At the end of August, two friends and I set out to hike the Art Loeb Trail, a 30 mile stretch of rugged hiking through two wilderness areas, over several 6,000 foot peaks with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge, and all the splendor of Southern Appalachia. For its short length, the incredible diversity in ecology and geology make for an incredible, weekend-long adventure. Since the pandemic has caused a lot of people to delay their thru hiking plans for later, I figured I would showcase the beauty of some of the shorter options in my backyard!
Our trip started by meeting at the terminus at Davidson River Campground, located just outside of Brevard, NC and only a short drive to BBQ and ice-cream (an important thing to remember for that post hike meal!). We left one vehicle there and shuttled ourselves to Camp Daniel Boone, a Boyscout camp located on the other side of the Ridge and the start of our adventure. Our first days hike was just short of 11 miles, taking us up to the main ridge of the trail along a gentle path before arriving at the base of Cold Mountain (yes, THAT Cold Mountain) and heading through a tough stretch called The Narrows. This is one of my favorite sections of hiking, with its rocky terrain and steep ridge line. Chestnuts grow en masse along this remote stretch of the Shining Rock Wilderness, and after battling the terrain for a few hours we arrive at the highest stretch of the journey. We made our camp near the summit of Tenent Mountain.
We had hoped for good weather and a beautiful sunrise from our mountain-top camp, and we luckily escaped most of the rain on our first day out. The morning of day two, we woke up early to drink coffee and drink in the views as the sun started peeking up over the Eastern ridges and lighting up the valleys below. The humid and rainy weather we had been experiencing created a cloud inversion, filling the river valleys below with a dense layer of cloud. After enjoying our casual morning, we packed up and made our way along the ridge, over Black Balsam Knob (another 6,000 foot peak) and eventually down off the ridge and into the thick hardwood cove forests of the lower elevations.
I had forgotten how incredible hiking in Appalachia in August can be. Mushrooms of all kinds were popping up along the trail, and the vibrancy of the galax and laurel tunnels gave this day's hike a mysterious feel. After summiting Pilot Mountain at 5,000 feet, we continued down the ridge to our camp for the night at one of two shelters built along the trail and at the base of another interesting feature of this area, Cedar Rock.
Our last day down the trail included a few more lesser summits and more hardwood forest, the hot August air thickening around us as we descended to lower and lower elevations. Just as it felt like we wouldnt be able to take anymore of the heat, we arrived at the Davidson River and were rewarded with a bath in the cool mountain water.
It was a really amazing trip over three days with great company, amazing views, and so much diversity packed into a short 30 mile hike. It reinforced how lucky we are here in the Appalachian Mountains to have this playground right at our fingertips!
Photos and words by Francisco "Karate Kid" Miller.