The northern mountains of North Carolina have the least amount of public land in the high country, yet the few places that are open to exploring offer some of the best adventures in the state.
- Elk Knob State Park, for instance, located between Boone and West Jefferson, has one of the best mountaintop views in the state (see photo at top) from its 5,520-foot summit, a sweeping look east, north and west into Virginia and Tennessee. (And the 2-mile climb to get there is swell as well.)
- Mount Jefferson State Natural Area towers above the town of Jefferson, and if you’re not up for the 1,000-foot vertical climb to the top, you can drive to the top and hike around this 4,465-foot mountaintop.
- Pond Mountain. Love Mount Rogers in Virginia but aren’t crazy about the crowds? Pond Mountain, a joint venture by the Blue Ridge Conservancy and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, is a similarly open and exposed mountain that also has that wide-lonesome feel of the West.
- New River. One of the oldest rivers in the world and one of the most relaxing to paddle (you can even hike along its banks).
That’s just a taste of the adventure to be had at the Year of the Trail Weekend Festival in West Jefferson Aug. 4-6. The event is sponsored by the towns of West Jefferson, Lansing and Jefferson; Ashe County; the Blue Ridge Conservancy; the New River Conservancy; and, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Hometown Strong initiative.
A quick rundown of events follows. Go here for details on each event and to sign up. And did we mention there’s also a festival — Friday night in West Jefferson, Saturday night in Lansing. And snorkeling in a mountain stream? Read on.
Friday August 4
1-3 p.m. — Snorkel the Roaring River., part of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s new Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail.
3 p.m. — Paddy Mountain/Northern Peaks State Trail celebration for North Carolina’s 40-mile Northern Peaks State Trail eventually linking West Jefferson, Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, Elk Knob State Park and Boone.
4-8 p.m. – Live music downtown West Jefferson.
5 p.m. – Guided hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Jumping Off Rocks, Glendale Springs. 2 miles.
Saturday August 5
8-5 p.m. — Registration and information table at Farmer’s Market.
8-4 p.m. – Vendors featuring outdoors gear and crafts behind Farmer’s Market. Hourly outdoor skill and equipment demos.
9 a.m. – Elk Knob State Park, Todd. Summit Trail Hike, 4 miles. Moderate/strenuous.
9 a.m. – New River State Park 5-mile paddle.
10 a.m. – Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, Jefferson. Summit and Rhododendron trails, 1.5 miles. Easy/moderate.
1 p.m. – New River State Park, Wagoner Access, 3- and 7-mile hikes on Riverbend Trail. Easy/moderate.
2 p.m. – Pond Mountain, Creston, 1-4 mile hike, Easy/moderate..
3:30 p.m. – Lansing Creeper Trail Park, Lansing. Guided mountain-bike ride, 3-4 miles.
4 p.m. – Jennifer McGaha, author of “Bushwhacked,” reads from her book at the Old Orchard Creek General Store in Lansing.
Sunday August 6
Self-guided hikes suggested for Sunday:
- Pond Mountain, easy/moderate: 4 miles.
- Three Top Mountain, strenuous: 4.2 miles.
- Elk Knob State Park, moderate/strenuous: Summit Trail, 4 miles.
- Mount Jefferson State Natural Area: Summit, Rhododendron, Lost Province trails, easy/moderate, 2.5 miles.
Information on each hike will be available at the registration/information table in West Jefferson.