from the byway. In the summer, it’s possible to explore behind the veil without a single drop of water landing on you. This becomes a decidedly dicier mission during the winter months, as that space is slick with frozen spray and decorated with icicles that could break off at any moment. Still, it’s worth descending the staircase that leads from the viewing platform, and examining the walls of ice and frost formations up close.

Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Justin Fincher

If you typically put away your camping gear during the winter and leave it stowed until spring, you’re missing out on some great days in the outdoors. During the winter, the bare trees reveal mountain views you just can’t get in the warmer months, and the cold conditions drive off the masses, providing a greater sense of solitude. Plus, the dry, cool air creates ideal conditions for stunning sunsets.

But, winter camping also poses special challenges. During the winter, the temperatures can fall below freezing, even down to single digits, and you need the proper knowledge, gear, and clothing to stay warm, dry, and comfortable. If you don’t pack wisely in summer, you might be uncomfortable, but it’s usually no big deal. But, in the winter, you risk illness, injury, or a really miserable outing if you’re not prepared.

To help you fill your winter with safe, enjoyable, and memorable adventures, we’ve put together a list of 11 important camping tips.

1. Check the Weather

As with all of your outdoor adventures, you should do your homework and find out the weather conditions you’ll likely encounter while camping. You can check the forecast with local media or the National Weather Service. Remember that conditions can change quickly, so be prepared with all of the clothing and supplies you’ll need for a worst-case scenario.

Also, keep in mind that the weather can affect road conditions, and you need to make sure that you’ll be able to reach your destination and return safely. Whenever possible, check the websites of parks or other recreation areas or contact park rangers or other experts to get the latest road and trail conditions. Rangers and other official personnel can also offer suggestions on the best campsites to use in winter.

2. Choose the Right Campsite

Whether you’re backpacking or tent camping, the right campsite can be the difference between an enjoyable, cozy winter outing or one that’s miserably cold. Look for a campsite that has trees or rocks that can partially block the wind, but make sure the trees are sturdy and that they’re not dead, dying, or rotting. The same goes with branches. Don’t pitch camp under dodgy looking limbs that could come crashing down.

3. Dress in Layers

The trick to staying comfortable outdoors during winter is to remain warm and dry. To do this, you need to regulate your body temperature so that you’re never too hot and sweaty, and never so cold that you’re core body temperature drops. The most efficient way to regulate your temperature is to dress in layers so that you can quickly add or remove clothing.

Basically, there are three layers you should carry:

  • Baselayer: These clothes sit against your skin and move moisture away from your body to keep you dry. They should be made of synthetic materials or wool and include little or no cotton, which holds water and robs valuable heat from your body. Mid-weight long underwear is a good choice for moderately cold winters. When temps start heading below freezing, you might consider heavier baselayers.

  • Middle layer: This is your insulating layer that will retain your body heat, but also allow some air to circulate to prevent overheating. This could be a sweater or jacket made with synthetic and/or wool materials. (This would include most puffy jackets.)

  • Outer layer: This is also known as the shell layer and includes jackets and coats that offer some protection from wind and moisture. If there’s a chance you’ll encounter rain or heavy snow, be sure to pack a waterproof shell.

4. Dress for Sleeping Success

It’s not always comfortable to change clothes while hiking or camping in the cold of winter, but you should change into dry, clean clothes before you go to sleep. If your clothes are dry you’ll stay warmer at night, and dirty clothes typically hold dirt and oil from skin, which reduces their insulating properties.

5. Pack the Proper Tent

1sOHo8M7YoS0s2S4WUCcA0
Choose a tent that has enough room to allow you to store gear inside it.

Jordan Heinrichs

Choose either a three- or four-season tent for winter camping. A three-season tent works for most mild winter conditions, and it will allow more ventilation to reduce the amount of condensation that can form inside the tent. During the winter, be sure to open the tent’s vents and expose mesh panels to reduce condensation.

Four-season tents are designed to withstand high winds and heavy rain or snow. To reduce drafts, they typically have little mesh for ventilation and a rainfly that extends almost to the ground. Plus, the poles are very sturdy so they can stand up to the wind. The downside is that four-season tents can build up lots of condensation in the more humid areas of the US.

When you choose a tent, be sure that it has room for an extra person—if two people will be sleeping in the tent, get one designed for three people. This way you’ll have space to place gear inside the tent or the vestibule to keep it out of the elements.

6. Choose the Right Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag temperature ratings aren’t supremely accurate, because many factors affect your body temperature at night. Some people tend to sleep hot, while others tend to be cold. Plus, your warmth is affected by the number of calories you consume before sleeping. So, it’s a good idea to choose a sleeping bag that has a temperature rating 10 degrees lower than the coldest temperature you expect. You can also use a sleeping bag liner to add five to 25 degrees of warmth.

Keep in mind that most bags filled with down will be more lightweight and efficient at keeping you warm. However, they lose their thermal effectiveness when wet. A bag with synthetic insulation might weigh more, but it will continue to keep you warm if it gets wet. Also, be aware that some bags have water-resistant down that gives you the best of both worlds.

