North Carolina Hiking: Cessna 414 Plane Crash & Sunset at Waterrock Knob
Only a short detour off the beaten path of one of North Carolina's most notable sunset hikes, lies a Cessna 414 plane crash site full of eerie history.
This blog post covers the hike to the Cessna 414 plane crash deep in the mountains of North Carolina and where to watch one of the most beautiful sunsets in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
On November 24, 1983, two pilots began their flight from DuPage Airport in West Chicago headed to Jackson County Airport, North Carolina. They would never reach their destination, and the aftermath of the crash has lied deep in the mountains of North Carolina ever since.
The final radar contact with the plane was at 6,100 feet, approximately only one mile from the crash site. The probable cause of the crash was determined to be due to low visibility from low lying clouds and precipitation. The pilot was also determined to have been impaired, with a blood alcohol content of 0.04%.
Both occupants lost their lives in the crash, so it is important to be respectful of the crash site when visiting.
The drive to Waterrock Knob along the Blue Ridge Parkway is arguably one of the most beautiful and scenic drives in the country. Waterrock Knob is located at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway and features the last hiking trail along the parkway before reaching the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Upon reaching the parking lot, you will see the visitor center, which is open from 10 AM - 5 PM from mid-April through October. There are also restrooms available and picnic tables with gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Due to these panoramic views, Waterrock Knob has become one of the most popular locations to witness sunset or sunrise along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Our drive to Waterrock Knob along the parkway began with sunny skies, but quickly transitioned into an eerie, but mystical, hazy day with fog and clouds sweeping between the mountains as we increased in elevation.
Once we arrived to the parking lot, we spent some time at the visitor center, were met with beautiful fall foliage, and eventually began our trek towards Waterrock Knob and the Cessna 414 crash. The distance from the parking lot to the Waterrock Knob lookout is a 0.5 mile steep trek, and begins with a nice paved trail but does have some steep stairs along the way. We were unfortunately unable to see much from the lookout due to the low lying clouds, but continued on towards our next destination, which was Browning Knob.
The walk from Waterrock Knob to Browning Knob was approximately 0.7 miles. For this portion of the trail, it is important to follow the yellow markers painted on the trees to make sure you stay on the correct trail. This portion of the trail is also fairly difficult and is not recommended for novice hikers or lone hikers. The hike requires you to hike along the ridge of the mountain, maneuvering between trees, ground roots and boulders along the way. The elevation change is said to be equivalent to about 68 flights of stairs. It was quite a trek!
Although we were dealing with low visibility, we knew we had reached Browning Knob once the forest cleared and we came to another lookout. Unfortunately, we were still unable to witness any of the panoramic views we had heard about, but noticed another trail leading to the left, which lead to the Cessna 414 plane crash.
Shortly after taking the detour to the left (approximately 0.3 miles from Browning Knob) we saw the plane crash in the distance, admidst the trees and haze. It was quite an eerie sight!
When we arrived to the crash site, the scene was completely somber and serene. All we could hear was brushing of leaves and distant howls from the wind. As interesting as the crash site can be, it was important for us to remember the two pilots who lost their lives in this very spot and treat the area with respect.
The hike back to the parking lot was just as arduous as the hike to the crash site, and ended up being about a 2.5 mile hike round trip. It is easy to take a wrong turn in the forest, so be sure to pay attention to the yellow markers on the trees leading the way along the trail. We took some time along the hike back to really appreciate the beauty of the forest and fall foliage.
We were nervous we were not going to get a good view of sunset due to the haze and overcast skies, but by the time we arrived back to the parking lot the haze had cleared and we were able to view one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
The sun shining down on the North Carolina mountains is truly a sight we will never forget!