Hiking Biltmore: Part 2 - Early Autumn
by Waitsel Smith
In Part 1, we hiked the Garden and Bass Pond Trails, Deer Park Trail and the Lagoon Trail. This time, we'll be doing the Westover Trails, Farm Trail and Arbor Trace Trail, all of which originate, more or less, at Antler Hill Village, where we ended our hike last time. On this trip, you'll get to see some spectacular trees, discover some surprises of nature, and learn a little about the farm. We'll be hiking wooded paths, farm utility roads, trace trails and river roads. We'll finish up at the vegetable garden, which you will not believe. So lace up your boots and let's get going.
We'll start out at the Bike Barn, which is part of the farm. Standing at the west end of the Bike Barn, near the exit, and glancing to your left, you'll see the red tiller pictured above. Looking straight ahead, you'll see the road pictured below. It's a little confusing because a lot of trails converge in the vicinity of the Bike Barn. The trail you want is straight ahead as you exit the barn, and farthest on your right as you face west.
Starting out, the trail is basically a farm utility road. Some white Biltmore Estate trucks will probably pass you as you're walking up it. At the top of the road, if you turn back and look to your right, you'll be at a high enough elevation to get a good panoramic view of the farm. It's a working farm, with crops, orchards, vegetable gardens and livestock - and, of course, the famous vineyards. Most of the crops are planted down by the river, which we will see when we hike the Farm Trail. But the Westover Trails are more hilly, and even mountainous: good for pastureland, orchards and woods.
Just over the crest of the hill, you will see some pastureland with long, lush grass, which, when I was there, contained black Angus cattle. Named after the county in Scotland where they originated, there are about 200 head at Biltmore. Fortunately for their guest, they are served as fare in the estate's various restaurants. As the cows graze, they are moved from pasture to pasture, so you never know where you will see them. To order prints, email me.
Further up the road, we come to a deserted farmhouse: Brooder House. Built in the style of Edwardian farm houses, it is stuccoed-over brick, I'm guessing, with tin roofs. Behind the house is the beginning of a new trail.
The Westover Trails are color-coded, based on difficulty: green is easy/wide, blue is moderate and black is difficult/narrow. None of these trails are particularly difficult to hike. I think the coding is mainly for cyclists. We just left a green trail and are now on a black one. Just for the record: round trip distances for the Green Trail is 1.7 miles, for the Blue Trail is 2.8 miles, and for the Black Trail is 3.5 miles.
The Westover Trails are typical woodland trails. If you like hiking through the woods, you will love this. They are gentle trails that immerse you in trees and woodland life.
Early on, I ran across this tree stump with these very interesting mushrooms growing on it. Behind the tree is a fence, on the other side of which is a field with a large farm building occupying part of it. There was a fallen tree lying across the fence, so I could easily have accessed the field. But I thought I would save that for another trip; which is typical - there are just too many side routes and interesting things to look at to take it all in over the course of a single hike. And the Westover Trails are such a maze that it would really take two trips around to cover all the trails. In addition, I strongly recommend picking up a map at the Outdoor Adventure Center in Antler Hill Village to help keep the trails straight. To order prints, email me.
Because of the forestation of these woods, many of the trees are tall and slender with lightweight canopies, so that the undergrowth gets plenty of light.
There are some remarkably pretty trails in Westover...
... leading to some gorgeous vistas. Click the photo to enlarge it. To order prints, email me.
In order to get to Arbor Trace Trail, you have to take the Farm Trail. If you were to go in the opposite direction, the Farm Trail is an alternate route to the Lagoon and merges with the Lagoon Trail. The Farm Trail is 6 miles round trip. We're going to pick it up behind the Bike Barn.
For most of the trail, we will be hiking between the river and various crop fields, so the path we'll be using is a farm utility road. Part of it is gravel, but much of it is just dirt.
Along the French Broad River, spots have been partially cleared to give the hiker easy access. As I mentioned in my first article, there are often kayakers and fishermen on the river, not to mention geese and other wildlife.
I've mentioned how amazing some of the trees are, but notice the vines growing on this one. Because no one is standing next to them, you may not realize just how large this tree and its accompanying vines are. But notice the fence posts behind them. This reminds me of something from Lord Of The Rings. To order prints, email me.
As with the previous photo, what's above the trail is often more interesting than what's on it. These trees and their companion vines remind me of some baroque artistic concoction from the 17th century.
After passing by numerous fields, the path becomes pretty much your typical river road: flat and broad. One disturbing fact: Interstate 40 cuts across the northern part of Biltmore Estate. It amazes me that the government could not have figured out a way to build their highway so it would not disturb the grounds of America's largest estate. It's very disappointing to be hiking along, trying to imagine what it must have been like back at the turn of the 20th century, and hear the traffic from a major highway just a stone's throw away. For half the distance of the Farm Trail (c.1.5 miles), you hear the river on your left and the highway on your right. Click photo to enlarge it. To order prints, email me.
