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Image for The Jump Off
Dog Friendly: No
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter
Distance: 6.5 miles
Time To Complete: 2-4 hours

Unique features are scatted throughout the Smoky Mountains, from deep valleys with quick rivers to steep summits with rocky slopes. Trails that explore this Appalachian diversity will stick in your memory and keep you searching for a new favorite spots. With a steadily inclining segment of the infamous AT brining you most all the way to one of the most unique viewpoints in the entire Smoky Mountain National Park, the Jump Off is well worth the walk.

What Makes It Great

The Jump Off is a notable 1,000 foot cliff face on the side of Mount Kephart. Once you see it, you’ll easily understand the name, as it produces magnificent views of Charlie’s Bunion and Mount Guyot from atop a very steep precipice. To get to this impressive landmark, one great option is to take the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap and connect it with the Boulevard Trail.

It’s a 6.5 mile out and back trail with quite a bit of climbing, but it’s generally pretty steady grade, so don’t be too worried. About 2.7 miles in, after you’ve conquered most of the elevation gain, you’ll reach the trail junction for the Boulevard Trail. Take a left here, and not before long, you’ll encounter the Jump Off junction, from where you’ll only have about half a mile left until your final destination. This trail provides great hiking in all seasons.

Diversity keeps things interesting on any trail, and this one does not disappoint. From the trailhead at Newfound Gap the path to the Jump Off steadily winds and ascends along the AT, giving breathtaking ridgeline views of the Smoky Mountain Highlands. Several large clearings along the way allow photo-ops for hikers that give a unique view of the surrounding forest. From these clearings the destruction of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid can be seen on neighboring mountains. The towering trees lining the trail often are surrounded with thick mosses and ferns, giving hikers the feel of wandering through a rainforest. During the winter months, the trail is often coved with ice like melted candle wax. During these colder months the trail is more difficult but the added aesthetic of the ice makes an unreal experience.

Who is Going to Love It

Hikers, this trail is all yours. Trail runners will also enjoy the upward journey to this iconic mountain feature, but hikers will have the most enjoyable time. Because this is a section of the famed AT, many long-distance hikers will be passed along the way. This trek may even inspire you to do a long trip of your own.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Parking for the Jump Off is found at the Newfound Gap lot. The trailhead can be found at the edge of the parking lot, where the AT will be followed for 2.7 miles to the Boulevard Trail intersection. Once a left is taken onto the Boulevard Trail, the Jump Off trail will be on your left after about 0.5 miles. All of these trails are well marked.

Any backcountry camping requires a permit, and dogs are not allowed on the trail.

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Written by Matt Guenther for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Pen Waggener

Image for Charlie's Bunion
Dog Friendly: No
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter
Distance: 8.0 miles
Time To Complete: 3-5 hours

Delving into the etymology of Charlie’s Bunion reveals a historical tale of exploration during the earliest days of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Famed author and adventurer, Horace Kephart, was leading a reconnaissance trip high into the remote Saw-tooth region of the Smokies. This knife edged ridgeline runs between the Mt. LeConte and Mt. Guyot massifs; its airy undulations are some of the most remote parts of the Park and a profile view, of the 10 mile stretch of peaks, resembles the serrated edges of a saw. Warn out from the rigors of exploration Kephart’s companion, Charlie Conner, removed his boots during a break and revealed a set of haggard feet. His mangy extremities resembled the nearby, and bulging outcropping of rocks known then as Fodderstack. Kephart, one of the Great Smokies’ greatest advocates, proposed renaming the rock Charlie’s Bunion to commemorate his misery.

What Makes It Great

Charlie’s Bunion, known to locals as The Bunion, can be reached by a 4 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. A picturesque drive to Newfound Gap, sight of the Park’s inauguration, leads to the start of this scenic hike. Forests of fragrant Firs line the rocky path and long range views will entertain your eyes as you make your way North on the AT. This particular section of the AT has a total elevation gain of 1,600’ and climbs to over 6,000’ on the sides of Mt. Kephart as it leads to The Bunion. Nearly 3 miles into the trail hikers are offered a reprieve from the rigors of trail life at the Icewater Springs Shelter. Bring a water filtration system and nourishment for a high country hiatus at this “life-list” shelter. Icewater Springs is home to amazing Appalachian views and a perpetually cold water source, making it an ideal resting point on your way to The Bunion.

