Fall hiking with Artie, Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads, and The Best Hikes of Pisgah National Forest

As the summer heat subsides and autumn’s leaves change to fiery red and warm gold, it’s harder and harder to stay in the office. So last week Blair’s order and customer service guru Artie Sparrow took a quick detour to the N.C. mountains–with the help of Carolyn Sakowski’s Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads and Goldsmith, Hamrick & Hamrick’s The Best Hikes of Pisgah National Forest. If you get the hiking itch, Artie has some suggestions for you.

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The leaves were turning and my mind was drifting west to the North Carolina mountains for their spectacular fall foliage. I checked with my boss, first to confirm that I had some vacation time left, but more importantly, to ask for suggestions on where to go. Sometimes it’s quite convenient working for Carolyn Sakowski, the author of Touring the Western North Carolina Backroads.

I told her that I wanted to do a few miles of hiking in the Linville Gorge area, and Carolyn suggested the Table Rock Tour from her book. I decided to try it when I read that Table Rock was the inspiration for the mountain in Jules Verne’s Master of the World.

I set off early on a Wednesday, joined by my dog Tigger, who always enjoys a walk in the woods. The tour starts at N.C. 181, just north of Morganton. It’s a road you’d expect to see on an episode of Top Gear: scenic, uncrowded, and curvy; a perfect place to test the capabilities of a high-performance car. My Scion isn’t high performance and in general I hate driving, but I wouldn’t mind it so much if more roads were like N.C. 181.

Our first stop was Hawksbill Mountain. We added some bonus material to the hike by missing the turnoff to the summit. After an hour or so of huffing and puffing we made it to the top, and were treated to spectacular views that were well worth the effort. (Even though I suspect Carolyn suggested that hike as a way of encouraging me to quit smoking).

After Hawksbill we took a slight detour to hike the Spence Ridge Trail at Linville Gorge. I used Blair’s Best Hikes of Pisgah National Forest for that. It’s a book I picked up a decade ago after getting lost on the Max Patch trail. It came in handy when I was trying to decide when to turn around. With the trail description I was able to figure out how close I was to the river at the bottom of the gorge.

Spence Ridge Waterfall

Some call Linville Gorge the Grand Canyon of the East. It’s not, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Canyon is much bigger. It takes 11 hours or more to hike from the rim to the bottom and back. The Park Service strongly discourages people from attempting that in one day. You can do the same thing at the Gorge in a couple of hours. The similarity is that both are marvels of nature, places where you can recharge your spirit and just soak up what a majestic and wonderful world we live in. The bottom of the Gorge is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and Tigger enjoyed a refreshing dip in the pool of water.

We made it out of the Gorge just before sundown. (Just like the Grand Canyon, getting out of the Gorge is much more difficult than going down in it.). We decided to leave the mysteries of Table Rock for another trip. All in all it couldn’t have been a better day. Thanks Carolyn.

The mountain on the left is Table Rock, known as Great Eyrie in Verne’s Master of the World.

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