5.1 miles: Moderate
There's something to be said about the great forests of the Appalachian Mountains, which add to the charm of North Carolina cabins, but hikers sometimes can't see through the trees. Not so on the "balds," open meadows found on some ridge tops. The balds of Shining Rock Wilderness are among the best, and some of the easiest to drive to from Asheville.
They are also unique for the remnants of spruce-fir, or boreal, forests. These fairy-tale forests, with pine needle-covered floors, contrast nicely with the open meadows along this hike.
From the trailhead, hike down the Ivestor Gap Trail through some scattered spruce-fir forests. At Ivestor Gap, take a right on the Art Loeb Trail and hike across the balds. A few unofficial trails veer off in different directions, but the area is so open that it's difficult to get lost. Just continue along the ridge top, and soon you'll see the parking lot below. Near the end of the balds, a spur trail on the right returns to the trailhead.
From Willow Winds, take a right on Sweeten Creek Road. Drive 0.5 miles and then take a left on Rock Hill Road at the traffic light. Drive one mile down and then take a left on Hendersonville Road. Just 0.2 miles down, take a right onto the entrance ramp for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take a right on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At mile 420, take a right on Forest Service Road 816. Continue to the parking lot at the road's end.