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23435
North Carolina

Switchbacks and Summits: Hiking & Nature in North Carolina

Hike along the Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail with an expert naturalist as you take in stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
Rating (4)
Program No. 23435RJ
Length
6 days
Starts at
999
North Carolina

Switchbacks and Summits: Hiking & Nature in North Carolina

Hike along the Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail with an expert naturalist as you take in stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
Length
6 days
Starts at
999
Program No. 23435 RJ
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At a Glance

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, wildflowers line rugged trails and switchbacks guide determined hikers to awe-inspiring summits to look out upon sparkling mountain lakes and green pastures. With a band of like-minded hikers & an expert naturalist, learn about wildflowers, trees, plants and rock formations. Discover the charming hidden-gem town of Highlands, and top off an incredible week of hiking with a farm-to-table feast and Appalachian music.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Journey through Nantahala National Forest along the world-famous Appalachian Trail and head out along Bartram Trail to the Scaly Mountain summit.
  • Enjoy an epic hike over four mountains — Cole Mountain, Goat Knob, Shortoff Mountain, Yellow Mountain — with 360-degree views.
  • Take a field trip to Highlands Botanical Garden to learn about native plants, wild flowers, plants of the Cherokee, mosses, liverworts and American naturalist, William Bartram.

General Notes

The Retreat Difference: This unique, often basic and no-frills experience at a Road Scholar Retreat includes opportunities for early morning exercise, interaction with the local community for insight into local life, an authentic farm-to-table or locally sourced meal, a live performance or event, and a value-priced single room. Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Our Southern Highlanders
by Horace Kephart
Back of Beyond A Horace Kephart Biography
by George Ellison, Janet McCue
An icon of the Southern Appalachian region known for the seminal books Camping and Woodcraft (1906) and Our Southern Highlanders (1913), Horace Kephart was instrumental in efforts to establish the Appalachian Trail along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. But Kephart is perhaps best known for his decade-long crusade to help protect the Smokies as a national park. For Kephart, this campaign represented a personal commitment: "I owe my life to these mountains and I want them preserved so that others may profit from them," he wrote. The culmination of decades of tireless research and devoted scholarship, Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography is the compelling story of this librarian-turned-woodsman who had a far-reaching effect on wilderness literature and outdoor pursuits throughout North America.
Travels, and Other Writings
by William Bartram
Hailed as the "finest-looking, longest-lasting editions ever made" this edition of the early American naturalist's work includes his four-year-long journey through the southern colonies in the late 1700s.
The Changing Blue Ridge Mountains: Essays on Journeys Past and Present
by Brent Martin
In the eighteenth century, naturalist and artist William Bartram traveled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and spent time documenting both plant life and the customs of the Middle Town Cherokees. Since that time, men and women like Bartram have journeyed through Western North Carolina's wildest and most remote places and written about their experiences. The essays in this volume compare the present day to those historical journeys and explore the idea of wilderness and what change means for the future of the people and the species who live in the mountains. Join local writer and guide Brent Martin on a journey through this incredible landscape.
Appalachia: A History
by John Alexander Williams
Mountain Masters
by John Inscoe
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6 days
5 nights
13 meals
5 B 3 L 5 D
DAY
1
Check-In, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
Highlands, NC
D
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 4:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration. 4:00 p.m. After you have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table to register with the program staff and get your welcome packet containing the up-to-date schedule that reflects any changes, other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet when you check in. Remember to bring your nametag (sent previously) with you. Afterwards, we’ll gather for a social hour with wine and cheese, during which we’ll get acquainted.

Dinner: In the dining hall, our buffet dinners will feature meat and vegetarian entrees as well as a selection of fresh vegetables and dessert. Beverage choices include fresh coffee, juice, milk, tea, hot chocolate, and water; other non-alcoholic beverages may be available for purchase.

Evening: Orientation. 7:30 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. This is a Road Scholar Retreats program. Our programming at Retreat locations includes opportunities for light morning exercise, interaction with members of the local community, a farm-to-table meal, and evening entertainment. Transportation throughout the program will be provided primarily by passenger vans, unless otherwise noted. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Morning Exercise, Hike Bartram Trail & Whiteside Mountain
Highlands, NC
B,L,D
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center

Activity note: Light morning exercise before breakfast. Driving approximately 25 miles total throughout the day; about one hour roundtrip. Hiking approximately 6 miles roundtrip; about 6 hours; moderately strenuous terrain; elevation gain/loss of approximately 1,200 feet. Stream crossings over rocks; waterproof boots are recommended. Hiking about 2 miles on loop trail, up to 2 hours, can be muddy in spots; trail is highly trafficked with steps built into the mountain; approximate elevation gain 600 feet.

Breakfast: We’ll enjoy a breakfast buffet in the dining hall featuring a different entree each day, such as eggs, pancakes, and French toast. Other breakfast options include a breakfast meat, vegetable and tofu dish, fresh fruit, hot and cold cereals and grits, plus milk, juice, coffee, tea, and water.

Morning: Each morning before breakfast, a staff member will lead a session of gentle stretching, breathing, or yoga exercises. Joining in, we’ll loosen up and get ready for an adventurous day on the trail. We'll hop in our vans and head out for our first destination of the day. The Bartram Trail leads from Highway 106 at our trailhead to the Scaly Mountain summit, starting off steeply as it passes a waterfall. Stretching over 115 miles, the trail passes through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. William Bartram’s travels along this iconic route between 1773 and 1777 were instrumental in documenting descriptions of the largely unspoiled environment including plants and ecosystems. Continuing on the Bartram Trail, we’ll navigate a series of fairly easy switchbacks along the northeast slope before passing through a series of ancient oaks. The views are expansive with sparkling mountain lakes and green pastures dotted below.

