Guide to the Western North Carolina Road Trip:
BRING: Fly rod, mountain bike, water shoes
HIGHLIGHT: Staring into the Smokies from Hemphill Bald
SOUVENIR: Trout caviar from Sunburst Trout Company
Get an early start to give yourself time to tackle the nine-mile out and back to the summit of Hemphill Bald, a 5,540-foot high grassy bald that’s still grazed by cattle, on the eastern rim of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Pick up the trail off of Heintooga Road at Polls Gap, and savor the views of the Cataloochee Valley from this remote knob. Retrace your steps, then head into downtown Waynesville, a small gateway town that’s experienced a food renaissance in recent years. Grab a plate of perfectly crispy, locally sourced fried chicken ($13) at Sweet Onion, just off Main Street. You have your choice of breweries after dinner. We like the vibe at Frog Level Brewing, which has a small grassy lawn that backs up to a creek. Get their Lily’s Cream Boy.
Pitch a tent 14 miles southeast of Waynesville at Sunburst Campground ($13) inside Pisgah National Forest off NC 215.
In the morning, head to the Blue Ridge Parkway, driving north to milepost 420, where you can pick up Flat Laurel Creek Trail. The small streams that drop off the Parkway above 5,000 feet are home to some of the feistiest wild trout in the state. In Flat Laurel Creek, you’ll find brookies waiting in deep pools. From the trailhead, hike a mile down the trail until you cross the creek, then fish your way back upstream. Even if you’re not an angler, you can spend a day boulder-hopping and swimming in the river’s deep plunge pools.
Kiss the trout goodbye in the afternoon and take NC 215 into Brevard for a mini brewery tour that includes a Bohemian Pilsner at the small, but worthy Brevard Brewing and the 5pm tour and tasting at Oskar Blues.
Finish the night with a London broil sandwich ($10) at hip and local Square Root.
Bed down riverside at the Davidson River Campground, ($20 a site) just a couple of miles outside of downtown Brevard.
Pack up camp and head east to Dupont State Forest with your mountain bike, where the 80-mile trail system just gets better and better thanks to local volunteers and trail building pros. Park at Corn Mill Shoals parking area and knock out a quick loop that climbs the 3,074-foot granite dome of Cedar Rock via Corn Mill Shoals, Little River and Cedar Rock Trails, then bombs down the granite face of the mountain on Big Rock Trail, arguably the best downhill in the forest thanks to copious amounts of slickrock surface and rock drops on the descent. Tack on Micajah Trail for swoopy, purpose-built singletrack before calling it a day.