WNC Trail Triple Crown Challenge

We’ve partnered with our friends at Asheville Trails and Diamond Brand Outdoors for the WNC Trail Triple Crown Challenge.

Visit Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to check out the awesome new Asheville Trails kiosks with dozens of local trails. We believe the outdoors are for everyone of all abilities, so you’ll find lots of good stuff at the kiosk, like directions and insider tips on easy, moderate, and difficult hikes of varying distance. Find a trail you like, and then snap a picture of the info sheet with your phone. And then visit the Asheville Trails website to get driving directions and more trail info.

Hit any three trails from the displays during April and we’ll give you 20% off up to five items, plus a free Asheville Trails sticker! Just post a pic to Instagram while you’re on the trail, tag both @frugal_backpacker and @ashevilletrails, and use the hashtag #WNC3C.

Once you’ve hiked three of the trails, return to Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to receive your discount. A team member will take a look a look at your tagged photos — which we’d probably like to share on our feed if you give us permission!

Discount cannot be used for gift cards, boats, or special orders. See store for any other exclusions.

Favorite Hikes: John Rock

The unseasonably warm weather we’ve been experiencing in WNC this winter has us jonesing for a day on the trail. One of our favorite spots for a long-ish hike with a serious payoff at the end is John Rock. This fairly steep hike to the upper slab of John Rock climaxes in fantastic views, including one of the best views of Looking Glass Rock.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 5 miles

Map: NatGeo 780 Pisgah Ranger District

Location: From Asheville, take I826 east to the exit for the Asheville Airport (exit 40). Turn right onto NC 280; follow the highway for 16 miles toward Brevard. At the intersection with US highways 276 and 64, turn right onto US 276 west (follow signs for Pisgah National Forest). Follow US 276 for 5.2 miles; turn left onto FR 475. Go 1.4 miles to the Center for Wildlife Education and Fish Hatchery. Turn left, cross the bridge and park in the parking lot.

Winter Hiking in the North Carolina Mountains

It may be a little hard to imagine layering up for a winter hike with the unseasonably warm weather we’ve seen over the past few weeks, but a chilly trek with friends is one of my favorite activities during the season of staying inside. When a sunny day shines down between bouts of frosty mornings and blustery afternoons, it’s a great time to explore new trails that are harder to access during the warmer months. It’s the perfect prescription to warm you up on those chilly, gloomy days!

As a kid, winter is the season of finding the best spot for sledding, snowball throwing, and snow fort building quicker than anyone else. As an adult, it can be making fresh tracks in the snow or avoiding mud puddles as you check out a view usually obscured by leaves during the spring and summer. There are also few sights that compare to a frozen mountain waterfall and one of the coolest sights to be seen in WNC: needle ice.

There are plenty of rewards to a winter hike including refreshing temperatures, fewer fellow hikers, and endless views of deep blue skies. While higher elevations typically see snow, the valleys around Asheville are usually clear and great on mild days. The North Carolina Arboretum is a great place to explore during these months as sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are often inaccessible since it’s never treated or plowed.

As with any season, it’s best to be prepared when heading out for a hike of any length. Trail-tested essentials to keep in your daypack year round are water bottles, trekking poles, snacks, first aid kit, and whistle. A headlamp and a rain jacket are also imperative if you like to enjoy too-beautiful-to-miss sunsets or make a wrong turn. This is one season you can leave the insect repellant at home.

With heavier used trails, winter hiking can present packed snow turned slick or slushy mud. Consult with one of our footwear experts to choose footwear based on expected trail conditions. Winter hikers usually have better grip and sturdy ankle support. A good pair of hiking boots – no matter the season – provide great piece of mind.

Even though it seems like spring has come early, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon or weekend hike and come back home for a warm bowl of chili or cup of tea. Layer up and get outdoors.


