Explore Historic Places with Historians

Sometimes the best way to learn is to see and experience the places we discuss. Partnering with local historians and researchers, WNCHA frequently leads outdoor hikes (and occasional paddles) to and along historic places and routes within western North Carolina. These range from easy, 2-mile walks to strenuous 6+ mile hikes. These programs include forests, cemeteries, forgotten roads, high peaks, storied rivers and more! We often follow our book or lecture events with these outdoor excursions, giving guests and members opportunities to explore subjects in multiple ways. We hope to see you at these outings!

Prices vary for these events (paddles may cost more) with WNCHA members receiving discounted rates. No-cost community funded tickets are also available thanks to donations.

See our event calendar for more specifics and registration links.

What To Expect:

  • Outings are led by a guest historian/speaker or the WNCHA public programs director.
  • Participants are asked to fill out a liability waiver and provide emergency contact information.
  • Outings sometimes require cooperative shuttling in vehicles.
  • Groups abide by Covid-19 precautions including masks and social distancing as much as possible.
  • We love pets, but not all events allow for them.
  • Occasionally parking arrangements and dates change due to weather or other factors. We stay in contact with registrants and notify them of any changes prior to the event.

Past Events

Loyalists and Rebels: Mountaineers and the Battle of Kings Mountain

October 8, 2022

It was a beautiful fall day to hike a section of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail to Alexander’s Ford near the Rutherford/Polk County border. Led by our public programs director, guests learned about the 1780 Battle of Kings Mountain in the bigger context of divided loyalties in the WNC foothills and mountains during the American Revolutionary War. We paid particular attention to the stories of Loyalists (or those accused thereof) and their plight during and after the conflict. On the way out, we learned more about an adjacent cemetery, likely where unidentified enslaved people were buried, and Gray’s Chapel, named after a participant at Kings Mountain.


A big thanks to one of our attendees (LaBar) for sharing photographs!

Cemetery Series: Guastavino Estate Ruins and Cemetery Tour

September 28, 2022

Our Hikes With a Historian: Cemetery Series concluded with a tour of the Raphael Guastavino estate ruins and an a nearby common cemetery on the grounds of the Christmont Assembly led by WNCHA Executive Director Anne Chesky Smith. Guests learned about the Guastavino family’s emigration from Spain to America, his renowned tile work, and the plight of his estate and working farm near Black Mountain. We also enjoyed a short hike to a nearby cemetery where at least ten local residents were buried and marked with fieldstones. We had fantastic turnout for this series and want to thank all who participated!


Cemetery Series: Hot Springs Cemeteries

September 21, 2022

Our Hikes With a Historian: Cemetery Series continued Wednesday, Sep 21 with a tour of four cemeteries in Hot Springs, NC. We were joined by Taylor Barnhill of the Appalachian Barn Alliance and by two local residents who shared stories and great insights about the places we visited. We learned about the history of Hot Springs through the burial sites we toured, including the confinement of 2,100 German internees during the First World War and the burial/reinterment of 26 in the Odd Fellows Cemetery. We greatly appreciate the special access to several of these interesting sites!

Cemetery Series: Absalom Dillingham Cemetery

September 14, 2022

The second event in our cemetery series, guests toured the Absalom Dillingham Cemetery in Barnardsville. A great example of one of the earliest community cemeteries in the region, this cemetery also contains a historically Black section where individuals enslaved by neighboring families and later descendants were buried. Guests learned more about those buried here, traditions related to cemeteries, death, and burial, and about the lives of African Americans living in rural areas before and after the Civil War.

Cemetery Series: Newton Academy and South Asheville Cemeteries

September 7, 2022

Our four-part cemetery series kicked off in early September with a great turnout. Guests learned about the Newton Academy and South Asheville cemeteries’ connections to the Smith-McDowell House and the free and enslaved families who lived there. We then toured the historically Black South Asheville Cemetery. A big thanks to Dr. Ellen Pearson and David Quinn of the South Asheville Cemetery Association who discussed this cemetery and its recent restoration. the GPR and genealogical research which has identified over 2,000 burial locations, and the stories of known people buried there.

Tour of Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School

August 6 and 20, 2022

Nearly thirty guests joined us for these two tours of the restored Mars Hill Anderson Rosenwald School. Built and operated with funds from Julius Rosenwald and the local community, and owing to an idea by Booker T. Washington, this school for African American children in Madison County operated from 1928-1964. After falling into disrepair, the school has been lovingly restored by alumni and local community members and now serves as a museum and educational center. Attendees also visited the nearby gravesite of Joe Anderson, a man once enslaved in Mars Hill and the namesake of the Rosenwald School. A big thanks to the Friends of the Anderson Rosenwald School who shared stories of the school and its students, as well as the restoration process!

