Five-Star Trails: Asheville, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Menasha Ridge Press

The Best Secluded Hikes Around Asheville

The secret’s been out for a long time now—Asheville is one of the coolest towns in the country. And if you’re only including towns east of the Mississippi, it’s probably the coolest town.

Which also means this small slice of heaven nestled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains is overflowing with weekend travelers wanting to soak in the culture, drink at the breweries, and hike on the trails.

However, there are still a few relatively secret spots around Asheville where you can explore the trails without feeling too claustrophobic. Here’s where we recommend you go.

Hawkbill Rock

Distance & Configuration: 2.8-mile out-and-back

Hiking Time: 2 hours

Highlights: Outstanding views from Hawkbill Rock

Elevation: 4,917′ at trailhead, 5,374′ on top of Snowball Mountain

This trail starts near the entrance of the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area and follows the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) briefly before veering north on the Snowball Mountain Trail. There is a short but difficult climb to the top of Snowball Mountain, followed by a moderate descent down the peak’s narrow ridge. The highlight of the hike is the dramatic view from Hawkbill Rock. However, you must first overcome a challenging but enjoyable rock scramble in order to access the scenic outcrop.

Hickey Fork Loop

Distance & Configuration: 7-mile loop

Hiking Time: 4–5 hours

Highlights: Waterfalls, solitude

Elevation: 2,220′ at trailhead, 4,060′ at highest point

Solitude lovers will enjoy this stimulating circuit. Set in the Shelton Laurel Backcountry of the Pisgah National Forest, this hike takes you on lesser-used trails through the Hickey Fork watershed. First, ascend West Prong Hickey Fork, passing two significant waterfalls, as well as many lesser cascades, before rising to Seng Gap. Continue toward the North Carolina–Tennessee crest before breaking off, descending toward East Prong Hickey Fork. Reach a remote forest road and make an easy walk back to the trailhead. Winter views add to the trek.

The loop has scenic waterfalls and solitude, and it will test hikers due to its lesser-used state, which means a sometimes-faint trailbed, trailside brush, and sporadic blown-down trees. However, the physical beauty more than makes up for the imperfect character of the trail.

Lake Julia

Distance & Configuration: 10-mile balloon

Hiking Time: 5 hours

Highlights: Fording Little River and great views of Lake Julia

Elevation: 2,708′ at trailhead, 3,051′ on top of Mine Mountain

This route travels through the remote southern portion of DuPont State Forest, and the ford across the Little River limits foot traffic in this area of the forest. When the leaves are off the trees, the ensuing climb of Laurel Ridge and Mine Mountain will reveal views of Pisgah National Forest to the north. The hike then wanders along the banks of Reasonover Creek to reach the shore of beautiful Lake Julia before returning to the trailhead through a hardwood forest.

This hike includes a river crossing, which must be forded at the beginning and end of the hike. The route should not be attempted by those uncomfortable in water or unable to swim. In normal conditions the water depth will not exceed 1.5 feet, but water levels and current can vary dramatically based on rainfall. River shoes with good traction are recommended, as the rocks are very slick.

Turkey Pen Loop

Distance & Configuration: 4.6-mile loop

Hiking Time: 2.5 hours

Highlights: South Mills River

Elevation: 2,378′ at the river, 2,780′ at Mullinax Trail intersection

Turkey Pen is a hidden hiking gem in Pisgah National Forest. Tucked between North Mills River Recreation Area and Brevard, the area is one of the most popular horseback riding destinations in Pisgah. The rough road leading to the trailhead and the river fords, even the one via the suspension bridge, sometimes discourage hikers and mountain bikers from exploring the terrain. But if you have good clearance on your car and don’t mind getting your feet wet, Turkey Pen Loop offers a great place to seek solitude and adventure.

This hike will take you through the heart of Turkey Pen in Pisgah National Forest. The route begins by contouring the banks of the South Fork Mills River. After 1.2 miles you will be faced with a chilly, adventurous, adult knee–level river ford. Continuing on with wet feet, you will travel on rolling terrain through a peaceful hardwood forest. Near the end of the hike, the trail will descend to the South Fork Mills River, and you will need to cross the rushing water once again. This time, however, a suspension bridge spares you another river ford; by the time you return to the trailhead, you will have a smile on your face, lots of pictures on your phone, and maybe even dry feet!

Grab a copy of the new edition of Five-Star Trails: Asheville by Jennifer Pharr Davis for more of the best hikes around this North Carolina destination.

Tanya Twerdowsky
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