Favorite Hikes: Mount Pisgah

We’re all too familiar with the winter challenge of trying to squeeze in a quick after-work hike, before the sun sets. That’s why we’re always happy to find a hike, like Mount Pisgah, that’s enjoyable but relatively close to town. A 3 mile round trip hike to the top of Mount Pisgah provides breathtaking scenery just 30 minutes outside of Asheville.

This peaceful hike climbs through northern hardwood forrest and rhododendron hells before culminating in stunning 360-degree views. In spite of the transmission tower at the summit, you can enjoy unmarred views of Shining Rock Wilderness, Cold Mountain, The Great Smoky Mountains, and Mount Mitchell. While this hike is relatively short in distance, its somewhat steep and rocky trails provide a decent workout for the time invested. This trail is a popular weekend destination, but we’ve found it to be a quiet mid week hike.

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Distance: 3 Miles

Map: NatGEO 780; Pisgah Ranger District

Location: From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway south to the Mount Pisgah Parking Area, on the left at milepost 407.6. Park at the second parking area; the first is for Buck Springs trail.

Favorite Hikes: Craggy Gardens

If you want the reward of a beautiful view without an arduous hike, look no further than Craggy Gardens. A short 1.4 mile hike provides you with postcard perfect 365 degree mountain views. The views are particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset (don’t forget your headlamp). In addition to great views, the high elevation allows you to spot some unique plant life year round, but our favorite time to hit this hike is in mid-June, when the entire rhododendron encrusted mountainside is in bloom. The hike up is rocky, but fairly easy, and is great for new hikers and children.

Even on cloudy days, the view from Craggy is superb.

Even on cloudy days, the view from Craggy is superb.

Distance: 1.4 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Recommended Map: NatGeo 779; Linville Gorge/Mount Mitchell

Directions: From Asheville, follow the Blue Ridge Parkway North 18 miles past the Folk Art Center. Pass the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area and Visitor Center; go under the Craggy Pinnacle tunnel. Turn left into the Craggy Dome overlook just past the tunnel. Park in the upper parking lot.

Be safe. Play more. Remember our outdoor safety basics.

Outdoor Safety Basics

We truly live in an outdoor paradise. WNC offers hundreds of beautiful hiking trails and breathtaking overlooks. But to make the most out of your adventure, it’s vital to be well prepared and think about a few essentials for a rewarding (and safe) experience.


Always bring along enough water for your hike. An average adult will likely drink a minimum of 2-3 liters of water on a full day of hiking, but will likely need more, especially in warm weather or on particularly strenuous hikes. Good news! Water is plentiful in WNC and delicious! Just bring along a filter, pump, or treatment solution and you will have all the clean water you need.

Rain Gear: 

Rain gear is critical in WNC, one of the rainiest parts of the country! During popular spring, summer, and fall months rain and thunderstorms are a common occurrence. Stay dry, stay warm, stay safe, and play more


If you’re doing the Art Loeb, venturing into a wilderness area, or just hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway on a new trail, make sure you know where you’re headed and can find your way back! National Geographic and Pisgah Map Company maps are affordable and readily available.

First Aid: 

Whether taking the family to a swimming hole or camping out during an overnight, First Aid is important. Scrapes, cuts, bee stings, sunburn and other more serious injuries can and do occur. Be prepared.


Whether hammocking or curling up in a tent, camping is an awesome way to experience the WNC wilderness! Pisgah National Forest has designated campgrounds for easy car access and also allows dispersed camping anywhere in its boundaries. Certain portions of Pisgah require the use of hard- sided bear canisters. Please check their website for up-to-date information or stop into Frugal Backpacker for advice!

The nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park requires a permit and advance reservations for all backcountry camping in the park. In the busy season these spots go fast, so plan ahead!

Bear-Bagging is a useful skill when camping anywhere in bear country. WNC is home to a large black bear population and even when camping in areas that do not expressly require bear canisters, we suggest bear-bagging your food and smellables(deodorant, soap, toothpaste, etc). The PCT method of bear-bagging is our preferred system at Frugal Backpacker. If you are unfamiliar with it, drop into the shop and ask one of our experts to demonstrate. All it takes is a bag, some paracord, a carabiner, and a stick!

