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 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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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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Clingmans Dome Area Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the state of Tennessee, and along the Appalachian Trail. Standing 6,643 feet, it is also the third highest peak in the East, only 41 feet lower than the tallest. Several hiking trails surround the summit of Clingmans Dome, including the Forney Ridge Trail that heads south to the picturesque...

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Appalachian Trail to Lover’s Leap, Pisgah National Forest

Hot Springs, NC is an Appalachian Trail Community that sits along the French Broad River in the Appalachian Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. The Appalachian Trail was built through Hot Springs more than seven decades ago, and today white blazes still mark the path through town and over the bridge across the river, before heading north up to the vista, Lover’s...

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Hemmed-in Hollow, Ponca Wilderness, Buffalo National River

Established in 1972, Buffalo National River flows freely for 135 miles in Arkansas and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states. Once you arrive, prepare to journey from running rapids to quiet pools while surrounded by massive bluffs as you cruise through the Ozark Mountains. At a large curve in the river known as Horseshoe Bend, you can access...

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Elk Mountain Trail, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge

Wild, rugged, and weathered — the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in central Oklahoma is a symbol of the old west standing at the threshold of modern times. The natural attractions of the refuge are many and varied. In addition to viewing and photographing wildlife in their natural setting, visitors find the lakes, streams, canyons, mountains and grasslands ideal...

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Frijoles Canyon Nature Trail, Bandelier National Monument

The Puebloan people have lived in the American Southwest for many centuries. Archaeologists think they are descended from groups of hunters and gatherers who came to the region over 10,000 years ago. In the area that is now Bandelier National Monument, in Northern New Mexico, the villages of Tyuonyi and Tsankawi and their adjacent cliff dwellings appeared in the 13th...

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument

The labyrinth called Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’SHAY) comprises several canyons that include Canyon de Chelly, Monument Canyon and Canyon del Muerto. At the mouth of the canyons near the tribal town of Chinle, in northeastern Arizona, the rock walls are only 30 feet high. Deeper in, the bright red sandstone bluffs rise dramatically to stand more than a thousand...

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Syncline Loop Trail Around Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park

Island in the Sky is a thousand foot high mesa in the isthmus between the Green and Colorado Rivers that forms one of Canyonlands National Park’s four distinct districts. There is excellent hiking on each side of the mesa, including this trail on the west side that circumnavigates Upheaval Dome. Once thought to be a collapsed salt dome, new geologic evidence...

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Wedding Canyon and Monument Canyon Loop, Colorado National Monument

Most folks who visit Colorado National Monument view its red sandstone landmarks from Rim Rock Drive and its many overlooks. It’s convenient for peering deep into the canyons. However, like most places of interest, getting out of your car and putting your boots on the trail will give you an up-close-and-personal encounter with iconic features like Independence...

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Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park, Hickory Nut Gorge

Sometimes your hiking plans just don’t work out. That happened when our plans were kiboshed by a closed and padlocked gate. They say when the world gives you lemons, go take photographs, or something like that. There isn’t much more beautiful in Spring than Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park. Morse Park on Lake Lure features beautiful vistas of the...

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Cradle of Forestry, Pisgah National Forest

The Cradle of Forestry along Scenic Forest Byway 276 in Pisgah Ranger District is the birthplace of forest conservation in America. Spanning over 100 years of forest conservation history, the Cradle offers a snapshot of life at America’s first School of Forestry along the Biltmore Campus Trail. German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck accepted George Vanderbilt’s offer to...

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Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You know how some hikes can be kinda boring, then have a big reward like an outstanding overlook at the end? Or perhaps others will wind through a stunning forest only to peter out? Well, this hike located in the Greenbrier section of the Smokies has neither problem. The Porters Creek Trail is an exciting adventure from start to finish. I would describe it as a play with...

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Blue Ridge Parkway Maintenance Trail, Milepost 420

There are lots of little maintenance trails alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway that don’t show up on any trail maps or have any signs to let you know they are there. One of those is a hidden gem in the high country at milepost 420 directly across from the Black Balsam spur road. It’s great for an hour stroll to brighten you senses, or if you’re looking...

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Walls of Jericho and South Rim Trails, Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust

Venturing more into the central part of Tennessee to the Cumberland Plateau has been a goal of mine for some time. The name “Walls of Jericho” kept cropping up, so that clinched the destination. So what is this hike with the biblical name? The place known as the Walls of Jericho is a narrow canyon, about a half-mile long, with 200-foot-high vertical limestone...

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Lost Creek Overlook and Marble Plains Trails, Tims Ford State Park

Located on the Tims Ford Reservoir, the 2,200-acre Tims Ford State Rustic Park sits in the shadows of the Cumberland Plateau in south-central Tennessee. There are 6.5 miles of unpaved hiking trails found within the park, in addition to 22 miles of bike trails that may also be used for hiking. Two of the three hiking trails begin at the park Visitor Center, while the...

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