The Boone Fork Trail is one of the best day hikes in the area. Beginning and ending in Julian Price Memorial Park, this five mile loop covers dynamic territory. Rolling hills and cow pastures segue to mountain brooks and marshes; after crossing the Boone Fork as a calm, flat stream, it reappears nearly halfway through the trail as a rowdy plunge through primeval boulders. The trail culminates in a floodplain meadow with the river mild and circumspect before its wilder descent.
We like to hike this loop clockwise, which means striking out west from Price Park. You’ll have to spear through the park and wander through the campgrounds that ring the lake (often crowded in the summertime), which might wrongly lead you to believe this is a simple car-camper path.
Experienced hikers should suspend their disbelief. The Boone Fork Trail is as vibrant as a Mahler symphony, and the first movement is deceptively simple: after you leave the camping area, you’ll walk up briefly into the woods to emerge in an expansive pasture. Lori Beth and I ate a lovely picnic on one of these knolls looking south toward the Tanawa Trail. These pastures will give you great views of Grandfather Mountain and Hanging Rock before they funnel you back into the more immediate hills.
The second movement takes you literally down into fold of the mountains; you will have to bounce across wet stones, rivulets, and fallen logs. The only problem with the trail comes at this point: the path often becomes a quagmire, and it seems unevenly maintained in places. Intrepid hikers have blazed useful side trails to circumvent the sludge, but a few particular parts require forethought (e.g., one can weave carefully through the rhododendron to avoid the mud).
After wallowing briefly in the mire, you come to the third movement. The streams become fordable, the path drier and steadier. Suddenly, you hear the river’s rush on your left, then it emerges: immediate, imperative, and very present. The river is stunning when it finally appears; it crashes through cracked granite and roars perpetually on its frothy course.
Above: view of Boone Fork River
We often tend to stop near here for lunch; there are several little paths down to the river from the main trail. We’ll sit on the rocks and eat a sandwich amid the spray. We’ve seen lots of wildlife around here (a frog, a jumping trout—one of our friends saw a bear). At this point, the trail is close to Old Turnpike Road on the other side of the river, and one may see other wildlife (i.e., drunken frat boys).
The trail will eventually wind up and away from the river and lead into the fourth movement: a slow and stately walk back to the placid river you crossed initially. As the river flows down, you walk back up; overall, you’ll follow its course obliquely. The end of the trail leads you through floodplains, erstwhile beaver dams, and waist-high wildflowers. The river’s peaceful beginning belies its stormy progress.
A dynamic loop trail (like a Mahler symphony) can be a transformative experience. At the end, you have been brought back to where you started, yet changed through the process. In saecula saeculorum.
Hike it: To access the Boone Fork Trail, visit the Julian Price Memorial Park around mile marker 295. (The Memorial park extends from mile marker 295-298). Once in the park, cross the wooden bridge and you’ll be on the trail.
The entire loop is 5 miles in length and takes about 3 hours to complete (depending on your pace, fitness level, etc.) For novice hikers, it may be a little strenuous, but it’s still a hike that almost anyone in generally good physical condition can do. While I have often seen children on the trail, I would personally recommend that your little one be old and fit enough to tackle the diverse landscapes the trail has to offer (wooded trails, stream crossings, some rock hopping, a ladder). The trail is extremely well-marked and you’ll see a mile post every 0.5 mile. There are also several lovely swimming spots along the river.
Entry by Charles