In the 10 years (or thereabouts) that we’ve lived in Greenville, we’ve yet to exhaust the list of hiking trails in a 1-hour drive from the city. Not only are we constantly discovering new areas through friends and various groups, but trails are being established in newly-established conservancies and preserves through the efforts of groups like the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC).
CMLC acquired a conservation easement on the summit of Bearwallow Mountain in 2009, built the trail in 2011, and added an additional 85 acres between the summit and trailhead in 2012. At 4,232 ft. this is the highest peak in the Bearwallow Highlands range that straddles the Eastern Continental Divide. The mountain is part of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge, and views from the summit extend to Mt. Mitchell in the Black Mountains and Mt. Pisgah in the Great Balsams.
|view north, with Mt. Mitchell|
We took Poinsett Highway out of the city and then jumped on I-25 to cross into North Carolina. I had a momentary lapse of memory and thought I had forgotten our lunch on the counter, justifying a stop at one of the many roadside stands to buy a bucket of freshly-picked strawberries. In another couple of months it’ll be peaches and apples… can’t wait! Jumping on I-26 towards Hendersonville, we took exit 49A for US Hwy. 64 east. For further instructions see the CMLC website, but be aware that there’s a fork in the road that intuitively leads you off on N Bearwallow Rd. when you want to stay on Bearwallow Mountain Rd….
The trailhead is at the crest of Bearwallow Mountain Rd. (Bearwallow Gap) where the pavement turns to gravel (the gravel rd. continues on over 2 miles to the town of Gerton, NC). Parking is along the shoulder, and the trail begins beyond the old, rusted gate. You’ll see the trail kiosk on the right, marking the beginning of a steep, 1 mile ascent up to the summit. The gravel road that heads off to the left meets the trail at the summit and continues on to the historic fire lookout tower and modern telephone towers. The fire tower was built in 1937 and was used until it was decommissioned in 1994; plans to restore it and make it accessible to visitors are in the works.
|the view south, firetower visible on left|
Be prepared for switchbacks and rocky stairs almost the entire way. Rhododendron and trillium distracted us from the steep climb, but poison ivy kept us on the trail. This forest is home to stunted old-growth trees approaching 300 years of age. As we neared the top we passed several rocky outcrops, then emerged into a grassy meadow which has nearly a 360 degree view of the surrounding area.
|an ancient knot in an ancient tree|
CMLC constructed the Bearwallow Mountain trail with the help of the Carolina Mountain Club, REI and community volunteers, and the hope is that eventually it will be incorporated into the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail, a loop that will link Bearwallow Mountain to CMLC’s Florence Preserve and the conserved summit of Ferguson Peak. CMLC is working toward the total conservation of more than 480 acres at Bearwallow Mountain as evidenced by the brand new trail that heads in the other direction from Bearwallow Gap – Trombatore Trail, a 2.7 mile continental divide trail to Blue Ridge Pastures that was finished in 2014. Like I said, for every trail we check off our Greenville/vicinity list, another one takes its place!
* Our Bearwallow hike was through the Hike it Baby Greenville branch, a parents group dedicated to getting families with babies and small children out into nature. For more info on the free group, see the Hike it Baby website.