2023 is the Year of the Trail in NC, and we’re extending our trail hiking experiences into March! We’re starting with a handful of varied trails that are good to enjoy in winter and early spring due to easy access. Please remember to always pack plenty of water and snacks, and to do some research before you set out on your hiking experience. Read along below, and see what we’ve been up to in March.
Broyhill Park boasts a gazebo, Mayview Lake, multiple seating spots, and a dock that is perfect for fishing. It is located directly behind downtown Blowing Rock. There is a paved loop around the park that allows for walking and leashed dogs. This is a local favorite spot for dog walking, and exercising. There are already some early Spring flowers poking out of the soil and hinting at lovely landscaping for the Spring and Summer months. Since this trail is paved, and mostly flat, it is easily accessed during any time of the year. Just be aware that slick or icy conditions may make the sidewalk slick as well and proceed with caution in those situations.
Trail Length: Just under half a mile
Trail Use: Walking, jogging, and leashed dogs ok
There are several ways to access it, the first is to park at the Blowing Rock Pool, 173 Lakeside Dr., and walk in, or you can access the stairs next to the American Legion building from Wallingford Dr. and they will take you down to the dock.
Blue Ridge Heritage Trail
Not all trails are hiking trails. The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area recognizes five Blowing Rock locations on their Blue Ridge Craft Trail. Experience Blowing Rock’s unique craft heritage by stopping in these locations.
We started at High Country Candles. They handmake all of their candles in store. Then we headed over to Mountain Thread Company. They sell high quality fabrics, threads, cotton rope and handmake many products in store as well. The next stop was Bolick & Traditions Pottery, and their pottery has been made in their family for six generations connected to the Owens family of Seagrove, NC. Then we continued down Main Street a little more and reached Blowing Rock Art & History Museum. Also known as BRAHM, entry is free and exhibits rotate so there is always something new to see! Last on the list was the Southern Highland Craft Guild at Moses Cone Memorial Park. They display art from hundreds of regional artists on the first floor of the mansion, and in the summer artists do live demonstrations on their patio. We were unable to visit on this trip since they had not opened yet. They open on April 14th!
The majority of this trail can be easily walked. Start on Main Street Blowing Rock at either end and you can see BRAHM, Bolick & Traditions Pottery, Mountain Thread Company, and High Country Candles. Then drive to Cone Memorial Park located off of milepost 294 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Appalachian Ski Mountain
This week we went snowboarding at Appalachian Ski Mountain. Ski slopes are just snowy trails and are a great way to enjoy the outdoors. It’s also a great way to learn a skill that you can use for the rest of your life! We were lucky enough to hit the slopes after a natural snow, and we could maneuver easily considering our beginner status. Being mid-March, it was pretty warm. Even when it’s cold snowboarding is a sweaty business, so make sure to stay hydrated. It was fun and freeing to glide down the slopes even if we took a few tumbles. However, we both saw improvement over the course of the day and felt confident in returning to practice our new skill.
Trail Length: Varies by Slope
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
Trail Use: Skiing and Snowboarding
Turn right off of US 321 onto Edmisten Road, and stay straight on it until you come to the parking gate at Appalachian Ski Mountain. Tickets must be reserved online, so reserving prior to your trip is highly recommended. You’ll only need your confirmation code to get in the gate on the day of your ski trip. It also makes everything else easier, like renting any clothing or gear. If you plan to rent a locker you will want to bring some cash. It’s $10 up front for a big locker and you get $5 back when you return your key.
Elk Knob State Park – Summit Trail
The summit of this trail is 5,520 ft making it one of the highest peaks in the Appalachians, and gives it nearly 360 degrees of gorgeous views. The views encompass recognizable peaks such as Grandfather Mountain, Beech Mountain, and even Mount Mitchell in the distance. Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurel species do not grow on this peak so there is little to no shrubbery to obstruct the view.
Elk Knob State Park is relatively new, and the trail was completed in 2011. The trail features unique rock paths, and is lined with mossy rocks in many places. It is a really rocky area and would be a great place for anyone interested in geology. Make sure to pack your hiking boots, and get ready to work up a sweat because this trail is strenuous in places. It took about 2 hours give or take to complete.
Trail Length: 1.9 miles one way (3.8 in and out)
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Surface: gravel with some natural terrain
Trail Use: No vehicles or bikes; leashed dogs ok
Blaze: Blue Diamond
Elk Knob State Park is 21.5 miles from Blowing Rock and about a 40 minute drive. The address for the park is 5564 Meat Camp Rd. and is located in Todd, NC. Once you arrive, park in the parking lot then access the Summit Trail by foot.
China Creek Trail
This trail is a hidden gem for those seeking a challenging yet rewarding hike. The trail quickly leaves civilization, descending deep into the gorge below Blowing Rock. The change in elevation is just over 1000 feet in about 2 miles, which means the return trip is a strenuous uphill climb! The trail passes through both Pisgah National Forest and National Park Service land, meandering into a wide expanse of hardwood forest and a few rhododendron thickets. Winter, spring, and fall are ideal times to enjoy this trail, as the track is very narrow with close-growing plants that would likely crowd the path in summer. On this early spring day, we saw lots of blooming bloodroot, yellow and purple violets, and star chickweed along the trail. There were also lots of long range views through the trees that wouldn’t be possible in summer.
Trail Length: 2 miles (4 total miles, out-and-back)
Surface: Single track dirt
Trail Use: No vehicles or bikes; leashed dogs ok
China Creek Trail is unmarked, but well defined to the intersection at the 2-mile mark. From there, one may continue to Thunderhole Falls into the gorge to the left, or head right to complete a loop up to the rest area on Highway 221. Some portions of the trail to the rest area are not as well defined, and one must walk along Highway 221 for a short distance to loop to the trailhead parking on Laurel Lane. So we opted to turn around and return the way we came, making this an out-and-back hike. Allow for a good 2 hours to do this steep hike.
The trailhead is located across from the Broyhill Equestrian Preserve at 1500 Laurel Lane in Blowing Rock. There are only two parking spaces at the trailhead, so carpool if you are hiking with others. Do not park at the Equestrian Preserve without permission. The trailhead is located in a neighborhood, so please be courteous to residents. The trailhead is well defined, but some recent clear cutting on the adjacent private property has obscured a portion of the trail at the start. Just head toward the treeline and you’ll see the trail continue behind the row of houses to your left.
For April, we’ll continue exploring some great spring trail options. State Parks and Mountains to Sea Trail make great spots to hike for this season! See more about Year of the Trail in Blowing Rock >>