Discovering the North Carolina Mountains
Having grown up in a small charming New England town. I tend to get homesick every year around this time, missing the foliage and apple picking, the scent of hot cider donuts on a crisp autumn morning, the crunch of leaves under my feet on a hike. I can almost hear, smell, taste it all now just thinking about it. Knowing that this nostalgia was going to come for me like a friendly haunting spirit, I proactively made plans with Chris to take a weekend away to the mountains of North Carolina, which is as close as we could get to experiencing that charm. Of course, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” especially when you are living during a global pandemic. Our plans did indeed go astray, but we made the best of it, and eventually made it to the mountains of Western Carolina. Today I am going to share with you our story and how we took an unfortunate situation and made the best of it.
The mountain view from Table Rock
When we planned to take this trip, there were just two things on the top of my list… I wanted to stay in a cabin with a fire pit and a mountain view. I am not one for fancy things, and I simply wanted a relaxing and quiet little place to stay that was relatively close to loads of hiking trails. When we searched back in August, we found the perfect little barn style house to stay in with a fire pit with chairs that looked over the mountains… it was glorious! (You can see it here.) In addition to finding the place to stay, we arranged to have my parents come here to stay with the kids, so everything was lined up perfectly. We were all set to leave Thursday morning for a long weekend. At 4 pm on Wednesday, we hit the grocery store for snacks, marshmallows for roasting, and wine- you know, just the essentials. About a half hour after returning from the store, Chris received a phone call, and I could hear it… it wasn’t good news. The guests who had just checked out of the place we planned to stay were being tested for Covid, and there was no way they could be sure it was safe for us to use.
We were both devastated (after all, we haven’t had time away together in 4 1/2 years, since we went to Seattle), but we sprung into action trying to find another place to stay. We didn’t want a hotel because of Covid and ambience, and there were no houses available anywhere. I mean, there were some, but nothing at all like we wanted. While we didn’t need fancy, we did need a decent and quiet place to stay as we planned on just creating charcuterie boards for dinner and playing games at night. We asked every friend we knew, and no one had anything. We had a couple people offer at different times, but we had to take this weekend since Chris had taken the time off and my parents were here to help. Eventually, we gave up that evening and went to bed, resigned to the fact that we may not be going anywhere after all.
The next morning, we made plans to take a day date. As I sat at the breakfast table still feeling upset about our weekend away being pulled out from under us, Chris continued to look. As luck would have it, he found a place, but it was only available for two nights. We took it anyhow, sure that someone else had cancelled last minute which worked out for us! It didn’t have a fire pit or as nice of a view, but it was in a great location, and quiet. The universe delivered, and we are so grateful! (You can check it out here– it really was a nice place, and would fit our whole family!)
Day Trip: Uwharrie National Forest, Asheboro, and Greensboro
With nowhere to stay Thursday night, we decided to still take the day to ourselves and headed to Uwharrie National Forest, which is just over an hour from our home. I honestly can’t recall the name of the trail we did there, but it was pretty, moderately challenging, and quiet. On a Thursday morning we didn’t run into too many other people, and just enjoyed quiet and conversation.
In Uwharrie National Forest
After our hike, we headed to downtown close-by Asheboro for a late lunch at a restaurant I had heard a lot about called The Table Farmhouse Bakery. The building itself is so charming, and the food was wonderful.
We are outside on the patio and Chris enjoyed a fried green tomato BLT while I had a butternut salad with Ahi tuna and a matcha tea. Everything was perfect! I ate every last bite. 😏
After lunch we walked around downtown just to see what was there. It’s an adorable small town, and we’d love to go back again and check out a couple other restaurants we walked by. There’s also a sweet little popcorn shop, and I bought a small bag of salted caramel and birthday cake popcorn. The caramel was a little chewy for my taste, but the birthday cake was delicious! You can even order from their online shop and send as Christmas gifts.
We headed home to shower and went back out that evening to check out a local brewery we’ve been wanting to try, Joymongers. They had a huge outdoor space, so we could safely sit and enjoy our beer, plus the building itself was very open to the outdoors. Most importantly, the beer was delicious! Chris and I both love a good local craft beer, and I responsibly enjoyed a Citrus Session as well as an Oktoberfestbier.
Photo taken .5 seconds before Chris spilled his beer all over the table and himself. It was only his first beer, but apparently that Belgian blonde doesn’t mess around.
North Carolina Mountains: Linville Gorge, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Blue Ridge Parkway
Friday morning, with our new rental confirmed, we hit the road! By the time we arrived in the mountains, it was time to eat lunch and we stopped at a little diner type of establishment called Sunny Rock Eggs & Things. I am a fan of breakfast for any meal, so the name alone got me. We both ordered some style of eggs which were served with a biscuit. I gave up gluten for the month of October, but I made an exception this one time and had half of my biscuit… it was 100% worth it!!! After standing outside in the damp cold wind as we waited for half an hour, I also indulged in a hot chocolate.
After leaving there, we set out for our first trail of our weekend away, the Daniel Boone Scout trail to Calloway Peak which is a 7 mile out and back trail with a 2000 foot elevation gain. When we began our hike, the sky was still gray, and the winds were blowing, but as we climbed to the top, the sun started to make its way out. This trail was absolutely beautiful and somewhat challenging, though we faced an extra challenge.
Scene from the Daniel Boone Scout Trail
With less than a mile to go to get to Calloway Peak, Chris’ old hiking shoe gave out and the sole came off completely! We had contemplated getting him new shoes before we left for our trip, but then I found this old pair he’d forgotten he owned in the back of the closet. Well, they were not up to the task apparently. He used his laces to tie the sole into place, and we had to turn around. However, I give him props for hiking 3 miles downhill with a broken shoe.
