Although you may not plan to be out long on a day hike, it is always cooler at higher elevations and the weather can change drastically in just a few hours. You should dress in layers of non-cotton, moisture wicking clothing and always pack a rain proof outer layer. Wear comfortable socks and hiking shoes or boots. You may want to bring a hiking pole. In a lightweight pack carry some supplies: a map/compass (know how to use them), first aid kit/medications, sunscreen, a pocketknife, a lighter, a whistle, a flashlight, extra socks, a jacket, safety/emergency blanket, 2-3 quarts of water per person per day, and snacks (nuts or trail mix, protein bars, beef jerky). Remember to LEAVE NO TRACE! Carry everything out that you brought in and bury human waste.

If you don’t mind the colder temperatures, you can day hike in the winter! There are several trails you can safely travel this time of year. The views are spectacular with the leaves gone from the trees. Also, no poison ivy, no insects, no spiders or snakes, and less people.

Spring Creek Nature Trail offers an easy 1.2-mile hike along a mountain stream, through what was the Brook’s family farm, and is now part of The Pisgah National Forest. On your hike amongst the hardwoods and pine, you will find remnants of an old blacksmith’s shop, community school, home foundations, and family cemetery. This trail begins and ends at the Rocky Bluff Campground. Park at the entrance to the campground (off NC-209) and walk through the gate to the lower campground where you’ll find the sign for the trail entrance. Restroom facilities are open seasonally.

Max Patch December 2020, photo credit D. Marks

Either a moderate 1.5-mile over, or a 2.5-mile hike around, Max Patch provide spectacular 360-degree long-range views from the grassy bald summit. A gravel road leads to the small parking area where you will find the trailhead. The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses at Max Patch from Tennessee into North Carolina. Looking southwest you’ll have views of the Great Smoky Mountains and to the east the Black Mountains including Mount Mitchell (elevation 6,684ft) the highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River. Effective July 1, 2021 area is closed 1 hour after sunset until 1 hour before sunrise–no overnight camping. Take an extra layer of clothing as it is always 10-15 degrees colder and windier! Stay only on the open trails as some areas are blocked and being restored. There may be snow, ice, or mud so plan ahead and be prepared. NO restroom facilities.

For a longer and more challenging 5-mile out and back hike, follow a steady incline along a well-maintained portion of the Appalachian Trail to Rich Mountain Fire Tower. Your efforts will be rewarded at the top with panoramic views on the NC / TN state line. The 31-foot-tall lookout fire tower was built in 1932 and used to spot fires for more than 60 years before being abandoned and falling into disrepair. In 2018 teams from the US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Forest Fire Lookout Association, and Carolina Mountain Club worked to restored the tower and surrounding area. In 2020 additional work was completed to clear and improve the trail by the Carolina Mountain Club. This hike begins and ends at Tanyard Gap. NO restroom facilities.

Check with Bluff Mountain Outfitters at 152 Bridge Street in Hot Springs, 828-622-7162, for more suggestions and current conditions. Or, if you are interested in scheduling a guided day hike, reach out to Blue Ridge Hiking Company 70 College Street in Asheville, 828-713-5451.