An Abundance of Hiking in Hot Springs

Appalachian Trail Town

When people think of hiking in Hot Springs, NC, their first thought is of the Appalachian Trail. Hot Springs is the only North Carolina town where the Appalachian Trail passes directly through the main street.  Visitors from all over come here to hike this section of the Appalachian Trail. And while its position as the pre-emminent trail in the area is well deserved, there are dozens of other great hiking trails in the Hot Springs area many of which can be accessed directly from many accommodations. Below is a partial listing of some of the more popular hikes in the area:

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Laurel River Trail

3.6 miles one-way; good for all skill levels.

Distance from Hot Springs 5 Miles.  Begins near the junction of NC 208 and 25/70 on a gravel path that turns into the trail. Single track on an old railroad grade to the ghost town of Runion where the Laurel empties into the French Broad River. Along the way there is bold water tumbling over large boulders and several places where the water gets still and deep and great for swimming in warmer weather. Great trout fishing as well.

Lover’s Leap Trail and Appalachian Trail Loop

1.6 miles; difficult.

Hiking

Hiking

The Lover’s Leap Trail and the Appalachian Trail along the French Broad River create a scenic, 1.6 mile loop. From downtown cross the railroad tracks heading toward the French Broad River – stay on the right side of the road and cross the bridge where you will see a wooden pole indicating where you can step over the guardrail to the road below. Once on the road head east against the flow of the river. You will cross a small wooden bridge and then travel on a path right along the edge of the river. This is the Appalachian Trail and is marked with white blazes. Continue on until the trail turns up the face of the mountain doing a series of switch-backs. You will come to several rock promontories overlooking the river and the Town of Hot Springs which are a good place to rest. Ultimately you will come to a trail intersection which points to the right to continue on the Appalachian Trail or left to go to Silvermine Trailhead. Take the latter going about 10 minutes until you come to a set of wooden steps going off to the leftt. Take the steps down and follow the trail down to Silvermine Trailhead and parking lot. Walk down Silvermine Road 200 yards and you will see the river and have completed the loop

Pump Gap Loop Trail

2.4 miles; moderate to difficult.

Follow the Lovers Leap Trail from the Silvermine trailhead. At the first major switchback, the Pump Gap Trail goes straight. At the next right fork the trail climbs to the AT at Pump Gap, crosses then returns by a combination of old forest roads and foot trails. The trail is moderate in difficulty, offering many changes in elevation and scenery. Can be looped with the Appalachian Trail.

Appalachian Trail from Hot Springs to Allen Gap

14.7 miles; white rectangle blazes.

Heading north, the AT crosses the bridge over the French Broad River the jumps the guardrail to the right. The AT follows the river upstream ascends Lover’s Leap Ridge then after 5 miles comes to the grassy meadows and pond of Mill Ridge. The trail then descends to Tanyard Gap where it crosses US 25/70 on an overpass, climbs to the junction of the Roundtop Ridge Trail, passes the Rich Mountain Fire Tower Trail then comes to the junction of FS#467a, FS#422 & FS#3514. Shortly after this junction the trail comes to Hurricane Gap (FS#467). The trail then continues north passing Spring Mountain Shelter and finally coming to NC208(Allen Gap). A nice loop can be made with the Pump Gap Trail or the Roundtop Ridge Trail. Another loop option begins at Tanyard Gap and returns to Tanyard via the Salt Box Road(FS#3514).

Roundtop Ridge Trail

3.2 miles one-way; difficult.

From the Junction with the Appalachian Trail on Rich Mountain the Roundtop Ridge Trail meanders down the ridge, past old farm fields and through an oak-hickory forest. The Trail ends on Reservoir Road near the Hot Springs Water Tank. Resevoir Road joins the River Road 1/4 mile downstream of US 25/70. This trail can be hiked as a loop with the AT (8.8 miles AT-3.2 Miles Roundtop Ridge-1.5 miles road) Trails Accessed From US 25/70 & NC208 Take US 25/70 East & South 5 Miles to the Laurel River and the junction of NC 208. For Trails on 208 turn left. Laurel River Trail (3.6 miles one-way,distance from Hot Springs-miles) Begins near the junction of NC 208 and 25/70 on a dirt road that turns into the trail. Single track on an old railroad grade to the ghost town of Runion where the Laurel empties into the French Broad River. Easy grade.

Spring Creek Nature Trail

1.6 miles; easy to moderate; yellow blazes.

The Spring Creek Nature Trail is located at Rocky Bluff Recreation Area and is an easy-to-moderate, yellow-blazed trail. At .5 mile, there is a nice vista of Spring Creek. Then the trail continues around the mountain, following along the side of the cascading stream. Keep a lookout for Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), basswood (Tilia americana), oaks, and an abundance of wildflowers including varieties of trillium.