Four miles into your hike a signed spur trail on your left will lead you in the direction of Charlie’s Bunion. Explore the area carefully, large drop offs and loose rock here will require your utmost attention. Your reward for reaching the Bunion is paid off in views. The Bunion is walled in by the beautiful behemoths: Mt. Kephart Mt. Guyot and Mt. Leconte. An uninterrupted westward view, over the sprawling green expanse of Eastern Tenessee, opens up on the summit.

Who is Going to Love It

If you’re looking to experience the Appalachian Trail – sans blisters, and without having to walk all the way to Maine – then you will love this 8 mile, out-and-back sampling of the world famous trail. Adventurous scramblers will find a playground on The Bunion’s rocks and photographers can capture amazing sunset views from this precipitous peak.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville, an hour and half drive will take you to the Newfound Gap parking lot where you will begin your hike northbound on the AT. Ample parking and restroom facilities are also available at Newfound Gap.

A day hike to the Bunion does not require any permits or fees.

If you wish to stay at the Icewater Springs shelter make reservations in advance, this shelter is quite popular, and plan on purchasing a permit for $4 per night, per person.

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Written by Steven Reinhold for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Justin Meissen

The Boone Fork Trail is renowned not only for the sultry beauty of the mountains it passes through, but also the range of ever-changing terrain that one will encounter on this dynamic five-mile loop. The hike begins and ends in Julian Price Memorial Park, a swath of land comprised of 4,200 acres of dense hardwood forest and rolling Appalachian Mountains.

The trail’s namesake river, the Boone Fork, will intersect your path at multiple points along the way, but never with the same temperament. It firsts appears as a flat and docile stream, then transforms over the next few miles into a roaring cascade, tumbling through a garden of cracked granite boulders. As you near the completion of the trail, the river once again becomes placid, cutting through floodplains that, in the summer months, are choked with wildflowers.

Your hike will begin with a gentle climb through soft, undulating hills that give way to cow pastures, meadows and marshes as the din of the river grows and fades in the background. In the heat of summer, you will be grateful for chilled rhododendron tunnels and tall, shady coniferous trees. The gradient for the majority of the trail is moderate, making it a popular loop for trail runners. A few moments of steep climbing, timber cut steps, and one wooden ladder may present a challenge to children, small dogs, and anyone not dressed for slippery and uneven terrain. Other obstacles include rock hopping, stream crossings, and brief sections of mud.

The pinnacle of this hike is Hebron Rock Colony, a jumble of flat-top boulders so thickly dispersed that the river all but disappears beneath them. This unusual feature cuts into the hillside like an ancient highway, providing an idyllic spot for sunbathing and picnicking. In certain areas, water splashes over granite tongues, creating a natural water park that will prove irresistible on sweltering summer days.

Farther along the trail, rock outcrops provide views of iconic Grandfather Mountain and Hanging Rock. Long range mountains views are secondary, however, to the immediate splendor of a lush, river-fed landscape, wide open fields, and waist high wildflowers. Not long after embarking from the parking lot, you will find yourself feeling completely immersed in an ethereal beauty reminiscent of a watercolor painting.

Although swimming spots and sunny meadows make this hike a popular excursion in spring and summer, Boone native Ambrose Park advises paying a visit in the off season as well.

“The Boone Fork trail is awesome, but in the summer you run the risk of crowds,” says Park, warning that on weekends he’s seen people forfeit their hike because they couldn’t find a parking spot. “I like to run it in the fall when there are less people and all the colors, and in the winter the river forms all sorts of enchanting icicles.”

