Pisgah National Forest

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Pisgah National Forest Overview

Located in the heart of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, the Pisgah National Forest gives East Coasters plenty of reasons to stay put. As the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the forest's hazy peaks, it passes Mount Mitchell, the highest summit east of the Mississippi River. Further south you'll find Craggy Gardens, one of the best places in the world to see rhododendron in bloom. In the Pisgah you can hike through virgin forest, mountain-bike over endless single-path tracks, paddle world-class whitewater rapids, fly-fish, and climb. There's even skiing, though the forest's southerly location means summer lasts a looooong time.

Residents of the Pisgah do not typically trace their roots to Dixie. Instead, it is the mountains that define their cultural heritage. The region is the epicenter of the 300-year-old Appalachian folk arts and crafts tradition. Affluent tourists have also been coming here for over a hundred years to rest and recuperate in the fresh mountain air. The eclectic, nearby city of Asheville reflects the mingling of mountain and cosmopolitan culture that gives the Pisgah its distinct flavor. It also makes a great base camp for excursions into the high country.

Hike Linville Gorge
The soaring cliffs and steep terrain that kept farmers and lumberjacks at bay in the past attract scores of hikers to the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Virgin stands of hickory and poplar remain intact, and dense rhododendron thickets hide black bear and deer. From Babel Rock you can watch hawks soar over granite walls and towers. The Linville River that carved the gorge over millennia offers great fly-fishing when you reach the bottom. Federal regulations permit travel by foot and horse only in this protected area. Except for its network of unmarked trails, Linville Gorge is virtually untouched by the hand of human development.

More on hiking in Pisgah National Forest

Taste Nolichucky Whitewater
Nestled away in a spectacular gorge along the Tennessee border, the Nolichucky gets less traffic than other rivers in the region. But don't let that fool you. Unlike many of its southeastern cousins, where controlled-release schedules make river levels predictable, Nolichucky whitewater is all natural. You'll find the prime runs on the upper sections, starting in Poplar, North Carolina. Stretches of Class III and IV water extend some 30 miles into Tennessee, with enough drops, holes, and chutes to satisfy the most discriminating masochist. Farther down, the river quiets down to some Class II that's great for canoeing.

More on the Nolichucky River

Mountain Bike Sweet Singletrack
The North Carolina Outward Bound School doesn't lead its mountain-biking courses in the Pisgah for nothing. To be sure, the terrain offers enough variation and technical challenge to suit all abilities. Even better, you'll need all your navigational skills to avoid losing yourself on a seemingly endless trail network. North of Asheville, the rugged, remote Staire Creek route climbs and drops past waterfalls, streams, and a cave. To the southwest, the Black Mountain (aka Clawhammer) route attracts hardcore enthusiasts with a four-mile, 1,900-foot technical downhill.

Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
A winding two-lane highway climbs through the forest. Autumnal scarlets and flaming oranges blaze pass on either side. Suddenly the trees break; the road turns sharply, but the shocking beauty of the peaks stretching into the haze distracts you. At the last second, you realize only a small wooden rail stands between you and a thousand-foot drop into the valley below. You've just learned the cardinal lesson of the Blue Ridge Parkway: Like a siren, its beauty will seduce you, but to give in means only certain doom. In other words: It's hard, but keep your eyes on the road.

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