Oh, what a funny place the internet is. On one hand, it gives me so many ideas of places to visit and adventures to have. On the other hand, it gives everyone else so many ideas of places to visit and adventures to have. Those two things aren’t always created equal. I like to think the general public has nature’s best interest in mind, but I think they just have social media in mind.
In the last few months, I’ve seen the Daffodil Flats go viral. From a seemingly harmless blogpost from February 2018 that was shared at the beginning of this year, and followed up with a clickbait “Only in Your State” article that also circulated from March 2019, all of my WNC and Asheville hiking Facebook groups have exploded with Daffodil Flats chatter. Both of the afore mentioned articles comment on the difficulty, and I was zealously hoping that would scare away some of the crowds. But I went to Linville Gorge this weekend and was almost just as disheartened as I expected to be. There were more people traveling this extremely difficult trail than there should have been, but seeing so many girls and women hiking out with daffodils in their hair really broke my heart. Now, to be fair, Clara got three of them when we were at the flats… But she’s two, and I’m trying really hard to make an effort to teach her leave no trace. Leave no trace also means do no harm, or leave in place. NO TOUCHIE! Do not pick the daffodils. Don’t trample them for your IG likes. Don’t lie down in the middle of the beautiful tuft of thousands of flowers growing at the bottom of the gorge.
Something I remember studying during my degree program for Sustainable Management at the University of Wisconsin was the dilemma of balancing people and the planet. Overuse and abuse of public lands, how to combat negative behavior or ignorance. It seems so simple to say leave no trace, and it’s verbiage that’s almost second nature to so many of us. It’s also verbiage that’s misunderstood, or not fully understood by so many. It’s not just making sure you don’t litter, it’s making sure you stay on trails to avoid erosion compliance, leave what you find, and actively minimizing your impact when you hike or camp in places. So to say there was plenty of misuse happening on the trail and at the flats was an understatement.
Alright, I’ll get off my high horse and get to the hike. I was a little overwhelmed and slightly confused by the amount of posts and different trails available to get to the flats. I saw a long-time trail worker and volunteer in Linville Gorge post a few weeks ago in a hiking group on Facebook. He’s also volunteered with local S&R and he mentioned that “the main issue people have when they venture to Linville Gorge is underestimating the difficulty of the trails there.” You would think the word “GORGE” is an adequate descriptor, but I guess not. His take on the different routes to get to the flats was Pinchin Trail is probably the easiest to navigate, although probably the most strenuous. Given that I was taking Clara with (my two-year-old adventure buddy), I decided to muster up the strength and avoid getting lost.
The weather was perfect, that really helped the hike. I drove in with my Kia Soul – and I’m noting this because many people mentioned how challenging the dirt road was leading up to the trailhead. One person posted that they turned around just six miles from the trailhead after driving 4.5 hours to hike the flats because the roads were so bad. I found them fine… They were bumpy, but I went slow and navigated them just as well.
The trailhead parking lot was full, but since the road doesn’t get a lot of traffic, I followed others and pulled off on the side of the road. I made the mistake of letting Clara pick if she wanted to ride on my shoulders in the MiniMei carrier, or in the Kelty backpack and she chose the MiniMei. Unfortunately, with this option, and me not planning that well in advance since I don’t use that as much, it limited what I was able to carry with. So I left my water and camera, and shoved my phone and a few snacks in my pockets.
We started out on the hike right away, and Clara was in a great mood! She really loves hiking and adventures! A little ways down was a beautiful overlook where we stopped for a quick picture before continuing on our way. The trail wasn’t too busy, as we passed a few people going down and said hello to a few handfuls of people [slowly] making their way up. At the bottom of the gorge, the trail splits and I couldn’t remember if I was supposed to go right or left to follow the river to the flats. Thankfully a wonderful group of women were just heading up and they directed me in the right way. Which was right… as in not left. I checked my GPS so I would have an idea of how the hike back would be. 1.44 miles to the bottom of the gorge and I could tell by the descent that up was going to be rough. Lots of roots and erosion, and yes – my quads were on FIRE from the steep steep downhill!
We followed the river for about 1.7 miles before the trail opened up to the flats. This was very hikable and Clara did great alternating between me carrying her and her walking or running. The flats were impossible to miss… they were so stunning but immediately you could tell that there had been a lot of wear and tear, and people trampling the flowers. It was magical and tragic at the same time. Again, Clara was the demise of three flowers, and I tried so hard to keep and eye on her – but there were teens using the heads of the daffodils as if they were golf balls on top of a tee and a giant walking stick was their club. There were women (adults!!!) laying in the fields on top of the flowers to get the ‘gram. There were two girls stomping all around and posing for pictures. It was pretty disheartening. I kept to myself, watched Clara with wonder and she was so sweet smelling the flowers! Eventually, I knew it was time to head back.
Pinchin is an out and back trail so we hiked the moderate 1.7 miles back to the base of the gorge, and prepped for the 1.44 miles up the side. OOoof… I don’t care how in shape you think you are – that was brutal. I did eventually take Clara off my shoulders and let her walk up the hill some, and she did great. But we both had to take a few good breaks on the way. That last 1.44 miles took me an hour and twenty minutes to climb. 1937 feet of elevation gain over 1.44 miles.
My only regret was not being able to take water. The full round trip experience was just under four hours, including almost an hour at the flats themselves. Three hours and eight minutes of moving time from car-to-flats-to-car. My recommendation is that Pinchin is VERY navigable, but very strenuous, especially carrying a 26 pound child. Plan ahead, go well hydrated, bring plenty of snacks, a light camera, dress in layers to accommodate the elevation change (top of the mountain to bottom of the gorge = temp difference!), bring water, and leave the daffodils alone!
Oh, and DEFINITELY hit up Fonta Flora Brewing on your way out and bring a couple of bucks for the food truck. It’s perfect!