5 Western North Carolina Hikes With Craft Beer Rewards
Explore! Nothing could be finer than Western North Carolina whether you’re a walker, day-hiker or a weekend warrior.
From easy to strenuous, choices are plentiful from the best hiking trails in the mountains of the regional Asheville, NC area. Select from among thousands of miles of trails where you can immerse yourself in nature while you ramble, twist, dip, and climb glorious peaks and sumptuous valleys.
Your excursion doesn’t have to end once you return to the trailhead and your hike is complete. Asheville boasts nearly 15 craft breweries within its city limits alone, and dozens more dot the surrounding hillsides of Western North Carolina.
After rock-scrambling climbs or meandering strolls, this guide will ensure your hiking day ends with a satisfying repast so not only your soul, but your taste buds as well can enjoy authentic southern craft brews and delicious culinary options.
Warren Wilson River Trail & Pisgah Brewing Company
Where: Swannanoa / Black Mountain
Distance Apart: 15 minutes / 7 miles
The mellow, agrarian campus of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa is home to one of the most delightful trails in Buncombe County. Carved into the banks of the Swannanoa River, Warren Wilson River Trail is for those who set out to enjoy an easy stroll.
The trail follows along the Swannanoa River and is about 6 miles round trip but you could turn around at any time. The trail boasts several swimming holes along the route and connects to several other trails, although some are on private property. This serene trail is great for walking, trail running or taking a dip in the river.
Park at Charles Owen Park to access the east end of the trail. Enjoy restful scenery as you walk along the river to your left and farmland to the right. Plenty of pebbly shoals and deeper pools tempt walkers and runners to enjoy a post-run dip to relieve weary feet and souls. Kid-friendly and leashed dogs are welcome.
After your walk or energetic trail run, head over to nearby Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain. Specializing in craft brews made with 100% whole leaf hops and all-organic grains and malts, Pisgah Brewing’s flagship beer Pisgah Pale Ale, is a staple of the Asheville craft brew scene. Live music and food trucks on site five days a week (Wednesday – Sunday) round out after-hike entertainment and refreshment needs.
The NC Arboretum & Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Where: Asheville / Mills River
Distance apart: 20 minutes / 10 miles
Located within the popular and botanically diverse Southern Appalachian Mountains, The North Carolina Arboretum offers more than 10 miles of hiking trails that connect to many other area attractions such as Lake Powhatan, Pisgah National Forest, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Visitors of all ages and abilities can enjoy their hiking experience at the Arboretum as trail options include easy (5 trails), moderate (4 trails), and difficult (3 trails) challenge levels. The Arboretum is kid-friendly and affords children the opportunity to enjoy a variety of unique experiences while they discover the wonders of nature in a safe, high-quality and enriching environment.
Whether it’s hiking along Bent Creek or geocaching through the woods, the Arboretum offers an array of fun, educational and kid-friendly activities. All hiking trails are leashed dog-friendly.
There is no doubt that Western North Carolina is known for its love of food and passion for great craft beer. At Sierra Nevada’s Mills River Taproom and Restaurant, you will be delighted to find an abundance of both. The taproom offers 23 beers on tap, many produced in-house at the Mills River site. Visit the first come, first serve restaurant, or If outdoor dining is more to your liking, head outside to the Back Porch and Beer Garden. Be sure to take in the views of the surrounding forest or enjoy a relaxing stroll through the Mills River Estate Garden.
Waterrock Knob Trail & Boojum Brewing Company
Distance Apart: 25 minutes / 15 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Waterrock Knob Trail offers a visitor center and nice parking area, spectacular views, and connections to the Mountains to Sea Trail if you want to add on to your day. Even if you don’t want to hike, the views from the parking lot are worth the drive. A paved trail leads you up the mountain for part of your journey toward Waterrock Knob. Once the pavement ends, continue climbing on the well-worn path. If you are up for a bigger challenge, once you get near the top a trail veers left (follow the orange tags in the trees) that leads to a twin-engine Cessna plane crash site. The crash occurred in 1983 with some of the fuselage still remaining on the side of the mountain.
If you decide to hike to the crash site, plan on a good 20 minutes down the orange tagged trail, which drops at a steady pace before reaching the adjoining ridgeline. Following the top of the ridge, you will come to large grey boulders on your left that are 3-4 feet high. One of the boulders has a memorial plaque so be on the lookout for it. Make a 90-degree left turn onto a small path directly next to the boulder. There is no clear trail to follow from here. Descend the hill veering slightly left and the crash site will be reached in about 5 minutes.
