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This easy six-mile North Carolina walk not only has the Pisgah Inn nearby, but also a nice campsite at the halfway point—an inviting spot for a first-time backpacker to spend the night.
A trail emanating from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Pisgah Inn, a short distance north of Brevard, North Carolina, may be one of the world’s most perfect woodlands walking paths.
I say this about Pisgah National Forest’s Buck Spring Trail (a part of the long-distance Mountains to Sea Trail) because, for more than 90 percent of its 6-mile length, it loses elevation at such a gradual rate that the descent is barely perceptible. (The first half-mile is on eight switchbacks that descend at only a slightly more pronounced grade.) No huffing and puffing up rapid ascents or body pains from a constant pounding going down a steep incline. With a backcountry campsite located exactly in the middle of the hike, it’s the place to initiate family or friends into the pleasures of backpacking without subjecting them to the rigors of a more rugged terrain.
It’s more than just an easy walk in the woods, though. Captivating blossoms are so abundant that I’ve taken to carrying my wildflower guide each time I come here so that I can learn more about the world I’m privileged to be a part of. Copious amounts of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries provide trailside treats, and the leaves of the deciduous forest, dominated by hickories, maples, and oaks, create welcome shade during summer’s heat and a multihued tunnel of changing colors in the fall. And in winter, if you are adept at negotiating the sharp angles of the switchbacks, the route is a great cross-country skiing experience.
The hike begins by taking the concrete walkway between the inn’s office and restaurant and turning right onto a grassy roadway with a nice view to the east and across the mountainside you will be descending. Look skyward and you may get to witness one of nature’s most beautiful and acrobatic displays of flight. Ravens soar and glide like hawks, but they also fold their wings and dive for long distances like peregrine falcons. In addition, they execute barrel rolls, tumbles and, apparently just for the fun of it, drop objects to catch them in flight.
The wide route comes to an end in .2 mile where you will soon be descending on switchbacks whose edges are marked by squawroot (another common name is cancer root). A parasite upon the roots of trees, especially oaks, squawroot has amazingly small yellow flowers. But the flower is probably not what will catch your eye at first; it will be the stem. It produces no chlorophyll—the substance that gives plants their green color—so its entire stalk is a sort of yellowish brown.
There are no appreciable views along the way, but the beauty of the many small creeks and falls makes up for it. The one crossed at 1.1 miles has false hellebore growing beside it. Many people feel that the plant is at its most charming shortly before the flowers actually develop. It is at this time that the large leaves begin to uncurl from around the stem and their undefiled yellowish-green adds a welcome bit of color to an early spring forest. After the flowers have bloomed, the leaves begin to deteriorate, turning brown and ragged-looking.
Be sure to look uphill when crossing the stream at 1.7 mile so that you don’t miss the water tumbling down a 50-foot rock facing in an eye-pleasing cascade.