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The Shining Rock Wilderness

Skill:

Moderate to Strenuous

Water:

A few streams and some small seeps

Pros:

Grand views, spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests

Cons:

Crowds on weekends, unmarked trails and rugged terrain

Notes:

Trails are unmarked but well defined. No groups over 10 and no fires allowed.

Location Easily accessible, 26 miles south of Asheville, NC on the Blue Ridge Parkway

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High Mountains of the Southern Appalachians

As a child, I remember the graphic relief map that my fifth grade teacher had hanging in the back of the classroom. I remember staring with a distant fascination at a large cluster of high mountains at the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain chain. Even as a child, I was determined to see what was on top of the raised bumps that depicted the highest mountains in the eastern United States.

Later in life, the US Forest Service began making hiking trail maps available to the general public. As each map became available, I would buy and eagerly study each map. I was looking for the perfect hike. When the Shining Rock Wilderness Map was made available, I scrambled to explore the high peaks that fascinated me in my earlier years.

Looking down the Big East Fork
 

Peaks over 6000 feet

In the North Carolina mountains, there are six mountain ranges that have peaks over 6000 feet. The Great Smoky Mountains, Black Mountains, Plott Balsams, Craggy Mountains, and The Great Balsam Mountains are the group that the Shining Rock belongs to.

You can hike here for days and you won't drop below 5000 feet in elevation. There are views, creeks and the rarified air that can only be found in Southern Appalachians. It doesn't matter how many times I hike the same trails here, each season changes them. The spring brings wildflowers that fill that air with a unique fragrance. A summer hike brings a quiet forest filled with dense vegetation that allows for secluded camp sites just a short distance from the trails. The fall with it's colors and the winter has grand views that rival the rocky mountains.

After hiking here for longer than I would like to admit, this area still remains one of my favorite hiking haunts.

The top of Black Balsam Knob
 

History

After extensive logging in the Northeast nearly depleted stands of virgin timber, lumber companies brought their operations to the southeast. The first logging here, on a large scale, was begun in 1906. The town of Sunburst was established near Lake Logan to support this logging operation of unprecedented proportions. Some loggers were local residents but most were immigrants looking for a better way of life.

Due to the rugged terrain and inaccessibility, enormous engineering feats were required to accomplish the logging of this area. Roads and railroad grades had to be constructed. Housing and support services had to be established. As you hike here, the results of this great undertaking are everywhere you look. Cables and other articles left behind are scattered across the landscape. Many trails follow rail road grades and other road beds. But the most obvious remnant of logging is the great grassy bald's.

Trails that lead everywhere and nowhere
 

Fires

The first settlers moved into this area in the late 1700's. The grassy bald's that have been a part of this area served as summer grazing land for their cattle.

In the 1920's the grassy bald's increased in size dramatically. Slash, the small branches that the timbermen can't use, was routinely heaped in piles in logged area. These unusable piles of wood would accumulate by the acre before regulation was introduced to end this practice. After years of logging in this area, acres and acres of this refuse littered this area.

In 1925 this scattered slash ignited into a forest fire of epic proportions. The flames lasted for three days and burned thousands of acres. At the time of the fires logging operations were in progress. Several narrow gauge locomotives were trapped in the back country because rail road trestles burned in the fire's path. Because these logging locomotives were leased, the trestles had to be rebuilt in order to retrieve them.

In 1942, another catastrophic fire swept through this area, burning even more intensely than the fire of 1925. This fire dealt a decisive blow in that it destroyed much of the organic material on Black Balsam Knob, Tennenet Mountain, Grassy Cove Top and Flower Knob. In our lifetime, we will not see any trees on these mountains of any significant height.

The peaks of the Middle Prong Wilderness

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National Park Quality

Although this area is administered by the US Forest Service, The Shining Rock Wilderness, Middle Prong Wilderness and the surrounding Pisgah National Forest has a National Park feel to it. The Wilderness itself is a wonderland of 6000 foot mountains, deep valleys and rushing creeks. It encompasses 493,000 acres and boasts more than a dozen peaks over 5000 feet.

As with most national parks, you don't have to be a hiker to enjoy this area. Short hikes are in good supply and views from the Blue Ridge Parkway allow you to see the grand mountains of the wilderness area from the comfort of you car.

In the valley below there are a series of sights and attractions that are accessible by a short walk,automobiles or a wheelchair. On Rt. 276, there are 16 miles of waterfalls, picnic areas, exhibits, day-hike trails and campgrounds.

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