Middle Prong Trail at Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Perhaps the finest creek side trail in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Middle Prong Trail actually follows Lynn Camp Prong. Lynn Camp and Thunderhead Prong join to form Middle Prong just below the trailhead. You will walk alongside Lynn Camp Prong for the entire length of this hike, passing dozens of swift cascades and two exciting waterfalls. Look for a wide...

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The Green, Green, Greening of Spring – A Photo Essay

Pisgah National Forest comes alive in early May. It seems as though the greening happens almost overnight. Daniel Ridge Loop Trail is an amazing place to experience the changing of the forest from its sleepy, drab brown hues to the vibrant verdant that fills the senses. The creek along the pathway is the most picturesque in Pisgah Ranger District in my opinion, and the...

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Earliest Spring Wildflowers at Little Bradley Falls – A Photo Essay

Some of the earliest wildflowers of the new season can be found on the Green River Game Lands near the North and South Carolina border. The elevation isn’t quite as high here as it is in most of the mountains of WNC, so the flowers get a little bit of a head start. Look for chickweed, rue anenome, wake robin trillium, blue and Canadian violets, robins plantain and...

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Shut-in Ridge Trail to Ferrin Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway

The Shut-in Ridge Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail are one as they traverse the Blue Ridge from the North Carolina Arboretum to Mt. Pisgah. Along the way, there are several jumping on and off points where you can access this trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway, enabling short day hikes. One of these short sub-sections is along Bent Creek Gap Road at BRP milepost 400....

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Little River, Cucumber Gap, Jakes Creek Loop at Elkmont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Elkmont is a nice area of the Smokies to visit in winter. It’s quiet, historic, alive with waterways, and offers views of the surrounding mountains through the leafless trees. Little River is beautiful as always, the climb up and over Cucumber Gap is invigorating, and the timeless cottages of Daisy Town along Jakes Creek harken back to a simpler time in the...

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New Year’s Eve at Cataloochee – A Photo Essay

Cataloochee Valley in the Smokies is of course most popular during the green seasons. People come from far and wide to experience the wildflowers in Spring, the myriad of hiking trails in Summer, and the exciting elk rut and colorful foliage in Fall. But Winter too has its appeal. Perhaps the best reason to go to Cataloochee in winter is the solitude. The crowds are...

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Buck Spring to Pilot Rock, Pisgah National Forest

Starting at the former site of George Vanderbilt’s Buck Spring hunting lodge near Mt. Pisgah, this hike crosses the summit of Little Bald Mountain before dropping down the watershed to Pilot Rock, one of the many plutons found within the Pisgah Ranger District. The high country is home to thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron, while various maples, oaks and...

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Shrine Ridge Trail, White River National Forest

Fog and low-lying mist is very common in the Southern Appalachians. It is a product of the rainforest effect. Fog is highly unusual in the Rocky Mountains, but that’s what greeted Dave and I as we hit the trailhead to climb Shrine Ridge. It was somewhat of a dreary, forlorn scene as we walked from mountain bog to spruce forest to high meadow on our way to the...

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Balsam Mountain Trail to Laurel Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This remote corner of the Smokies isn’t easy to get to, but your efforts will be rewarded with solitude, quiet, peaceful 2nd growth forest, and a pensive wandering. The Cherokee lived on one side of the ridge. The Cataloochee settlers on the other. They met in the middle to graze their cattle on “The Ledge” between the two. The bald knobs are reforested...

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Long Bunk Trail at Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The forest north of Cataloochee Valley in the Mt. Sterling watershed has recovered nicely from logging activities a century ago. It is dense, rich and diverse… a verdant testimony to Nature’s ability to reinvigorate herself. This hike starts at the north end of Little Cataloochee on Mt. Sterling Road and meets Long Bunk Trail a mile later. Long Bunk is a near...

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Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome to Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina can get pretty warm and muggy in mid-summer. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not exempt from that. So when I hike in July and August I like to head for the high country… and there’s nowhere higher in the Smokies than Clingmans Dome. In fact, it’s the third highest peak in the East and the highest point...

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Hemphill Bald Trail from Polls Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I have hiked to Hemphill Bald from the east along the Cataloochee Divide many times. However, this was the first time approaching from the west on the Hemphill Bald Trail from Polls Gap. This made my second foray into the Heintooga region of the Smokies in recent weeks, another beautiful piece of the national park that doesn’t get enough attention. This trail would...

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Flat Creek Trail to Heintooga, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This delightful forested trail in the Heintooga section of the Smokies follows Bunches and Flat Creeks up Overlook Ridge to a perch high above Cataloochee Valley and Cherokee, NC. Few short trails in the Smokies are as memorable. The pathway is carpeted with a charming wispy grass that waves in the breeze and tickles your legs as you pass by. What’s not to love? My...

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Schoolhouse Gap Trail to Whiteoak Sink, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Without a doubt one of the most popular wildflower hikes on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Whiteoak Sink is a basin surrounded by steep hills. In April each year this natural botanical garden comes alive with more than 30 varieties of native wildflowers right alongside the trail for all to enjoy. The name “Sink” comes from the...

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Kanati Fork Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This lovely wildflower trail is about half way up Newfound Gap Road from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, but its shortish length and tranquil setting belie the grueling terrain. Climbing from the Oconaluftee River valley to Thomas Divide, 2,200 feet above, it is a true test of stamina for even the most seasoned hikers. Kanati Fork is one of those picturesque drainages...

