Because stellar hikes among the South’s tallest peaks deserve to be paired with the region’s best brews
With its blue Smoky Mountains and lush green forests, western North Carolina has a trail to offer, no matter your preference of terrain. It also happens to be home to a booming microbrew scene. So, we rounded up five of our favorite local hikes along with five craft breweries in or near Asheville. From vertigo-inducing scrambles to mellow strolls, this guide will ensure the area’s top trails and ales don’t go untapped.
Grandfather Trail + Highland Brewing Company
Where: Grandfather Mountain State Park
Distance: 5 miles (out and back)
Don’t let its name fool you. Grandfather Trail is no walk in the park. Though only five miles long, it’s rated difficult for its technical terrain. The hike’s spontaneous and gnarled trail seems ancient and almost prehistoric, with vistas that famous naturalist John Muir proclaimed to be “the face of all heaven come to earth.” To get to the summit you’ll have to conquer ladders, walkways, and an intricate series of steel cables. Grandfather got you beat? No matter, quench your thirst at Asheville’s oldest microbrewery, Highland Brewing Company, yet another perfect example of what it really means to respect your elders.
Craggy Gardens Trail + Lazy Hiker Brewing Company
Distance: 2 miles (out and back)
Let’s be honest, not every hike needs to be a record-breaking, rad, longest-ever sort of occasion. Some days, all you really need is a walk in the woods. The perfect trail for your rest days? Craggy Gardens. At 5,892 feet above sea level, this less-than-two-miler offers a picturesque landscape plus small elevation gains (the steepest climb is no more than 200 feet), all with minimal effort. At the summit, crack open a cold one from Lazy Hiker Brewing Company, ‘cause hey, you (sorta) earned it.
West Ridge Trail + Innovation Brewing
Where: Pisgah National Forest
Distance: 5.6 miles (out and back)
Not for the faint of heart, West Ridge Trail is full of steep, technical terrain that requires you keep your eyes open and both hands free. Famous for its panoramic views and difficult-to-navigate trail, West Ridge is best-suited for adventurous folks who appreciate a challenge. Pro tip: If you lose the trail, stick to the ridgeline and it should reappear shortly—and, of course, keep your Hiking Project app handy. After you’ve worked up a sweat, there’s no better way to kick back than with an equally daring Coffee Poblano Porter or Beet Basil Pale Ale from the masterminds behind Innovation Brewing.
Waterrock Knob + Nantahala Brewing Company
Where: Plott Balsams
Distance: 1 mile (out and back)
Trail magic? Oh, it’s here. One glimpse from Waterrock Knob at sunset and you’ll see why they call them the Blue Ridge Mountains. A short but generous hike, Waterrock Knob doesn’t keep its views a secret. After a steady half-mile ascent, you’ll reach the summit and experience the beauty of the Carolina wilderness. Looking for something more intense? Segment 1B of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail will carry you through 50 epic miles of waterfalls, rivers, and a temperate rain forest and land you at the same vista point. Whether you bag the peak the fast way or make a backpacking excursion out of it, enjoy the same Southern charm at Nantahala Brewing Company when you’re ready to return to town in Bryson City. The brewery’s adventure-loving spirit and Trail Magic Ales offer a warm welcome and a cold beer to thru-hikers and visitors alike.
Black Mountain Crest Trail + Wicked Weed Brewing
Where: Pisgah National Forest
Distance: 12.1 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Extremely difficult
If you’re looking for a trail to make the most of your trip, look no further than Black Mountain Crest. On it, you’ll find five of the ten highest points east of the Mississippi—including Mount Mitchell, whose lofty peak propels you 6,683 feet up. This is one for books and guarantees barstool bragging rights for when you stop by Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing. Like Black Mountain, it has a lot to offer: award-winning beers, tons of craft brews on tap, and the Funkatorium, where they concoct sour beers that’ll make your lips pucker.