7. Insulate Yourself from the Ground

Much of your heat loss while camping is from sleeping on the cold ground. If possible, use two pads under your sleeping bag—the bottom pad should be closed-cell foam, while the upper pad should be thin and inflatable. Remember, pads are rated by their “R” value from 1.0 to 8.0, with 8.0 being the best. A good average pad has an R-Value of 4. Also, spread a ground cloth or tarp under your tent to prevent moisture from forming inside.

8. Consume Plenty of Calories

5ctBhA5alUuyKguA0IeE6k
Pack a stove so you can prepare warm drinks.

Sage Friedman

When planning your meals, make sure they’re high in calories, which your body needs to burn to stay warm. Keep your meals simple and easy to make, preferably one-pot meals. When you arrive into a cold campsite tired and hungry, you don’t want to mess with anything that’s difficult to prepare.

Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, which can actually be more of a problem in the cold than in the heat of summer. Also, be sure to bring a stove so that you can make hot water. If someone gets hypothermic you can warm the person’s core temperature quickly with hot chocolate or another warm drink.

9. Stay Warm with the Old Hot Water Bottle Trick

An easy way to stay warm at night is to heat water, put it in a plastic bottle, and place it near your feet or between your legs inside your sleeping bag. Make sure it’s not too hot and use a plastic bottle instead of metal so that you don’t get burned.

10. Don’t Run Out of Power

Batteries have a nasty habit of dying in the cold. Alkaline batteries tend to lose power faster than lithium. If your batteries die, try warming them in your hands or in your sleeping bag. That might jumpstart them again.

11. Use These Tricks for a Better Winter Campout

Here are few other tips for winter camping:

  • When you gotta go, go! An empty bladder means your body uses less energy to stay warm.

  • If you like to use a hydration reservoir, make sure the tube has an insulated sleeve or the water in it will freeze. If the hose isn’t insulated, leave the reservoir system at home and use water bottles instead.

  • If you do use water bottles, store them standing upside down at night. Water freezes from the top down.

Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Julian Bialowas

We can all agree that tradition is one of the best parts of the holiday season. Sharing a tradition builds family bonds and provides the comfort of familiarity, but after a while the years can start to blur together until no one can remember what year Uncle Johnny lit the neighbor's yard on fire deep frying a turkey, or when Grandma’s pecan pie won first prize in the county fair.

And while carrying out the traditions themselves can be more cherished than the secret family recipe they are built around, every once in awhile, change can be a welcome breath of fresh air. We believe in the invigorating power of that fresh air, which is why we are proposing something a little different for this holiday season. Below is a guide to creating a holiday feast al fresco with a few recipes to cook over a campfire. So be bold and savor the new experience. The food will taste better as the cool crisp air heightens your senses. And who knows, you might just be creating a new tradition.

34elaOMCRO4cKgOWO4yGmc
Enjoy the stunning colors of fall, on the table and outdoors.

Hailey Moore

To make the most of your meal, take time to plan the menu. We’ve offered some great recipes here, but feel free to make modifications that cater to your taste. Most of the recipes will require at least a few of these key ingredients:

Staple Ingredients: Fire-proof gloves, aluminum foil, camp skillet, olive oil, sharp knife, salt and pepper, 1-2 heads fresh garlic

Specific ingredients for each dish are listed below. Of course a campfire is going to be the most important element in your rustic repast, so be sure to know the basics of building a good cooking fire. A level, U-shaped fire ring with one prominent “chimney” stone at the back is ideal, but any flat fire ring will eventually produce the desired bed of smoldering coals. This smoldering bed of coals is going to be crucial to ensure even cooking of your food. Bringing along a fire grate is optional but encouraged if you intend to use camp cookware. However, several of the recipes below call for no more from the kitchen then a simple roll of aluminum foil, which is great if you plan on packing light.

Hobo Packs

XkAA9r3UAKYk622IsG0wm
Hobo Packs use a few key ingredients that will transformed once cooked together.

Katie Taylor

These recipes embody the simplistic yet delicious flavors that can be achieved by cooking over an open fire with nothing more than aluminum foil and your favorite seasonal produce or cured meats. Quick pro tip: once you have your fire blazing and are waiting for it to turn to coal, place your fresh garlic on a nearby stone to roast while you prepare the rest of your ingredients. Be sure the garlic does not catch fire, but is close enough to roast in the husk. This will make an amazingly smoky, savory addition to your meal. Now you’re ready to begin.

  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 large beets, peeled and chopped
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme, sage or rosemary
  • a couple cloves of roasted garlic
  • handful dried cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds, or pecans
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by chopping an assortment of the fall veggies listed above. It is important to chop them fairly small so that you’re not waiting all night for them to cook. Tear a 12-inch sheet of aluminum foil (one per person) and mold around your fist in the shape of a “pocket”. Depending on how full you’re filling your pocket, you may want to double up the foil. Drizzle some olive oil into the bottom of the pocket to prevent sticking and fill with veggies. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add a sprig of thyme, sage, or rosemary and stuff in a couple cloves of roasted garlic if you made some earlier. Add about ¼ cup of water, fold pocket closed and set to cook on the coals for 20-40 minutes. Bringing along some pre-cooked bacon, or honey ham to throw in with your veggies is also a great way to add a savory umami kick.

