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A photographer's guide to outdoor adventure near Old Fort, NC

Explore the hiking, camping and sweet treats Old Fort has to offer through the lens of a local photographer.

By: Mallory Fountain + Save to a List

This story is presented by Visit North Carolina.

I spend every free moment I can find capturing sunrises, waterfalls, and the night sky. Follow my outdoor adventure road trip guide to Old Fort to see some of my favorite places through my camera lens. 

Sunrise - Craggy Pinnacle at Black Mountain

A rock wall winds to an overlook where two people stare out at a sunrise. The sky is many colors and the sun is barely up high enough to see over a mountain peak.

Distance: 1.03 miles
Elevation: 285 feet
Route type: Out-and-back

Craggy Pinnacle is a short hike with a big payoff. While it doesn't offer a direct view of the sunrise, the mornings there are no less memorable. It's the perfect place to start the day. Plus, it's far less crowded in the morning than at sunset.

Rounded mountains reach from one side of the image to the other. The closer ones are dark and the further ones are a lightening purple. The sky is purple, blue, pink, orange, and yellow as the sun rises.

These mountains are gorgeous in early Spring before the trees start turning green. And it's up to all of us to do our part and keep it that way. Follow Outdoor NC Leave No Trace principles by staying on the trail and inside the rock walls to prevent erosion and wear of this beautiful landscape. 

A white metal sign hangs on a rock wall with graphics telling onlookers to watch their step and protect rare plants.

While it may seem the best photos would be from over the walls, I love using the beautiful stone structures as part of my compositions to create unique images you can't take anywhere else on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

The sun is rising over mountains and a river. The mountains have an orange glow and the sky is light blue, pink, and purple.

10 a.m. - Crabtree Falls in Micaville

A tall waterfall cascades in many streams over a lot of rocks. Green trees surround the water.

Distance: 2.83 miles
Elevation: 525 feet
Route type: Out-and-back

By far my favorite area waterfall, Crabtree Falls is stunning. The 2.5-mile-loop trail has several sets of steep stairs and is rocky in places. Wear hiking boots or shoes with decent tread and stay on the trail.

Always keep in mind these waterfall safety tips, especially when taking photos. Bring a tripod to make sure your camera is steady for those long exposure shots. Set up your camera rig on durable surfaces for your safety and to ensure the trail remains in good condition.

12 p.m. - Crabtree Falls Picnic Area - near Milepost 339.5

The left image features a picnic table on grass near green-covered mountains. The right image is a road curving away from a sign.

At this point in the day, its time for a lunch break and the Crabtree Falls picnic area is one of the most beautiful places for it.

Bring a lunch in reusable containers instead of plastic bags, pack a trash bag and take it with you when you leave, and don't leave any food behind, even if you think the local wildlife would like it. Access to human food can harm birds, fish, and animals and potentially require them to be removed and relocated if they become habituated to people.

2 p.m. - Roaring Fork Falls in Burnsville

A tall, thin waterfall trickles over piles of rocks and greenery and into a clear pool.

Distance: 1.4 miles
Elevation: 127 feet
Route type: Out-and-back

After lunch, it's time for another waterfall hike. Roaring Fork Falls is off the parkway but still tucked into Pisgah National Forest. The trail is 1.4 miles round trip, with very little elevation gain, and provides a perfect walk in the woods to end a long day. The rock formations around the falls and surrounding rhododendrons mean the water is beautifully framed in green year-round.

There is one tree beside the falls that many visitors carve their names into. This seemingly harmless way to mark your time in this place can irreparably damage the tree. Plus, this graffiti interferes with people's experience of nature. I encourage you to follow Outdoor NC Leave No Trace principles to be a good steward and leave wild places better than you find them.

5 p.m. - Curtis Creek Campground near Old Fort

A gravel road leads past a rock wall covered in ferns and greenery.

After a long day of chasing waterfalls, it's time to drive down State Road 1227 to set up camp. I recommend taking this route only if you are in a vehicle with high clearance - the road can get rough. 

It's a beautiful drive through Pisgah National Forest, but there are some large potholes and areas where the road has washed out during heavy rain. If you have AWD or 4WD, take it slow and enjoy the views on your way down the mountain.

A tent sits on a tent pad at a campground surrounded by lush forest.

The Curtis Creek Campground has designated sites with durable surfaces to set up tents. Plan ahead and prepare by booking a site ahead of time to get a good spot. I made sure to reserve site #1 right on the river.

A waterfall cascades down rocks among a forest of green trees.

After dark - Star Gazing at Laurel Knob Overlook

A meteor flies past the milky way and a scraggly tree is silhouetted against city lights in the distance.

While a campsite on the creek would ensure a great night's sleep, I opted for more of a nap and then got up for some stargazing back on the Parkway.

