The Asheville area is rich in tracts of undisturbed wilderness areas, national and state parks. It is also home to many beautiful North Carolina mountain homes. Visitors and North Carolina mountain homeowners seeking hiking recreation may be overwhelmed by the number of choices and also question the level of physical ability needed.

Here are some important hiking tips: bring enough drinking water and some warm clothing; wear hiking boots with grip; and pack rain gear in case of storms. In Western North Carolina, weather and temperature shift quickly and many of the trails near Asheville are rocky, and steep, so be prepared for some cardiovascular exercise.

Here are five short hikes that can be done in one to two hours. Expect more cardio exertion on the high country hikes (Craggy Gardens, Mount Mitchell, and Max Patch) and less on the river hiking (East Fork River and Hot Springs).

Craggy Gardens
The hike to Craggy Gardens is .7 miles and begins at milepost 364 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a short, steady, upward climb that takes about 20-30 minutes. In the spring, this grassy bald is filled with wildflowers and rhododendron. Once the summit has been reached, enjoy the 360-degree views of the Asheville area.

Mount Mitchell: Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 355. 
Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River and stands at 6,684 feet. To reach Mount Mitchell from the Asheville area, visitors are best advised to pass through Burnsville or Marion and access it through Route 80. Due to a roadway failure, the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed between Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell. While the new observation deck is underway, there is no access to the observation deck trail or short trail sections at the top. There is still plenty of parking on top of Mount Mitchell, and other short hikes to enjoy, most notably, the Camp Alice Trail. The Camp Alice Trail offers breathtaking views of the summit and a closer look at native flora and fauna, and is only 2.5 miles in length. Access Camp Alice by following the gravel road to the right of the park office to signs for the Commissary Trail.

Directions: From I-40, east of Asheville, take exit 86, NC 226 to Marion/Shelby. NC 226 merges with US 221 and US 70 in Marion. Veer left on US 70. After about two miles, turn north on NC 80. Follow NC 80 north/northeast for 16 miles. Turn left onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Follow the parkway to mile marker #355 and turn right onto NC 128, which leads to the park.

Max Patch
Called the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail, Max Patch is a near 5,000 feet summit that offers 360-degree views of the Smokey Mountains, and portions of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Max Patch Bald is covered with high grass and wildflowers in early spring, though it is often cut and rolled as hay. It’s a short, but steep walk to the summit. Max Patch Bald is a great place to fly a kite, have a picnic, or enjoy the views of the surrounding area.

Directions: Take 40 West from Asheville, just past the Tennessee line and take the Harmon’s Den exit. Make an immediate right onto a dirt road. Follow signs all the way up the mountain to the Max Patch parking area

East Fork River
The East Fork takes its trail name from following the east fork of the Pigeon River. The East Fork River is a great short hike to a scenic waterfall and swimming hole. The hike into the first waterfall is level, with not much increase in elevation. Follow a meandering trail that stays close to the river most of the way. Hike about a mile, and at the fork in the trail, take the lower trail to the waterfall. Relax and enjoy the scenery.

Directions: Take the Blue Ridge Parkway South of Asheville, and travel over Mount Pisgah. After Mount Pisgah, look for Route 276. Make a left from the Parkway to the 276 junction and a right on 276. Travel down the steep hill to the first parking area on the left. The trail is not marked at the parking lot, but it is the East Fork River.

Hot Springs, in Madison County
Near the town of Hot Springs in Madison County, is a lovely short river hike, alongside one of the tributaries of the French Broad River. The mountain stream runs strong, but it is not a good area for swimming, although some “creek dipping” is fun in warm weather. The trail is flat, a rarity in Western North Carolina. This is a great short trail that is not far from civilization and well traveled by people and dogs.

Directions: From Asheville, take 26 West to the second Weaverville exit, marked 25/70 ‘Marshall.’ Follow 25/70 for about 15 miles. Pass through the small town of Marshall and past several river rafting companies. Shortly after this, look for a green sign at an intersection, pointing to Hot Springs. At this intersection, notice the parking area to the left of the building. This is the parking area for the river trail. The trailhead is to the far left of the parking lot.

The Southern Appalachian and Smokey Mountains are some of the most breathtaking and scenic mountains in the U.S. Remember to prepare for quick changes in climate whether you are visiting or already own some Asheville North Carolina real estate.