After the temperature drops, humidity lifts, and crowds have gone home, the woods and waters of the Blue Ridge reveal their secrets. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors after the golden hour so you can experience its enigmatic magic of night adventure for yourself.
John Rock / Cedar Rock Falls Loop
This hike’s concentrated combination of outstanding views, falls, and campsites is unparalleled. In a mere six miles, you can wind through Pisgah National Forest’s staggering vistas, lush forests, and beautiful, accessible cascades. From the start of the trail, John Rock beckons in the distance. It’s no wonder this trail is a popular destination during the day, but at night, you just might have it to yourself.
Parking is available at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. The beginning of the trail winds along the Davidson River and you’re rewarded with stunning views after less than three miles. After some stargazing, you can make this a brief out-and-back, but with campsites dotting the entire loop, you’d be remiss to turn back so soon. Plus, Cedar Rock Falls awaits you near the end.
Fall Branch Falls
This half-mile stretch of the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) offers one of the closest waterfalls to Blue Ridge, Georgia, but you’ll feel far away from civilization if you wait out the daytime rush. While mountain laurel and rhododendron cover the creek bank and line this uphill trail’s edge, the true treasure awaits hikers at the end of this short out-and-back. Not one, but two falls stand in perfect view from an observation deck only feet from their base, urging you to get close enough for a refreshing mist.
Located a few miles off Old Highway 76 down Aska Road then Stanley Creek Road, the “Fall Branch Falls” trailhead sign directs you to follow the white-diamond markers of the BMT.
Moore Cove Falls Trail
A short trip from Asheville, this well-marked scenic path also leads to falls, but few others treat you with such an up-close and personal view. After a leisurely hike of less than half a mile through verdant, fern-studded hardwood forest, visitors are treated with a misty cascade plunging over ancient rock strata. The trail itself is virtually obstacle-free; a well-maintained path and numerous bridges make this short out-and-back accessible both as a solo twilight jog or a fun outing with the kids.
From the Pisgah National Forest entrance on US 276 W, parking is available just before crossing Looking Glass Creek.
This 600-acre snaking lake is fed by the Tallulah River to the west and Chattooga River to the east and straddles the Georgia-South Carolina border, offering interesting sights on either side. A short distance in either direction of the South Carolina boat ramp, you can enjoy looming cliffs and shady forest overhangs without worrying about motorists; Lake Tugalo boat traffic is limited by a 25-hp maximum outboard motor restriction. These calm waters make for the perfect relaxing, sunset trip for novice and seasoned paddlers alike. Fishing is allowed, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ “best bets” are largemouth bass, walleye, redbreast sunfish, and bluegill. Check their website for details and regulations.
Visitors from the Georgia side can access the lake through Tallulah Gorge State Park while the South Carolina boat ramp is found off Battle Creek Road.
Virginia Creeper Trail
This well-known 34-mile trail attracts both serious and Sunday cyclists for good reason, and its railbed gravel has seen countless tires since the train days. Numerous access points and various amenities have sprouted up over the years, and the scenery ranges from lush mountain gorges, creek crossings, and expansive farmland to historic cabooses and surviving train stations.
The 17-mile Whitetop-Damascus section comprises about half the entire trail, is generally wide, and is almost wholly downhill, making segments of it easily navigable, even by sunset pastels or rising moonlight.
Don’t want to go it alone?
Check your favorite destinations and local outfitters for guided hikes, rides, and paddles. For example, Shenandoah National Park offers summer twilight hikes and the Night Sky Festival each year, offering presentations by astronomers and opportunities to stargaze from atop some of the park’s most awe-inspiring overlooks. Great Smoky Mountains National Park also offers the best views of the night sky in the area, and it also has synchronous fireflies in the summer months. The park’s vastness, high peaks and numerous scenic vistas offer visitors a unique opportunity to observe the landscape above unencumbered by artificial light.