GPS: 35°28'N 83°00'W
Think of "The Art" as a freeze-dried Appalachian Trail: all the big savory morsels of the nation's premier long trail concentrated into a bite-size package. In its 30-mile (48-kilometer) course through Pisgah National Forest southwest of Asheville, the East's finest weekend trail loads up on 6,000-foot (1,829-meter) peaks and garnishes with sharp-shinned knobs, hardwood coves, monster climbs, and one of the best tree-free ridge walks in the region. "It's my favorite trail for its diversity and glorious views," says Jack Igelman, co-author of Trekking the Southern Appalachians. Christened after a local trail advocate, the Art Loeb reflects its namesake's passion for high, wild ridges. Beginning in lowland forest at Davidson River Campground, the trail quickly stair-steps to its high point, 6,214-foot (1,894-meter) Black Balsam Knob, and ends in Shining Rock Wilderness. The seven-mile (11-kilometer) section from Black Balsam to Deep Gap, just shy of Cold Mountain (yup, that Cold Mountain), crosses spacious balds that could double for the Scottish Highlands in Braveheart. There's a conspicuous absence of trees, and views unfold in every direction. Strong hikers can do the Art Loeb in two strenuous days, but three are preferable.
Vitals: Pick up the Trails Illustrated Pisgah Ranger District Map; maps.nationalgeographic.com/maps