I can truly say that I consider the state of North Carolina to be my second home. More specifically, Western North Carolina holds that honorable title. Growing up, my parents consistently took my sister and I up to vacation in places like Maggie Valley, Cherokee, or Franklin multiple times every year since I was a toddler. I’m so incredibly fortunate that my family was able to do this and that they exposed me to the beauty of North Carolina, for I have been wanting to make it my actual home for many years now. For all of you who have never been to Western North Carolina and are looking for some great outdoor activities/hikes to do, this post is for you!
My parents decided to get a permanent vacation cabin in Franklin, NC back in 2007 and because of that, most of our exploration has been rooted around that area. The first place I’ll mention is…
Wayah Bald Lookout Tower
I wouldn’t technically consider this a hike, but it is definitely a view I wouldn’t pass up on seeing.
The name ‘Wayah’ is a Cherokee word meaning ‘Wolf’ and this area was named as such because of its large red wolf population that flourished until the 19th century when they were eradicated due to hunting. The tower itself was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp back in 1937 and was used as a fire lookout.
To get to the parking lot and the actual park itself, you must drive up a windy gravel road that is very narrow (with no guardrails) and can only fit one car in some places. It is highly recommended that you have a car with all wheel drive, just in case the weather becomes inclement.
The day that we went was not a particularly great day for the views because it was raining off and on, but it helped keep the summer heat down.
The path from the parking lot to the actual lookout tower itself is paved and about a 5-minute, slightly inclined walk, making it easily accessible for just about everyone.
Unfortunately, a wildfire ripped through the area back in December, destroying the wooden roof of the tower and burning up hundreds of acres of the surrounding wilderness. Access to the tower has been closed indefinitely, but when it does finally open back up, this is a place you won’t want to miss out on seeing!
Whiteside Mountain Recreation Area & Hike
This has to be one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. Whiteside Mountain is located in Cashiers, NC and is a popular hiking destination — and there’s definitely a reason why. Just look at these views!
It took us about an hour and a half for my family and I to complete the hiking trail (which is a big loop around the mountain) and that included time to stop for pictures and us goofing around. If you are not an extremely active person (like myself) and prefer a more steady climb, definitely take the trail to the left, which follows the old logging trail that was originally on the mountain. Follow that trail all the way around and the descent will be a bit more challenging. On the other hand, if you like the challenge, start the trail on the right-hand side. It’s a bit more rocky and isn’t as steady as the old logging trail to the left.
The elevation goes up to about 4,930 feet, which is appropriately stamped into the large rock that I’m standing on in the first picture!
Make sure to go on a good clear and sunny day for you to be able to see the truly breathtaking views!
Chestoa View Overlook
Once again, this isn’t technically a hike. Chestoa Overlook is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway off mile post 320.8 and the observation point is a quick and easy quarter-mile walk, maybe less. The views are beautiful!
Did you really visit North Carolina and drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway if you didn’t go to Rough Ridge? Honestly, the answer has to be no!
Rough Ridge is an incredible place with great photo opportunities and is located off mile post 302.8, very close to the Linn Cove Viaduct (which is also a really cool part of the Blue Ridge!)
The hike up to the first observation area (shown in the second photo) is not too terribly hard, but it is a bit strenuous and rocky. It is not paved or easily accessible for handicapped persons.
The hiking trail continues on further after the first observation point (although my family and I didn’t get a chance to continue on due to time restraints) and there is an incredible photo opportunity with ‘Pride Rock’, which is an exposed boulder that juts out over the mountain where people have taken some really cool pictures.
This is truly one of my favorite places in North Carolina and I wish I had the opportunity to go up there every day just for this view!
Cataloochee Valley – Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Frequently referred to as “North Carolina’s ‘Cades Cove,'” Cataloochee was an old Appalachian settlement in the rugged Smoky Mountains before the National Park was established in 1934.
This is a particularly beautiful place to visit in the fall when all of the leaves are changing color, creating a beautiful backdrop for this valley and its historic buildings.
There are many historical buildings to see in this secluded valley and it’s very interesting to learn about the history of the valley as you go on and explore.
There is also a population of elk that was reintroduced into this area in 2001. Elk once roamed the Appalachians and were slowly eliminated from this area due to over-hunting and loss of habitat in the late 1700s. A great time to go and see the elk would be in the early morning, in the late evening, or before or after it storms.
There are many hikes around the valley, as well as many opportunities to see wildlife, including black bears, wild turkey, deer, and red wolves.
Although there are many other places to visit in Western North Carolina, these are some of my favorite places that I’ve been recently. I will post some more and different places to check out in the future, but for now, I will keep this list at 5 so I don’t go too crazy. 🙂
I hope everyone is having a wonderful Tuesday! ~Psalm 91:4~