Mars Hill, NC is definitely one of the hidden jewels of Madison County. The undeniably stunning rolling hills, the deep and mysterious hollows, the rhododendron, wild roses, mountain laurel, and azalea exploding from behind deep green foliage - all of these magical things come together to make the area in which Mars Hill is nestled one of the very best for touring in Western North Carolina. For those coming to the area, Mars Hill is a fantastic small town to visit.
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Mars Hill University
Mars Hill University is at the heart of this small, quiet town. A beautifully manicured campus makes for a delightful stroll and the rich history of the school makes for an interesting read. Founded in 1856 as the French Broad Baptist Institute, the site served as a place for education based in the Baptist Faith. By 1859, the college was chartered by the State of North Carolina and the name changed to Mars Hill College. 10 years later, in the midst of the Civil War, the college buildings were turned into quarters for both the Union and Confederate troops - an interesting story in and of itself. Historical markers are located all over the campus and town, telling the story of the incident.
Hiking in Madison County is some of the best in this corner of the state. The high elevation in some parts makes for breathtaking views while the hollows in others showcase undisturbed flora and deep, rich foliage. The neighboring towns of Marshall and Hot Springs are home to many of the best hikes and are just a short drive from Mars Hill. Below, we've highlighted a few of our favorites in the county.
Appalachian Trail: Sam's Gap to Spivey Gap
Sam's Gap to Spivey Gap is a 13.6 mile up and back trail situated near Mars Hill, NC. Hikers can expect plenty of challenging elevation changes and breathtaking views of the mountains in the distance and the valleys below. It is considered an extremely challenging trail and is only recommended for very experienced outdoorsmen. To access this trail from Downtown Mars Hill, head East on Cascade St toward N Main St. Continue onto NC-213 E. After about a mile, make a right onto I-26W. Travel on the interstate for about 7.5 miles before taking Exit 3 toward US 23A/Wolf Laurel. Make a right at the end of the exit ramp onto US 23 ALT S. Travel .7 miles, then turn left onto Laurel Valley Road. Travel a brief .2 miles, then turn Left onto State Rd 1502/Puncheon Fork Rd. Continue on for 3.7 miles before making a right onto Wolf Laurel Road. After 2.5 miles, make a left onto Big Bald Road. The trailhead is about 2 miles up the road and is well marked.
Max Patch is a beloved trail in Madison County that is rated for moderate difficulty. It offers stunning 360-degree views of the mountains in the distance and an excellent sampling of local flora and fauna. A 3.5-mile loop trail, Max Patch is also dog-friendly! It can be quite a busy location during the warm months - visitors can expect to see families picnicking, tossing around a baseball, playing music, or practicing photography! To access this trail from Downtown Mars Hill, head west on NC-213W/ Cascade St. After about 7.3 miles, turn right to stay on NC-213 W. After a brief 325 ft, turn right onto US-25 N/US-70 W. Continue on for 7.2 miles before making a right onto Meadow Fork Rd. Travel 5.3 miles, then turn right onto State Rd 1181/ Little Creek Road. Continue on for 3.5 miles, then turn right onto State Rte 1182. After about 1.6 miles, the Max Patch trailhead will be on your right.
Appalachian Trail: Sam's Gap to Hog Back Ridge Shelter
Sam's Gap to Hog Back Ridge Shelter is a moderate 4 mile out and back hike in Mars Hill. The trail, though only lightly used, is quite easy to follow and the views along the way are lovely. Hog Back Ridge Shelter is a fantastic place for a picnic, so hikers should plan on packing a lunch to enjoy at the halfway point. To access this trail from Downtown Mars Hill, head East on Cascade St toward N Main St before continuing onto NC-213 E. Travel a mile, then turn right onto the I-26W ramp. Continue on the interstate for 7.3 miles, then take exit 3 toward US 23A/Wolf Laurel. Turn right off of the exit ramp onto US-23 ALT A. After a brief .1 miles, turn left and continue onto Flag Pond Rd. The trailhead will be about 400 ft ahead.
Wolf Ridge Ski Area
Tucked into the gorgeous mountains of Western North Carolina is Wolf Ridge Ski Area - a premier snow sports facility which boasts 15 ski runs, 3 ski lifts, a terrain park, and absolutely breathtaking views. The facility has boots, poles, skis, snowboards, and helmets available for rent and the amazing instructor's on-site offer a variety of lessons for all skill levels. We suggest that you arrange to be on the ski lift at sunset, at least once - the sight it truly awe-inspiring! Check out our Mountain Discovery Pass for more information about the complimentary lift pass that we give to every Carolina Mornings Guest!
Rainbow's End Trout Farm
Mars Hill is a sleepy town that will bring you back to a simpler time. It's fitting, then, that the town has Madison County's best Trout Pond - perfect for whittling away the day with a loved one. No license is required, Rainbow's End Trout Farm will supply the pole and bait is available for purchase on site. All you need to do is show up to enjoy the day! Perhaps the best part is that guests can leave with the very rainbow trout that they hooked that day! For a small additional fee, the amazing farmers at Rainbow's End will clean the fish for you. Experience the joy of small, country town life!
Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater
The Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater in Mars Hill is a wonderful organization that celebrates the arts and seeks to enrich the Southern Appalachian Region through theater, education, and outreach. Created in 1975, the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater, or "SART", was the magnificent result of the coming together of the Mars Hill College Theatre Department and the Madison County Bicentennial Committee. Looking for a splashy way to celebrate our nation's birth, the two came together under a shared passion for a good show. Out of this union, SART was born and its mission was simple: "to present the highest quality plays concerning Appalachia that portrays the rich culture and heritage of its people." The gifted members of the theater work year round to bring the community extraordinary shows. When visiting the area, be sure to check out any shows that are in production - you won't be sorry!
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Carolina Mornings is proud to manage the beautiful cabins at Scenic Wolf, located in Mars Hill. Luxurious, spacious, and modern, the cabins sit at an elevation of 4,300 feet and offer breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys below. With a heated indoor swimming pool available for guests from Memorial Day through Labor Day and easy access to the nearby Wolf Laurel Ski Area, the cabins at Scenic Wolf are the perfect vacation destination year round. Carolina Mornings also offers all guests a Mountain Discovery Pass which provides complimentary admission to many of the area's best attractions, including the Biltmore Estate, French Broad Rafting and Ziplining, and ski lift tickets at Wolf Ridge.