Hike the Hidden Gems of Hickory Nut Gorge — Bearwallow Mountain

Last year, I headed up US Highway 74, passing Hickory Nut Gap Farms, and descended into the small town of Gerton to tackle the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s (CMLC) Trombatore Trail, which concludes in Blue Ridge Pastures (elevation 3780 feet). 

The pastures offer a panoramic view of Mt. Mitchell, Bearwallow Mountain, and Hickory Nut Gorge – a scene that I would argue is on par with the views of Max Patch and Little Hump Mountain (with much less foot traffic).

A mere 20-minute drive from downtown Asheville, I drove back the first weekend in June to explore Trombatore’s shorter sister trail up Bearwallow Mountain (aptly named the Bearwallow Mountain Trail). I was looking for a short hike with a view, and the two-mile trek fit the bill.

Located on the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge – opposite the Trombatore Trail – the woodland hike was flush with rhododendron tunnels, ending in a grassy meadow similar to that of Blue Ridge Pastures. During the summer, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon grazing cows along the way. The summit is marked by a historic fire lookout tower (closed to the public) and a collection of more modern communication and cellphone towers, at which point hikers can return the way they came, or continue on the gravel service road to complete the two-mile loop.

The first half of the trail offers a moderately challenging 537 foot climb over a mile of switchbacks, but with the short distance and the downhill return, Bearwallow Mountain is an attractive hike for most, including families with small children and those who hike with pets (keep in mind that there are cows grazing – surprisingly few to no bears – at the top when considering hiking with pets).

The Bearwallow Mountain Trail was completed by the CMLC in 2009, and is regularly maintained with the help of community volunteers and likeminded organizations. Created and protected through a conservation easement on the land which covers 81 acres of the area, it’s hoped that an additional 500 acres of land will be protected in the future and Bearwallow Mountain will become part of a much longer trail system connecting the Florence Preserve with the trail in Hickory Nut Gorge and Chimney Rock State Park.

Recently, the CMLC has also opened a third trail – The Little Bearwallow Mountain Trail – to hikers. The newly opened trail passes Little Bearwallow Falls and ends at Wildcat Rock – another panoramic gem in the Hickory Nut Gorge. The 3-mile trail is described as strenuous, gaining over 1200 feet over a 1.5-mile stretch utilizing log-and-rock stairs to climb to Wildcat Rock.

For those looking for a close, short hike with amazing views, Bearwallow Mountain is a “must hike” – driving from Asheville, the drive out and back and hike took less than three hours. The offering of two other trails –the Trombatore and Little Bearwallow Trail – add variety in difficulty, distance, and views for those that are looking to explore the area beyond Bearwallow Mountain.

Directions, trail information, and more details are available on the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy’s website at www.carolinamountain.org.

By Whitney Cooper