In late April, the Lyrid meteor shower peaks and sends up to 100 meteors per hour shooting through the sky. The dark hours after moonset and before dawn are the best time to see the show. Often, you will see a meteor cross paths with the Milky Way, so bundle up, set up your tripod, and set your camera to take a long exposure of this celestial scene. 

It takes some patience to get good night photos, but it's worth the wait (and a little less sleep) to capture a scene like this one. Head back to your campsite after this nighttime outdoor adventure.

Sunrise - Green Knob Overlook at Milepost 350.3

The sun is pink as it rises over purple mountains.

Green Knob is a short drive from Laurel Knob and has a direct view of the sunrise. After a late night, it's nice to relax on a peaceful perch like this and watch a new day start. Fun fact: The views from this overlook were used for the opening shot in the movie Last of the Mohicans.

A park service sign reads,

The park service has seen an uptick in vandalism and graffiti throughout the country, and Green Knob Overlook is no exception. Don't be the person who takes away from the natural beauty by writing on signs, carving into trees, or otherwise defacing the area. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.

10 a.m. - Old Fort Gateway Trails in Old Fort

A wooden sign post hosts a trail map among a green forest.

After sunrise, head back to Curtis Creek and take down camp, ensuring you pack out all you packed in - that means finding every last tent stake! If you have a fire to cook breakfast, extinguish every ember before hitting the road. When you're certain the fire is out and won't restart, make the short drive toward downtown Old Fort to the Old Fort Gateway Trails. It's the perfect place to spend the morning immersed in nature on a bike.

Once State Road 1227 turns to pavement, you will see a sign for the Gateway Trails. This trail system is new and pristine, with options for longer or shorter hikes and even a route down to a wheelchair-accessible fishing dock. Purchase a fishing license before casting out a line!

A wooden sign reads,

I chose to walk along Curtis Creek on the 1.9-mile-loop Gateway Trail and highly recommend it. This route is known as the most scenic of the trails in the system, and I have to agree. The sound of the creek made for such a peaceful walk in the woods, and the path was in beautiful condition. 

Keep in mind that you are sharing these trails with mountain bikers, so be considerate of them and stay to one side of the trail. I like wearing headphones while I hike, but I put them in my pocket for this walk so I could hear the creek and oncoming bikers.

A creek meanders through moss-covered rocks and delicate white flowers surround the water.

Look for wildflowers if you're there in the spring and summer, and keep an eye out for wildlife like salamanders and kingfishers. Bring a zoom lens to keep a safe distance while getting good shots of the creatures that call the river home. This Outdoor NC Leave No Trace principle is called "Leave wildlife wild!" 

I saw a huge blue heron on my walk but wasn't fast enough to get a shot before he flew away over the river. Maybe you will be faster and can get the photo I missed! 

Delicate white flowers grow out of mossy ground.

12 p.m. - Gogo's Cinnamon Rolls in Old Fort

Looking into a bakery case at varieties of cinnamon rolls on silver baking trays.

I'm always up for something sweet, but after so much hiking and so little sleep, a sugar rush is even more inviting. Gogo's Cinnamon Rolls hits the spot, and their cozy dining area is a comfortable place to rest your feet and enjoy brunch.

The interior of a bakery with tables, chairs, and a giant clock.

2 p.m. - Point Lookout Trail in Old Fort

Looking down at a paved pathway with

Distance: 3.6 miles
Elevation: 900+
Route type: Out-and-back

With coffee and a cinnamon roll to fuel the afternoon, head up to Point Lookout Trail. This 3.6-mile trail is now part of the Fonta Flora trail system that connects all to way to Lake James.

The trail is paved and great for a trail ride by bike. Follow the red feather trail markers up the mountain and enjoy the ride.

A red feather trail marker is nailed into a tree next to a paved trail through woods.

5 p.m. - Whaley Farm Brewery in Old Fort

The camera is focused on a glass of beer with a Whaley Farm Brewery logo. The glass is sitting in a planter box with wood chips and there are umbrellas, tables, and blue sky out of focus in the background.

Old Fort has several breweries worth mentioning, but I choose to end this adventure at Whaley Farm Brewery. They specialize in "Appalachian farm beers" and locally grow and source their herbs, flowers, fruits, and spices! 

I recommend sipping a Czech Pale Lager while sitting in the sun before saying farewell to Old Fort. The brewery regularly hosts pop-ups with local food venders, so check the Instagram to see who's cooking when you're there.

Learn more about how to follow Outdoor NC Leave No Trace Principles like fire safety and protecting wildlife while capturing awesome outdoor adventure photos. Check out Visit North Carolina for inspiration for your next road trip!

Follow along with Mallory's photography and adventures on Instagram.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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