We were on our way to Mount Pisgah, when we chose the trail less traveled. On Labor Day weekend, traveling uphill on Highway 276 from Brevard, all the trailheads were crowded. At the Blue Ridge Parkway, we took a right and in three miles came to the Pisgah Inn, also showing a full parking lot. A little further on the left is an Overlook, then in less than a mile the Mt. Pisgah Picnic Area. Just past the Picnic Area on the right was our destination, the Mt. Pisgah Parking area.
We have hiked Mt. Pisgah many times: 1.3 miles and a steep elevation makes a good workout, and at 5,722 feet, a fine view on a clear day. On a busy Labor Day weekend, though, a jammed parking lot suggested that the platform at the top of Mt. Pisgah was likely to be crowded. All three of us–my husband, son, and I—hike, in part, for solitude, so we decided to follow a trail that split from the Mt. Pisgah route. It said “Frying Pan Tower, 3 miles.”
This trail is probably used most often by campers at Mt. Pisgah campground who want to reach the Mt. Pisgah trail, which meant we were following it backwards. The first 1.4 miles of the trail fell below the Blue Ridge Parkway and into a mixed deciduous forest of birch, hemlock, and rhododendrons. Since the early 2000s, the hemlock wooly adelgid, an insect from China, has devastating the Eastern Hemlock. Because of a wet summer, the towering hemlocks on this trail had bracket fungus and moss growing on them. The forest floor, though, had some of the largest stands of galax and I’ve seen in the area. Along the trail we also saw large stands of blooming white snakeroot, which despite its wicked name looks like sprinkles of snowballs through the woods. I also saw one of my favorite wildflowers, pink turtlehead, in clusters here and there.
Sadly, however, my son and husband were disappointed at first, because in this section of the trail we could hear the Blue Ridge Parkway traffic. Solitude requires at least some silence. Still, I was amazed by the wildflowers in September—yellow jewelweed or touch me not and asters as well as Joe Pye weed, which had just finished blooming. Although we had the trail to ourselves and outstanding wildflowers, the persistent traffic above did not grant us the stillness we seek in the mountains. The trail came out on Mt. Pisgah Picnic Area before continuing on toward the campground.
Once the trail arrives above the Mt. Pisgah campground, there are multiple trail intersections. These are short trails from the Mt. Pisgah Campground to the Country Store or the Inn. Keep following the main trail, which stays mostly parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It intersects with the entrance road to the campground at one point, and you have to walk down this road a few hundred yards (toward the Inn) to find the trail again. It comes out at another entrance road, where there is a sign directing you 1.6 miles to Frying Pan Lookout Tower.
This last section of the trail begins with an uphill climb into an oak and mixed deciduous forest. The oaks are scrubby and stout, as at this high elevation they are hit by winds and snows they don’t endure in the lowlands. Everywhere we saw bright red berries from the forest floor from Solomon’s plume, sometimes called false Solomon’s seal, though truly, there’s nothing false about it. High above the roadway now, we found greater silence and views of the ridgetops.
The trail climbs over a ridge and down to the Frying Pan Tower trailhead. This is the way most people go to see the old tower, built in 1941 and now on the National Register of Historic Places. This is not a trail hike: it’s three-quarters of a mile on a steep gravel jeep road. On either side of the road in September, thick stands of Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, and Aster lined the way. At the end of the trail stands the 70-foot tower and panoramic views, including Cold Mountain (North) and Looking Glass Mountain (South). As soon as the fall colors hit, this has to be one of the best places to enjoy the view. Our view on Labor Day included sheets of gray clouds hanging above the layers of green ridges. “It’s raining over there for sure,” my son said. “Let’s hope it doesn’t clobber us, I forgot to bring raincoats,” I answered.
No sooner had these words hit, when it poured. Because of the rain, we decided to walk back to our car along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were reminded of the importance of the ten essentials and soaked to the skin, but visions of pink turtleheads and white snakeroot filled our heads.