An expert trail designer weighs in on the best spots to hike in the Southern Appalachians
Morgan Sommerville is southern regional director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Based in Asheville, he’s worked with the organization more than thirty years and has hiked all 2,000 miles of its namesake trail.
What’s your all-time favorite hike in the Southern Appalachians?
I would say it’s probably a seventy-two-mile traverse of the Smokies on the Appalachian Trail. You get up to the area’s highest point at Clingmans Dome in Tennessee, but more than that, there’s a lot of really beautiful scenery along the way. It’s a world-class hike.
Is there an easier trail you’d recommend to a day hiker?
Yes, Max Patch. It has beautiful views into western North Carolina and east Tennessee. Up to the summit and back is probably a mile. It’s an open-pasture, Sound of Music–like place.
When’s the best time to see wildflowers?
Depends where you are, but early to mid-April through mid-May is the height of wildflower season. In early spring, you see things like trilliums and Jack in the Pulpit, which are fairly showy wildflowers. As you get into May, you start to see the flame azalea coming out, and then in June, rhododendron at the higher elevations is pretty spectacular.
What’s the best hike for summit views?
North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell is pretty darn hard to beat since it’s the highest point in the East. On a clear day, you can see 100 miles.
Georgia’s Amicalola Falls is a beautiful hike and fairly strenuous, even though it’s in the frontcountry, because it goes up a long flight of steps. The waterfall is beautiful and the hike itself has great views of it because the route crisscrosses back and forth over the creek.
Camping is great, but after a long day in the woods, sometimes nothing sounds better than crawling into a cozy bed. What’s a good place to stay?
The Hostel at Laughing Heart Lodge in Hot Springs, North Carolina. For many, many years, it was a Jesuit retreat and hostel, and then the Jesuits sold it to an entrepreneur. If you’re hiking north, it’s the first building you come to as you enter Hot Springs, so a lot of people stay there. They’re friendly people.
How about a can’t-miss restaurant along the Appalachian Trail?
In Franklin, North Carolina, there’s the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company. Great ambiance, the beer is really good, and they serve the best onion rings I’ve ever had.