Thousands of hikers invade the Appalachians while the weather is warm. They're eager to buck the daily grind – not to mention the heat and haze – by tackling trails that cross rivers, pass refreshing waterfalls and often lead to breathtaking vistas shrouded in mist. These escapes are cool, literally.
Over six decades, Allen de Hart, a professor emeritus of history and cultural affairs at North Carolina's Louisburg College, has hiked many of the trails in the Southeast, and he has written books and guides on hiking in the Carolinas, West Virginia, Virginia, Georgia and Florida. Inside are his top picks for two-day hikes.
Allen de Hart, professor emeritus of history and cultural affairs at North Carolina's Louisburg College, has hiked many of the trails in the Southeast and has written books on hiking in the Carolinas. Here are his top picks for two-day hikes:
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First day: The West Fork Rail Trail, created about 20 years ago from an abandoned CSX line, is a moderate hike (or bicycle ride or cross-country ski jaunt) of about 25 miles that partly runs parallel to the West Fork of the Greenbrier River. De Hart recommends the trail because it offers spectacular scenery by traversing forests, pastureland, rock slopes and wildlife areas, including beaver ponds. The West Fork Rail Trail and the 300-mile Allegheny Trail pass through the town of Durbin, which is on U.S. 250, less than 10 miles from the Virginia line. Within a few miles of Durbin, the hike's southern terminus, is a stretch that has fishing pools, wildflower meadows and rock formations.
Second day: The High Falls Trail is a 2.9-mile hike that ascends Shavers Mountain. The trail leads hikers to panoramic waterfalls that de Hart, who wrote the “Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide” with Bruce Sundquist, considers to be among the most outstanding in the state. The trail starts on relatively flat fields but becomes steeper and rockier. The descent is gradual, then leads to an old logging road, and a trail ventures through a forest of cherry and birch trees before descending to the falls.
Where to stay: The Hermitage Inn (304-456-4808; www.hermitagemo tel.com), on the Greenbrier River's banks, is in Bartow, two miles east of Durbin at U.S. 250 and W.Va. 92. Rates are $69-$89. The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad (304-636-9477; http://mountainrail.meer.net) runs a passenger rail route along the river.
Details: www.destinationdurbin .com.
First day: Between Roanoke and Lynchburg, the Peaks of Otter – Flat Top, Sharp Top and Harkening Hill (sorry, no otters) – form a triangle, with a lake and a visitor center in the middle at the Blue Ridge Parkway. The peaks offer a network of 15 miles of trails that have magnificent scenery and a wide variety of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. De Hart recommends a 6.1-mile hike of moderate difficulty that includes the Fallingwater Cascades, Flat Top and Cross Rock trails.
Second day: Suggested is a hike of 10.7 miles that combines the Sharp Top, Elk Run, Harkening Hill and Johnson Farm Loop trails. The Sharp Top Trail, a three-mile round trip, is the region's most popular trail peak. The trek is strenuous (and shuttle buses are offered), but those who make it to the top are treated to views of Bedford, Va., and the Piedmont to the east, the Shenandoah Valley to the south and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north and south. Buzzards Roost, on a half-mile spur trail off Sharp Top, also offers picturesque views. Not surprisingly, a restored farmhouse, with a barn and garden, is the highlight of the Johnson Farm Loop Trail.
Where to stay: The Peaks of Otter Lodge (800-542-5927; www.peaks ofotter.com) is in Bedford, at Milepost 86 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The lodge has 60 rooms and overlooks Abbott Lake. Deluxe double rooms are available for $109-$120 a night. A $26.99 Friday night seafood buffet (with frogs' legs) and a $15.99 Sunday country buffet (with Southern fried chicken) are offered at the lodge's Lake View Restaurant.
Details: www.nps.gov/archive/blri/ peaks.htm.
N.C. and Tennessee
First day: According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Boulevard Trail got its name because the rocky area, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, looked nothing like a boulevard before the trail was built. De Hart, who wrote “North Carolina Hiking Trails” for the Appalachian Mountain Club, recommends entering the Appalachian Trail from the Newfound Gap parking area, hiking north on the trail for 2.7 miles, then turning left on the Boulevard Trail, which crosses the Tennessee border. The five-mile trail leads first to Mount Kephart, to an overlook called the Jump-Off, then to Mount Le Conte, elevation 6,593 feet.
