Whiteside Mountain is one of my least favorite hiking destinations in Western North Carolina. In the summer it is absolutely crawling with tourists and it sits amongst a region so overrun with gaudy second homes, condos, and golf courses that a wilderness-minded individual like myself gets a bit sick each time I visit. However, there is one remedy sure to free you from the teeming hordes of the warmer seasons...head out on a cold, crystal clear late winter morning and add a side trip to the seldom visited Devil's Courthouse on Whiteside's northern slopes. Odds are, you'll be able to experience Whiteside like I did on this hike, all by yourself.
Whiteside Mountian (4,930') gets its name from the massive granite cliffs that form its southern face which are frequently coated in runoff giving the mountainside a bright white glare. The peak is impressive but not unusual in this region where many nearby peaks sport huge granite cliffs. What makes Whiteside so popular is access. The trailhead is located only a mile or so off busy U.S. 64 just outside the town of Highlands, NC. From the parking area a rather gentle 2-mile loop allows easy access to the top of the cliffs from which you get stunning panoramas to the south. The popularity is well deserved but its just too easy to access to provide any solitude unless you know when to go. The added bonus of this particular hike was to be the side trip out to a prominence named Devil's Courthouse which sits about a half mile off the mountain's northeastern slope. The trail out to the Courthouse isn't marked and the Forest Service gets a bit nervous about people visiting due to the rugged terrain. With a bit of searching however, I found some decent directions and felt confident I could make my way over for a look. I won't give precise directions out to the Courthouse (it is a bit rugged and shouldn't be attempted by the average Whiteside Mountain visitor) but if you are in decent shape and don't mind getting your boots muddy I'd highly recommend the round trip out to it.
Pleased to find myself the only car in the parking lot on this cool March morning I set out for a couple hours on Whiteside like few get to experience...
Hike Length: 3.5 miles Hike Duration: 2:15
Trailhead Temp: 30'F
Min. Elevation: 4,380' Max. Elevation: 4,930'
Total Vertical Gain: 1,000' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 285'