After spending time in the White Mountains, I have come to realize that the southern Appalachian trails tend be more of a 'trail' while the north is more rock hopping scrambles. My question is, where can I find the hardest/steepest trails in the south? I'm not looking for anything technical just a fun mentally demanding hike (like Grandfather Mountain which I LOVE). I'm also up for relatively safe bushwhacks. Thanks a bunch.
Although I am sure there are many others, I would personally recommend Garden Mountain in Tazewell County, VA (37.081124,-81.413769) or Beartown Mtn in Russell Co (36.927610,-81.896388). They'll make you work for the peak.
Obviously, there a whole series of hills that you just have to come at from a different direction and they get slightly more "difficult".
SE hills are full of steep trails. Off the top of my head the steepest in the SE are in Linville Gorge, all steep; Sandy Flats, Cabin way steep, Devils Hole and Pinch In slightly less.
Flint Mill or other trails up Holsten Mt (Tenn) on south side of S Holsten lake (I used some of these for Rainier warmups)
AT from Hughes Gap to Cloudland hotel site, I think 2500 feet in 2.8 miles.
Big Butt trail from Cane River Gap to ridge, something like 2000 in a little over 2 miles. This is on NF land west of Blue Ridge Parkway near Mt Mitchell.
Black Mt Crest trail from Mt Mitchell to Celo Knob. Imagine Grandfather, only longer.
AT from Nantahala river to Cheah Bald, old trail wicked steep.
Albert Mt in Southern Nantahala Wilderness, short but steep.
AT from Ga line at Bly Gap up Courthouse Bald.
For bushwhack get a topo and head up. Many steep place around. Try Hyatt Ridge in Smokies from Balsam Mt trail to McGee Springs. 4.5 miles, took me 9+ hours (and that was with finding old really overgrown trail spots in areas.) Very thick, hardest bushwhack I've done. Remotest park of park,long way from help. If something happens on that ridge, you'll have a MAJOR problem.
I had completely forgotten about Albert. When I saw it when coming in from the south on the AT, my first thought was "Holy [something]".
As to the Stecoahs, they have been tamed since (many years ago). However, if you can follow the old trail, you will get a workout.
With that said, I need to tell a story on myself. Coming through the Stecoahs, heading up Stecoah Bald, I had had about all I could take of that steep trail. I was hot. I was tired. I was thirsty. I was not a happy camper. I started yelling and cursing at pretty much everyone and everything I could think of. If you were associated with the AT or any part therein, you were probably mentioned by me at som epoint in my rant. This went on for 3-4 minutes until I finally ran out of steam and shut up. A voice came out of the woods ahead of me, "You're almost at the top."
I walked the remainder of the way up the hill somewhat red-faced.
I've only been on the BM Crest Trail for the last few miles leading up to Mt. Mitchell. All i can tell you is that at least THAT section of the trail was easy, not steep, very pretty, and with zero exposure or confusion. Still, the trail guide calls it "difficult," so maybe there are more difficult parts of the trail lower down. Then again, it's a popular state park, so it may just be that the difficulty ratings are aimed at non-hikers entirely.
If memory serves me its 12 miles from Bowlens Creek Rd to tha parking lot at Mt Mitchell. Starting at top a moderate hiker could do in a day. If you start at Bowlens Creek Rd at about 9 am you'll get to summit at dark. This is assuming a moderate (1.5 mph) pace. Its a long hike from Bowlens Creek to summit. No exposure but really up and down from summit parking lot to Winter Star. Past Winter Star it's really overgrown to Mt Gibbes. Its pretty open around Horse Rock and Celo then old logging road down to Bowlens Creek Rd. Only water at Deep Gap and spring on trail below Celo. When are you hiking? Need a guide?
The trail up Old Rag in Shenandoah NP may have what you'r looking for: Climbs up steep rock, tunnels & slots, and a glorious 360 deg. summit. It also has a gentle trail down the backside to make a loop.