Chorizo Hobo Packs

  • 8 oz. dried Spanish chorizo, casings removed and chopped
  • 1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, chopped (skin on is OK)
  • 3- 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 stalks celery
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme, sage or rosemary
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

The great thing about using dried chorizo here is that you don’t have to worry about refrigeration and can spend the day on the trail worry-free. Chop all of your ingredients and wrap per the same method as the Veggie Hobo Packs. Cook over the coals for 25-35 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Campfire Panini and Turkey Cream Cheese Sammy

3A8r6HyUwMC6Eyq4C0EOAg
A skillet over the campfire is a great way to cook cheesy, delicious paninis.

Basheer Tome

If low maintenance cooking is your M.O., we’ve got you covered. Sandwiches, especially hot sandwiches with beautiful golden-buttered toast, and melted cheese oozing through the crumb (let the salivation begin) are perhaps one of the most underrated comfort foods around. And with the holidays being about comfort food, we thought we’d share some of our suggestions for making the best holiday sandwich you’ve ever had. The amounts here yield about 4 sandwiches.

Panini

  • 8-10 oz. carved roasted turkey or honey ham
  • 1 jar fig preserves, apple butter or cranberry chutney (you pick your jam)
  • 8 oz. sliced gruyere, gouda, brie, provolone or swiss (you want a creamy, melting cheese)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 granny smith apple, thinly sliced
  • A loaf of sliced bread (honey wheat or sourdough are great options)

Assemble your sandwiches with the ingredients listed. Heat a camp skillet over the hot coals and add 1 tbl. butter to melt. Once butter is melted, toast your sandwich in the pan, grilled-cheese style.

Turkey Cream Cheese

  • 8-10 oz. Carved roasted turkey
  • 8 -10 slices crispy bacon
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • handful chives, chopped or fresh rosemary, chopped
  • A loaf of sliced bread (try rye or pumpernickel)

Toast your bread slices in a pan with a small amount of butter. Meanwhile, mix cream cheese with chives or rosemary (or both!). Once toasted, spread the herb cream cheese on your bread slices and go to town adding the turkey and bacon slices. It’s that easy.

Holiday Hash

1BvDdzDV8AwaoQ66Km0kqm
Use traditional seasonal ingredients—or anything else you like—in creating a campfire hash.

Hailey Moore

This dish is a mash-up of the sweet and savory holiday flavors that make a dish satisfying. This is a one pan meal which makes it ideal for camp cooking.

Camp skillet

  • 1 lb. ground turkey or pork sausage (if hiking at all before setting up camp, use frozen sausage so that it will be cold but thawed by the time you’re ready to cook)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 apples, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tbl. maple syrup
  • 2-3 cloves roasted garlic, minced
  • A few dashes of the following spices: cinnamon, cayenne, and sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Coat the bottom of skillet with olive oil, cook sausage with maple syrup until browned, then remove the sausage from the skillet and set aside. Add onions and sweet potatoes to the pan and cook until sweet potatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add apples and spice mixture, cooking 8-10 minutes, or until sweet potatoes and apples are completely tender. Return the cooked sausage to the pan and toss together with a handful of dried cranberries, pecans or toasted pumpkin seeds!

Baked Apples

Is anything more reminiscent of the holidays then the aroma of baking apples and cinnamon? This perfect combination is truly a hallmark of any holiday meal, and should be included in yours too.

For our rustic rendition of baked apples you will need an apple per person, aluminum foil, pairing knife and a 50/50 cinnamon-sugar mix. Leaving the skin on, cut a hole in the top and bottom of the apples to pop out the core and create a hole that cuts through the apple. Set the apple upright on a piece of foil. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar mixture into the hole (which should be closed off by the foil) and wrap the foil closed around the apple. Place on the coals to cook for 10-15 minutes and enjoy a piping hot-baked apple.

It’s true that most of us do not eat the same way year-round as we do around the holidays. We expect the same to be true for how we eat on the trail—usually we throw in a few packs of instant oatmeal, trail mix, some ramen and call it good. But for this special season, we hope you feel inspired to pack in a little extra weight (to keep a little extra off) and indulge in some holiday feasting and festivities chez-mother nature. Being gathered around the warmth of a fire inspires storytelling and memory sharing much the same way as being gathered around the family table.

Written by Hailey Moore for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Anne Worner

With the right strategy, hammock campers can sleep comfortably during cold winter nights.

They call it "cold butt syndrome." When you sleep in a hammock, the parts of your body that press against the fabric get cold because they’re more susceptible to the wind.

If you camp in a hammock in winter, you need to take extra steps to stay warm. Leaning on our own experience, as well as advice from hammock manufacturers, we’ve come up with seven solid tips to help you stay toasty in your hammock.

