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.

Hickory Creek, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Approaching Hickory Creek
Hickory Creek, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Hickory Creek
On toward Little Bearwallow Falls
It was a cool but sunny 😎 day
Little Bearwallow Falls, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Little Bearwallow Falls

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. 🥺

Stone stairs, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Stone stairs
The trail hugs an outcrop

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.

More stone stairs led to the overlook
View from the Wildcat Rock Overlook Falls, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
The view northwest from the overlook
View from the Wildcat Rock Overlook Falls, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Looking eastward from the overlook

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.

Continuing on
A leaf generates diffraction patterns
The saddle below Bearwallow Mountain, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
The meadow on the saddle east of Bearwallow Mountain
Looking toward Little Bearwallow Mountain, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Looking back along the trail with Little Bearwallow Mountain on the right
Continuing on to the summit
Trail marker
One last set of stone stairs

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. 😊

View from the top of Bearwallow Mountain, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Looking west from atop Bearwallow
View from the top of Bearwallow Mountain, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
People on the summit
View from the top of Bearwallow Mountain, Wildcat Rock Trail, North Carolina
Looking north from Bearwallow – Asheville is on the left

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.

Down the leaf-covered trail
Shades of yellow in the Fall forest
Hickory Creek

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. 😉😁

My route to and from Bearwallow Mountain (“O” is the Wildcat Rock Overlook)
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