The Place: Beech Mountain, N.C.
The Hike: Exploring the Emerald Outback
Beech Mountain. Most people thinking skiing nine times out of 10. I know I do. However, there’s a hidden gem of hiking and mountain biking trails over the rainbow.
Or, well, at the top of the ski lift.
The Emerald Outback is a trail complex of about seven miles with a range of difficulties. My ankle is still recovering from an injury, so I decided to hike the Oz Forest Run (easy) from end to end, hop onto Wizard’s Way (easy) for a hot minute, then head back to the parking lot on Jackalope’s (moderate to advanced).
First of all – if you are trying to find Emerald Outback, you may not want to listen to your GPS straight away. It tried to take me up a private from from Beech Mountain Parkway. You can’t get through there. You want to take North Pinnacle Ridge Road up to Oz Road to get to the trail head area.
Emerald Outback has one of the better trailhead areas. Not only is there views but a port-a-potty, covered picnic area and lots of info about the trails. One of signs mention registering. I couldn’t find any registration papers. So I laced up my boots and headed off to find Oz.
(Ok, I’ll stop now with the references.)
When the trail guide says easy, it means easy. I enjoy the easy hikes. Usually these are the ones with a variety of flowers, trees, etc. to check out and also some really cool rock formations.
At first it can be confusing because the trail crosses the road. A number of the trails do this. Just keep an eye out for the trail markers. They’re there, I promise.
About a quarter-mile down the trail, you come to the trailhead for Wizard’s Way. If you’re not wanting a view, absolutely check that out. The easy trail crosses Winter Road before Jackalope’s branches off of it and then it meets the far end of OFR and the Southern Ridge trail.
If you ignore Wizard’s Way, you’ll soon get to one of the best features of this particular trail. It is an overlook toward Roan Mountain. According to one of my peak identifying apps, you see a bit of Grassy Ridge Bald.
Continuing on through the forest, the trail actually loops below the overlook. The brilliant rock formation I was just standing on wasn’t nearly as tall as I thought.
The overlook also marks roughly halfway on OFR. Watch out on the trail — some areas are muddy and rutted from the bicycles. However, there’s plenty of space to tiptoe around any issues.
You’ll eventually cross Winter Road for the second time. Not far past this, three trails meet. There’s OFR, which you just hiked, there’s the more difficult Southern Ridge trail to your left, and in front of you is Wizard’s Way.
I continued up Wizard’s Way for a bit, through some more up-hill areas, until I got to the Jackalope terminus. From there, it’s an easy frolic across a bridge and back to the car.
Next time I visit Emerald Outback (which I am 100% planning to do), the plan is to head up the Southern Ridge trail. It has three overlooks: Pride Rock, Awesome Oz, and Elk River Valley.
You can check out the trail map PDF here.