Seek Natural Shelter & Consider the Wind

As you set up your hammock, a main goal is to deal with potential wind. So, note the direction of the wind and take advantage of natural windbreaks, like hills, rock formations, and trees. Instead of hanging your hammock in an area that’s relatively open, move to a cluster of trees and take advantage of their natural sheltering effect. You could also consider hanging a tarp between two trees as an extra layer of protection.

4qNgxstw2kkigcyQOyao86
An alternative to an under quilt is an under pad.

jchapiewsky

Use Quilts to Stay Warm

To help trap heat and block the wind, use an under quilt, which is an insulated blanket that you string up beneath your hammock. This creates a layer of air between the quilt and the hammock, so heat is trapped to provide more insulation. You’ll be warmer if you deploy an under quilt, rather than just using a sleeping bag inside your hammock. In a hammock, the insulation in a sleeping bag gets compressed and loses its ability to trap heat.

While a sleeping bag will still do a good job of insulating the top of your body, many hammock campers forego a bag and instead use a top quilt that’s made specifically for a hammock. Typically, top quilts are light and compressible, so they’re easy to carry into the backcountry.

Use a Sleeping Pad

An alternative to an under quilt is an under pad, which you place beneath you inside the hammock. You can use a standard foam or inflatable sleeping pad, but be aware that these can slip and even slide out of the hammock as you move around while sleeping. Some hammocks have an inner compartment that holds a foam or inflatable sleeping pad and prevents the pad from shifting.

Another option is to invest in a pad made specifically for a hammock. These not only have side sections that fold to conform to a hammock, but some also feature materials that reflects your body heat. You can also find sleeves that slip over a pad and have reflective materials to help you retain heat.

2ToUPt6l0IW6eIUoiKSGSe
Rig a tarp above your hammock to protect you from the elements.

Buddy Lindsey

Rig a Tarp Above the Hammock

If you rig a tarp above your hammock, it can block wind, rain, and snow, and also trap heat. Keep in mind that it’s best to place the tarp as low as possible. Once you’ve attached the tarp to a spot on the tree just above your hammock straps, pull the tarp corners as low as possible and secure them. On the market you’ll find a wide variety of rainfly and tarps from several hammock manufacturers.

Rest Your Head on a Pillow

To stay warm in winter, you should prevent your skin from pressing against the hammock fabric as much as possible. So, pack a travel pillow, and also cover your neck and shoulders as you sleep.

Layer Your Clothing

It’s a good idea to wear many layers when you camp in winter, even when you’re using a hammock. This will allow you to regulate your temperature to keep from getting too hot or too cold. With a little practice, you’ll even learn to add and remove clothes without leaving the cozy confines of your hammock.

It’s wise to keep extra clothing inside your hammock at all times so it stays warm and readily available. Also, be sure to remove snow from your clothing before you get into your hammock. While this might sound obvious, it can make a big difference in keeping you dry and warm.

Stash a Hot Water Bottle

Here’s a trick hangers have used for years—fill an insulated water bottle with boiling water before you go to bed and stash it near your feet. This will help warm your whole body during the night.

Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Andy McLemore

Dawn patrol is the practice of heading out before sunrise and beginning the day with a paddle, run, ski, hike, or whatever form of outdoor adventure you most crave. Crawling out of bed into the cold and making your way to the trailhead in darkness requires deep motivation, commitment and prior planning—but the payoff is enormous. So set the alarm, ready your things the night before, and see for yourself how dawn patrol sets the stage for a fulfilling and invigorating lifestyle. Here are ten reasons for Asheville explorers to head for the hills before daybreak.

1. You Don’t Have to Travel Far

One of Asheville’s greatest assets is its proximity to the wilderness. Your morning mission could take you as far away as Cataloochee Ski Area , or as nearby as Richmond Hill Park. Ease yourself into the realm of dawn patrol with a sunrise run on the Greenway, and work your way up to a trail run at  Bent Creek  or an illuminated ride at Pisgah . When the Blue Ridge Parkway is shut down in the winter, it creates a beautiful track of clean snow, 469 miles long, for hiking and cross-country skiing. Whatever gets your heart beating and fills your lungs with fresh air makes a suitable morning conquest.

2. Achieve the Coveted Work/Life Balance

Asheville sparkles in predawn light.
Asheville sparkles in predawn light.

Pulaw

Achieving a healthy work/life balance is very possible in a small city such as Asheville. When your life is partly defined by outdoor adventure, however, the limited daylight of winter does present a challenge. Practicing alarm-clock discipline, arming yourself with warm layers and a headlamp, and fearlessly facing the predawn darkness will allow you to infuse each and every day with outdoor endeavors, before you even clock in.

3. Appreciate the Comforts of the Office

There’s nothing like the coming in from the cold to help you appreciate the everyday luxuries we so often take for granted. Those first few lungfuls of frigid mountain air might feel harsh, but dawn patrol will help you revel in the comforts of office life as you never have before: placid temperatures, hot water, your lumbar-supporting office chair. Even that brown-bag lunch you brought from home will be a source of gleeful anticipation to your super-stoked appetite.