To access the trail, cross the footbridge at the Price Park Picnic Area, mile marker 296.4 in Julian Price Memorial Park. Allow yourself three hours of daylight to complete this hike.

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Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Joe Giordano

At Frugal Backpacker, we believe that the outdoors are for everyone — and we love helping our community discover new places to get outdoors. To celebrate the arrival of summer, our local experts have put together a list of their favorite hikes, from easy to challenging. Make this your most active summer yet (and save on some new gear) by taking the Summer Trail Challenge.

Hit six of our 14 favorite trails before September 23 (the first day of fall), and you’ll get 25% off up to six items.

Just stop by any Frugal Backpacker or Diamond Brand Outdoors location, grab a free sticker, or purchase a logo water bottle, hat, or tee. Take a pic showing off your Frugal Backpacker swag on the trail and post it to Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #AVLSummerTrail. Make sure to tag @frugal_backpacker and  @diamondbrand_outdoors. (Be a good steward and skip any urges to actually stick a sticker on a sign, tree, or anything else that doesn’t naturally have a sticker.)

Easy – Moderate:

Asheville Urban Trail

Crabtree Falls

Craggy Gardens

Glassy Mountain

Hard Times Loop

Lover’s Leap

Max Patch

Mt Pisgah

Pink Beds

Moderate – Difficult:

Black Balsam

Coontree Loop

Devil’s Courthouse

John Rock

Looking Glass

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

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When you live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with fantastic access to the outdoors, top restaurants, and every type of art there is, for something romantic that’s different from your weekly routine is easy: take a hike!

Melina Coogan

A winter hike offers many rewards for you and your favorite explorer. You’ll appreciate the refreshing temperatures as you climb a mountainside. Many times, you’ll have the trail all to yourself since there are fewer fellow hikers. The best views of the year are on display thanks to leafless trees and deep blue skies. While the higher peaks see snow, valleys have mild winter days perfect to get outdoors. Plus, no bugs mean you’re free to hold hands or snuggle.

Here are five great winter hikes that are close to home:

Lover’s Leap

While most of the Appalachian Trail is too remote for winter hikes, you can easily take a “walk in the woods” in this section in Hot Springs. The trail runs along Main Street, so just park and start your hike there. Cross the French Broad River and climb the ridge up to several outcrops for views across the valley and river. On the way back on the 1.5-mile round trip hike, stop for a soak in the hot mineral springs or enjoy one of the restaurants in this charming mountain town.

Deep Creek Waterfalls

One of the busiest camping and tubing areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the summer, Deep Creek is a lower elevation trail that receives little snow. To see three frozen waterfalls, you have the option of 2.4-mile or 5-mile roundtrip hiking routes. Plenty of seating means you can take your time on this hike that’s just three miles from downtown Bryson City.

Rattlesnake Lodge

While the name may cause hesitation, this 3-mile roundtrip hike is a local favorite on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Hike the former carriage road up the ridge to the ruins of an early 1900s summer retreat. February is the perfect time to visit since you can more easily find the stone foundations of many buildings.

Bearwallow Mountain

Just 19 miles from Asheville is a short hike that rewards with 360-degree views from a treeless summit on the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Cattle often graze on top, but they will gladly share the meadow with you for a picnic by the historic lookout tower. Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy recently protected the mountain and built the 1-mile trail for all to enjoy. The uphill climb will quickly warm you up!

Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Folk Art Center

You don’t even have to leave the city of this one! Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow the signs to the Visitor Center or the Folk Art Center (the trail starts at one and ends at the other). If you want a walk of 5.5 miles, then make it an out and back. If you want a shorter walk, just park a car at each end. This walk is a perfect blend of urban and rural coexistence with lots of features: two tunnels, a bridge over the Swannanoa River, steps, an overpass over US 70, walk under a BRP viaduct, an open field with a picturesque barn, and maybe cows.

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Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

A brisk trek with friends is one of our 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 a footwear expert at Frugal Backpacker 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 the days seem shorter, 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!

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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.

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.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER

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