Wildflowers, Waterfalls & Wildlife: Spring Hiking in the Appalachians

Crabtree Falls

The weather isn’t lying: Spring is really here. With the abundance of mountain rainfall over the past few weeks, Western North Carolina’s mountains are blooming in emerald green and wildflowers. The time has already changed, bringing with it another hour of sun light and plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the wildflowers, waterfalls, and wildlife that await on the trails this time of year.

Some of the area’s higher-elevation hikes may be a bit cooler, but all trails in low-lying areas are now open and accessible. So, whether you’re looking for a knee-kissing climb, an short trek to a waterfall, or a panoramic view of the Southern Appalachians, here’s where to go—and what to know—for the best spring hikes in Asheville.

1.) Lower Douglas Falls (1 mile round-trip) Just 33 miles from downtown Asheville in the Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest, this 70-foot waterfall near Asheville cascades across an overhanging cliff surrounded by old growth forest and allows for visitors to walk behind the ribbon falls or play underneath. The water flow is usually on the low side (except after a big rain), it’s an easy, family-friendly hike. (For more experienced hikers who are looking for a challenge, the Douglas Falls Trail continues on 3.6 miles past the falls up a steep and rocky slope to the Craggy Visitor’s Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway – approximately 8.3 miles roundtrip).

To Get There:

From Asheville, take US 19-23 north/Future I-26 West to Exit 15 for Jupiter/Barnardsville (NC 197). Turn right toward Barnardsville and follow NC 197 (2-lane highway) about 6 miles to the town of Barnardsville. Turn right onto Dillingham Road just past the fire station. From that junction, it’s about 6 miles to the National Forest – stay on Dillingham Road the entire way; the road will eventually turn into gravel FS 74 with a National Forest sign for Big Ivy just beyond. Follow this gravel road for 8.7 miles (a winding scenic drive through the forest with 10 roadside cascades along the way, including Walker Falls) until it dead ends in the parking lot. The trail starts at far end of the lot as you drive in.

2.) Sam Knob (2.2 mile round-trip) Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shining Rock Wilderness (home to nearby popular hiking trails to Black Balsam and Graveyard Fields), Sam Knob is a surprisingly easy trail that leads through a flat meadow (replete with wildflowers), and then wraps around the mountain to its grassy, partly bald summit. Known as one of the finest short hikes and easiest true “summit” trails in the area, the trail is good for hikers of all ages and abilities and offers visitors the chance to hike include other trails should they want to add extra mileage to their day. (Again, hiker’s looking for extra distance, upon the descent from the Knob, take the Flat Laurel Creek Trail at the base of the mountain – heading right instead of straight back to the parking lot. This will add 2.5 miles to the trip, and take hikers past a small waterfall and back up an old logging road to connect back to the parking lot).

To Get There:

From Asheville, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway south for 26.5 miles past the NC 191 Parkway access. Turn right on FR 816 (Black Balsam Road) just past milepost 420; a sign reads “Black Balsam”. Follow this road to the end at the parking area. Please review the kiosk in the parking lot to make sure you take the correct trail – Sam Knob begins near the restrooms in the parking lot, whereas the other trail (starting by a metal gate) will take hikers into the Black Balsam area.

3.) Crabtree Falls (3 miles round-trip) Crabtree Falls is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Crabtree Falls offers a wooded hike, marked with an abundance of wildflowers in the Spring, and two options for a hike: an easy 3-mile hike out- and- back on the same trail, with a steady descent and return climb; or a more strenuous 3.5-mile loop trail that climbs a ridge above the falls. The trail is rated as moderate, and ends at the base of the 60 foot waterfall. The wet rocks at the base are slippery and hikers are advised against climbing on the rocks.

To Get There:

The Crabtree Falls parking area is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 339.5, near Little Switzerland (about 16 miles north of Mt. Mitchell). From Asheville, drive the Parkway 42 miles north, and park in the picnic area at mile marker 339.7.

By Whitney Cooper