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Meet Our Hiking Guides

Learn About Our Guides

Jennifer Gruhn Owner and Guide Website
Jenny Gruhn, PhD Company Owner and Naturalist

Welcome to Asheville Hiking Tours! It is my passion to provide an inviting and informative experience in the great outdoors. After academic years publishing scientific articles and teaching biology courses, I’m enjoying designing and leading ecotours in my home state.

Due to my early interest in Appalachian ecology, I pursued courses at Highlands Biological Station in Western North Carolina and a biology degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. For 3 years I researched tropical plants of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru and for my Ph.D. I investigated Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada pine forests. I am a Certified Interpretive Guide and have led nature tours for Citizen Science Programs and clubs of nature enthusiasts.

Now, I enjoy every Asheville Hiking Tours adventure, which promises novel experiences and unique wildlife sightings each day. I look forward to sharing with guests an inspiring tour in these beautiful mountains.

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Randy Sarton, MA Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

I have had many professional adventures over the years which have led me to the mountains.  After receiving Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Notre Dame, I have been an entrepreneur, an agronomic adviser, a classroom educator, and an ecotour guide.

My years as an educator have included lecturing as a college professor, instructing middle and high school students, and developing and presenting children’s nature-based, early learning programs for 5-star resorts. For the past ten years, I have led ecotours on the estuaries and beaches of South Florida as well as the mountains of North Carolina.

I work to engage tour participants by interpreting what we encounter with insight and fun.  By relating stories to show normally unseen connections and unique perspectives, I strive to welcome our guests to celebrate the wonders of nature in our beautiful mountain home.

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Paul Stafford, AS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Having been captivated by the southern Appalachian Mountains nearly thirteen years ago, I chose to stay, and dedicate my life to studying the many wonders of our incredibly diverse ecosystem and fascinating history. My education and experiences as a naturalist have unlocked many mysteries hiding in plain sight and a passion for sharing what I have learned.

My fascination with wildlife and the outdoors started as I grew up in a valley of the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, hiking and searching for hawks and snakes to identify. I have since earned my Wildlife Management Technology degree from Haywood Community College, where I began an intensive study of the local flora and fauna, volunteer experience as a wildlife educator with school groups, and as a wildlife rehabilitator with injured birds of prey. I am currently seeking my North Carolina Environmental Educators Certification to deepen my knowledge and become a better educator.

As a natural storyteller, it is important to me not to show you which bird, tree, or medicinal plant that we come across, but how they all interconnect with each other and with you. I’m excited to hike with you soon! Happy trails!

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Bill Sanderson, MS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

As a longtime resident of Asheville, I have spent years exploring the mountains of western North Carolina. Carolina. I am a lifelong outdoors enthusiast and trained zoologist, a veteran of 30 years in the high school classroom and over 15 years in the local community college.

I have led hiking groups and participated in search-and-rescue operations in Western North Carolina for over 25 years. I am a volunteer trail maintainer, responsible for a 6-mile section of the Appalachian Trail east of Hot Springs as well as a 2-mile section of the Mountains to Sea Trail near Craggy Gardens.

Identification and natural history of local animals, trees, and wildflowers is information that I enjoy sharing on my trips with Asheville Hiking Tours. While viewing beautiful waterfalls and streams, I discuss the hidden wonders beneath those waters. Brook trout, stonefly nymphs, North America’s largest salamander and endangered mollusks are a few of the inhabitants of these fragile and precious waterways, and I look forward to telling their stories.

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MK Brown, BS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, you could always find me outside uncovering nature mysteries. Not much has changed since then as my curiosity and fascination with the natural world has only deepened with age. Throughout the years, I have explored many places from the pacific west coast to the shores of Costa Rica but nowhere compares to the brilliance that is Southern Appalachia!