This is a strange little section. There are some old, gnarly trees on the left, and through that break in the distance is a cornfield. The Farm Trail follows the bend in the river, which starts out heading northwest and ends up going east. Now we have turned southeast, away from the river, and are heading toward Arbor Trace Trail.
Arbor Trace Trail
That short, little mountain in the background is the location of Arbor Trace Trail. It begins on the other side of that road up ahead. By the way: the Farm Trail is so long that you might think you've missed Arbor Trace Trail. Just keep hiking until you get to this road. Cross it and follow the signs.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time describing Arbor Trace Trail. It's a lot like the Westover Trails, only you feel more secluded; and it doesn't wind around the way Westover does -until you get to the end, and then it loops. Round trip is 3.5 miles. Leave off the loop and you have about 2.5 miles.
Farm Trail Return Trip
With the return trip on Farm Trail, you'll see things you didn't notice before. It will also seem shorter than before because you won't be looking for Arbor Trace Trail.
This was an especially pretty section to me, given that it was late in the day and the shadows were lengthening. You can see the viaduct in the distance where Interstate 40 crosses the trail. The river is on our right. Just up ahead, also on our right, is the scene below. Click photo to enlarge it. To order prints, email me.
This is almost the time of day that photographers call "The Golden Hour" - the last hour before sunset. You almost cannot take a bad photograph during this time, the lighting is so gorgeous. We actually have about two hours of daylight left. Not bad for a day that started out cloudy. The sun came out almost the same moment as my foot hit the trail.
Back at the farm, one of the employees is tending to these two Belgian draft horses. They're both males, and both retired, though they differ in age by about seven years. Before their retirement, they were used to pull the carriages you can rent at Deerpark.
Here we are, the Golden Hour at last! And notice this vegetable garden! There are a dozen or more of these plots, all of them just as healthy as this one. I was amazed that vegetables looked this robust this late in the season. There is definitely something unique about mountain air and mountain soil. I mean, look at the grass! People in Georgia would give their right arms to have lawns that look like that. Of course, when I tell my friends about how beautiful and healthy everything at Biltmore is, they say, "Well, they probably have the money and staff to make it that way." I don't think so. It's the mountains - they're magical. And, as I like to say, "God's Country."
After this, I plan to do several more articles on Hiking Biltmore: one in winter, with snow, and one in spring. I hope you'll join me. But first - how about some fall color in Hiking Biltmore: Part 3?
Waitsel Smith, October 9, 2012
If you would like prints of any of the photos in this article, email me and I'll send you sizes and costs.
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
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OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thank you brother for sharing these. I thought I had done a good bit of hiking on the grounds in the past, but I've missed some of these vistas. Wow, what a great article (and yes, I would have paid something for it!) Thanks again. If you do go in winter, if you're interested, holler at me, would be glad to tag along with you if you wanted the company. - Randy, Atlanta
How serene, how beautiful. I can tell you were delighting in God's creation! - Ellen, Atlanta
It would be my guess that your recent trip to the trails at Biltmore Estates came in conjunction with your trip to Lenoir for your high school reunion. It was my pleasure to finally speak to you and reveal our connection through Perimeter Church. I am in full agreement that there is little more beautiful than the mountains of North Carolina. - Sarah, Atlanta
Just beautiful! The oldest and I made a visit there in June… the same week the temperature hit 100. Sitting on a bench at Bass Pond early that morning was incredible… even saw a beaver. Great pictures!! - Todd, Atlanta
The last picture in your Biltmore walk is amazing. - Lynda
Awesome photos, especially liked the picture of the big tree with the vines! - Tom, Atlanta
Hi Waitsel, Beautiful photos and commentary! Now I miss NC even more than usual! We've had snow here and the cold to go with it, so the wood stove is perking. I look forward to my annual return to NC in December and then another visit next March for the exhibit of WY sketches at the Caldwell Arts Council. You would love the scenery here as well, but the seasons are primarily winter (long) and summer (short). Reading your hiking travelogue was a nice diversion from the political emails, which are critically important, but distressing. - Bobbi, Wyoming
When I was there last, 2-3 years ago, they showed us some hemlock trees they said were worth millions… did you see them? (along the road leading to the house). - Charlie, Atlanta
I looked for them on my last visit, but didn't see them. As I told Charlie, it would be hard to imagine how a couple of trees could be worth millions, and by whose estimation? What in the world could you possibly do with them that would make them worth so much? The only thing I could think of would be if you had Chinese workers making $5 per day carve them into Christmas ornaments that Biltmore would then sell in one of their shops for $50 each - which is a real possibility. :) - Waitsel
NICE! Wish I could do it for real. - Cathie, Maryland
Thanks for all your great comments!
Text & Photos © 2012 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.