“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” – John Muir
Winter is such a lovely time to take a hike in these hills. There is nothing like a crisp, clear winter’s day with a thermos full of hot chocolate in my pack. The sky is incredibly blue and the hills turn a deep azure blue, mauve and purple color that is unique to this season of the year.
The forest is so open as all of the vegetation has fallen back. It is easy to walk without a trail. You can just wander around in the forest and enjoy the quiet.
We often get periods of 60 to 70-degree weather in the winter. These days are such gifts and they call us out of doors with short-sleeved shirts and grinning faces. We often see wildlife such as deer, wild turkey, fox, coyote and even an occasional elk on our hikes.
The AT is a great place to hike in the winter as there are fewer hikers this time of year. It is possible to walk a great distance and encounter no one. And, yet, it is a spectacular time to hike because of the views. The AT runs along the ridges here on the border between NC and TN. In fact, at the point where our trail meets the AT, you can stand with one foot in each state.
You can also access the AT along several points in Hot Springs. The pictures from this post were taken along the AT on the access point off of 25/70 just the other side of Hot Springs. You simply go through Hot Springs and as you are coming up the mountain on the way toward Marshall, you turn left after you go under the underpass. There is a parking place at the gated road that crosses back over 25/70. If the gate is open and you prefer, you can drive up to Mill Ridge from here and access the AT up at the top. But, we like hiking north up over Rich Mountain. The sun warms that side of the mountain in the afternoon and makes for a nice hike. This day we were fortunate enough to witness the almost full moon rising as the sun was setting.
What it the world is a Pluton?
Plutons are magical places in our ancient hills. They are like huge rock bubbles that you can climb up to get some of the most spectacular views in the Blue Ridge. The above picture is a view from John’s Rock overlooking another pluton, called Looking Glass Rock. On this hike, Tom and I got to witness 2 beautiful bald eagles flying below us and fishing on the river.
This is a day trip from our cabins. We actually left about 10 am and stopped in Waynesville, NC to grab some lunch at our favorite burger joint, the Church Street Depot, then off to the Shining Rock Wilderness area on Hwy 276. This takes you past the Cradle of Forestry, Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls to name just a few places along the way. So, leave earlier if you want to visit these along the way, then you will have the whole day to enjoy this area. There is much to see. The trailhead to both the plutons is just past Looking Glass Falls on forest service road 475 C which will be on your right. Looking Glass Rock trail is on the right and then John Rock is on the left at the Pisgah Wildlife Center and Fish Hatchery.
The Best Views in the Blue Ridge are from the Top
We love the plutons. There are two that you can climb. Although it is a bit of a challenge and fairly steep in places, both trails are worth the climb. These pictures are from our hike along the loop trail at John’s Rock.
Make sure you check the map at the kiosk at the trailhead so that you note the proper turns. The trail is well marked with signs. The loop is explained in the link above. It will take you by Cedar Rock Falls which is a beautiful spot to take a break, or a swim if it is warm enough.
Looking Glass Rock: A Vertical Challenge
Looking Glass Rock trail is more challenging, longer and steeper than the John Rock trail. It is a spectacular climb for those who like to climb. Therefore, this trail can be challenging and rocky in place. Also, one must navigate some pretty rough and washed out places on the trail. However, the views are definitely worth the effort.
In addition, this is a coveted place for rock climbers. Also, it is a rare nesting place for peregrine falcons. If you are lucky you will see them dive. They are spectacular.
Mornings on Max are nothing short of a miracle. This morning we shuttled some of our guests up for a hike down to the cabins. This is a wonderful 9-mile hike down from 4629 feet to about 2900 feet of elevation at the cabins.
Tom and I took the opportunity to walk over the “roof of our world” here in Spring Creek. Max Patch is the highest point in our area and it never disappoints us.
On this fine morning. we were witness to a brand new baby elk being born. When I captured her on camera, the distance and glare made it difficult to notice the baby. I was very curious as to why she was alone, grazing in an open field. The bulls are often alone, but most of the time the females are in herds.
We hope you enjoy this video which we entitled the Magic Morning on Max Patch.
For several years now, the National Park Service has been working to re-establish the elk in the Appalachian region. This beautiful doe probably wandered over from the Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Or, perhaps she split off from the two herds that are pretty well established in the Harmon Den area just below Max Patch on the drive over to I-40.