Get Outside

Fall is in the air — the relentless heat is finally dissipating, leaf color is starting to show and that longing to get outside and enjoy the beauty that autumn offers in Western North Carolina will soon become insatiable.

If you’re wondering where to get outside this season, or perhaps seeking some extra incentive to start exploring, you’re in luck. This weekend, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy releases the much anticipated new line-up for its popular White Squirrel Hiking Challenge program.

CMLC’s Hiking Challenge 4, sponsored by Pardee UNC Healthcare, features a list of eight hikes and walks — this version even includes an option to bike or paddle — among the newest trails and most spectacular lands protected by the local land trust.

The program was first launched in 2011. Since then, more than 450 intrepid outdoor enthusiasts have completed the series of hikes that showcase CMLC’s new land conservation and trail development in our region. Completers were as young as 4 and as much as 81 years old. Experience levels varying widely too — the hikes are chosen to appeal to introductory hikers as well as experienced adventurers.

In total, CMLC’s Hiking Challenge has inspired more than 5,000 separate hikes taken on recently protected lands and trails in our region.

The Pardee & CMLC White Squirrel Hiking Challenge, now in its fourth iteration, strives to introduce or reinforce the human connection to the natural world, and the importance of preserving it. Experiencing conserved landscapes in person helps to form a deep relationship with the land and ultimately a yearning to protect more of our region’s natural heritage.

Completers of all eight hikes in the program receive a certificate of completion, a beloved white squirrel embroidered hiking patch and a $10 gift certificate to Mast General Store. Most of all, all participants support CMLC’s mission of protecting our region’s treasured natural landscapes.

Interested in taking the Challenge? Visit to enroll.

Here is a sneak peak of the hikes in the new Hiking Challenge Version 4:

Wildcat Rock

Ascend CMLC’s newest trail in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge, beyond 100-foot Little Bearwallow Falls, to an expansive view atop a scenic rock outcropping.

Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower

Owned by the US Forest Service, the breathtaking vantage point from this historic fire lookout near the Blue Ridge Parkway provides a birds-eye view from thousands of acres of CMLC-conserved land.

Rhododendron Lake Nature Park

An easy “walk in the park” circumnavigates historic Rhododendron Lake in Laurel Park, showcasing a restored stream.

DuPont: Grassy Creek Falls

Escape the crowds by hiking to DuPont’s beautiful, lesser-known waterfall.

Bearwallow Mountain

A repeat favorite, climb the most iconic and scenic peak in Henderson County to enjoy a 360 degree view from the summit meadow.

Headwaters State Forest

Take an adventure along the Foothills Trail in NC’s newest state forest to a stunning but secret mountain vista.

The Park at Flat Rock

Get outdoors without leaving town: walk, run or bike the loop trail in Flat Rock’s new village park.

Little Bearwallow Mountain

Climb beyond Wildcat Rock to the top of Little Bearwallow on the second part of CMLC’s newest trail in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge.

French Broad River Paddle/Float

Substitute one of the hikes above for a float or paddle on the venerable French Broad River, starting or finishing at the new CMLC-facilitated Horse Shoe River Access Park.

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