Second day: Charlie's Bunion is about a one-mile trek north on the Appalachian Trail from the junction of the Boulevard Trail. Horace Kephart thought the peak looked like a bunion on Charlie Conner, his hiking companion to Mount Le Conte. Conservancy guides say the views from Charlie's Bunion are extraordinary. There is a loop trail south of Charlie's Bunion that passes around the west side of Fodder Stack that provides the best vistas, with Mount Kephart, the Jump-Off and Mount Le Conte to the west and north; gorges and the Great Valley of Tennessee and Cumberland Plateau to the north; and a jagged formation of slate known as the Sawteeth Range to the east.
Where to stay: The LeConte Lodge (865-429-5704; www.lecontelodge .com) is open late March to late November, although reservations can be difficult to get: The only rooms still available in 2008 are the occasional cancellations. The cabins have no electricity, but meals are served. The nightly rate for a three-bedroom lodge, which can accommodate up to 12 people, is $768 plus meals. Backup room plan: Check in Cherokee (www.cherokee-nc.com), Gatlinburg, Tenn. (www.gatlinburg-tennessee .com), and Townsend, Tenn. (www.smokymountains.org).
First day: Table Rock State Park, in Pickens County, northwest of Greenville, got its name from the legend of a Cherokee chief god who used a flat granite mountain as a dinner table in Sah-ka-na-ga, the Great Blue Hills of God. Table Rock Trail, which begins at the park's nature center, is a 6.8-mile loop that de Hart described as strenuous in “Hiking South Carolina Trails.” Of particular note on the trail is an ascent through an open forest in which large boulders are perched on the side of the 3,124-foot-high mountain, as if they could roll down at any minute. Just beneath Table Rock Mountain's summit is an area that has views of Table Rock Lake and smaller foothills.
Second day: Two options begin and end at the nature center: the Pinnacle Mountain Trail, a difficult seven-mile hike, and the Carrick Creek Trail, a 1.9-mile hike considered easy to moderate. On the descent of the first hike, hikers are treated to a view of farms and forests south of the pinnacle, with wild quinine and blackberries growing on the mountain's damp rock face. Hikers cross Carrick Creek a number of times on the second hike. “Sheets of water seemed to slide through the flumes, lightly from rocky lips, and cascade over one another at rugged strips of rocks,” de Hart wrote in “Hiking South Carolina Trails.” The creek is a wonderful sight, but it is not a swimming hole.
Where to stay: There are 15 furnished cabins of varying sizes with screened porches and fireplaces at Table Rock State Park. Bed linens and basic cooking utensils are supplied. Nightly rates are $60-$119. Reservations can be made at 866-345-7275 or through the S.C. State Parks Web site.
Details: www.southcarolinaparks .com.
First day: According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's hiking guide for North Carolina and Georgia, Blood Mountain is the highest point of the trail's Georgia portion, and, as a result, has become very popular. De Hart recommends a 10.6-mile stretch from Neels Gap, off U.S. 19-129, southwest to Woody Gap, off Ga. 60. The trail ascends Blood Mountain, elevation 4,461 feet, over 2.4 miles from Neels Gap. The summit is open and rocky, but the views make it worth the trek. Summer temperatures are cool, and waterfalls abound. In spring and early summer, the mountainside is covered with flowering rhododendrons, mountain laurels and azaleas.
Second day: The Slaughter Creek Trail cuts 2.5 miles west from the Appalachian Trail near Blood Mountain to the Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area, which has tent sites, swimming, picnic area and restrooms. The lake, built in 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and named for the 19th-century Army general who was known as Old Fuss and Feathers, is also accessible from Route 180 and via the one-mile Jarrard Gap Trail, which leaves the Appalachian Trail farther south than the Slaughter Creek Trail. The two trails, plus a portion of the Appalachian Trail, can be combined into a moderate eight-mile hike through the Chattahoochee National Forest, near North Carolina and Tennessee.
Where to stay: The Blood Mountain Cabins and Country Store is on U.S. 19-129 at Neels Gap, near Blairsville, Ga. There are 14 cabins and 12 vacation homes for rent near Blood Mountain. Cabin rates are $79-$99 a night and $389-$469 a week, depending on the view. The country store sells maps, snacks and groceries.
Details: 800-284-6866; www.blood mountain.com.