4. Catch a Blue Ridge Sunrise

The sun rises over Graveyard Fields, a popular hiking destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The sun rises over Graveyard Fields, a popular hiking destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Jenn Deane

Greeting the dawn is one of the healthiest rituals you can incorporate into your life, and the ethereal Blue Ridge Mountain range puts on a truly spectacular sunrise. Catch the show from Mt. Mitchell State Park , Sam's Knob , the Blue Ridge Parkway, or any place where you can glimpse those first rays. The tranquility, awe, and invigoration that you experience will fuel you straight through your 9-5.

5. Shoot Stunning Photos

Perfecting the camera settings to catch those elusive moments of daybreak.
Perfecting the camera settings to catch those elusive moments of daybreak.

Matt Paish

Western Carolina is photogenic. But Western Carolina at sunrise is really, really photogenic. Dawn patrol can yield some breathtaking captures: silhouettes and sun rays, the delicate colors of dawn seeping through the forest or brightening the streets, and you, in a glorious selfie, looking burly and alive in the first light of day.

6. Stick to Your Exercise Plan

Experts agree that the most effective way to stick to a workout plan is to exercise first thing in the morning. So while you’re outside, being uplifted by nature and extolling in the many virtues of dawn patrol, you’re turning this healthy practice into part of your daily routine, and upping your chances of meeting your fitness goals.

7. Avoid a Congested Commute

Don’t hit that snooze button: the earlier you’re up and at ’em, the emptier the roads are going to be. Asheville’s growing traffic issues are never as apparent as they are during peak commuting hours. By heading into the hills before dawn, not only will you skip the morning commute, you’ll also save yourself from battling post-work traffic as you try to make it to Bent Creek before nightfall.

8. Coffee in the Mountains…

Coffee in the mountains sure beats the drive-through line at Starbucks.
Coffee in the mountains sure beats the drive-through line at Starbucks.

Martin Cathrae

Coffee tastes better on the side of a mountain, or sipped from a thermos as you stroll alongside the French Broad river. That pleasant caffeinated buzz hits you harder when mixed with fresh air and exercise endorphins. Simply put, dawn patrol coffee is one of life’s most decadent offerings. Enjoy it as often as possible.

9. …Espresso in the City

Enjoy your second round of coffee at one of Asheville's many cafes.
Enjoy your second round of coffee at one of Asheville's many cafes.

Unsplash

You’re back in town and ready to start the work day….but not until you’ve finished a second cup, this one purveyed at one of Asheville’s many artisan coffee shops. From the strong espresso and even stronger hipster scene at High-Five Coffee Bar , to the comforting neighborhood cheer of the West End Bakery  and the spacious, modern vibes at Vortex Donuts, you can find good coffee and grab-and-go breakfast on every street corner. Treat yourself to an espresso and a glazed twist; after all, it’s 9 a.m. and you’ve already earned it.

10. The Breakfast Beer

Once in a while, your morning conquest might just turn into a ”mental health“ day.
Once in a while, your morning conquest might just turn into a ”mental health“ day.

Jay Johnson

If your morning conquest somehow turns into a full blown snow/sick day (who can blame you?) and you find yourself released from the work-day duties, this is the perfect time to try out a “breakfast brew” at one of Asheville’s many breweries. Perk up with a pint of Highland Brewery’s Thunderstruck Coffee Porter, crafted from beans roasted by Dynamite Coffee Roasting, or go all out with a decadent French Toast Stout at  Wicked Weed

Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Caleb Morris

Summer is coming to an end in the mountains of Western North Carolina. What this means for Asheville residents, aside from the explosion of color and the introduction of cozy favorites like wool sweaters, corduroy pants, warm apple cider, and pumpkin-spiced treats, is a long, healthy list of fall festivities. There's nothing quite like fall in southern Appalachia — when the mountain air turns crisp and cool, the nostalgia returns in overwhelming waves of inexplicable sensation, and the banjos and fiddles slow their pace to something more fitting for the season. The only problem with this time of year is its impermanence. Autumn in Asheville is gone in the blink of an eye. Be sure to embrace the season for as long as you can by visiting these five festivals. There will be plenty of food, folk music, and flowing taps to help you celebrate one of this region's favorite times of year.

1. Brewgrass Festival, Memorial Stadium, Asheville

Brewgrass is an annual beer and bluegrass festival that showcases more than 100 beers from close to 40 American breweries, all to be enjoyed while listening to old-timey bluegrass. Past acts have included Foxfire, Blue Highway, Smoke from the Kitchen, Barry Waldrep, and Lost River Cavemen. Participating breweries include Asheville’s Altamont Brewing Company, Wicked Weed, and Hi-Wire Brewing companies (among others) as well as other North Carolina, Southeastern, and national breweries. Local food vendors will offer plenty of options and there are lots of non-beer beverages for the kids. The festival is free for children under the age of 7. Bring chairs, umbrellas, and backpacks, but no coolers.