Daniel Boone Scout Trail
Despite the shoe, we had a great time on this trail, and I especially enjoyed the foliage.
We made it back to the car and decided to head to a shop my brother had recommended to us, the original Mast General Store, as we knew they’d have hiking shoes. Thankfully we were able to find him a pair of shoes in his size (he’s a 7 which can be hard to find!) This store had all sorts of clothing, outdoor gear, as well as touristy souvenirs and goods. We bought his shoes, a fleece jacket for me with zippered pockets (which was only $40 and much needed), and some little gifts for the kids and my parents. After that we headed to the store for cheese, veggies and hummus, and finally to the house to relax for the night. We played several rounds of one of our all time favorite family games, talked, ate, and relaxed.
Saturday morning we got up and headed to the Linville Falls area. We had chosen a long trail that would have lots of ups and downs and head to the falls, then turn around and loop back. However, the trails were not well marked, and we could not find a connector after taking the Bynum Bluff trail to the Pine Gap trail. The Pine Gap ended in a parking lot with no other connector, so we think perhaps we were supposed to walk the road, but we didn’t want to do that. The park also filled up quickly and was getting rather busy, so we decided to skip out on the falls and instead opted to hike the Babel Tower trail which was challenging and a little quieter. Truly we didn’t care where we went as long as we were hiking.
The Bynum Bluff trail led to the Linville River which was absolutely beautiful
Of course, after we went down to the river, we had to go back up! The Pine Ridge trail was rather rocky and uphill, but also just gorgeous.
All of that uphill climbing made me sweaty, and the sweatshirt had to come off!
After making it back to the car, we headed to Babel Tower trail which was marked as “most difficult.” Of the three trails we did that morning, it was definitely the most challenging, but totally doable. The trail is a there and back, and it’s all downhill until you reach Babel Tower, and then, of course, all back uphill. It featured some of my favorite huge red leaves, so I was happy! I laid in the leaves and took photos…
On the way down, still with my sweatshirt on…
And on the way back up…
Chris also humored me. 😉 We did not plan the matching outfits or to coordinate with the leaves, but sometimes serendipity strikes.
After the uphill climb back to the car, we headed out to find some lunch and rest for a bit before discovering another trail. We really weren’t sure where we were going to eat but stumbled upon Reid’s Cafe and Catering and it was perfection! Everyone was friendly, the food was healthy and delicious! I had a savory butternut bisque and a butternut blackberry salad, and Chris had some kind of fried something that I can’t find on the menu right now… so yes, they offer unhealthy in case you’d prefer to indulge after all that hiking.
After lunch, we opted to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and find a trail to hike there. We parked at the Stack Rock parking lot and took the Tanawha trail up to Beacon heights and then just turned around. This section of trail is actually in between two roads, but you’d never guess it. It feels like a little enchanted forest.
There were flowers growing on either side of the trail at one point so I told Chris to take a photo of me frolicking.
As we hiked, the sun began making its descent and it felt so magical as it streamed through the trees.
When we reached Beacon heights, the views were beautiful. Beacon heights is basically a large slab of rock formation, and we were able to sit and take it all in.
After that, it was back to the house for round two of Yahtzee and charcuterie and wine!
Sunday morning we packed up and hit the road, but we wanted to get in one more hike and lunch before we left. Without intending to, we saved our most challenging hike for last. We headed back to the Linville Gorge Wilderness area and hiked the Spence Ridge to Table Rock and The Chimneys. We followed a long dirt road to get to the trailhead, and while it was a little challenging to drive, it had me sining “Country roads, take me home.”
This 6 mile trail started out going downhill, then leveled out and was rather easy for a bit.
Abruptly, we took a sharp left and went uphill on a steep almost 2000 foot climb up to Table Rock.
It’s hard to tell from these photos just how steep it was, but snapping these shots gave me an excuse to take a breather. 😉
First we arrived at the top of Table Rock and took in some beautiful views.
At this point, we were both sweaty and after 3 previous days of hiking mountains, our legs were a little like jello. I feel like Chris’ face expresses well how he was feeling.
After taking in the views here, we descended to the Table Rock parking lot, and then headed up to the Chimneys, which are really cool steep rock formations.
We actually saw several rock climbers out here, but I have very specifically told Chris that I have zero desire for such adventure. I will hike a mountain any day, but if we need to scale rocks, forget it. However, I did make him take this photo from the ground so it would look like I was climbing. That’s as close as it gets for me… pretend climbing.
With our tired legs, this strenuous hike took us about 3 hours to complete. After that we were ready for lunch.
We headed back to the Mast General Store area and ate lunch across the street at Over Yonder restaurant. The menu was pretty limited, but the food was delicious, and we were able to safely eat outside. They were also very good about enforcing social distancing rules, which was nice to see. I had the pan friend GF rainbow trout and Chris ordered the pork burger and seemed immensely happy, in pig heaven.
Finally it was back into the car to make the 3 hour drive home while our legs stiffened and cramped in the little Prius. Ha! I can honestly say that this kind of trip is my favorite… my heart belongs to the mountains, and my soul comes alive in the woods. My big dream in life is to one day own my own little mountain cabin that our family can escape to. This trip only solidified that dream, and now it’s time to take the steps to make it a reality.
Have you had the chance to get lost in the woods recently? (I don’t mean literally lost of course… I just mean letting go of daily pressures.) If not, I hope you can find the time. In the forest, with everything stripped away, no cell service, no chores, nothing but time, we discovered not only beautiful trails and views, but who we are at the core. I needed that reminder of who I am after so many months at home with my family… I am still a woman with big dreams, and they are still possible.