Point Lookout reborn: Once upon a time, motorists crossing the mountain ridge between Marion and Asheville stopped at Point Lookout to take their picture with Sally the brown bear, grab a hot dog at the mountaintop restaurant and stand by the flagpole for a spectacular view of Royal Gorge. The spot was popular in the 1920s and ‘30s, but forgotten when Interstate 40 blasted through the pass and the old U.S. 70 road was abandoned.
Now, hikers and bicyclists can visit the spot (minus the bear and the restaurant). The new Point Lookout Trail follows old 70’s route, passing through historic territory: In 1776, Gen. Griffith Rutherford and his militia came this way during an expedition against the Cherokee. During the Civil War, Union and Confederate soldiers fought a battle at Swannanoa Gap. A few years later, the Western North Carolina Railroad built 11 miles of track and seven hand-dug tunnels for the ascent up Swannanoa Gap.
But in the 21st century, N.C. Department of Transportation agreed to build the bicycle and walking trail, McDowell county promised to maintain it, private property owners W. Duane Allison and Mr./Mrs. Earl Franklin pitched in for the effort, and the McDowell Trails Association and the town of Old Fort have joined in.
So go get your own view of Royal Gorge and stand by the new flagpole. From Asheville, drive west on I-40, take exit 66, turn left at the top of the ramp, drive across the bridge and follow entrance signs.
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