Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Jump Off Rock

When on excursions into the Blue Ridge Mountains we often make multiple stops: one for an extended hike, one for a picnic lunch, maybe once for restrooms, sometimes at a local farm or creamery for a take-home souvenir, and usually at one or two scenic viewpoints just to break up the car ride. Laurel Park’s Jump Off Rock is such a destination, the small park at the top of Echo Mountain providing panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and Pisgah mountains.

Jump Off Rock is easy enough to find, the parking lot on Laurel Park being the literal and figurative end of the road; looking northwest the side of the mountain drops away to rolling valleys in front of a backdrop of the imposing peaks of the Blue Ridge. Visitors walk the short path to the edge of the cliff where a sturdy viewing platform allows an unimpeded view of Pinnacle Mountain, the French Broad River and Mount Pisgah. With an elevation over 3,000ft and a 200° view, the view stretches to South Carolina, Georgia and even Tennessee on a clear day.

The beautiful wrought iron fence mimics the ridges and peaks of the mountain vista

The legend that gave the rock cliff its name involves a Cherokee maiden that would return each evening to the peak awaiting her lover’s return. Upon learning of his death the young woman threw herself off the cliff in despair, but some say that on moonlit nights her ghost can still be seen today, waiting for the Chief to come back to her.

Three trails criss-cross the park for the option of a short hike. Named for J.J. Kessler, a member of the Laurel Park Civic Association instrumental in beautifying the park, the trails offer views of the rock, several other outcroppings, as well as seasonal wildflowers and rhododendron. The blue trail cuts off to the west and loops back through a narrow crack in the rock, while the red trail drops off to the northeast, looping back along the park boundary. A third trail, the yellow trail is a spur from the red trail, and traverses the steep slope below Jump Off Rock. While portions of one trail used to be part of an old carriage road, most of the way is a narrow footpath. An old water structure (or other man-made feature) is located on the red trail, attesting to human presence throughout recent history. And although traffic from a road below filters up to the yellow trail, the area is remarkably secluded for such a small park; we even saw a woodchuck on our recent visit, and the first spring wildflowers were coming up. A sign at the trailhead lists mileages and provides a rough map of all three trail options.

A visit to Laurel Park and Jump Off Rock could easily be combined with a trip to Hendersonville, or on a day spent in Flat Rock at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. It could make a nice detour to catch a sunset after a day of apple picking in the region, or make a great picnic spot on the way to hiking on the Pisgah. Whether on a day trip to Asheville or headed even further north to the Smoky Mountains, keep Laurel Park in mind; the Jump Off view of the Blue Ridge Mountains never ceases to amaze and inspire.

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