Leave No Trace and Wilderness Awareness: 

The mountains and forests of WNC are a wonderful resource and welcoming opportunity to learn and explore! Please be respectful of the land and help preserve it for future generations and fellow enthusiasts alike! Bag your trash and carry it out with you. Dispose of human waste responsibly and away from water sources and trails. Thoroughly extinguish any fires and obey fire ban ordinances when and where applicable. Do not disturb wildlife and be mindful of slippery surfaces near the many creeks, rivers and waterfalls that dot our mountains. More people die from slipping and falling each year than every other cause put together!

If you don’t know, ask! 

Getting into a new activity or learning a new area takes time, but expert guidance can make a huge difference. Stop by Frugal Backpacker or our sister store, Diamond Brand Outdoors and ask our friendly expert staff for info on the local area or gear suggestions. We’re always happy to help!

NPO 100 Great Smoky Mtns

We’re celebrating National Parks Week from April 16-24. The National Park Service (NPS) celebrates an important milestone this year: 100 years of the National Park Service Organic Act. Today, the NPS manages 401 park units and attendance hit a peak last year. While we’ve got easy access to two of the most visited units – the Blue Ridge Parkway (#1) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (#4) – day hikes are only the beginning of adventures that can be had when you venture just beyond our community. Grab the car and the kids and head out for these weekend trips this spring or summer.

There are 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for hiking, including seventy miles of the Appalachian Trail. The only lodging inside the park is LeConte Lodge on top of Mount Le Conte near Sevierville. However, it operates on a lottery system so if you visit in 2016, you’ll most likely use one of the ten pet-friendly family campgrounds.

Stop at Clingmans Dome Observation Tower for a perfect example of American modernist architecture and a stunning 360° view of up to 100 miles in each direction. Spend a night or two camping and exploring at Cades Cove or Smokemont and then take the family to Gatlinburg to satisfy every tourist curiosity you’ve ever had – from the Museum of Salt & Pepper Shakers and indoor skydiving to horseback riding and musical dinner theatre.

If you’re not quite in the traveling mood or want to try some local hikes before setting out on the trails in Virginia and Tennessee, try portions of these trails to join the NPS Centennial Celebration.

  • The Appalachian Trail at Max Patch
  • The Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Memminger Trail at Carl Sandburg Home
  • Deep Creek Trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee on the Trail of Tears

Half Tank Getaways highlights some of our favorite places just outside of Buncombe County and is powered by our pals at Prestige Subaru.


NPO 100 Blue Ridge Pkwy

On August 25, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates an important milestone: 100 years of the National Park Service Organic Act. Today, the NPS manages 401 park units and attendance hit a peak last year. While we’ve got easy access to two of the most visited units – the Blue Ridge Parkway (#1) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (#4) – day hikes are only the beginning of adventures that can be had when you venture just beyond our community. Grab the car and the kids and head out for these weekend trips this spring or summer.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” meanders for 469 miles and provides plenty of scenic driving, biking, and hiking in Buncombe County. Head over the Virginia border for a weekend and check out what The Commonwealth has to offer.

Stop off at the Blue Ridge Music Center near the town of Galax for music demonstrations, concerts, and a museum dedicated to old time mountain music. It’s set apart by focusing on local artists who best show the history of Appalachian music and not “the stars.”

Plan an overnight stay in Roanoke for shopping at City Market and dining at local favorites Local Roots or Billy’s. Make your way to Sherando Lake in George Washington National Forest for some hiking and camping the next day. You can spend your final day exploring the Shenandoah Valley, Humpback Rock, and Shenandoah National Park before heading back home.

Half Tank Getaways highlights some of our favorite places just outside of Buncombe County and is powered by our pals at Prestige Subaru.