Must-do hikes before the cold strikes


Sophomore biology major Adrianna Castro sits on a cliff at the top of Rough Ridge. The hike at Rough Ridge is a favorite among several Appalachian State University students. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Lisle

Meredith Warfield

With most of the more touristy weekends of the year in rearview, there’s still time for a few weekend hikes before the colors on the trees settle to the forest floor and the cold takes over. Here are some of the keystone treks in the High Country, and as Ray’s Weather predicts sunny skies and warm temperatures this weekend, now is the time for adventure.

Rough Ridge

As a student at Appalachian State University, there are several treks in the region that are in essence, vital, before

Sophomore biology major Adrianna Castro sits on a cliff at the top of Rough Ridge. The hike at Rough Ridge is a favorite among several Appalachian State University students. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Lisle
Sophomore biology major Adrianna Castro sits on a cliff at the top of Rough Ridge. The hike at Rough Ridge is a favorite among several Appalachian State University students. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Lisle

graduation and critical to being a Mountaineer. Rough Ridge, near mile 302 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, tops that list. Nothing says ‘We’re App students’ more than a photo of some dorm buddies atop the overlooking peaks on Rough Ridge’s relatively mild trail. With blue-hued mountain range views extending into the horizon and a close up view of Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct, this 1.2 mile round trip encompasses it all. The high-traffic hike includes a shaded bridge, a standing platform near the halfway mark, and increasingly steep switchbacks towards the top, ensuring a variety of excitement achievable for any average person.

Rough Ridge could be considered both invigorating and quick enough to cure a Saturday hangover, as long as a water bottle is handy along the way. Plus, parents will love this little taste of the High Country when they come for a day visit. That’s two birds with one giant rock that will remain in your college memory for a lifetime.

The only qualms about this hike are having to wait your turn for that quintessential photo and the fact that you’ll have to leave your dog at home. The latter is a rule put in place for the greater good of the surrounding plant life, which Parkway visitors are encouraged to respect. Most make this trek more than once throughout their time studying at Appalachian, the accomplishment being a go-to for both the frequent hiker and the not-so-active student.

Grandfather Mountain from Profile Trail

Profile Trail may not be the Sunday drive of hikes, but the view from Calloway’s Peak after a 2,100 foot climb is a reward worth sweating for. Located off of Highway 105 near Foscoe, the trailhead parking lot can seem crowded on a sunny Saturday, but typically hikers end up decently spread out along the seven mile out-and-back trip. A camera is essential for the breathtaking features you’ll pass along the way, as well as for the moments you may need an excuse to take back your breath after a steep section.

The trail kicks off rolling through the woods over the Watauga River, the sound of passing cars on Highway 105 dissipating as the first mile marker grows near. Then, the true ascent begins. The scenery is ever changing throughout the hike with many chances to stop and marvel, from the rhododendron groves to Foscoe View, to the infamous profile view of Grandfather. An aesthetically arranged boulder pathway known as “Peregrine’s Flight” carries hikers through a series of switchbacks towards the last sure sign of water at Shanty Spring. From there, hikers must tackle the most difficult section, where the now rock-covered trail steepens and requires cautionary footwork.

After this segment it may be time for a break, but hold off on the picnic because the summit is not far. The remainder of the trail winds through Canadian firs to Calloway’s Peak, where a stunning panorama awaits at 5,946 feet.

Camping is allowed both halfway into the trail and at spots near the top for those prepared to make a night out of it. For day trippers, the hike takes an average of 3.5 hours. If you’re looking for a weekend accomplishment or if you’d like to get away from it all for the day, Profile Trail is the place to go.

Elk Knob

One of the newest installments to the North Carolina State Park System, Elk Knob State Park, is right in Appalachian’s backyard. The park is located in Meat Camp, and is currently still being finished, but the nicely constructed 1.9 mile Summit Trail makes for a moderate and fulfilling day hike. Completed in 2011, this trek is well-marked, climbing gradually to the top by twisting through a series of switchbacks.

Once at the top, hikers will find themselves among a grassy floor surrounded by northern hardwood and beech trees, drawing their own climate and wildlife to the summit. The two vista points give view of an entire family of distinct mountains in the region including Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Mount Jefferson and several peaks in Virginia.

Being that it is a new addition to the region’s hikes, there shouldn’t be a crazy amount of visitors just yet, but the Summit Trail will catch on soon. The roughly four-mile round trip won’t consume the entire day, perhaps making for a nice afternoon adventure.

Strawberry Hill

Looking to escape campus for a change of scenery but don’t have a car to reach any of the surrounding hikes in the region? Strawberry Path, also known as Strawberry Hill, makes for a lovely evening stroll, and at less than a mile from the outskirts of campus, is reachable by foot. The hill is located across from Horn in the West as part of Daniel Boone Park, and though it is rightfully named a hill rather than a mountain, the steep trek to the top will surely get the blood pumping.

A paved stone clearing at the summit provides a pleasing view of nearby mountains and parts of campus, making a great place to watch the sunset with that special someone. You may not be the only ones who have discovered this in-town gem, though. Weddings have occurred at the clearing in the past, and the park attracts all types of community members. After less than a mile hike to the top, more time on this adventure may be spent relaxing on a blanket or reading a book while listening to nearby wildlife.

Story: Meredith Warfield, A&E Editor