Meeting the Mountains

Blue Ridge Parkway

A view from the Blue Ridge Parkway

It might seem as though we’ve fallen off the face of the Earth since moving to Asheville, but the opposite is closer to the truth.  We’ve become more attached to it – spending weekends exploring the wrinkles of its surface through the mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge and taking time at least once a week to taste the local food that defines this place.

Our favorite hilly hikes start from the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  From here you can walk North or South.  I say walk because even when I start out at a run, I need to walk at least one of the hills.  The further we go, the higher the hills climb, so I’ve quickly learned that a hill only seems daunting until you encounter the next one.  We’ve repeatedly renamed the “Big Hill,” as we venture further along the trail.

Graveyard Fields sign

Sign leading into Graveyard Fields

For a less strenuous climb, but an equally challenging foot terrain with several substantial creeks, I recommend Graveyard Fields.  We found this spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, although several other overlooks tempted us along the way.  The parking lot here filled with cars, for a good reason: it’s a great family hike, suitable for young children or the furry ones in your pack.  Georgia loves the chance to sniff along the flat terrain while keeping us within her sight, and the waterfall at the end of the out-and-back trail made us human hikers happy. It was much cooler here than the surrounding area, so pack for a chilly atmosphere and the possibility of plunging into the water.

For those looking for a wider hiking path, we recommend a trip to the North Carolina Arboretum. Within a week of moving here, we became members, swayed by the parking fee ($8 a car, but free for members) and the foliage.  The gravelled roads traverse the entire 434 acres, with 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. Each is clearly marked for bikers, though some are designated foot-traffic only. Leashed dogs are welcome and a common site on weekends, and the trails lead into the surrounding areas, including a loop around Lake Powhatan.

After all this hiking, we definitely worked up an appetite, so here’s the short list of our favorite fare so far:

  • Homegrown does slow food right quick. Their sandwiches can’t be beat, and their ingredients are local and fresh.  And with sweet tea for just a $1, it can easily rival more common fast food restaurants that boast this same special. The dining area extends the homey feel, with several rooms and an outdoor porch to choose from.
  • Corner Kitchen is another hometown option, with an everlasting line of customers extending out the front door of the 1890s house in Biltmore Village. The flanking shops provide plenty of distraction during the wait, and the food is worth it.
  • Downtown can do no wrong when it comes to restaurants. From oversized burritos at Mamacita’s to sushi at Wasabi, we’ve found something for every taste.  Of course, there’s also the more well-known Tupelo Honey Cafe which draws its crowds with the tempting biscuits, honey, and jam, and the equally packed neighbor Mayfel’s, which is a great stop for a burger.
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From the Mountains to the Sea

trail marker

Trail Marker for Mountains to Sea Trail

We’ve lived in Asheville almost three weeks now, and in that time, we’ve ventured no more than 10 miles from our front steps. Within that radius, we can access the Blue Ridge Parkway and spectacular trails or drive downtown for famous restaurants and retail establishments.  We can walk to a bookstore, a fabric store, and a McDonald’s – a dangerous combination that has made us caffeinated enough to consider our weekend hobbies.  The book stacks have doubled, and instead of buying ready-made curtains, we purchased several yards of a fabric that instantly feels like a part of our home.  It’s still rolled in a corner, in a box, along with some of the books, ready to be displayed as soon as we craft room for it.

As much as we’ve enjoyed staying at home in our new apartment, we’ve also enjoyed the outdoors.  Last weekend centered around an afternoon at the nearby WNC Nature Center, where Asheville citizens gain admission for a mere $6. Though the weather felt like spring, the animals didn’t believe it.  Most stayed in their enclosures or napped away the afternoon in a sunbeam, much like our dog.  The otters, though, put on their usual playful show, again, much like our dog. We now wonder which of the animals she can scent from the roadway as we drive by the perimeter of the  center with our windows down.  It’s our path to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the larger wilderness.

In some ways though, it’s the journey or the drive here that becomes most interesting.  From the barely visible castle on the mountaintop to the side roads that turn into winding paths, we never quite know where they will lead.  But we are lucky to be able to drive them, particularly because we had no idea that obtaining a North Carolina driver’s license would require a driving test and sign identification.  So if you plan to move to the state and make your home anywhere from the mountains to the sea, be prepared for the expected two hour wait at the DMV and use that time to study up for the road ahead.

Spring Forward

Ice melting on mountain side

Trail in early March

On Sunday, daylight savings time and unusually seasonable weather combined into the perfect early Spring Sunday.  Of course, we decided to spend it hiking, so after some quick research of nearby trails, we headed toward an open section of the Blue Ridge Parkway for a 2-hour trek through the mountains.  From East Asheville, we headed North, stopping briefly at the Folk Art Center before continuing our ascent by car, with our sights set on the Craven Gap Trail about five miles from this landmark.

Craven Gap is a section of the Mountain to Sea trail, North Carolina’s longest trail. As the name suggest, it stretches the entire state.  The section we discovered faces mostly South, making it ideal for an early spring hike.  The partly cloudy day meant that we needed light layers. The March wind kept it slightly on the chilly side, but the sun made enough of an appearance, even through winter, to melt the ice sickles and sustain and an outcropping of wild cactus at the higher elevation.

The trail starts at mile marker 377.4, at an elevation of 3,200.  At the highest just after a mile, we were approximately 3,450 feet above sea level, clearly establishing this part of the Mountain to Sea trail as the mountain end.  At just five miles out-of-town and a total out-and-back of just under 4.5 miles, it also makes for a great afternoon hike.

For more Asheville hiking resources, visit Explore Asheville and HikeWNC. Also, don’t forget to check for closures on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

Moving Mountains

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February passed by quietly, without a single blog update or weekend adventure. But beneath that seeming hibernation stirred a flurry of activity, as we decided to move away from Washington, DC. Almost two months short of having lived in the nation’s capital for two years, we gave up our city dwelling for a new start in the mountains. Or perhaps, it’s better referred to as an restart or an old start in the mountains, because this area of the country is my home with roots that run as deep as the rivers in the valleys. Starting this month, Hiking Mountains from the Metro will center on Asheville, NC, and trail into the outdoors, stores, and culture of the Blue Ridge mountains. I hope you will continue to follow our journey.