Upon officially resettling in North Carolina two weeks ago, one of the most important items on my “to do” list was to go on a hike with the friends who helped me move into my new apartment overlooking Asheville and the surrounding mountains. We ended up choosing two short hikes in different parts of Pisgah National Forest; it was my second visit to both.
The early part of the afternoon was spent exploring the Shope Creek section of the forest, a trail system in the Riceville area near Oteen. Old wide logging roads lead up and into a series of forested footpaths that traverse Shope Creek at various points. Many tall old growth trees shade the trails, despite logging in the not-so-distant past.
Getting across the creek makes for some tedious balancing acts when water is running high, as it was this day due to recent rains. My crossings reminded me of how you sometimes have to make decisions fast and intuitively to keep your balance when in the middle of transition.
Whether you decide to de-shoe and cross the creek barefooted, as one of us did, or keep your hikers on for better traction, which was my choice, you’re bound to come into direct contact with the cool water at some point. Three of us came out of the woods with damp shoes and socks.
In two visits to Shope Creek I’ve only seen one other hiker, so it’s a wonderful choice if you want to be out in nature without a crowd. This is a good place to hunt for morels, I am told. Birding is also great here, with many spring migrants flitting about, including fast-moving warblers high up in the dense canopy.
Finishing a loop slightly more than a mile long, we headed out of Riceville under impending rain clouds and headed for Barnardsville and the lower approach to Douglas Falls in the Big Ivy section of Pisgah.
Some hikers like to approach these falls from Craggy Pinnacle just below the Blue Ridge Parkway. But the way we love to go is via Dilligham Road, which turns into a gravel road, FR 74. Amid a few raindrops, we climbed slowly up the mountain in the Prius for nine miles of gorgeous scenic woods, passing a dozen small waterfalls along the way! On an earlier visit, we actually saw two Barred Owls along this nine-mile stretch.
By the time we got to the parking area, the sun was out and the trail only a little muddy in places from recent showers. Along the short hike into the 70-foot waterfall, we were surrounded by thick forest that includes large Eastern Hemlocks, dead due to the Wooly Adelgid. The trail is moderate in places, but mostly easy with no elevation gain unless you go beyond the lower falls.
The falls themselves were enchanting, relaxing, marvelous and rejuvenating. What a fantastic reward for our long drive and short hike! We all just wanted to stay and bask in the sights, sounds and smells of this picturesque wooded scene.
Returning to both these favored hiking areas of Pisgah gave me a feeling of coming home. Going to the woods, I am making North Carolina mine, and loving it.
Distance traveled: less than 3 miles
Difficulty: easy to moderate in places
Flora of note: Hemlock, Pine, Rhododendron, Trillium, Violets, Fiddleheads
Guest photographers: Joseph Lamirand and Nate Miller