Pitch Pine, Three Lakes and Bridal Overlook Trails, DuPont State Forest

Located in the heart of DuPont State Forest, Three Lakes Trail does exactly what its name implies… it takes you to a trio of very picturesque lakes near Conservation Road. Lake Dense is an ideal stop for a family picnic. Lake Alford, really more of a pond, may be the most vivid and charming of all. The largest, Lake Julia, is breathtaking from every angle. Add to...

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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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Jones Gap Trail to Rainbow Falls, Jones Gap State Park

Jones Gap State Park sits on the Blue Ridge Escarpment in upstate South Carolina very near the state line with its neighbor to the north. Along with Caesars Head State Park, these two share an area known as Mountain Bridge Wilderness. The Jones Gap Trail follows the Middle Saluda River along an old roadway built by Solomon Jones in the 1850s. In this cove backcountry the...

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Chasteen Creek Cascade, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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. The trailhead for Bradley Fork starts in the back of the Smokemont Campground, surrounded by the Smokies ubiquitous waterways. It’s only a mile and change up Bradley Fork Trail to its meeting with Chasteen Creek...

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World’s Edge at Chimney Rock State Park – A Photo Essay

August 2005 saw the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy purchase a 1,568-acre tract of land south of Lake Lure known as “World’s Edge” for $16 million with the intention of transferring the land as the first to be added to the new Chimney Rock State Park. World’s Edge contains a mile-long set of steep slopes on the eastern edge...

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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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Waterrock Knob Across the Plott Balsams Range, Blue Ridge Parkway

Sometimes things just don’t go exactly as planned. But making the most of what’s available is what sets hiking apart. Everything doesn’t have to go perfectly to still enjoy the day. Such was the case with this hike across the Plott Balsams mountain range from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’re in rarefied air here, with the entire...

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Black Balsam to Silvermine and Chestnut Balds on Mountains to Sea Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking for a short, easy, serene getaway in the high country that offers outstanding long distance views of the Blue Ridge Mountains? This is the trail for you. This little stretch of the famous Mountains to Sea Trail will take you from Black Balsam Road, through a dark and deep balsam spruce forest, across Silvermine Bald and on to Chestnut Bald to a splendid overlook...

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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 new to me. 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 creek seekers...

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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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Blue Ridge Parkway High Country – A Photo Essay

Leaf peepers head to Graveyard Fields in late September for the annual ritual of Autumn color in the high country. Located at mile 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields is one of the earliest locations to begin the chromatic display, as well as one of the most intense. From the bright red of the blueberry and sumac bushes, to the multi-colored hues of the maple...

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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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Slickrock Creek Trail to Lower Falls, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness straddles the North Carolina / Tennessee line near the southern borders of the states, with about 75% of its 17,000 acres contained in NC. Six trailheads provide access to more than 60 miles of trail within the designated wilderness, which typically follow ridge tops or drop into the shady drainages. Perhaps the most atypical trail...

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A Day on the Cataloochee Divide – A Photo Essay

Two of my favorite places in the eastern section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are Purchase Knob and Hemphill Bald. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I volunteer every 10 days or so at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center on Purchase Knob. And Hemphill Bald simply has one of the most outstanding views in the eastern Smokies, overlooking Cataloochee...

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Road Prong Trail to Chimney Tops, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Chimney Tops is one of the more popular destinations in the Smokies because of its central location, rugged beauty, and challenging access. And challenging it is. While short in distance, the trails that lead to the summit of Chimney Tops are steep and strenuous. Accessible from two trails, one below that climbs from Hwy 441 to the top, and one above that drops down from...

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Grand Highlands at Bearwallow Mountain – A Photo Essay

Grand Highlands is a real estate development in Henderson County, NC. What sets it apart is location. A location that is described as “an open meadow placed on a mountaintop.” Land that affords you some of the most spectacular views in Western North Carolina. I think of it as a picturesque spot for taking photographs of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and valleys....

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Bob Stratton Bald via Connector 54A, Nantahala National Forest

Deep in the remote southwestern corner of North Carolina where the scenic Cherohala Skyway climbs to meet Tennessee at Beech Gap, the Bob Bald Connector Trail (54A) climbs a ridge through Nantahala National Forest to Bob Stratton Bald. One of the lush mountaintop meadows the Southern Appalachians are known for, Bob Bald as it is called, straddles a boundary between...

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Crabtree Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

Crabtree Falls is a 70 foot cascade on Big Crabtree Creek, a short hike from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The creek drops over a black rock face with many small ledges, giving it a delicate web-like appearance. A trail descends 500 feet over the course of a mile as it leads to a footbridge crossing the creek at the base of the falls. In the Spring, an impressive array of...

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Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob Summits, Pisgah National Forest

There is a notch between two wildernesses in the Pisgah National Forest high country. Shining Rock Wilderness is to the northeast, and Middle Prong Wilderness is to the west of this pie-shaped cut in the topology. In between are two bald mountaintops that exceed 6,000 feet elevation. To the locals the area is called simply… Black Balsam. The air is fresh (usually),...

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Ivestor Gap Trail to Shining Rock, Shining Rock Wilderness

Deep in the heart of Shining Rock Wilderness is the namesake, a mountain made of quartz, standing more than 6,000 feet. On bright sunny days you can see the white quartz “shining” from miles away. The Cherokee called it Datsu’nălâsgûñ’yĭ, “where their tracks are this way,” that refers to a white rock that is said to have tracks of Tsul...

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Roan Highlands Redux – A Photo Essay

When the Southern Appalachians are your home, the month of June simply isn’t complete without a visit to Roan Highlands for the annual rhododendron and azalea bloom. Like Julie Andrews sang years ago, “these are a few of my favorite things.” From the first time I set foot on Round Bald, I knew this was someplace special. The grassy ridge of the...

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