Tanawah Trail – 8/4/12 – 8.5 miles
I’ve been part of the Carolina Bergs outings committee for a while. The job includes mentoring hike leaders, encouraging people to become hike leaders and even, yes, leading some hikes. So far I have been lousy at this, mostly talking but not doing, because of my own hiking agenda. There’s a big demand for moderate hikes (whatever that means) so I posted one on the calendar. After a couple of weeks of people signing up and dropping out, I ended up meeting four new friends to hike on the Tanawah Trail.
Tanawah Trail background: This spectacular trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway was opened near the same time that the Lynn Cove Viaduct section of the Parkway was completed. Just as the Viaduct is an engineering marvel, the Tanawha Trail is a marvel of stone work and trail building at its best. The trail begins at the Beacon Heights parking area and goes north for 13.5 miles to Julian Price Park Campground. For our hike we chose an 8.5-mile stretch from Beacon Heights to the Boone Fork parking area. It’s easy, moderate and strenuous in places, something for everyone. This trail was new to everyone.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs concurrently with the Tanawha Trail and the trail blazes often appear together, a white circle for the MST and a white feather for Tanawha.
The weather forecast was that 40% chance of rain which could mean anything, and as we approached the mountains it looked more for rain than against. First we parked a car at Boone Fork and ran up the side trail to make sure we would recognize the intersection where the Tanawah meets it: check, a nice big sign. Then onward through the fog to Beacon Heights. We couldn’t even see the Lynn Cove Viaduct as we drove over it. Not good.
Beacon Heights is a worthy side trip in itself, a big rock face with big views, but we did not detour for it today, thinking it would be fogged in.
The Tanawha drops quickly down below Parkway level and follows along one of its retaining walls. Water flowing down from the Parkway had a muddy brown tint, less than usually appealing.
Today may be short of big views but spectacular for wildflowers in open areas. This is one of many sections of wild goldenglow we passed.
We stopped briefly at the Visitor Center for the Viaduct, walked past the parking lot and underneath the Viaduct as it swings out into space. Hi, Chris!
A giant octopus? No, giant tree roots, bigger around than my thigh. There is moderate rock scrambling over large boulders through this mile near the Viaduct.
A recent blowdown but not a slow-down for Chris.
A large footbridge crosses Wilson Creek and Doreen scrambled down to the water for a photo op. That is misty fog giving the light effect, not camera operator error. We walked through this ethereal mist for most of the day.
Waning bee balm
Past Wilson Creek the trail climbs dramatically and signs indicate a fragile environment and direct hikers to stay on the trail. At one point we reached a very large boulder and there was a question of which way the trail went around the boulder. This is when I lost control of the group.
Jim, Doreen and Chris went left while Dave and I went right. The trail was immediately obvious on the right, so I assumed it would be immediately obvious that the left was not correct. The fog did not help, as I did not recognize how near we were to the summit of Rough Ridge, a huge rock outcropping where the big payoff views of Grandfather Mountain and the Lynn Cove Viaduct are on display.
After just a couple of minutes Dave and I were standing on the rock outcropping, but the others did not join us. I left Dave at the top and backtracked to the big boulder where we had split up. I went left around it and there was a sort of trail, the kind that people start out making until they realize it’s not correct. But…where were the three hikers? I began to yell and faintly heard a response. After a bit of back and forth, I stood still and kept yelling while they walked back to me. There was a very faint trail that came out below Rough Ridge (bypassed all the big views) and…well, anyway, we all made it together to Rough Ridge.
Best view from Rough Ridge
This was our reward. So there was no view, but a cheerful group still. It wasn’t raining and we were hiking. Life is good.
The view from Rough Ridge on a clear day – Grandfather Mountain in the background
The view from Rough Ridge on a clear day – Lynn Cove Viaduct
From the summit, the trail drops down along steep rock steps through a tunnel of thick rhododendron and levels out once it crosses Little Wilson Creek on another footbridge. From here we enjoyed an easy three miles of rolling trail through hemlocks and hardwoods, more wild goldenglow and other wildflowers.
Blackberries ripening for the buffet
On the last bridge crossing before we reached our end point, Chris and Doreen and I all scrambled down to the water. How is Doreen going to get over here with us?
Is this a good idea?
See, it worked great!
Yes, Jim and Dave were on the hike too
All together, a great time, fun meeting new people and a successful injury-free hike. They all promised to return on a clear day to see what they missed. Cheers!