5 of our favorite basecamp backpack trips

Last week, we extolled the virtues of basecamp backpacking : that is, hiking in a short distance with your camping gear to establish a basecamp, then doing day hikes from there. You get the advantage of backcountry camping minus the burden of hauling 35 pounds with you wherever you go. 

This week, we take you to 5 of our favorite Basecamp Backpack destinations, including their location, distance you hike in in full pack, day hike options and recommended stay.

Doughton Park

Bluff Mountain Trail at Doughton Park

Blue Ridge Parkway near Laurel Springs NC: Longbottom Road Access

Hike in full pack: 1.5 miles

Day-hike options: 2 (with three options on one hike)

Recommended stay: hike in Friday afternoon/evening, hike out Sunday afternoon.

After a flat 1.5-mile hike on on the Grassy Gap Fire Road (natural surface, closed to traffic) from the Longbottom Road Access, set up basecamp in the spacious primitive camping area along Basin Creek. From there you have two day-hike options. If you’re hiking the recommended two days, spend the first hiking up 4.4-mile Cedar Ridge Trail, which gains nearly 2,000 vertical feet (about 90 percent of the climbing on this hike). From there, hang a left and hike the Bluff Mountain Trail (which doubles as the Mountains-to-Sea Trail) for 6.4 miles through meadows and pasture before returning down Grassy Gap Fire Road to camp. (Note: there’s a water crossing just before Grassy Gap returns to camp; scout it beforehand to make sure it’s passable; if it isn’t, from the Bluff Mountain Trail take either the Bluff Mountain Primitive Trail [shorter, steeper], or the Flat Rock Ridge Trail. Total distance: 17.6 miles. Hike No. 2: From camp take the 3.3-mile Basin Creek Trail to the old Caudill Cabin at the base of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. 

Rock Castle Gorge

fall hikes
A meadow atop Rock Castle Gorge

Blue Ridge Parkway near Woolwine, VA: VA 805 Access

Hike in in full pack: about a quarter mile

Day-hike option: 1

Recommended trip stay: Hike in Friday afternoon/evening, hike out Sunday morning

There’s only one day-hike option out of camp, but it’s a doozy. Hike the 10.8-mile Rock Castle Gorge Trail counterclockwise and you’ll start through a gorgeous old-growth forest; the hiking is mellow at first, then the climbing and a little rock scrambling begin. At the 3-mile mark reach the Blue Ridge Parkway and go southwest, through high meadows and pasture with some nice views. At Grassy Knoll, the trail descends back into the gorge, a rollicking, rocky drop that goes for about a mile and a half. You’re exhausted when you hit bottom — and you’re also rewarded with a downhill-trending 2.8-mile hike on gravel roadbed paralleling Rock Castle Creek. So why stay a second night if there’s not a second hike option? You’ll discover why when you finally drag into camp at the end of the day.

Wilson Creek/Hunt-fish Falls

Wilson Creek Wild and Scenic Area, Pisgah National Forest near Mortimer

Hike in in full pack: 1.2 miles

Day-hike options: 2

Recommended trip stay: Hike in Friday afternoon, hike out Sunday mid-day.

Wilson Creek is at the base of Grandfather Mountain, and as such serves as the drainage for the massive massif’s southeast flank: creeks, waterfalls and cooling pools abound here. In fact, head up early enough and after packing in the 1.2 miles to camp and getting set up, you can hike 0.4 miles back to Hunt-fish Falls for some stellar ogling and swimming. The long hike — about 8 miles — takes you up (and in) Lost Cove Creek for a mile before a 0.6-mile climb that gains 900 vertical feet. That’s the big climb of the day, though: after topping out at Bee Mountain it’s a gentle descent along Timber Ridge down to Gragg Prong and the return to camp. On Day 2, don your water shorts and grab a towel for the mile-and-a-half hike up Gragg Prong and the series of waterfalls and pools where, on a hot summer day, you will find unparalleled mountain bliss.

Birkhead Mountain Wilderness

Dusk at Camp 3

Uwharrie Mountains southwest of Asheboro

Hike in in full pack: 3 miles

Recommended trip stay: hike in Friday afternoon, hike out Sunday morning

The 3-mile hike in is a bit longer and a bit more challenging than most Basecamp Backpack trips, but worth the extra effort. From the Tot Hill Access to the Birkheads on the north end of the Uwharries, hike a mile and three quarters on the Birkhead Mountain Trail, to the Camp 5 Trail. Here, you can either take that trail for a mile and a quarter to Camp 5 (which has water) or continue straight on the BMT to Camp 3, which has decent views (in the winter). Your day hike is about 9 and a half miles, on a loop consisting of the BMT, Robbins Branch and Hannah’s Creek trails. The Uwharries may not be as grand as the Southern Appalachians, but they’re also not a 3- to 5-hour drive for folks in the state’s three major population centers. It’s a good spur-of-the-moment destination for people in Charlotte, the Triangle and the Triad, and a great option for testing new gear. It’s also more accessible and hospitable in winter than a mountain hike.

Panthertown Valley

Thanksgiving Hikes
Panthertown Valley

Panthertown Valley, Cashiers

Hike in full pack: 1 mile

Day-hike options: multiple

Recommended trip stay: Whatever works for your schedule; there are enough trails here to sustain you for 3-5 days.

We hate to be vague about options for hiking Panthertown Valley, but when you see the trail map, you’ll understand why. First things first: from the Salt Rock Access off SR 1121, hike the Salt Rock Trail 0.6 miles to Panther Creek Trail and go left for 0.3 miles, then right on Mac’s Gap: in less than 0.2 miles you’ll begin seeing multiple camp sites near Panthertown Creek. You’re smack dab in the middle of things, with great hikes out the front of your tent. Some things you’ll definitely want to check out: Granny Burrell and Schoolhouse falls, the Great Wall, Big Green and Little Green mountains, Blackroot Mountain, Panthertown Valley itself. You’ll definitely need a map. The best for exploring the area’s 30-plus miles of trail: “Burt Kornegay’s A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown, Bonas Defeat and Big Pisgah.”

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Details, details

For more information on each adventure, click the link:

Basecamp Backpack with us

We have trips upcoming to four of the locations mentioned today, all taking the Basecamp Backpack approach. Click the appropriate link for dates and details of each trip.

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