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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Wild Wonderful Wilderness

Posted April 10, 2007 9:05 a.m. EDT
Updated April 10, 2007 9:28 a.m. EDT

A hiker's confession: I worried about this trip. I worried about getting lost, especially after leaving my compass at home! You need a compass or GPS when you explore here. To keep the wilderness feel the trails are minimally marked.

I hadn't been in the Linville Gorge since my teenage years when my scout troop hiked 12 miles from Table Rock and camped overnight. It was great fun. I remember eating pancakes for breakfast by the Linville River thanks to Dr. Bill Kirksey who led us on this wilderness excursion.

Fast forward to a warm week day in early spring of this year. My family decided to hike the west rim of the gorge. We began by driving down a gravel road to what I call The Best View in North Carolina. Wiseman's View offers a spectacular look at the gorge. The chiseled mountains here have rich character. You can see up close exactly why Hawksbill Mountain got its name. To your right you will look in awe at the majestic Table Rock which was revered as sacred by the Cherokees. Another highlight was seeing a peregrine falcon floating along a cloud below us.

Just south of Wiseman's View is the beginning of the Conley Cove Trail. It took us about an hour to travel the 1.4 mile trail taking time to snap photographs of wildflowers along the way and marvel at the many different sounds and sources of water. It is a steep and strenous trail of switchbacks, rocks and roots. We only got off trail a couple of times and managed to recover quickly.

The Linville River is a wonderful reward at the bottom of the gorge with its rushing waters and sparkling views. My daughter Lauren pulled off her hiking boots and chilled her tired toes in the mountain water. It felt good.

After a 60 minute sojourn we hit the trail back up to our car. We surprised ourselves by actually making faster time on the uphill climb. We pushed ourselves but drank lots of water. Be sure to bring plenty of water. My shirt was drenched in sweat by the time I made it to the top.

One of the neatest things about hiking midweek is the lack of people. We didn't see a single hiker on the trail outside our family. We can't wait to go back. Next we will tackle a much longer trail. There are more than 15 to choose from in what geologists call "The Grand Canyon of North Carolina."

Check out this audio slideshow about the hike.  And for more information I would suggest the links at the top of the post.