Lovers Leap is a rock outcrop along the Appalachian Trail that overlooks the French Broad River outside of Hot Springs, North Carolina. Purportedly the third oldest river in the world (only the New River of West Virginia and the Nile River of Egypt are older), the French Broad River is born in the high mountains of western North Carolina near the town of Rosman, traveling a little over 100 miles through the Tar Heel State before reaching Hot Springs.
You can visit Lovers Leap on a 3.9-mile loop hike near the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina, an easy drive from Johnson City. The outcrop juts toward the French Broad River above town, where wooded mountains rise from riverbanks, hemming in the hamlet formed around warm waters, among the many area attractions such as rafting, kayaking, camping and hiking.
And did I mention eating? One of the perks of hiking is going to eat a big — and guiltless — meal after your hike. Hot Springs has dining options aplenty. And it is a fun outdoorsy tourist town worth a day trip.
This hike to Lovers Leap is certainly another Hot Springs attraction. It isn’t too long, or too hard, and is a low elevation trek by Pisgah National Forest standards, making it a good winter walk. During the shoulder seasons you will see early spring wildflowers on Silvermine Creek. Fall colors will be hanging on into November. Summer works, too, especially a morning trek. Then you could raft the French Broad, then soak in the hot springs beside the river after your strenuous outdoor day.
Leave the Silvermine parking area (trailhead directions given at article’s end) on the Pump Gap Loop Trail, hiking to Silvermine Group Camp. Pass around a pole gate at the upper end of the camp. Pierce the Silvermine Creek valley under black birch, white pines, striped maple, and rhododendron. The moist, mossy hollow tightens. Wildflowers color the hollow in spring. During fall, you may find a colorful gentian or aster.
At .6 mile, the trail climbs up a hollow, alternately widening and tightening. At 1.0 mile, an arm of the Pump Gap Loop Trail leaves left. Stay forward here, climbing sharply. Straight trunked hardwoods rise from surrounding rhododendron. The ascent eases before reaching Pump Gap and the Appalachian Trail at 1.5 miles.
Turn right on the Appalachian Trail, southbound, climbing a bit. The trail winds in and out of shallow drainages, gaining the crest of Lovers Leap Ridge. The French Broad River is audible below, as are sounds of civilization. Partial valley views can be through the trees. Craggy rocks rise from the pines on this south facing slope.
At 2.8 miles, pass a large campsite on your left. At 3.1 miles, look for a well-worn trail leading acutely left. Follow it to an incredible tan colored rock rib ridge jutting out toward the French Broad. Be careful as you scramble out this very narrow outcrop. A forlorn pine stands at the ridge’s end. Clear looks at the river, Hot Springs and the rising mountains beyond are a just reward for hikers. Leaping from here would have some very bad consequences. This is not THE Lovers Leap.
Resume the AT southbound, still descending. At 3.4 miles, reach an intersection. Your return route, the Lovers Leap Trail, leaves right. First, follow the AT to two overlooks. The first is very near the intersection. The second follows the AT just a little farther to a switchback and an outcrop. This rock outcrop, with more open views, is Lovers Leap.
Here, an Indian princess purportedly leapt to her death after learning of the death of her one and only love at the hands of a rival suitor who wanted the princess for himself. The Lovers Leap Trail descends back to the Silvermine Group Camp and the trailhead.
Truth is, there is more than one Lovers Leap, including one at nearby Natural Tunnel State Park near Gate City, Virginia. The legends generally revolve around star-crossed couples denied being together or a spurned Indian princess. One thing is evident: These overlooks inspire stories — and great views.
To reach the Silvermine trailhead near Hot Springs from Johnson City, take exit 19A on I-26 in North Carolina, north of Asheville. Join US 25/US 70 for 21 miles to Hot Springs. Just before crossing the bridge over the French Broad River, just east of Hot Springs, turn right on River Road. Drive a very short distance to the river and turn left on a paved road, Silvermine Creek Road, following it under the US 25/US 70 bridge. Stay left again as it curves up Silvermine Creek past houses. Reach the signed Silvermine parking area on your left, .3 mile from US 25/US 70.