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Best Spring Hikes in Asheville—A Local’s Perspective

How do we know it's springtime? From calendars? The inclination of the Earth? Hummingbirds and rabbits and the like have their instincts to guide them. But we humans must rely on our powers of observation.


Noticing when the flowers start to blossom, for instance. Or when it becomes warm enough to dine outside without misgivings. Me, I know its springtime when I start getting gentle reminders to “clear out your bookshelf” and “tear down the cobwebs in the garage.”


I don’t mean to sound bitter about this season. Indeed, springtime in Asheville is one of the best times of year to enjoy the outdoors. And with an average temperature hovering around seventy-degrees, refreshing rains, cool breezes—and not to mention the re-emergence of downtown’s Asheville City farmer’s market, my one-stop shop for picnic preparation—it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out why.


So, if you have the good fortune to visit the Blue Ridge this season, you better be ready to check out some of the best spring hikes in Asheville.

best spring hikes - wildflowers
Image from Wix

Just a hop, skip and a short drive from downtown, Craven Gap is the perfect introduction to hiking in the mountains. This section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (an ambitious work-in-progress, linking the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks) takes hikers through a leisurely stretch of lush forest, interspersed with creeks and wildflowers.


Venture as far down this trail as you like but note that it’s not a loop; at some point you’re going to have to double back. Most hikers make this choice after about two miles, at the intersection with Ox Creek Road, making for a respectable four miles roundtrip. If you just can’t get enough of that fresh spring air, instead tack on a detour to the ruins at Rattle Snake Lodge, reached by adjoining trails.


Either way, with this hike’s proximity to downtown, you can be there and back with plenty of time to spare to explore Asheville's finest boutiques and dining.


Distance from Downtown: Fifteen minutes.

best spring hikes - flower field
Image from Unsplash

Now let’s kick things up a notch. This spring hike lies miles up the Blue Ridge Parkway—Asheville's most scenic drive—and at its summit, offers soaring views of the mountains.


Take a turn down Black Balsam Road, about twenty minutes south of the idyllic high-altitude Pisgah Inn, and you'll find the trailhead at the terminus. From there, hikers cross a broad field of wildflowers—absolutely resplendent this time of year—and then ascend a series of switchbacks to Sam Knob’s rocky peak.


It’s about a two-and-a-half-mile roundtrip, with a final elevation of 6,000ft. Afterwards, I suggest some rest and relaxation—you'll need it.


Distance from Downtown: One hour.

best spring hikes - creek
Image from Wix

If there’s one thing that travelers want to know when it comes to hiking in Asheville, it’s got to be: “Where’s the waterfalls?”


A good question but complicated by the fact that they’re kind of all over the place. From Graveyard Fields to Dupont State Forest, just about every other hike out here boasts their own splendid cascade, if not more than one. As far as spring hikes in Asheville are concerned, however, I've settled on Schoolhouse Falls, a mid-range hike in the Nantahala National Forest, remarked upon for the beauty of its rugged terrain.


From the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead, follow the pink blazes for the Panthertown Valley Trail, join up with the Little Green Trail down the way, and after about 1.25 miles from your set-off, follow the sound of rushing water off a side-spur to reach these stunning falls. Rest on the shore of its placid, cool pool for as long as you like, before returning to the trailhead, for about a two-and-a-half-mile roundtrip.


Distance from Downtown: One and a half hours.

best spring hikes - marsh
Image from Unsplash

Few hikes around Asheville can rival the sheer verdancy of Pink Beds. As the weather grows warm, this shaded valley fills to the brim with wildflowers, hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. It’s practically the poster child for “spring outdoors.”


A remarkably flat hike for the mountains, a stroll through Pink Beds will take you through a rare highland bog ecosystem, bedecked with beaver dams, and boardwalks to keep your hikers from getting soaked.


It’s one of the lushest hikes I’ve ever been on, just teeming with all manner of flora and fauna. My sister found a shelf-fungus the size of my head, which currently resides in her apartment under a coat of lacquer. Your own foraging-mileage may vary, but you get the idea.


It’s a five-mile roundtrip. Quite the commitment, even for an experienced hiker, so there’s no shame in doubling back once you’re ready to return to the picnic area at the trailhead. Which, incidentally, makes for a perfect spot for lunch.


Distance from Downtown: One hour.

best spring hikes - rushing water
Image from Unsplash

Don’t let the name fool you. A bare-skinned bath in these fall’s icy waters is going to reduce you to a snow cone, even if the weather’s warming up. That said, Skinny Dip Falls is one of my favorite spring hikes in Asheville, if not for the wading, then just for the view.


Drive south on the Parkway until you reach mile marker 417, with parking at the Looking Glass Rock overlook. There’s also a blink-and-you'll-miss-it dirt shoulder just a minute before the overlook, in case parking at the overlook fills up.


Either way, Skinny Dip lies behind a bona-fide unmarked trailhead, so watch the locals carefully for where the trail starts. Once you pass by Skinny Dip’s iconic “dragon tree” (bent like its snarling namesake), you’ll know you’re on the right path.


After just about a half-mile hike, you’ll find the falls rolling over a series of boulders, descending downstream in a field of roots and scree. It’s all the mightiness of Mother Nature firsthand. A bit tricky to navigate, especially without getting your feet wet, but between the bubbling falls and the area’s general air of seclusion, Skinny Dip Falls is the perfect place to just sit back and relax.


Or wade into the water, I guess. If you really have your heart set on it.


Distance from Downtown: One hour.


Places Mentioned

Craven Gap

Asheville, NC 28805

Sam Knob Trailhead

Black Balsam Knob Rd, Canton, NC 28716

Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead

Hogback Spur A, Lake Toxaway, NC 28747

Pink Bed Picnic Area

(828)-877-3265

Pisgah Forest, NC 28801

Skinny Dip Falls Trailhead

(828)-348-3400

Blue Rdg Pkwy, Canton, NC 28716

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