I wanted to take one last weekday hike back in October before the time changed and chose Wild Cat Rock because of its close(ish) proximity to my apartment. For the most part, I’ve been heading into the Pisgah National Forest or up on the parkway for my hiking excursions since moving down here, and in doing so have neglected to check out quite a bit of hiking opportunities heading southeast of where I live along alternate route 74 going into Lake Lure.
Wild Cat Rock is about halfway to Lake Lure. You park at the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge Trailhead, which is on the left side of the road (if you’re coming from Asheville) and is also the parking area for anyone hiking the Florence Nature Preserve (which I haven’t checked out yet). The Wild Cat Rock trail is the only trail at this location you have to cross the road from the parking lot to access. After crossing the road, the trail meanders through the grounds of the Laughing Waters Retreat Center, which the internet tells me is a popular wedding venue. I was also able to tell it was a wedding venue (albeit, not necessarily a popular one) by nature of the rows of chairs set up in a field for a wedding. Also, a sign that said “chapel this way.”
This is a nice little hike, but no joke—you won’t need to workout the legs for a few days after. The internet tells me it’s 5 miles round trip if you make it to the top of Little Bearwallow Mountain, which the internet suggests most people do. I didn’t make that far. I only made it to the titular Wild Cat Rock, which was a very steep uphill climb mainly consisting of steps carved into rock. The hike was mostly foggy when I went, but I was blessed with an absolutely gorgeous fall sunset from my Wild Cat perch.
The fog returned for my stroll back in the dark, which felt right for the week before Halloween. And as I re-approached laughing waters, someone (I’m assuming in the chapel) decided to practice their god-damn organ playing. You might think that listening to organ music rise into a foggy, dark forest would be scary, but it’s almost too absurd to be so. Still, I kept my eyes on the ground and didn’t look out into the woods at all. Just in case.