No one would confuse Danny Bernstein with a slacker. A fit and trim 60 years old, she’s a hiker’s hiker, with calves of steel (presumably) and a head full of routes, GPS coordinates and local lore. In short, she’s a valued guide wherever she happens to go, and in her new book, Hiking the Carolina Mountains (Milestone Press), she’s made her wealth of trail sense available to the less intrepid among us.
Bernstein highlights 57 day hikes—out-and-back affairs ranging from two to 12 miles—in both Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. Her detailed entries strike a perfect balance between practicality and a lyrical sense of what it’s like to walk the rich Carolina forests. The book is also rife with mountain history—both natural and human—including select quotes from earlier mountaineers and naturalists.
The entry for South Carolina’s Dismal Trail typifies this pairing of straight-ahead directions and keen nature observations: “The Dismal is a thick, mature forest lying beneath Caesars Head. The trail drops 1,200 ft. in elevation on a steep grade through nettle, blackberry cane, spiderwort, and black-eyed susans. At 2.4 miles, as the trail veers left, look straight ahead for a striated rock that you can scramble up on to get another view of the falls.” Nothing “dismal” about that.
For nearly a year, Danny Bernstein has been a regular contributor to Xpress’ Outdoors section. I sat down with her a few weeks ago to talk about her book and what went into researching and writing it.
MX: What were your criteria for the hikes you included in the book?
DB: Well, I wanted to make each entry a “hike,” meaning what you can do in a day or less. At some point, I’m going to get you back to your car.
MX: Was it daunting, given the history of the area and the tradition of “outdoorsmanship,” to write a new book about the Carolina mountains?
DB: You’re right; there is so much history here. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the region’s history, but as a hiker I can tell you that I treasure every railroad spike and chimney I come across. Personally, I find that every bit as interesting as the birds and the trees that I encounter while hiking.
MX: What’s new about this book? What will readers find here that’s lacking in other books?
DB: There are several places that have not been well-documented up till now: trails in the Montreat area, the trails of Dupont State Forest and the hikes in upstate South Carolina. In many cases people know about certain trails only by word of mouth.
MX: What’s the longest hike in the book?
DB: Deep Creek Loop near Bryson City. It’s 13.4 miles long. Mount Sterling, also in the Smokies, is a close second at 13.3 miles.
MX: And the shortest?
DB: The Joyce Kilmer Memorial. It’s two miles long.
MX: You’re obviously passionate about hiking. What do you enjoy most about it?
DB: I like the movement, the freedom of hiking. I also like the discovery part. I can be on the same trail and see it in different weather, and it’s a new experience. The wildlife too—I’ve seen turtles, snakes, bears. I had an experience in the Smokies where I was on the trail in pretty much the middle of nowhere and a dog came running toward me. Well, this is odd, I thought, but as I stood there, seeing how wary it was, I realized that it wasn’t a dog at all, but a coyote, an animal that was never on my radar screen.
MX: The book is beautifully laid out. What’s your take on the publisher?
DB: I was very pleased to find Milestone Press [located in Almond, N.C., near Bryson City], which specializes in outdoor books. This was right in the mainstream of what they were doing. I think they’ve done a great job.
MX: As a hiking destination, how does Western North Carolina rate?
DB: Well, I’m here. That’s a big part of the reason why my husband, Lenny, and I moved here. We decided that the Asheville area had the greatest day-hiking potential of any area in the East. And the views! I come from the Northeast, where you’re lucky if you get one view for a whole day’s worth of hiking. We have flowers here from March through November. Down in the Green River Gamelands, there’s trillium right now and, on the other hand, on Clingmans Dome, spring comes in June. And the water: We have great waterfalls and beautiful rivers.
MX: Any final thoughts?
DB: We have more than 2,000 miles of maintained trails in this part of the state. The money to keep them up comes mostly from the federal government, but there’s really no official record of how many people are using them, no way of quantifying how valuable they are to people. The rangers [and] the powers that be need to know that these trails are being used.
MX: What’s your favorite hike in the Carolinas?
DB: I know that it doesn’t sound true, but it is: My favorite hike is whatever one I happen to be on right now.
Meet the author
Danny Bernstein will be making the following appearances to promote and sign copies of her new book, Hiking the Carolina Mountains:
• Tuesday, April 10, 7 p.m., Diamond Brand Outdoors, 2623 Hendersonville Road, Arden (209-1501; www.diamondbrand.com)
• Friday, April 13, 11:45 a.m., College For Seniors, UNCA Reuters Center, Asheville (251-6384; www.unca.edu/ncccr/cfs/)
• Sunday, April 29, 1 p.m. Folk Art Center, Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 382, Asheville (298-0495; www.southernhighlandguild.org)
• Saturday, May 12, 7 p.m. Osondu Booksellers, 184 N. Main St., Waynesville (456-8062; www.osondubooksellers.com)
• Friday, May 18, 7:30 p.m. City Lights Bookstore, 3 East Jackson St., Sylva (586-9499; www.citylightsnc.com)
• Friday, June 1 and Tuesday, June 5, 8 p.m., Mountain Made, Grove Arcade, Asheville (350-0307; www.mtnmade.com)