Rich Mountain via Appalachian Trail
This is a moderate hike on the Appalachian Trail, though there are a couple of steep sections that will give you a workout. After a short section walking along the French Broad River, there is a short but steep climb to get to the ridgeline above. From there, there are several very nice view spots of the river and valley below.
The next several miles are much more gradual ups and downs, with some highlights being an old, dammed mill pond and a large field with seasonal wildflowers.
At Tanyard Gap, there is a bridge over Hwy 25, and there is a parking area where you could set a shuttle for a shorter return hike. The summit of Rich Mtn is about 2.5 miles from this parking area, and the climb is moderate and steady.
The highlight of the hike is the metal fire tower at the summit, with 360º views from the platform at the top. In recent years, this platform was rebuilt for safety, and you can go all the way into the open cabin.
Other than a complete return to the trailhead (which is almost 16 miles), there are a couple of popular return options:
1) If you set a shuttle at Tanyard Gap, the total hike distance is around 10 miles.
2) You can return on the Roundtop Ridge Trail, after backtracking ~1/2 mile on the AT. This provides some different views as you descend the ridge, and a hike distance around 13 miles.
The trail begins at medium sized dirt parking lot beside the French Broad River, in Hot Springs, NC.
This trail is fine for children. There are a few rock ledges near the start of the hike that could be dangerous, and care should be taken if climbing the fire tower.
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