Many people might not realize it, but winter hikes are just as much fun here as hiking any other time of year. The trails are the same, maybe a bit easier due to less vegetation getting in the way, and the views that are often blocked by the same vegetation in other seasons, are usually spectacular in winter! Recently we chose Flat Laurel Creek Trail for a hike. This is one of dozens of relatively easy trails in the Pisgah National Forest just a half hour from the inn.
Over the years we have found that each trail we’ve hiked, much like each B&B, has its own very distinct personality. Flat Laurel is no different. It starts off with a little challenge as we need to ford a small stream over slightly submerged rocks (wear water resistant hiking shoes!) before heading north on a well trodden slightly ascending natural footpath. The trail will rise several hundred feet over about 3 miles, and it is rated as ‘easy’. Although the air temp. is approaching 60, we find ourselves on pretty hard ice along shaded portions of the path so we need to be careful. The views of the mountains to our west are beautiful, and we can see Rt. 215 slinking along below us until it disappears into the terrain taking the traffic noise along with it. Not quite a mile into our hike we cross a stone bridge over Wildcat Falls which is still mostly covered with a white blanket of ice pack although the center has been carved out by its cascading waters. Very cool! The trail continues in micro climates of cool, warm, ice, snow and solid, although somewhat mushy, ground. The orange blazed trail is sometimes a narrow escarpment with beautiful icicle art and rhododendron canapes along the east side, while at other times it’s wide open with brush and wild grasses on either side. It seems there’s change waiting around every corner!
About two miles into the hike, Sam Knob comes into view to our left. At the same time, we hear the sound of cascading water signaling our approach to Flat Laurel Creek. The trail arcs to the right as it passes between Sam Knob and Little Sam to our right with Flat Laurel Creek careening along our left. We are not close enough to the creek to get a great view, but it tells us it’s still there! Several washouts down to the creek provide access, but today they are covered with ice and snow so we use discretion and decide not to become part of the cascade below! A few hundred yards further on we meet a trailhead marker to our left which leads up to Sam Knob summit. We start down this trail, but only go about half a mile before turning back to retrace our steps. The trail parallels rivulets up the grassy knoll from the creek that opens up into a large heathlike expanse. The hike up to Sam Knob is listed as ‘medium’ but we’re ready to call it a day!
If we had continued in the opposite direction we would have connected with the Art Loeb Spur which leads to the Art Loeb trail that passes Black Balsam Knob (6214′) and ultimately ends at Cold Mountain (6030′). The hike back is every bit as interesting as the hike out. We see everything from brand new angles, and the sun is dancing a different tune as well. By the time we return to Wildcat Falls the blanket of ice has retreated further revealing more of the rushing water underneath. We arrive back at our car three and a half hours later. Since this was a 6 mile hike we calculate our leisurely pace at less than two miles an hour. But, hey, we weren’t in a hurry. Just out for some winter fun! By coincidence, Stairway to Heaven is playing in the car as we head home. We both smile and nod at the perfect song to end our hike.