Bearwallow Mountain (Hiking Challenge 3)

At 4,232 ft. above sea level, Bearwallow Mountain stands as the highest peak in the widely-visible Bearwallow Highlands range. Straddling the Eastern Continental Divide, it forms the part of the upper rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Crowned with a scenic grassy meadow at its summit, the mountain features a nearly 360° view that encompasses some of the southern Appalachians highest peaks including Mt. Mitchell in the Black Mountains and Mt. Pisgah in the Great Balsams range. Its breathtaking vista also includes a birds-eye view of Hickory Nut Gorge, downtown Hendersonville, and the lowlands of South Carolina. A historic fire lookout tower occupies the summit, as do grazing cattle who call the mountaintop home. 

CMLC initiated land protection at Bearwallow Mountain when it acquired a conservation easement on 81 acres at the summit in 2009, forever protecting it from mountaintop development. An additional 85 acres along Bearwallow's high elevation ridgeline were conserved by CMLC by another easement in 2013, and another 5 acres of protection added in 2014. With 171 acres now permanently conserved, CMLC is striving toward protecting an additional 300 acres at Bearwallow Mountain.

CMLC protects Bearwallow Mountain via conservation easements in partnership with its private landowner. A conservation easement is an entirely voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits uses of the land--such as building structures, commercial logging, excavation, and other rights--in order to protect its conservation values, including natural heritage, water quality, scenic views, wildlife habitat, and many more. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land--like grazing cattle atop Bearwallow Mountain--and they can also sell it or pass it on to heirs.

In 2011, CMLC constructed a new public hiking trail to the summit of Bearwallow Mountain with the help of the Carolina Mountain Club, REI Asheville, and community volunteers. This trail was the first segment in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trail, a 15-mile hiking loop that will link Bearwallow Mountain to CMLC conserved lands at Florence Naturte Preserve, Little Bearwallow Mountain & Wildcat Rock, and SAHC-protected Blue Ridge Pastures and Hickory Nut Gap. Additional segments of the Upper HNG Trail are currently under construction; about 9 miles of the loop is currently completed (including the Little Bearwallow Mountain Trail Phase 1, Trombatore Trail, and Florence Nature Preserve trails).

CHALLENGE: Hike to the top of Bearwallow Mountain

Primary Route: Hike the newly opened Bearwallow Mountain Trail to the scenic mountain summit
Hiking Distance: 2.0 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 537 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Click here to enter your address and receive turn-by-turn directions to the trailhead. GPS users may enter N35.4607, W-82.3681 in their units. Trailhead is at Bearwallow Gap, located at the crest of Bearwallow Mountain Road where the pavement turns to gravel. Once at the trailhead, park on the shoulder of the road making sure not to block the gate or the road. Space is available for only a few cars at this trailhead, so multiple hikers should consider carpooling.  Trail begins beyond an rusted gate; walk around it and look for the beginning of the trail on the right, marked by a trailhead kiosk sign.

Hiking DirectionsOnce inside the gate, locate the trail to the right of the gravel road. The trail switchbacks several times to begin its climb upon entering the forest. At 0.4 mi., ascend a set of elaborate, switchbacked rock stairs constructed by the Carolina Mountain Club. The trail switchbacks sharply at 0.5 mi. and levels out to provide a breather as it curves around Bearwallow's western ridge. Once on the mountain's northern slopes, climb several more sets of rock stairs at 0.7 mi. At 0.8 mi., the trail emerges into Bearwallow's beautiful mountaintop meadow; in summer, you will share the grassy bald with cattle. Intersect the gravel road just beyond and walk it to its end at the summit and fire tower (N35.4610, W-82.3573) at 1.0 mi.

Alternative Routes:  Hike the gravel access road to the summit (0.7 mi.), or use the trail and the road to make a loop hike (1.7 mi. round-trip).

Looking for More of a Challenge?:

CMLC annually hosts the Bearwallow Beast 5K Trail Run on the first Sunday of May. The race as been heralded as one of the most difficult footraces in the southeast. Its strenuous course more than 1,400 feet of elevation as it ascends from the hamlet of Gerton up Bearwallow Mountain Road and the Bearwallow Mountain Trail to its finish line at the summit meadow. The route begins on pavement before transitioning to a gravel road and finally the single-track trail. Runner and hikers are rewarded at the summit with a mountaintop festival that includes local beer, live bluegrass, and a breathtaking (should you have any left) 360° view.

Find out if CMLC is hosting the Bearwallow Beast this year by calling the office at 828-697-5777.


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