Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains
By Lynda McDaniel
[Fig. 21(5)] Early European settlers called this area Blue Ridge Meadows and believed that the open expanses that adjoin hardwood forests were fire-cleared centuries ago by Indians. Today, the 250-acre site is a cool and peaceful recreation area of the National Park Service offering camping and picnicking, nature walks, and its premier attractionCrabtree Falls [Fig. 21(6)].
Though the southern crab apple (Malus angustifolia) that give the area its current name no longer fill meadow orchards (it seems that many of these trees have died of old age without reseeding themselves), pink and red blossoms still dot the landscape in isolated patches in late spring, with small sour apples appearing in late summer. The mature forests that shelter the camping area include oaks, tulip trees, maples, Eastern hemlocks, and patches of Carolina hemlock. Habitat diversity provided by the forests, the abutting field, and the forest edge in between makes the recreation area a good spot for observing birds not often seen in other areas of the Parkway, including least flycatchers, black-billed cuckoos (Coccyzus erythropthalmus), and great crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus).
Throughout the picnic area and into the forests, the spring wildflower display includes columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), yellow lady slipper, and dwarf iris. In June, speckled wood lily, goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), sundrop (Oenothera fruticosa), beard tongue (Penstemon canescens), and mountain laurel appear.
Perhaps the most dramatic natural offering at Crabtree Meadows is Crabtree Falls, Big Crabtree Creek's 70-foot cascade over a rock cliff, approximately 1 mile from the campground entrance. These falls are rare in that they do not have a basin or plunge pool at their base.
The loop trail to the falls descends into a mix of hickory, oak, hemlock, and birch and passes through a rhododendron thicket. More than 40 species of wildflowers color the undergrowth along the trail, and many join ferns in enjoying the cool water spray at the falls itself. Several species of salamanders find a home in damp leaf litter, wet-weather springs, and slippery rocks near the falls. The trail is also an excellent place to watch for Eastern wood pewee, Acadian flycatcher, scarlet tanager, wood thrush, and a variety of warblers. Barred owls are a possibility at night. Trail guides are available at the campground during summer months.
[Fig. 21(8)] Located on the east bank of the South Toe River, Carolina Hemlocks is a popular camping and day-use area at the base of the Black Mountain range near Burnsville. Rhododendron provides a dense canopy over the wooded picnic area hosting 12 tables, grills, and a shelter along the river. (Reservations for the shelter are required.) A nearby natural swimming hole with access along a sandy bank is a favorite spot in the summer. The South Toe, a hatchery-supported river, is also a favorite for fishing.
Two hiking trails start nearbyColberts Ridge Trail follows the ridgeline to Deep Gap for 3.7 miles before connecting to the Black Mountain Crest Trail [Fig. 17(3)], a 12-mile hike featuring outstanding vistas. The Hemlock Nature Trail starts at the swimming area and follows the river for 1 mile. For horseback-riding enthusiasts, the Buncombe Horse Range Trail [Fig. 17(2)] is an 18-mile trek through the surrounding mountains; it also connects with trails in Mount Mitchell State Park.
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