Juneteenth Hike

June 19, 2022

In this special outing, WNCHA partnered with Chimney Rock State Park to lead a hike exploring the history of slavery and emancipation in WNC as well as the Hickory Nut Gorge. In this free public hike, participants learned about the development of slavery across the region as well as the self-emancipation of numerous individuals before the Civil War, including the oral tradition that the Gorge served as an Underground Railroad route. We explored how freedom came to those enslaved in WNC during the war, and the fight for rights, equality, and safety afterward. Lastly, we traced the history of Juneteenth and other emancipation celebrations from Texas to WNC. 

Rumbling Bald Hike

May 7, 2022

On this 1.5 mile hike, the group explored the 1874 rumblings underneath several mountains on the eastern end of the Hickory Nut Gorge. We traced the media coverage of the event, the route of an investigating geologist, and the wild speculation, rumors, and stereotypes that emerged from what many believed was a volcano set to erupt. We were also permitted to see evidence of the geologic activity common to this part of WNC, exploring fissures and rock falls at “Rumbling” Bald Mountain. A big thanks to Chimney Rock State Park for their assistance!

Big Ivy Outing

September 25, 2021

On this early-fall day, WNCHA led a tour of the Big Ivy Historical Park in Barnardsville. We climbed the restored Little Snowball Mountain lookout tower and toured restored early-1800s log cabins which once belonged to the Carson family. After a quick lunch, WNCHA public programs director Trevor Freeman also delivered an interpretive presentation to the group looking at Big Ivy in terms of Appalachian stereotypes, and exploring the competing trends of forest commons and outside land holding which are crucial to understanding this historic community. We were lucky enough to also meet the local man responsible for saving the tower and restoring it to its former glory.

French Broad Paddle with Montreat College

September 11, 2021

We revived our interpretive paddle trip down one of the most historic sections of the French Broad River, paddling from the mouth of the Swannanoa River to the Woodfin Dam. This 7-mile outing passed by several bridges, many of which were destroyed during the Flood of 1916. Led by WNCHA’s public programs director, the group discussed Cherokee and early settler activities along this stretch, the Mountain Lily steamboat, idustrialization, floods, pollution, and activism to protect this vital river. Montreat College’s Outdoor Recreation Studies were instrumental, providing rafts, canoes, and safety/paddle guidance.

Buncombe Turnpike Hike

August 7, 2021

On this beautiful day, we were joined by Lauren May of the Vance Birthplace State Historic Site who interpeted the history of the pivotal Buncombe Turnpike on this 2-mile hike. We travelled along the Palmetto Trail to the NC/SC state line, where the Buncombe Turnpike began in the Saluda Gap. Trevor Freeman of WNCHA then addressed the two other famous events at this site: the 1827 Vance-Carson duel and the establishment of the Happy Land Kingdom after the Civil War. We saw plenty of flowers and mushrooms along the way.


Hickory Nut Gap Hike
May 22, 2021

In this special hike, we partnered with Conserving Carolina, a local land trust, who allowed us to use a special section of their trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge leading up to the beautiful Blue Ridge Pastures. WNCHA Public Programs Director Trevor Freeman interpreted the natural and cultural history of this famous gorge, exploring Native Americans, early white settlers, slavery, tourism, livestock drovers, and the incarcerated laborers who constructed the winding road. The hike was strenuous, but the views were well worth it.


RAIL Hike on the Point Lookout Greenway

Sat/Sun April 17&18, 2021

In two hikes along the Point Lookout Greenway, historian Dan Pierce and Marion Mayor Steve Little interpreted the history of the Western Carolina Railroad and the incarcerated larborers who toiled to complete the winding loops leading to the Swannanoa Tunnel. Both men are part of the RAIL Memorial Project raising funds to erect a monument to those predominantly African American laborers at nearby Andrews Geyser. 

DuPont Forest Hike with Danny Bernstein

March 20, 2021

Author and hike Danny Bernstein, who literally wrote the book on DuPont State Recreational Forest, led participants on a 7-mile hike along the cutovers, creeks, waterfalls, and numerous lakes of this special place. We saw three lakes, the spectacular Bridal Veil Falls, and the abandoned airstrip as Danny discussed the people who both created and saved this popular area of public land.