Although late fall hiking may sound like an endurance race against snow and frostbite, Bear Wallow Mountain Trail in Asheville, North Carolina, is a manageable adventure into the crisp air. This 2.7 mile loop trail on the western edge of Hickory Nut Gorge meanders through woodlands and crests at an expansive grassy meadow with scenic vistas of the surrounding mountain tops. I found myself needing an escape from all that novelty in Asheville, so I saddled up my car and went up another mountain.
Asheville reminded me of Arcata, California, at the turn of the 21st century, but with an attitude and fashion trapped somewhere around 1998. A lot of people had face tattoos, like a disproportionate number. Between those and the high waisted denim jeans, the suede jackets with fringe, and too much snide attitude to hide obvious boredom, I felt hurdled in a time machine. A tribe of youthful social dropouts camped in a park in the center of town, drinking and harassing pedestrians for change. After a day exploring the blocks of closely-packed hippie-type retail shops, I needed some air.
The trail head was easy to find, once I accepted the three mile drive along more unpaved roads. After my adventure on back roads in the Virginia highlands, I was suspicious that my GPS knew where to go. When it directed me onto the gravel path, I questioned its decision, but it was correct this time. The trail head was clearly marked with a wooden gate, and other cars were already parked along Bear Wallow Road.
It was a fairly easy out and back trail, blazed with the Conserving Carolina logo, and led straight up to a summit and panoramic views. Bear Wallow Mountain Trail has an exciting future. It will soon connect to the trail networks in Hickory Nut Gorge’s Florence Preserve, and the Chimney Rock State Park. Conserving Carolina began this work in 2009 after they secured 81 acres of mountainside, and they are actively acquiring 500 more.
The view at the top was gorgeous. A wide expanse of forest spread itself over the horizon in three directions. Immense flat stones, warmed under the sunlight, presented themselves like luxury stadium seating upon which to watch sunset or the stars moving across the sky. Several other people were scattered across the meadow, on their own rocks, and I was suddenly aware that we are all part of each other’s scenery.