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Spring Comes to the Smokies – A Photo Essay

The Smokies can always be counted on for fulfilling the promise of spring renewal. One of the best spots for finding early blooms of exotic native wildflowers is on Porters Creek Trail in the Greenbrier section of the national park. Along the pathway is a diverse array of flowery goodness including the multi-acre mystical fringed phacelia garden, seemingly home to a host...

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Paris Mountain State Park Trail System, South Carolina

Named for an opportunistic traitor who supported the Crown during the Revolutionary War, Paris Mountain State Park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Richard Pearis owned 150,000 acres including what is now Greenville, SC and this state park north of the city. Once no more than a rural retreat, Paris Mountain is now a bustling...

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Ridgeline Trail to Hickory Mountain Loop, DuPont State Forest

When you step on a trail at DuPont State Forest, you can usually tell pretty quickly if it was designed and built for mountain biking. Some tell-tale signs are banked curves and bumps, rails for tricks, and a smooth, hard-packed surface. Such is the case with Ridgeline Trail. DuPont State Forest is a haven for mountain bikers from all over the Southeastern United States,...

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Thomas Divide Trail to Nettle Creek Bald, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Thomas Divide is one of those ridge hikes that splits the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains Range. It is also one of the longer trails in the national park at near 14 miles, but you can do as much or as little as you wish for a day hike. The trail passes through a rich forest of Eastern hemlock, beech, birch and multiple varieties of maple. The crest also enjoys the...

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Flat Rock and Plantation Trails, DuPont State Forest

Working on a little project to tick off all the trails within DuPont State Forest, I visited two short ones that are close to each other in the northeast corner off Sky Valley Road. Each is little more than a mile round trip. Flat Rock Trail passes through a boulder field and past a recent logging operation to a dead end at the confluence of Jim Creek with Grassy Creek....

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Pine Tree Trail and Cascade Trail Loop, DuPont State Forest

Arriving before the morning sun had a chance to melt the fresh dusting of snow, I walked this short loop in the southwest corner of DuPont State Forest with the sound of woodpeckers filling the air… and not much else. It was quiet. A half inch of snowfall muted the normal sounds. I purposely picked this woodsy loop. Usually enjoyed by mountain bikers, I guessed...

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Noland Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bryson City, NC is located on the far southern boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and hosts the Deep Creek and Lakeview regions of the park. Noland Creek Trail runs north/south off Lakeview Drive between Fontana Lake and the Noland Divide high above in the mountains. The trailhead is one mile north of the lake and heads in both directions. On this day Ken...

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Micajah and Cannon Creek Trails, DuPont State Forest

The far southwestern corner of DuPont State Forest offers a forested hike atop multiple plutons, past a retired rock quarry, and across a couple of gentle mountain streams. The oak trees are in abundance, as are white and longleaf pines. Look for the fascinating moss and reindeer lichen on the plutons as you gaze at the far away mountains of Pisgah National Forest. This...

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Thomas Cemetery Loop, DuPont State Forest

Beginning at the Guion Farm area of DuPont State Forest on Sky Valley Road you can make a nice hike on several roads that loop through a deep and dense pine woodland. This is a pine regrowth region that the N.C. Forest Service leases for controlled logging, so you may need to keep your eye out for large trucks, but you may also have the opportunity to see modern...

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Raven Cliff Falls Overlook, Mountain Bridge Wilderness

Matthews Creek plunges more than 350 feet over Raven Cliff Falls into the gorge it has carved below Raven Cliff Mountain. One of a myriad of landmarks along the Blue Ridge Escarpment in Caesars Head State Park, the rim of this gorge offers a gentle and rewarding hike. Part of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area that also includes Jones Gap State Park, this is the most...

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Asbury Trail at Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Historic Asbury Trail straddles the boundary between the Smokies national park and the Appalachian Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. It is named for Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury who, in the early 19th century, brought his traveling ministry to this area that would eventually become a national park more than a hundred years later. It was also formerly known as...

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Twentymile Loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Located in the far southern region of the Smokies, near Fontana Village and the Little Tennessee River, Twentymile is an area of the national park that is a little less traveled. Primarily used by backpackers as a means of accessing remote park highlights like Gregory Bald or Shuckstack Fire Tower on the Appalachian Trail, Twentymile can also be enjoyed by day hikers or...

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Cataloochee Divide Trail from Cove Creek Gap to Purchase Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

M eanderthals has hiked the middle section of the Cataloochee Divide Trail several times, so we thought we should check out the northern end of the Divide. And I’m delighted we did. The forest is beautiful. Starting at Cove Creek Gap, high above Cataloochee Valley, the Divide trail follows the ridge for 4.5 miles past occasional views of the Smokies and Blue Ridge...

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McKee Branch, Caldwell Fork, Hemphill Bald, Cataloochee Divide Loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Two of my favorite places on the North Carolina side of the Smokies are the Cataloochee Divide, high on the crest, and Cataloochee Valley far below. This four-trail loop enables you to explore the beautiful forest that lies between the two. Start at Purchase Knob, then take McKee Branch Trail down, and more down, to Caldwell Fork Trail which parallels the Divide and the...

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Hangin’ with the Elk at Cataloochee – A Photo Essay

Late September is an exciting time in Cataloochee Valley as the elk herd begins their annual mating dance ritual known as the rut. Cows, calves and yearlings live in loose herds or groups throughout most of the year, and are seen wandering the vast meadows of the valley all spring and summer. The bulls, however, live in bachelor groups or alone. It is rare to happen upon...

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