Weekend with Friends at Maggie Valley and Four Easy to Moderate Mountain Trails Nearby
Dusk was falling and it was cool, overcast, and balmy, just after a rain. The colors of autumn had faded and leaves were falling, swirling in circles around the bottom of trees almost bare. Inside, there were seven of us together again since a long time ago. We had been best friends during high school and now we were on other side of everything we’d experienced in between, ready to pick up where we left off.
Maggie Valley is special…not crowded like other popular destinations in the North Carolina mountains. Maggie Valley has somehow managed to keep its small-town atmosphere. “Fall in love with Maggie” is the slogan that often accompanies the sentimental logo, a girl in a yellow bonnet and long red skirt. Maggie Valley, sits at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to the Cataloochee ski area, black bears, elk, waterfalls, wildflowers and much, much more. There is something for everyone, during every season, from action packed adventure to quiet solitude, and everything in between.
We lodged at a quaint craftsman style vacation home, courtesy of one of the friends whose parents owned the vacation home when she was growing up. The atmosphere inside was cozy and sentimental. The ruffled kitchen curtains still bore the notes pinned there by her Mother a long time ago. Another of the friends brought chocolate oatmeal cookies, similar to the ones our cafeteria served when we were in school but even better (recipe below). Now, seven of us, classmates from Ninety Six High School, Class of “74, were adding to the good these good vibes, talking and laughing into the night, recalling the good times we’d had.
Growing up in South Carolina, we had all made annual visits to Maggie Valley with our families. Back then, just like now, it was the jumping off place for all sorts of fun in the mountains, much of it free. Some of the free activities we remember are still free, waterfalls where you can slide down into icy pools at the bottom and others where you climb up and view cascading waterfalls along the way. Scenic drives offer “pull offs” for having picnics in view of panoramic mountain ranges or along the rushing river rapids or placid streams. The Great Smoky Mountains is the most biodiverse of the national parks, just driving along the scenic byways offers endless beauty and the chance to see wildlife such as elk, deer, black bears, turkeys, and birds.
These are our favorite four hiking trails near Maggie Valley. They are listed as easy to moderate on the difficulty chart linked below. From these trails you’ll see some of the best flora, fauna, and scenic views on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum is a thirty minute drive from Maggie Valley, along the breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway (U.S. 19). There are two trails near the visitor’s center.
The Oconaluftee River Trail, rated as easy (3.14) passes among some of the most diverse flora in North America and borders the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
The Mingus Creek Trail is a 5.8 mile loop rated as moderately difficult (8.83) and passes by one of the few remaining chestnut trees that were once abundant in the Great Smoky Mountains.
In addition to the trails, there are other reasons to visit Oconaluftee Visitor Center. It’s a great spot for viewing wildlife in the nearby meadows, especially elk and turkeys. The Mountain Home Museum offers an authentic view of the way early settlers lived and there is information about the attractions at nearby Cherokee where visitors get the chance to learn the unique history of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a must see in the Great Smoky Mountains. For more information about the visitor’s center and wildlife viewing go to http://visitcherokeenc.com/itinerary-builder/poi/park-visitor-center/.
Graveyard Fields Hike & Waterfalls is an hour’s drive from Maggie Valley, through amazing scenic beauty along the Blue Ridge Parkway (U.S. 276). The area gets its name from the tree stumps that resemble tombstones remaining after natural wildfires and logging years ago. The valley is a stunning panorama with lush meadows, scenic mountain views, and cascading waterfalls, bountiful with berries in the spring and fiery color in the fall, stunning all year long. There are two easy trails (4.1).
Short and Long Graveyard Ridge Loop, 3.2 miles. Trail maps and restrooms are conveniently located in the parking lot. For more information visit https://www.hikewnc.info/trailheads/graveyard-fields/.
Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center.
The trail surrounding Lake Junaluska is an easy paved walk, 2.3 mile loop or 3.8 miles including the extension. Flower gardens on the site contain rare plants once abundant and in the area. The easy walk is enjoyable for the whole family. The massive lighted cross overlooking the lake offers a tranquil setting for mindful pondering, especially at dusk or dark. The auditorium hosts musical events including Folkmoot USA, the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival, and Appalachian bluegrass concerts. Additional packages for visitors to Lake Junaluska include visits to attractions in the area such as Builtmore Estate, Group Skiing, and holiday events. For more information, go to https://www.lakejunaluska.com/.
Waterrock Knob and Summit Hike, (elevation 6, 292 feet) is fifteen minutes from Maggie Valley along US-19 S/Soco Road and Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s one of the best places on the Parkway to view a sunrise or sunset, 16th highest mountain in the Eastern United States. Pull off the road into the large parking area and see spectacular panoramic views from the picnic tables or walk the moderately difficult (3.7) trail, 1.2 miles round trip to the summit. There are picnic tables, restrooms, and maps conveniently located at the parking lot. For more informations visit https://www.blueridgeparkway.org/poi/waterrock-knob/
For the Great Smoky Mountain hiking trails difficulty chart go to https://bestreadguidesmokymountains.com/smoky-mountain-hiking-trails/.
To learn more about the biodiversity of the Great Smoky Mountains go to https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/index.htm.
The visitor’s guide at Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce provides everything you need to know about where to stay, eat, and play during every season of the year, including flora and fauna that you are likely to see. For more information visit https://maggievalley.org/.
Late August to early October is apple season in North Carolina. There’s no comparison to the taste of fresh mountain apples. In Maggie Valley, my friends and I always purchase apples at Maggie Mountaineer Crafts. It’s also a great place to purchase souvenirs. For more information visit https://maggievalleynclife.com/maggie-mountaineer-crafts/. To find the best apple picking places visit https://www.tripsavvy.com/apple-orchards-north-carolina-583819.
For a complete list of waterfalls near Maggie Valley go to https://maggievalleynclife.com/maggie-valley-nc-waterfalls/
Chocolate Oatmeal Recipe – enough for seven friends for three days, plus
2 cups sugar
1 cup of chopped nuts
½ cup milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Line a baking sheet with wax paper.
2. Bring sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the oats, nuts, peanut butter, vanilla, and stir to combine.
3. Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, and let sit at room temperature until cooled and hardened, about 30 minutes. Do not cover or refrigerate. You can enjoy these cookies for several days without refrigeration but they will not last that long!