Van Cliff Loop

2.6 miles; difficult.

A steep, difficult hike along streams and ridge tops where the forest has reclaimed old farmland. The trail leaves the south end of the Rocky Bluff Campground, crosses NC 209, and ascends Taylor Hollow Creek. Max Patch Whether black clouds ominously color the surrounding mountains or a clear blue sky affords breathtakingly panoramic views of the Black, Bald, Balsam, and Great Smoky mountains.

Max Patch

3.5 miles; moderate.

A favorite trail with hikers of all degrees of endurance. It is a gentle climb across the southernmost bald on the Appalachian Trail to its grassy summit at 4,629 feet. During the warmer seasons, the trail abounds with wildflowers. This relatively short hike can be extended by continuing either north or south on the Appalachian Trail. The northern segment travels 20 miles to the town of Hot Springs. The first 7 miles along this segment are easy, gaining less than 1,000 feet in elevation, but the path soon climbs steadily toward the wooded summit of Walnut Mountain (elevation 4,280 feet). After a short stretch on an old roadbed, the trail reaches Catpen Gap and ascends Bluff Mountain (elevation 4,686 feet). From here the trail drops steadily, losing more than 3,000 feet along its 10-mile descent into Hot Springs.  From Hot Springs, travel south on NC 209 for 7 miles. Turn right onto NC 1175 and continue for 5 miles. Turn onto NC 1182 (Max Patch Road) and travel 3 miles to the parking area at the foot of the bald. Activities: Hiking. Facilities: None at Max Patch. Several shelters along the Appalachian Trail. Fees: None. Closest town: Hot Springs, 15 miles. Elevation: 4,692 feet. Trail distance and configuration: Connector trail from parking lot to the AT approximately .5 mile. The Max Patch–Hot Springs segment of the AT approximately 20 miles.  On Shut-In Road Take US 25/70 west 3 miles, then turn left on Upper Shut-In Road (SR#1183).

Betty Place Trail

1.2 miles; easy.

An easy loop on a magnificent north-facing slope of Bluff Mountain. The trailhead is nearly at the end of Upper Shut-In Road on the left. The trail passes remnants of several home sites.

East Fork of Shut-In

2.0 miles one-way; moderate.

A moderate hike along Shut-In Creek from Upper Shut-In Road to the Appalachian Trail at Garenflo Gap. On River Road Go east on US 25/70 across the French Broad River Bridge. Turn left on River Road (SR #1304). Follow River Road to Murray Branch or Paint Rock. Murray Branch Picnic Area The Murray Branch Recreation Area is located 6 miles down the French Broad River from Hot Springs. The area offers recreational opportunities for picnicking, fishing, and canoe access to the river. Facilities at Murray Branch, under the shade of pines, include picnic tables, grills, restrooms, water, and two picnic shelters for large groups. An easy, 1-mile loop trail is adjacent to the area, providing a bird’s-eye view of the French Broad River and the surrounding valley.

River Ridge Loop Trail

1.3 mile loop; moderate.

A moderate loop that climbs through a pine forest for good river views. The trail begins across from the Murray Branch Picnic Area.

Jack Branch Trail

2.4 miles one-way; difficult; blue blazes.

A steep, difficult trail that climbs to 2900 feet for good views of Hot Springs and the French Broad River. The trail begins on the River Ridge Loop crosses the Polecat Hollow Road (FS#468) and ends at the Shad Road (FS#422).

Paint Rock Trail

1.3 miles; difficult.

Distance from Hot Springs-7 miles. Trail begins at Paint Rock 7 miles from Hot Springs via River Road. Take FS #54 towards Lone Pine Gap 1/10 mile. Look for the trail on left near Forest Service Road sign. Trail ascends steeply to the intersection of  the Chimney Rocks Trail. There is a beautiful view of Weaver’s Bend and the north side of Bluff Mountain at this trail junction.

Shelton Laurel Backcountry Hickey Fork Waterfall

1.1 miles; difficult.

The trail to Hickey Fork Waterfall is strenuous. The falls are rich with growing mosses. The small grottoes that can be spotted behind its mist provide a habitat for the spray-cliff natural community. From Hot Springs, head north on NC 208 until it intersects with NC 212, and take a right. Continue for 6.8 miles to NC 1310, which is known as Hickey Fork Road. Turn left and drive until you see the parking area on the right. The trailhead begins about 200 feet up the road, on the left. Hike in about 1 mile. At this point, a smaller yet beautiful cascade occurs on the right. To reach the main waterfall, continue another .1 mile. Some bushwhacking is necessary to reach the base of the waterfall. Hemlock, white pine (Pinus strobus), yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense and maximum), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), dog-hobble (Viburnum alnifolium), and ferns are all common.

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