2. Nantahala Outdoor Center Guest Appreciation Festival

A different kind of festival, NOC’s GAF, as it’s known, is more of a celebration of savings for gearhounds, with new and used gear going for big discounts, plus there are a lot of family-friendly activities, such as free face-painting, crafts, a raptor show, games, contests, and a bouncy house. There’s food and live music, plus bike trials and a pump track exhibition. Guests and non-profits can also sell their used gear or crafts (to sell more than one piece, you’ll need a vendor permit) and nonprofits can distribute promotional material. Ziplining and rafting are offered at special prices and shuttles are free for those taking part in the Cascades and Upper Nantahala recreational releases.

3. Asheville Oktoberfest

This 21-and-over festival is a great expression of Asheville’s beer culture and general wackiness. The German-inspired Asheville Oktoberfest will feature a lovely mix of Appalachia-infused Bavaria. Think yodeling, polka, traditional German lagers, and seasonal ales all from local and regional breweries in downtown Asheville's South Slope. Put on your lederhosen and enjoy the live German music.

4. LEAF, Black Mountain

The quintessential local festival, LEAF (formerly known as Lake Eden Arts Festival) is held twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring) and revolves around a full weekend of live music, a crafts fair, camping, and kids’ activities in a gorgeous setting on Lake Eden, at the foot of the Black Mountains. LEAF typically brings in internationally known acts, which in the past have included Robert Randolph & the Family Band as well as Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Local and regional acts such as Rising Appalachia, David Wilcox and David LaMotte have also performed. LEAF is known for its socially conscious vibe, commitment to local nonprofits and family-friendly nature. Camping reservations fill up quickly, so check the LEAF website to see what’s available for a day or weekend pass.

Written by Joanne O'Sullivan for Matcha and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by flattop341

Intro

Looking Glass! We have to talk about Looking Glass! It’s located in the Davidson River area of the Pisgah National Forest and is one of the premier, if not the premier, multi-pitch traditional multi-route destinations in the south. It’s a huge, exposed granite dome with many many routes of multiple pitch lengths.

What Makes It Great

Classics include The Nose (5.8), which is extremely popular. There is extensive guide book coverage, and a lot of information in Selected Climbs of North Carolina. It’s about 45minutes to an hour from downtown, and you’re pretty much looking at a full day by virtue of the length of the routes.  

For those only interested in a hike, there’s a really great trail that leads to one of the most majestic views on the east coast. It climbs a steep 1,700 feet in just over three miles, taking hikers along a cascading mountain stream and through tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel, before beginning a series of switchbacks up the mountain. The views from the top are well worth the effort though; simply stunning!

Who is Going to Love It

The Looking Glass area has a ton of opportunities for climbers of all abilities. It’s also a great place to just go for a hike!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Parking is pretty obvious, but the thing about Looking Glass is that there are two distinct sides. The road (Hwy 276) splits and branches toward the Pisgah center for wildlife education and the hatchery. Off that branch to the left is Looking Glass south access. Access to the north face is Forest Road 475b. 

Be sure to check in the posted guide books, because sections of the North Face are closed for several months out of the year for peregrine falcon breeding.

Written by Jordan Dowdy for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Jordan Dowdy

Although it feels as if just yesterday we were jumping into swimming holes and running through green mountain trails, somehow the trees are bare, the earth is hard with frost, and the holidays are again upon us.

With this time of year comes the ubiquitous reminders to celebrate the season and be thankful. And although our gratitude is never limited to just one season, those of us lucky enough to live in Western Carolina—encompassed by the beauty of the Blue Ridge and afloat on an endless variety of microbrews—should take this time as an opportunity to slow down and appreciate all that we have at our fingertips. Here are six wild and adventurous reasons to be thankful that we live in Western Carolina.

1. The Highest Highs

Sunrise at Mt. Mitchell.
Sunrise at Mt. Mitchell.

Kolin Toney

So we’re all aware that we live just 19 miles northeast of Mt. Mitchell , the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. But how often do we stop to consider how truly awesome it is to be able to stand on the observation deck, 6,684 feet above sea level and bask in the assurance that everyone on the East Coast is below us? How surreal it is that we can sit and enjoy a picnic atop the very throne of eastern North America? Then we ride back into town for coffee, or catch a movie, or continue with our backpacking trip on the Mountains to Sea Trail, knowing that for one moment we stood hundreds of feet above everything and everyone, even those in the highest skyscrapers in New York City.

Mt. Mitchell State was one of America’s very first state parks and it remains one of the most spectacular. It casually encompasses Mt. Craig, the second highest peak on the East Coast, and several other peaks that reach over 6,000 feet. The trail options range from short summit jaunts to challenging ridge-line treks to drive by vistas and the views are sensational.

2. The Lowest Lows

If on Saturday you stood atop the highest point on the East Coast, then why not round out the weekend by spending Sunday exploring the lowest?  The Linville Gorge, the deepest canyon in the east, is an adventurer’s paradise. The Linville Gorge Wilderness is the third largest swath of wilderness in North Carolina and boasts 11,786 acres of hiking, top-roping, multi-pitches, bouldering, backpacking, backcountry camping, swimming holes, extremely difficult whitewater, and phenomenal views.

