We were now deep into our 2022 family reunion in Asheville, North Carolina. Today’s activity was a tour (with lunch and wine) of George Vanderbilt’s absolutely huge Biltmore Estate. Everyone was going but I was conflicted.
As interesting as it might be to wander around some dead rich guy’s manse (and drink wine) with the family, doing so paled in comparison to an invigorating hike in the woods. And it was such a very nice day for a hike. So I cashed in an eccentric relative token and went for a solo hike rather than slurp wine among the remnants of the Gilded Age. Sacrifices must be made… 😉
To simplify my driving, I picked the Wildcat Rock Trail – whose trailhead is the same as that for the Florence Nature Preserve which we’d recently visited. This trail promised a waterfall, views from a rock outcrop, a picturesque ridgeline meadow, and an even bigger meadow on the summit of Bearwallow Mountain.
Stewarded by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, this trail, although steep and rocky in places, gave me a clear and obvious path to the summit of Bearwallow. It had only been completed to the top in November 2020 and was still in prime condition.
The falls are a popular (short hike) destination on this trail and also serve as a rock climbing area in summer and an ice climbing one in winter. Today the falls were essentially dry. A brief rain the night before had wet the rock but wasn’t enough to power a waterfall. The trail steepens considerably past the falls, heaving itself up a seemingly endless series of awkwardly sized stone stairs. A great place to reveal knee problems. 🥺
About a half mile from the falls, I reached the clearly marked side trail to the overlook on Wildcat Rock. There is also a side trail to Little Bearwallow Mountain shown on the map but I saw no sign for it and must have just walked right past it.
The trail’s gradient eased a lot after the overlook and it was somewhat of a cruise to the meadow on the saddle between Little Bearwallow and Bearwallow. Here the (sort of) wildlife consisted of several large cows enjoying a sit and a chew in the warm sunshine. Once past the cows, it was easy walking to the top of Bearwallow.
I burst out of the confines of the forest on to a wide, mountain top meadow dotted with people, their dogs, and someone else’s cows. It was like turning on the light in a dark room and suddenly finding that you’re not alone. But the views to be had to the west and north more than compensated for all those stone stairs. 😊
I had a sit and a snack while enjoying the view from the summit. There were a fair number of people on the meadow – they apparently walked up a service road from a trailhead about a mile away. My trailhead was farther away and there were all those stone stairs to consider, so no dawdling on the summit. But, surprisingly, those stairs didn’t prove to be as much trouble as I’d anticipated. My knees survived the descent intact. I’d met no one on the way up but passed more than a dozen other hikers on the way down. So an area popular with late starters.
This hike was the big one for this reunion – 7.9 miles (12.8 km) round-trip with 1,850 feet (524 m) of gain. Challenging, but fun, with a huge view payoff at the top. 😁 But those steep stone stairs…sigh. 😟 I got back a good two hours ahead of everyone else – apparently all that touring and wine tasting was more “demanding” than expected. But I wouldn’t have missed this hike on a beautiful, colorful Fall day for a tour – no matter how much wine was involved. 😉😁
Good choice on activities! While Biltmore is fun, fall in the mountains is hard to turn down. Everything is dry around here. Water flow in the Smokies is down and the usually impressive waterfalls we have visited on the Cumberland Plateau are dry.