For an even bigger adventure, the main orange tagged trail continues to Mt. Lyn Lowry. This summit in on private land so tred lightly. The owners are gracious enough to allow access so peak baggers can claim the 6,240 foot summit. Hiking out to Lyn Lowry significantly ups the difficulty level and mileage. Round trip from parking lot to Waterrock Knob about 1 mile, and to Lyn Lowry about 5 miles.
Whichever hike distance or destination you choose while visiting Waterrock Knob, you can quench your thirst and calm your hungry belly at Boojum Brewing Company’s tap room, located a short drive away in the heart of downtown Waynesville. Menu offering are not typical bar food only – burgers, sandwiches, salmon and upscale dishes are on the menu. Boojum serves many styles of craft brew so you’re sure to find something you love. Varying brew styles with a small-batch release are available each Thursday at the tasting room.
DuPont State Forest & Oskar Blues Brewery
Distance Apart: 20 minutes / 14 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Head south of Asheville to Brevard and visit DuPont State Forest where you’ll be able to enjoy three spectacular falls within a relatively short walk. Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls are waterfall hikes that are easy enough to bring the kids along.
Scenes from the movies The Last of the Mohicans and The Hunger Games were filmed in the area so if you’re a fan, you might recognize some of the scenery. Pack a lunch and enjoy the picnic shelters that are located along the trails between waterfalls.
Hooker Falls features a handicapped access parking and observation deck. The falls, which drop off an eleven-foot ledge into Cascade Lake, is about a six-minute walk from the parking lot.
Triple Falls is reached by walking upstream from the Hooker Falls parking area. Walking this trail takes about seven minutes, with the final stretch becoming fairly steep as you approach the falls.
High Falls is about 15 minutes farther upstream from Triple Falls, on mostly moderate terrain. If something a bit more challenging is your preferred style, DuPont State Forest is home to about 90 miles of trails and dirt roads with some trails specified for equestrian and mountain bike use.
After enjoying the day at DuPont State Forest, hop in the car and drive the winding back roads to Oskar Blues Brewery. Excellent craft beer is not the only thing you’ll find there. Live music is featured five nights a week where you can sample the talents of local and national artists who feature different genres and are booked for your listening pleasure. The outdoor patio bar, the Tasty Weasel taproom, is open daily and you can get a behind the scenes look with free tours of the brewery. The Oskar Blues CHUBwagon food truck serves up CHUBurgers and tacos to satisfy your hunger. Family friendly and Fido is welcome on the outdoor patio.
Appalachian Trail & Nantahala Brewing Company
Where: Bryson City
Distance Apart: 20 minutes / 12 miles
If you want a butt-kicker hike, then the Appalachian Trail (AT), which runs right through Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is the trail for you. The trail offers two destinations directly from the NOC parking lot. Cheoah Bald to the north, and Wesser Bald and its fire tower to the south.
While neither are easy to reach, both have ultimately rewarding views. The AT in this section is entirely within the Nantahala National Forest and mostly routed through mature, hardwood forest with long, flowing streams. Depending on when you hike, expect to see rhododendron, mountain laurel, flame azalea, mountain ash, beds of fern and galax, and a profusion of wild flowers.
If you head south to Wesser Bald fire tower, you will be climbing for much of the way with one section of moderate rock scramble. The elevation at NOC is 1,723 feet and the top of Wesser Bald is 4,627 feet. The ascent is over 6.5 miles, so expect a 13-mile day round trip. The views from the fire tower are spectacular making the climb well worth the effort.
Heading north is not any easier. Cheoah Bald stands at 5,062 feet and is believed to be the northern endpoint of William Bartram’s travels through the Southern Appalachians making it the current terminus of the Bartram Trail. Cheoah Bald offers sweeping views northward of the Smokies and portions of Lake Fontana. This is an out-and-back hike totaling 16.2 miles from the NOC. There is a very stout 3,600 + foot climb out of NOC with 90% of the trail constantly climbing. Trail-trained and very well-conditioned dogs are able to hike on this trail.
No matter which hike offering out of the NOC you chose, you’re going to want an icy-cold beverage and filling meal to restore your lagging energy. Head to nearby downtown where you will find the Nantahala Brewing Company. Enjoy award-winning craft brews made with fresh hops, whole grains and crisp, clean Smoky Mountain water. Currently, the taproom does not serve food but don’t let that deter you. Patrons are welcome to grab food from anywhere in town and bring it in. If you’re in a cooking mood yourself, the entire crew loves grilling out. Grills are provided out on the deck where you are welcome to tailgate anytime of the year. Pull up a chair, settle in and relax. You deserve it!
Whew! That’s quite an assortment of Western North Carolina hiking trails with craft beer rewards!
Have you hiked any of these trails or visited any of these breweries? Let me know about your experience in a comment below.
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