Whiteside Mountain & Devil's Courthouse (1-8-17)
Whiteside Mountain is one of my least favorite hiking destinations in Western North Carolina...there, I said it. In the summer it is absolutely crawling with tourists and on top of that it sits amongst an area 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 I can always count on to free myself from the teeming hordes of the warmer seasons...that is, to head out on a cold, crystal clear winter morning (after a snow like on this day helps!) and to add a side trip to the seldom visited Devil's Courthouse on Whiteside's northern slopes. Without fail one should be able, thus, to experience Whiteside like I did on this hike, all by oneself.
Whiteside Mountain (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 twas a side trip I like to make 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 its rugged terrain. I won't give precise directions out to the Courthouse (I like that it's off the radar of most tourists) 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. Also, if you can get your hands on a decent map, or read the one I posted below, you can probably figure out the way to the Courthouse without too much trouble.
So, pleased to find myself the only car in the parking lot on this cold post-snowstorm morning I set out for a couple hours to experience Whiteside like few ever do...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.080582, -83.143926
Route Type: Loop + spur Difficulty: HARD (EXTREME in conditions presented here)
Mileage Hiked: 3.0 miles Hike Duration: 2:00
Trailhead Temp: 15'F Trail Traffic: 1-5 people
Min. Elevation: 4,360' Max. Elevation: 4,931'
Total Vertical Gain: 750' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 250'
Trails Used (blaze color): Devil's Courthouse Spur (unblazed/unofficial), Whiteside Mountain Loop (unblazed)