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Getting There Is Half The Fun: Must Do Hikes In Our National Parks

Must do hikes in our national parks

We live in one of the most photogenic regions of North America, probably the world. Photographers travel here to shoot from all over. They are born here, raised here, and fall in love with taking pictures here. They spend hours climbing thousands of feet in elevation to capture sunsets. They camp overnight to shoot sunrises. They traverse miles to photograph waterfalls in the summer and freeze their butts off to catch them frozen in winter.

Photographers spend more time hiking trails than your average person, so they’re bound to have their favorites.

Since this week is National Parks Week, I reached out to several photographers in our region for their must-do hikes at our local National Parks. From waterfalls to views, rock cliffs to airplane crashes, these hikes have something for everyone.


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Sean Fisher – @mr.bootstraps

One of my best recommendations would be Rough Ridge of the Blue Ridge Pkwy. The rock outcroppings up the short mile-long trail provide for some amazing sunrises and sunsets. The trail is just off the actual parkway and is one of the best showcases of the higher altitude alpine environments.



Melanie Miller – @rosieladyblue

Roan Mountain: Hike the AT (managed by the National Park Service) from Carvers Gap to Highway 19E, but before you start, wander south on the AT for a mile or so. Most people just head on up to the balds, but personally, my favorite section is that mile of trail south from Carvers Gap. When you walk into the forest, you’ll find moss-covered pines lining one of the most beautifully groomed sections of the AT. On a foggy day (which are frequent up here), I feel like I’ve entered the Pacific Northwest. Few people hike this section which makes it that much more magical. After I get my fill, I head on up to the balds. In my opinion, the balds shine the most when covered with a layer of rime ice or turned pink with blooming Rhododendron. The AT continues from here to the Overmountain Shelter which is a restored barn-turned shelter with outstanding mountain views. Stop here for lunch or spend the night before finishing back at 19E.



Connor Paton – @connorjpaton

One of the must-do hikes in one of our region’s National Parks is the Alum Cave Trail up to Mt LeConte. It is a 5.5-mile route from bottom to top, gaining roughly 2,700 feet in elevation. On route to the top, you will encounter the Alum Cave Bluffs, which are absolutely stunning year round. If you’re lucky, you will also see some Peregrine Falcons soaring around the bluffs. These birds are the fastest in the world and are an extraordinary sight for some lucky hikers. From the bluffs, you will continue upwards for 2.7 miles until you reach the LeConte Lodge and some of the best panoramic views the Smokies have to offer.



Kenton Steryous – @kenton_steryous

Blue Ridge Parkway, Va. – Humpback Rocks: Don’t let the short mileage fool you, it’s an incredibly steep hike, and you’ll be out of breath regardless of its short distance (one mile to the top). But the reward is worth it. Without a doubt, some of the best Blue Ridge views around, and even affords views of Shenandoah National Park to the North. If you stay for sunset, you’ll have just enough time to make it down before total darkness, but bring a headlamp just in case.



Logan Shropshier – @loganshrop

One of my favorite hikes to go on is the Appalachian trail on Roan Mountain. There is always something magical about hiking on the Appalachian Trail. This section of the AT contains the longest stretch of balds in the Appalachian Mountains. I enjoy this trail because you get a little bit of everything; a moss covered forest, vast grassy balds for miles and a 360-degree view of major peaks in the area at an elevation of 6,180ft.

Another must do hike for me is the plane crash at Browning Knob just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The hike is a short one but a nice gain in elevation. At the top of Browning Knob, the plane is down a trail on the backside. The wreckage is like a scene from Into the Wild. Most of the plane is still intact. It’s definitely a hiking destination unlike any other in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Black Mountain Crest Trail | Mount Mitchell State Park | Burnsville, NC | #ThrowbackThursday : : : Throwback to summer 2017 when @mountainsdaughter @overloadsadventures @krlitos85 and I hiked the legendary Black Mountain Crest Trail. The BMCT is widely considered the most challenging hike on the East coast and one of the premier trails in the country in the minds of many. Our 12 mile route began with over 3,000’ of elevation gain in the first 4 miles beginning at Bolens Creek, bagging several peaks over 6,000’ in a relentless succession of ascents and descents, all the while enjoying some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. It isn’t called The March of Death for nothing! : : : : #carolinatrekker #hike #hiking #blackmountains #blackmountaincresttrail #mtmitchell #northcarolina #mountains #adventure #pisgahnationalforest #blueridgeparkway #blueridgeNPS #nature #sunlight #wilderness #forest #trail #landscape #instagood #instapic #picoftheday #ncoutdoors #asskickers

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Roger Upton – @carolinatrekker

The Black Mountain Crest Trail (also known as the Deep Gap Trail) is my choice for a Must-Do hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trailhead is located inside Mt. Mitchell State Park which is accessed just off the BRP. This 12-mile hike is widely revered as the most challenging trek on the East Coast, and one of the premier hikes in the nation. It traverses the largest cluster of 6,000’ peaks east of the Mississippi. The vistas are breathtaking and the dense alpine spruce-fir forests provide Tolkienesque scenery throughout the jaunt.



