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“This is awesome!” Miles proclaims. “Super-duper awesome!” Isley echoes. My robust hiking partners—two second-graders—and I are standing alone atop 4,070-foot Mt. Pleasant on the last day of an easy, three-day tour through the Appalachians. I wanted to introduce these first-time backpackers to the wilderness on a trip that packed memory-making grandeur into a compact package that wouldn’t destroy little legs. After a dozen mellow miles across open balds, along crystal-clear mountain streams, and through a hardwood forest teeming with white-tailed deer, we reached the highlight of our trip: A patchwork of red, orange, and yellow foliage floods the view in all directions, with rocky summits rising above, as if for air. A new generation of wilderness lovers is born. BY PETER RIVES
From Hog Camp Gap
(1) Leave night two’s dinner and day three’s meals in the car (the trailhead is the mid-point of a figure-eight, so you’ll pass through again before the second night) and follow the blue-blazed Hotel Trail 1.2 miles south through stands of hickory, oak, and mountain laurel to an open meadow.
(2) Continue 2.6 miles clockwise around the flanks of 4,033-foot Cole Mountain to the Cow Camp Gap Shelter (sleeps eight; first-come, first-serve).
(3) Veer northeast, connecting with the Appalachian Trail (white blazes) and summiting Cole at mile 5.2.
(4) Continue east across the ridge and descend to a fork at mile 6.1.
(5) Turn east onto FS 48, walking .3 mile to Hog Camp Gap, where this trip began. (Pick up your food cache if you left one.)
(6) Link up with the Henry Lanum Trail, following the second loop clockwise (for a longer descent on the return). Hit the Mt. Pleasant Trail at mile 9.2.
(7) Go south on the Mt. Pleasant Trail .6 mile to the exposed twin summits of Mt. Pleasant.
(8) Return to the Henry Lanum Trail and trek 2.6 miles northwest to the trailhead.
Meadow (mile 1.2)
Camp under the shade of a majestic, 60-foot oak in a grassy meadow just 1.2 miles in. Ideal for late-starters who’d rather log a little distance before nightfall rather than camp at the trailhead, these five sites are first-come, first-serve and 100 feet from a small, year-round stream.
Mt. Pleasant (mile 9.8)
Nab the throne-like site on the west summit, which sits 2,000 feet above waves of Blue Ridge foothills. Enjoy a fire ring and rock benches in this semi-protected site (first-come, first-serve), or, if taken, try the slightly smaller site atop the east summit. Additional established sites (and a seasonal spring) sit near the trail junction .6 mile back.
In full swing
Rest tired legs on the iconic wooden swing at the trailhead at Hog Camp Gap when you swing through mid-trip (mile 6.1). From the AT/FS 48 intersection, cross the road on the AT; the swing is another 20 yards on the left, suspended from a large, gnarled oak.
DO ITTrailhead 37.758910, -79.188760*; 14 miles east of Buena Vista on Wiggins Spring Rd. Gear up Walkabout Outfitter in Lexington; walkaboutoutfitter.comSeason Year-round: Fall brings radiant foliage and ideal air temps; winter for solitude, but be prepared for snow or ice on trails; spring for wildflowers and reliable springs; late-summer for trail-side blueberries and blackberries. Permits None Custom-centered mapbit.ly/BPmapPleasant ($15) Contact (540) 265-5100; fs.usda.gov/gwjTrip datawww.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/2712961
*Plug these lat/long coordinates into Google Maps for turn-by-turn driving directions.
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