Catch a sunset at Wiseman’s View, one of the most breathtaking vistas in the Southeast, then be home in time to make dinner and watch a little Netflix before bed. That’s just a typical day for the Ashevillian. If you need just one reason to feel thankful this season, let it be the Linville Gorge, the “Grand Canyon of the East,” just over an hour away.

3. You Never Have to Leave

A winter ride through Richmond Hill City Park.
A winter ride through Richmond Hill City Park.

Melina Coogan

Those of us who live in the mountains of Western Carolina never need to know the agony of the glacial, day-by-day countdown toward that one coveted vacation each year, nor the bleak return to work after your one week of freedom has passed. There are swimming holes in the summer. Foliage in the autumn. Skiing (and paddling, and bouldering) in the winter. Hiking in the spring . Asheville is a year-round vacation destination for those inclined toward joyful pursuits in the wilderness.

Certainly we have our share of dreary February days, but if you know where to look for it, there’s never a shortage of adventure. Why plan a pricey tropical trip when the rivers are pumping, the mountains are sparkling in white and the cold holds at Rumbling Bald are grippy as ever? And if you do find yourself in need of a weekend away, just hop in the car and drive an hour to these nearby adventurous vacation towns, or burrow away in a farm cabin or country cottage for a few nights.

4. Variety

If variety is the spice of life then Asheville has a five-star rating. We can barely keep track of all our ranks, ratings and raves. Singletrack.com calls Asheville “A Beer Town with a Mountainbike Problem,” while  Outside  magazine voted us one of “America’s Best River Towns,” and look, there we are included in Yoga Journal’s “Top 10 most Yoga Friendly Cities in the Country!”

Start your day with a brisk trail run through Bent Creek, sneak in a little afternoon SUP on your lunch break and hit the nearby boulders for a post-work session. As for weekends, the broad range of adventurous opportunities is simply overwhelming, whether you’re hoping fora relaxing float and a casual loop at Tsali, or the white-knuckled gory glory of Kitsuma singletrackor the off-the charts pucker factor of the Green River Narrows.

This Holiday season, every time we see yet another Subaru Outback loaded down with a creek boat and a mountain bike, the trunk overflowing with ropes and harnesses, let’s be take a moment to be grateful that as adventure loving "multi-potentialites" in Western Carolina, we can have it all.

5. Our Commute is in a National Park

The Blue Ridge Parkway in Autumn.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Autumn.

Brian Leon

There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being trapped in traffic on the way out to the mountains. The irony of being stuck in gridlock when you’re trying to get off the grid is enough to make some city dwellers forgo their weekend plans all together. Asheville is the biggest city in Western Carolina and, sure, we see a bit of stop-and-go at rush hour. But we never have to wallow in traffic too long. In fact, many of our favorite outdoor destinations are found alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest national park. Orbitz Travel blog ranked taking a scenic drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway as number one on their list of “Seven Things You Absolutely Must Try in a National Park.” No big deal, that’s just our daily commute.

6. Romance

It doesn't get more romantic than Black Balsam Knob.
It doesn't get more romantic than Black Balsam Knob.

Melina Coogan

Can we all take a moment and be grateful of how completely effortless it is to find wild and adventurous romance in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Nothing is more beautiful than watching the morning mist rise over the Shining Rock Wilderness, or viewing the lights of the city from Elk Mountain. There’s no quarrel that can’t be cured by sharing a sunset somewhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway, no deal that can’t be sealed by a box of French Broad Chocolate Truffles and a picnic at Max Patch. From active dates in the great outdoors to funky neighborhoods filled with breweries, love is always in the air in Western Carolina. Love and gratitude—the two essential ingredients to a life well-lived.

Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

Across Great Smoky Mountains National Park, miles of interconnected trails meander through lush, green valleys, hug the banks of moss-laden, rocky creeks, and climb through thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron to the blue-tinged mountain peaks.

You could spend weeks backpacking through this rich landscape, but a weekend trip will also allow you to experience the best of the Smokies. To help you plan your visit, we’ve highlighted three backpacking loops that give you the Appalachian Trail, streamside and ridgeline campsites, killer views, and enough distance and elevation to satisfy your inner weekend warrior.

Big Creek Loop

Combining the best of frontcountry and backcountry camping, the Big Creek area on the northeastern tip of the park off I-40 offers something for every level of hiker. Tackle a 21.5-mile loop over big peaks or lower your mileage and elevation with a night at one of the sweetest creekside campsites in the park. Either way, you’ll hike the AT through some of the most scenic terrain in the Smokies.

3MMdsyK2BGEumu8MUay6oq
You will be in constant awe of the beauty on Big Creek Loop.

Rock/Creek

Roll into Big Creek Friday night to enjoy campground amenities like restrooms, dinner at a picnic table, and campsites with fire rings. You’ll be up early on Saturday to climb the Chestnut Branch Trail 2 miles to the Appalachian Trail. One of the shortest AT access points, the trail passes the remains of homesteads that pre-date the national park.