Samantha Brooke – @samanthabrookephoto

Mount Pleasant is my “must-do” hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway; for a short ~5.5 mile (and from my experience, not crowded) hike, you are greeted with amazing views of the Blue Ridge (there’s an East and West summit). I’m almost always able to take a long lunch break and read at the top uninterrupted by others. There are also several campsites nearby if you want to do this at sunset and stay the night; Cole Mountain is another popular hike nearby with plenty of spots to camp near the parking lot. The fur babies enjoy it too!



Brandon Dewey – @blueridgeimagery

The Three Falls Hike in Shenandoah National Park will take you past three beautiful waterfalls all found within the Central District of the park: Lewis Spring Falls, Dark Hollow Falls, and Rose River Falls. The trail has some great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This 8.3-mile loop is an awesome hike during the spring when the waterfalls are rushing.



Justin Potter – @jpotterphoto

As much as I love the Linville Gorge, I think I would pick the Appalachian Trail section from Carvers Gap to Grassy Ridge. For me, it has everything I love in a hike. You have good elevation gains, a walk in the woods, a tunnel of Rhododendrons, and then the bald tops that give you unobstructed views of the N.C. and Tenn. mountains. With the top of Grassy Ridge at an elevation 6165′, You’ll find yourself getting lost in the mountains for as far as you can see. For me, I did this hike for the first time trying to catch a sunrise on a snow-filled January Morning. It was a tough, ice-filled adventure but made it all that much more worth it once I reached the top of Grassy. I can’t wait to go back this June and see the Rhododendrons bloom.



Joshua Moore – @jtm71

A must-do hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion. This hike will give you a real taste of the Smoky’s along with allowing you to catch one of the best views along the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains. Charlie’s Bunion is one of the must-sees to thru-hikers making their way to Maine. From Newfound Gap to Charlies Bunion it is 8.2 miles round trip. Bring plenty of water.



Hung Ta – @hungqta

I would highly recommend the Rough Ridge Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a moderate hike with an incredible view as a reward.



Tyler Denney – @tfranklind

Mt. LeConte – via the Alum Cave Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This trail may or may not be amongst some of the more popular trails (I’m really not sure), but it is truly one of my personal favorites in our region.

It is equipped with many features, like its unique landscape, historic landmarks, trail paths that will put you right on the edge of the mountainside, and massive panoramic views of neighboring peaks. Not to mention, the village at the top which offers several amenities for overnighters, as well as a snack for those just spending the day there.

At 6593 feet, this 11.0 mile, out and back mountain trail near Gatlinburg, TN. is one to always be remembered and cherished by me!



Matthew Seltzer – @zeppelinvanman

Crabtree Falls is one of my favorite hikes of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a nice solo hike or family hike because the trail isn’t too rough and it provides beautiful scenery at every turn. The way the water flows over a unique collection of rocks makes this one of the best waterfalls North Carolina has to offer.


Josh Patton – @pattonjosh

It may not be the most popular and largest park in the region but it has a close place to my heart. The 21mi Ridge Trail is the main trail that is so attractive. Taking it from one end to the other of the park you climb up to the KY/TN/VA border and are met with beautiful views the whole hike. Doing the whole trail end to end you have the option to stop by White Rocks Overlook, Sand Cave, Hensley Settlement, The Pinnacle Overlook and so much more. The hike will be between 21-25 miles depending on how many side trails and places you visit. Traffic in the park is very low and allows you to get the peaceful nights of camping that are sometimes hard to find along trails like the AT.

P.S. At the far end of the park where White Rocks Overlook and the Ewing Trail are found is the place I proposed to my now wife, Lois Jean.

Huge thanks to everyone who participated in this article, sharing with our readers, from your hearts, and through your lens. Happy National Parks Week everyone!

Justin Forrest is an outdoor writer, fly fishing addict, and co-founder of Narrative North—based in Asheville, N.C. He posts pictures of cats and fishing on Instagram sometimes.

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