Since graduating with an Environmental Studies degree, I have worked as an environmental educator at Haw River State Park in North Carolina and as an outdoor instructor and naturalist for a large nonprofit in North Carolina as well as in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I am currently pursuing a certification in interpretive guiding to sharpen my skills as an educator and to help others cultivate a personal relationship with the natural world.

In my free time, I enjoy creating jewelry out of natural items and finding little moments of awe in nature.  I am excited to share this journey of discovery with you here in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

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Mike Scow, BS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

With education in biology and English, I find myself looking at the natural world through a lens of storytelling. In other words a bit more fitting, I’m a nature/science nerd that finds joy and purpose in sharing appreciation for all things Appalachia.

My curiosity and adventurous nature have led me on a nation-wide crisscrossing journey to western North Carolina. Childhood and college in Pennsylvania surrounded by rolling Appalachian Mountains led to tenure as a wildlife rehabilitator. Living in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains a few years later, I discovered my joy of teaching science in elementary classrooms. My life in the west culminated in certification as a master naturalist with the city of Fort Collins. I have happily and easily settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, relishing any opportunity to explore and educate.

What began as an uncontrollable urge to spout off facts I gobbled up in books sprouted into a way to connect with family, friends, and anyone else who wanted to listen. My goal as a guide is to instill awe and appreciation for the unique environment we get to live in!

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Chris Simmons, BS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Having lived in every region of North Carolina at one time or another, beginning at the coast, then to the Piedmont, and now the Blue Ridge Mountains, I feel after all this time that I am finally home. The inspiration and beauty of these mountains is daily refreshing and reviving, and I am happy that I get to share that with you.

My original dream was to be an accountant, but halfway through my degree I realized that my real passion was to be outdoors. I replaced my calculator and spreadsheets with binoculars and hiking boots overnight. I pursued a degree in Ecology and Environmental Biology at UNC Asheville instead, and it was the best decision of my life. I have since worked as a Naturalist for all ages and been a Director of an environmental education program. The aspects of nature that I love the most are birds, trees, wildflowers and butterflies.

My wife and I go camping and hiking on a regular basis, and we enjoy having picnics together across the many mountains that surround Asheville. I hope your visit to these mountains is as rejuvenating and transformative as I know them to be, and I hope to see you soon!

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Abby Bradley, BA Ecotour Guide and Naturalist
Hello and welcome to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina! Though I originally hail from Boston, I have always been interested in what is outside of city limits. My childhood curiosity has developed into a lifelong career in the outdoor industry!

Two of my favorite hobbies are traveling and being outdoors in any capacity. I have been a Naturalist all over the country including Texas, California, Colorado, and Washington! I have also been a backpacking and adventure guide in these wondrous states. However, the natural draw of the Appalachian mountains has led me to settle and teach in North Carolina.  Currently, I am in a graduate program at Western Carolina University to further my knowledge of Outdoor Education!

I encourage others to slow down and appreciate the natural wonders of the world.  There is so much to see when we take a look at all of the diversity within the Southern Appalachians. I am excited to be on this journey with you!

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Scott Dean, BA Wildflower Walk Guide and Naturalist

I was born and raised in the mountains of southern Appalachia, specifically the coalfields of West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. Western North Carolina has been my home since 1992. After retiring from the military, I attended UNC-Asheville, earning a degree in biology, with a focus on the flora, fauna and geology of the southern Appalachians.

I was a walk leader and featured speaker for the UNC-Asheville Wildflower Pilgrimage from 1995 until 2015.  I’ve led wildlife and wildflower walks at the Western North Carolina Nature Center, where I worked for a year building the cougar and bobcat habitats, and served as First Vice President of the Friends of the Nature Center as well as serving on the Town of Weaverville Tree Board.  I developed curricula, and taught field classes for the Blue Ridge Naturalist program now offered at the N. C. Arboretum.

I live outside of Asheville with my wife and two dogs. When not leading natural history programs in the region, I enjoy gardening, hiking, backpacking, and playing around with various stringed, wind, and percussion instruments.

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