Turn south on the AT and continue climbing 3.3 miles to the 0.6-mile Mt. Cammerer fire tower spur trail. At 4,928 feet, the tower overlooks the Pigeon River Gorge to the north and Mt. Sterling to the south. From the fire tower, it’s a moderate descent 2.1 miles to the Low Gap Trail. Take Low Gap 2.5 miles to campsite #37 at the Big Creek Trail junction. Right on the banks of Big Creek, you’d be hard pressed to find a more spacious backcountry site in the park.

On Sunday, you can go big or go home, as they say. Going big means a hike up the Swallow Falls Trail 4 miles to the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail. It’s another 1.4 miles and more climbing to an elevation of 5,842 feet on Mt. Sterling. Climb Sterling’s 60-foot steel fire tower for panoramic views of Cataloochee Valley, the Black Mountains, and the Southern Appalachians. Now, the downhill endurance test begins, with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail. If you opt to go home, you can sleep in, savor your coffee by the campfire, and still have plenty of time to hike the moderate, 5-mile descent along Big Creek back to the campground, passing two stunning waterfalls and plenty of swimming holes along the way.

5SbUMhpDnUKIQs2OGIUoSY
Big Creek loop ends with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail.

virgntn2011

Big Creek Campground is open from April through October and makes a great base camp for groups by serving a wide variety of abilities and interests. On your way home, make sure you leave enough time to refuel at Carver’s Apple Orchard in Cosby, Tenn. At Carver’s you can shop for fresh produce at the farmers market, nab awesome treats at an old-time candy shop, and feast at a homestyle restaurant, where the apple fritters are not to be missed.

Twentymile Loop

In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find a lesser-used trailhead that leads to the AT and one of the most scenic balds in the park. From this trailhead, you’ll log 17.6 miles on the way to Gregory Bald, sleeping one night on the AT and camping the other night on the bald.

Start off Friday afternoon at the Twentymile Ranger Station off Highway 28 near the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. A non-technical climb takes you 4.5 miles to meet the AT at Sassafras Gap. Campsite #113, at Birch Spring Gap, is less than 1 mile north of the trail junction. If time allows late Friday or early Saturday morning, head south on the AT for 360-degree views at sunset or sunrise from the top of Shuckstack Fire Tower. The historic lookout isn’t regularly maintained, so watch your step on the 200-foot climb to the top.

4YYSe2BqNWOsWOwGyiOU4u
In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find the lesser-used Twentymile Loop trailhead.

Chris M Morris

You’ll resume your northward journey on the AT, traveling 2 miles over Doe Knob to the next trail junction. Next, take Gregory Bald Trail west a little more than 3 miles to campsite #13 on the bald. Known for spectacular flame azalea blooms each year in mid to late June, the grassy high-elevation meadow offers stunning views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and Clingmans Dome.

On Sunday, make the final 6.3-mile descent to the trailhead on the wide, non-technical Wolf Ridge Trail. Refuel at Fontana Village, just over 6 miles down Highway 28, before heading home. Burgers and brews will hit the spot at Wildwood Grill, while the Mountainview Restaurant highlights seasonal produce, along with fresh, local rainbow trout.

Deep Creek Loop

1Z268voz8wkYg8CicAkMWy
Along Deep Creek loop you’ll pass Indian Creek Falls.

Alan Cressler

Enjoy the streams and waterfalls of the Deep Creek area in the south-central region of the Smokies on this 28.2-mile loop. You’ll also spend a night in an AT shelter and exit on one of the longest continuously descending trails in the Smokies.

You’ve barely left the Deep Creek Ranger Station before you come across Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls. Once you pass these Instagram-worthy stops, it’s a slight uphill grade for 4 miles along the moderately rocky Deep Creek Trail to campsites 54-59. Claim a site for Friday evening (note that an advanced reservation is required) to enjoy the refreshing waters of Deep Creek and thickly wooded campsites.

Creek crossings and easy bushwacking are on the agenda Saturday, as you hike another 4 miles to the Fork Ridge Trail. Fork Ridge ascends 5 miles to Clingmans Dome Road and the AT. A short hike north takes you to the Mount Collins shelter, where you’ll spend the night in a high-elevation spruce-fir forest and dramatically cooler, drier conditions. Enjoy the shelter amenities, like cozy bunks and a fireplace inside.

4Sn9sT6IrSuOiWMGguQ0oE
Hike down from Clingmans Dome Road to start your final 11.4-mile descent.

Kevin Stewart Photography

The pre-dawn hike south to Clingmans Dome is highly recommended for 360 degrees of sunrise from the highest point in the Smokies. Hike 2 miles down Clingmans Dome Road to the Noland Divide Trailhead to start your final 11.4-mile descent. The trail slopes gently for the first 5 miles before making a steeper drop into Deep Creek, but there are few roots and rocks to slow you down. Make sure you stop to enjoy the views at Lonesome Pine Overlook along the way.

After logging all those miles, nothing’s going to taste more satisfying than a meal and craft beer at The Warehouse at Nantahala Brewing Co. Wrap up your Smokies adventure on the outdoor patio in downtown Bryson City with specialties like the slow-cooked brisket noodle bowl, apple bourbon pork chops, or Bryson City Brown Ale chicken along with a flagship or seasonal draft.

Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Kevin Stewart Photography