A Hike to the Top of Mount Pisgah and Dinner at the Pisgah Inn
Should you wake up some Saturday or Sunday morning, hear the weather forecast for beautiful skies, realize you have nothing on your schedule for the day, and want an invigorating outdoor activity to fill those wonderful “no-work” hours, try spending a day on the Blue Ridge Parkway hiking to the top of Mount Pisgah and follow it up with dinner at the Pisgah Inn.
Sound more like a dream than reality? With the clear weather the Asheville area has been experiencing lately, that dream has a lot more reality to it than usual.
To hike to the top of Mount Pisgah, start with a leisurely drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway about 35 minutes south of Asheville, to about mile post 407. On the way, you’ll see some of the prettiest scenery the area has to offer; if you’re so inclined, stop at some of the many overlooks on the way. Watch for signs for the parking area for Mount Pisgah; it will be on your left. The parking area is quite large, which can be good if you need a parking space, but if there are a lot of cars in the parking area, it could be a foreshadowing that it will be crowded on the trail and at the top.
The hike itself is not that long, only 1.5 miles to the top, and most of it is a moderate grade. But approximately the last half-mile is quite strenuous. If it gets too tough, just pull up and catch your breath, because the trek to the top is worth the “price” of admission. Once you’re at the top, there is a small observation deck to provide an even better view of the surrounding mountains. And the view is magnificent. Cold Mountain (seen below), made famous by the Charles Frazier novel of the same name, can be seen from the top of Mount Pisgah. Miles and miles of the Pisgah National Forest lay at your feet. And that smug satisfaction that comes from “conquering the mountain” is yours, no matter what the weather. Be prepared, it is much cooler at the top than it is in the parking area; the wind is usually a factor, too, so at least a light jacket is generally a good idea. The only down side to the summit is the enormous television tower that crowds one side of the observation deck; turn your back to it, and bask in the sweeping views in all other directions.
Now that you have taken in the view from its highest point, take the easy trek back to your starting point, and enjoy all of the beautiful scenery you missed as you huffed and puffed your way to the top. The tiny wildflowers that somehow precariously take root on the sides of rocks and logs are everywhere. Jack-in-the-pulpit can be spotted just off the trail. Tiny woodland birds seem almost unafraid to come close to hikers. And, you can always entertain yourself by telling people heading up the trail, “It’s not that much farther!”
Getting back on the Parkway, the Pisgah Inn is a very short distance further south. Be prepared for a substantial wait for a table for dinner, but it’s worth the wait. Besides, there is plenty to keep you occupied while you wait. The gift shop has some nice items in a wide range of prices. Postcards and all kinds of books on various topics about the South, the Blue Ridge Mountains, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, cooking, and even southern accents, cover the shelves. Clothing, quilting, stained glass, and craft items too numerous to mention round out the remainder of the store.
But the real treat that makes getting to the Pisgah Inn early for dinner is the view from the deck in the rear of the building. Thousands of acres of the Pisgah National Forest lie before you. The beautiful green mountains that are close to you fade to blue in the distance. The panorama is, at once, breathtaking yet peaceful. And that view stays with you at your table in the dining room. From almost any vantage point in the dining room, there is an excellent view from the massive windows that cover the rear of the building.
Given everything this restaurant has going for it with “the” view, the restaurateur could get away with serving less than terrific food; after all, they’ve got a captive audience, right? Well, that’s not the way it works at the Pisgah Inn. Apparently, they take the food they serve very seriously. On one recent evening, the group this writer was with ordered an excellent yellow fin tuna steak, veal scaloppini, and grilled, marinated chicken. The garnishes and extras that were served with the entrees were definitely on the gourmet side of dining. Of course, they offer plenty of good, old-fashioned cooking, too, for those whose taste runs on the simpler side, but most everyone will agree the dessert menu will have something on it they will be willing to give a try. Our group tried the French silk pie and the apple strudel with ice cream, and let’s just say that no one complained. The servers were friendly and attentive as well, and added to the enjoyment of the evening.
There are wilder and less accessible parts of the Pisgah National Forest that provide backpackers with backwoods adventures that would wilt the spirit of some of the less hardy among us. But, for a pleasant day outdoors with a bit of pampering afterward, Mount Pisgah and the Pisgah Inn is a hard combination to beat.
The Pisgah Inn’s web site is www.pisgahinn.com. You will need to call months in advance to make room reservations for weekend stays at the Pisgah Inn.