Lunch: Along the trail, we’ll have our lunches that we packed at breakfast, featuring a sandwich, fresh fruit, chips, granola bar, cookie and water to fill our water bottles with.

Afternoon: This afternoon, we'll drive about half an hour to the nearby Whiteside Mountain Recreation Area. Upon arrival, we’ll set out on a beautiful hiking loop, which offers panoramic views and a plethora of wildflowers. Our Group Leaders will share their knowledge of botany and ecosystems along the way. At the conclusion of our hike, we will return to the lodge with some time to relax and enjoy some wine and camaraderie with our fellow Road Scholars.

Dinner: Dining hall buffet.

Evening: Our group leader will present information from his newly-released book on the natural history of Western North Carolina.

DAY
3
Highlands Botanical Garden, Hike Chinquapin Mountain Trail
Highlands, NC
B,D
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center

Activity note: Light morning exercise before breakfast. Walking up to 2 miles on uneven gravel paths at botanical garden. Hiking approximately 4 miles; about 6 hours; mountainous terrain with elevation changes of approximately 800 feet. Stream crossings over rocks; hiking poles and waterproof boots recommended. Total travel time for the day is approximately 12 miles; 30 minutes roundtrip.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet.

Morning: Boarding our passenger vans, we’ll set out for a field trip to the Highlands Botanical Garden where our group leader will present information on William Bartram's work and show us the garden, pointing out native plants, plants of the Cherokee, mosses and liverworts as well as wild flowers.

Lunch: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like in the quaint town of Highlands. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: We’ll reconvene at a predetermined time and place where we will board our passenger vans and travel to the entrance to Glenn Falls. Here, we will begin our hike through the Nantahala National Forest to Chinquapin Mountain. This trail tends to have a lot of roots in the beginning with numbered trails to different vistas. Our expert hiking leader will offer educational commentary as we walk. We will continue our hike up Little Scaly Mountain for more stunning views before turning around and heading back to The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center with some time to freshen up before dinner.

Dinner: Dining hall buffet.

Evening: We'll be joined at the lodge by a musician for a relaxing evening of live, local music.

DAY
4
Morning Exercise, Hike Appalachian Trail to Siler Bald
Highlands, NC
B,L,D
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center

Activity note: Light morning exercise before breakfast. Hiking about 6 miles; 8 hours. Elevation gain of over 1,000 feet, starting near 4,000 feet. Total travel time is approximately 2 hours; 71 miles roundtrip.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet.

Morning: We'll load up in the vans first thing this morning with our lunches and water. Our drive today will be slightly longer but the payoff will be hiking a spectacular section of the famous Appalachian Trail. We'll climb out of Winding Stair Gap to Swinging Lick Gap and then on to Panther Gap.

Lunch: On the trail, we’ll have our packed lunches.

Afternoon: In the afternoon, we'll continue on to Siler Bald. At 5,216 feet, Siler Bald is an open grassy area with 360-degree views. The bald is named for William Siler whose great-grandson Rufus Morgan helped to establish the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. From Siler Bald, we'll drop in elevation to Wayah Gap where our transportation will meet us. We can relax and rest on the hour-long journey back to The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center.

Dinner: Dining hall buffet.

Evening: At leisure. You may enjoy the grounds, the lodge, play games with your fellow guests, or just relax after a long day's hike.

DAY
5
Morning Exercise, Yellow Mountain Hike
Highlands, NC
B,L,D
The Mountain Retreat & Learning Center

Activity note: Light morning exercise before breakfast. Driving approximately 12 miles one way; about 1/2 hour each way. Hiking about 6 miles; about 8 hours. Strenuous terrain, wooded trails; elevation gain/loss of about 2,900 feet. There is no water access on the trail; bring plenty of water.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet.

Morning: We’ll pack up our boxed lunches and plenty of water, then board our passenger vans for a short drive to the Yellow Mountain trailhead. This trail is about 6 miles one way and traverses four mountains – Cole Mountain, Shortoff Mountain, Goat Knob, and then on to Yellow Mountain – with spectacular views at each summit along the way.

Lunch: On the trail, we’ll have our packed lunches.

Afternoon: We will gain and lose about 1,000 feet of elevation three times throughout the hike, ending at the fire tower on Yellow Mountain originally constructed in 1934. Our Group Leaders will point out wildflowers, trees, plants and rock formations along the way. Upon our return to the vehicles, we’ll travel back to the lodge with some time to freshen up before dinner.

Dinner: At the lodge, we’ll enjoy a farm-to-table buffet feast of fresh, seasonal offerings from the Many Hands Peace Garden found on the grounds. Coffee, tea, milk, juice, water included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: A local entertainer will again join us at the lodge for an evening of Appalachian songs and stories performed live. Be sure to prepare for check-out and departures in the morning.

DAY
6
Wrap-up Session, Program Concludes
Highlands, NC
B

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 9:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Dining hall buffet.

Morning: Gathering in our meeting room with our Group Leader, we’ll review the events of the past week during a wrap-up session. Share some of your favorite experiences and accomplishments from the program with new Road Scholar friends. This concludes our program. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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