Pisgah National Forest and the Balsam Mountain Inn
our hike in DuPont State Forest we headed north past Brevard, NC and into the
Pisgah National Forest. Just south of Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah
(and its neighboring Nantahala National Forest) is full of things to do and
places to see. For those wishing to get away from it all, Pisgah encompasses
Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness; we, on the other hand, had more
easily accessible destinations in mind. First up, Looking Glass Falls, possibly
the best known waterfall in western NC. Right off of Highway 276, an overlook
allows those not able to climb the stairs down to the base of the falls to
enjoy a scenic vantage point. Looking Glass creek falls 60 feet into a perfect
swimming hole, and continues south to eventually flow into the French Broad
River. Both the creek and the falls are named after nearby Looking Glass Rock, upon
which water will freeze in the winter resembling a mirror. We enjoyed a
reflective moment at the base of the falls before climbing back up the stairs and
continuing north along 276.
next stop was Sliding Rock, a favorite summer destination for hundreds. A 60
foot natural water slide, the smooth slab of rock provides a swift slide followed
by a plunge into the pool at the base. Managed as a Forest Service recreationarea, lifeguards and staff are on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day and
a fee of $1/person is assessed upon entering the area. The slide is “at your
own risk” when no lifeguard is on duty, but we’re saving the experience for a
later, hopefully warmer date.
Cradle of Forestry had already closed for the day, and so it happened that we
continued on to our hotel, the beautiful Balsam Mountain Inn. Chosen by our
friends partly due to the mentions in Southern Living (here and here) and partly due to availability,
we were able to reserve one of the last two rooms and enjoy this great find.
Our arrival coincided with the last of daylight, and as the sun set over the
mountains the lights clicked on one by one to illuminate the magnificent
Victorian structure - beacon, high up on the hill. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the grand dining room and ordered the specials; parmesan encrusted salmon, surf and turf, the local catfish, and don't forget the dessert (white chocolate cheesecake)! Finally, another stop in the library
before retiring to our comfortable rooms.
in 1908 to serve the highest railroad station in the east (3,500 feet), the
hotel is conveniently located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the North
Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and a short distance from the Great Smoky
Mountains National Park, the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Inspired by
the Inn at Saratoga (in Saratoga Springs NY), the hotel stood empty for some years
until restored and updated by the current owner in the early 1990s. Now on the
National Register of Historic Places, the 50-room hotel retains much of its
charm with two 100 foot porches, a library (complete with fireplace), spectacular
views, gorgeous heart pine floors and delicious meals.
enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and spent some time soaking up the sun and the
view on the grand porch before heading out, for our cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Our experience in the Balsam
Mountain Inn was short, but the experience memorable, and I recommend the hotel
to visitors in the area. Between the late night reading marathon in front of
the fireplace in the library, to the modest (but comfortable) rooms; from the
games and puzzles in the front lobby area to the rocking chairs on the two
porches inviting guests to mingle and share; from the hearty dinner to the
included breakfast; our stay in this quaint inn (just oozing mountain charm!)
was near perfect.