Devils Tower National Monument – A Photo Essay

Devils Tower, an important landmark for Plains Indians tribes long before the white man reached Wyoming, was called Mateo Tepee or Grizzly Bear Lodge by the Sioux. A number of legends describe the origin of Devils Tower. “One legend tells of seven little girls being chased onto a low rock to escape attacking bears. Their prayers for help were heeded as the rock...

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Cathedral Spires to Black Elk Peak, Black Elk Wilderness

This is the hard way to get to the summit of 7,242′ Black Elk Peak, the highest in South Dakota. But, it affords you the opportunity to hike through the incredible Cathedral Spires, massive granite pinnacles that dominate the landscape in the Black Hills National Forest. Between the spires and the summit you pass through the rugged Black Elk Wilderness, named for...

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May Day Flowering at Pisgah National Forest – A Photo Essay

What better way to spend May Day than wildflower hunting on Pisgah National Forest? We always think of the national park in the Smokies as being the go-to destination for Spring wildflowers in Western North Carolina. However, Pisgah National Forest is right up there. As you will see from the gallery below, there is quite the wide variety. I picked two destinations in the...

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Bradley Fork and Cabin Flats Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is one of my new favorite Spring wildflower hikes in the Smokies. The flowers are brilliant along both the Bradley Fork and Cabin Flats Trails. The Smokemont region of the Smokies is one of the most convenient, located just a short few miles northwest of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center off Hwy 441. It is four miles up Bradley Fork to Cabin Flats Trail, then another...

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Pinnacle Mountain Trail and Ridge Trail, Table Rock State Park, SC

This park sits right on the cliff’s edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment that drops down from the mountains in western North Carolina to the upcountry of South Carolina. The park is more than 3,000 acres of trails, lakes, cabins and camping. Pinnacle Mountain Trail is the most challenging within the park, with a climb that exceeds 2,300 feet. The lower section follows...

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Natural Bridge and Raven Rock Trails, Keowee Toxaway State Park, South Carolina

Another of the fun and exciting South Carolina state parks that line the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, Keowee Toxaway offers two hiking trails that take visitors over a natural bridge and through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, land once traveled by Cherokee Indians. Much of the trail follows the shore of Lake Keowee through the healthy oak/hickory forest...

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Oakridge Trail, Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park, located in the heart of South Carolina, is a land of towering trees, of floods and fire, of woodland paths and water trails used by people for more than 10,000 years. This rare, old growth forest became a national park in 1976. These ancient trees have witnessed wars, slavery, freedom, and destruction. There are 25 miles of hiking trails in...

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Old Sugarlands Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the more enjoyable trails I have hiked recently in the Smokies, Old Sugarlands follows West Prong of Little Pigeon River for a mile and a half, then turns to the east and ascends the western flank of the LeConte Ridge another 2.4 miles to a pastoral setting known as Cherokee Orchard. This trail receives surprisingly little use despite being surrounded by a hub of...

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Rich Mountain Loop at Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This was the first trail I hiked in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was back in 2008 or so, well before I started this website. So I thought it must be time, nearly 10 years later, to do it again and tell you about it. Rich Mountain Loop is a combination of three trails: Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Indian Grave Gap Trail, and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. Most people...

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Raven Cliff Falls and Gum Gap Trails, Mountain Bridge Wilderness

The air is nearly always cool at Caesars Head State Park in upstate South Carolina. It sits right on the edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment where refreshing breezes from the piedmont waft up and over the massive walls of rock. This hike is a casual stroll through hardwood forest on a sand and clay pathway to the Matthews Creek gorge and a suspension bridge over the...

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The Land Between Two Wildernesses – A Photo Essay

I like to do most of my summertime hiking in the high country to avoid the heat, and the bugs. It’s like getting extra, added months of spring. So when the first week of summer rolled around, I thought of that section of Pisgah National Forest that lies between Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hwy 215, and Black...

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Sugar Creek Gap, Nantahala National Forest

Remote. This little slice of Nantahala National Forest is truly far from anything. Once you are a mile into the woods from the trailhead, there is next to no evidence of human activity. It’s hard to know how many folks come here to hike, but there aren’t many boot prints in the mud. There are, however, plenty of deer tracks… and wildflowers. Wow, are...

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Baxter Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Baxter Creek Trail has a well-earned reputation as one of the hardest hikes in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Starting at the Big Creek picnic area near Waterville, NC it climbs more than 4,000 feet over 6.2 miles, roughly 700 feet/mile. That will get your attention. Look for stunning forest scenes, waterways that keep the forest green, seasonal wildflowers,...

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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 Sunkota Ridge Junction, 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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