For years when I was looking at my trail maps I would see trails that went out of the National Forest and into an area called "Montreat". I later learned that Montreat was a private community featuring high-dollar houses, vacation cabins, a Christian-based liberal arts college, a community center, and the home of evangelist Billy Graham. I figured the area was off limits and that those trails were meant only for the residents and their guests.
Well, I was wrong. The trails are open to all who are willing to be courteous and who obey the rules. They're foot trails only, which means no bikes, no horses, and absolutely no motorized vehicles.
Views toward NC's Highest Peaks.
The thousands of acres that are locked up in conservation easements around the community are really good hiking territory. These lands encompass some great streams, forests, and peaks. Some of the mountains here soar well over a mile above sea level and lead up toward Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern USA.
A drive through Montreat will likely have you admiring the college, parks, homes and facilities. It would be a very nice place to live if you have the money to afford it. (I don't.) The trail heads are generally located at ample parking lots at the ends of paved roads.
The hike we took was relatively short and brisk. It gained a fair amount
of elevation in quick order and around lunch time we found ourselves at the top of Brushy Mountain. We took this opportunity to sit on the summit and have something to eat. After that we slogged through the snow toward a gap and then to the trail that would make a our hike into a loop that would take us back to our vehicles. The snow on the western facing slopes was a lot deeper than I had figured--in some places it was shin-deep. It felt weird to be hiking through snow so deep when the temperatures were warm enough for shorts.
After we climbed down from the summit we began to encounter quite a lot of deadfall. Apparently the recent ice, snow, and wind storms have been too much for the trees. There were lots of downed oaks. Every few meters we found ourselves detouring around large trees and branches that had collapsed from the recent severe weather. It made the going slow and the progress frustrating. I feel sure that these trails are maintained purely by volunteer efforts, so there is going to have to be quite many hours put in to get them straight when Spring rolls around. As it is, hiking them is really tough, and I wouldn't recommend it to any casual hikers.
We did find that the area is nice enough and the welcome open enough so that we'll both go back to try other hikes. Next on my list at Montreat is to hike to the summit of Graybeard Mountain. It rises to over 5,400 feet, so it's definitely on my peak-bagging list.
Warm and Snowy
From I-40, take exit 64 and drive north on NC Highway 9 into the community of Montreat. Once in Montreat, take Suwannee Drive to the end of the road. At the dead end there is a parking lot and the trail terminus for Big Piney Ridge Trail.
Montreat Trail System.
None. The trails are open to all, but foot traffic only. No horses, no bikes, and no motorized vehicles! There's no camping in Montreat itself, but you can hike into the Pisgah National Forest and camp where you please.
Mount Mitchell Toll Road.
No camping on Montreat property. Plenty of back country camping across the property line in Pisgah National Forest.