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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Yellowstone Prong, Blue Ridge Parkway

Yellowstone Prong has some of the most rugged terrain in all of the Pisgah Ranger District. Paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway from Looking Glass Rock Overlook at milepost 417, and climbing the drainage from Skinny Dip Falls to Yellowstone Falls, this hike in, along, and above Yellowstone Prong may be the most challenging mile I have undertaken. You will scramble over...

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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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Trail 12 at Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a 13.7-mile wide volcanic bowl in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico near Los Alamos. About 1.25 million years ago, a spectacular volcanic eruption created this circular depression now known as the Valles Caldera. The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000, signed by President Clinton, created the National Preserve. The preserve is known for...

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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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Appalachian Trail from Yellow Mountain Gap to Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains

You can see them from Roan Highlands. They appear when viewed from Linville Gorge and Grandfather Mountain too. The long, green balds that comprise Little Hump and Big Hump Mountains stick out like limes in a grapefruit basket. And, you can see all those other landmarks from the Hump Mountains. The iconic Appalachian Trail (AT) arrives from the Highlands of Roan to...

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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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Appalachian Trail to Mt. Kephart and The Jumpoff – A Photo Essay

The Appalachian Trail splits the states of North Carolina and Tennessee through most of the breadth of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hugging the state line as it traverses the rugged and remote ridges, the AT is a favorite destination for day hikers and thru hikers alike. There is a three and a half mile stretch from Newfound Gap to the summit of Mt. Kephart, and...

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Devils Elbow Trail, Panthertown Valley, Nantahala National Forest

Even though Devils Elbow is a mountain summit, the highlights of the Devils Elbow Trail in Panthertown are the myriad of waterfalls on the Tuckasegee River. The river forms at the confluence of Panthertown and Greenland Creeks, then takes a wild ride over several falls on its way eventually to Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains. Most of this hike is on maintained...

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Upper Muley Twist Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park

Perhaps the best hike in all of Capitol Reef National Park, Upper Muley Twist Canyon is a full-featured Utah adventure that includes narrow canyons, expanses of slickrock, large arches, and dramatic vistas from the top of the incomparable Waterpocket Fold. There are opportunities for side trips to slot canyons and other exciting off-trail experiences, as well as perilous...

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North Kaibab Trail on North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon doesn’t get nearly the traffic as its more touristy neighbor to the south. For one thing, it is a lot more remote. The North Kaibab Trail is the most difficult of the three trails that dissect the canyon, but it also holds the most varied ecosystem. Somewhat surprisingly, it is forested. With fir and aspen and scrub oak, along with...

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Angels Landing and West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

Angels Landing is a unique fin sandstone monolith that erupts 1,500 feet from the floor of Zion Canyon. The trail to the top is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, certainly the most thrilling. For someone like me with heights and edges phobia and vertigo, it’s a little too much excitement, but there is a compromise. You can still enjoy most of the...

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Observation Point Trail, Zion National Park

Mount Baldy surveys Zion Canyon at 6,521 feet elevation, more than 2,100 feet above the valley floor. Jutting out from Mt. Baldy into one of the widest sections of Zion Canyon, Observation Point commands a view of nearly every major attraction, particularly those like Angels Landing and The Organ at Big Bend. Hikers receive a spectacular vista of the lower end of Zion...

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Bradley Fork and Smokemont Loop Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Water. Forest. Mountains. History. For me, that is what Great Smoky Mountains National Park is all about. On the Smokemont Loop hike you will get all of them. For the first couple miles, stroll along one of those beautiful mountain streams the Smokies are known for, then prepare your legs and lungs for a tough climb 1,350 feet through the forest to the top of the ridge....

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Big Butt Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway & Pisgah National Forest

Another foray into the Black Mountains led us to summits with names like Point Misery, Little Butt and Big Butt. The Big Butt Trail takes off from Balsam Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway along Brush Fence Ridge, roller-coastering across several peaks and gaps. The forest is filled with floral and fungal oddities, and old-growth spruce and pine that protect the ridge like...

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Douglas Falls Trail from Craggy Gardens, Blue Ridge Parkway

Sometimes you have to work for the reward at the end of the trail. Hiking from Craggy Gardens to Douglas Falls is a prime example. You will descend 1,350 feet from the Blue Ridge Parkway to this 70-foot waterfall through a luscious forest of birch, maple, and beech, even enjoying old growth hemlock along the way. Expect a rough hike, as the terrain is very rugged in the...

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Mountains to Sea Trail Over Blackstock Knob to Balsam Gap, Mt. Mitchell State Park

Hiking among the giants of the East. That’s what you’re doing when you take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mt. Mitchell State Park for this trek on the Mountains to Sea Trail in the Black Mountains. With fabulous views of the Blacks and the Great Craggy Range, and closeup experiences with gnarly old growth fir and spruce krummholz, this stretch of the MtS is some...

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Mt. Mitchell State Park Trail System

This hike will introduce you to a good cross section of the trails found in Mt. Mitchell State Park high atop the Black Mountains in Western North Carolina. Mt. Mitchell is the highest point in the Eastern United States at 6,684′, in fact six of the 10 highest peaks are found in the Blacks. The climate of the Black Mountains is more like Canada than North Carolina....

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Snake Den Ridge Trail and Appalachian Trail to Inadu Knob, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Cosby area in the Smokies offers quite a few long and rugged hikes from valley floor to mountain tops, including this leg-wrecker from the Cosby Campground to the Appalachian Trail on the Snake Den Ridge Trail. Even up top there are multiple potential destinations. We chose Inadu Knob and the old search & rescue helicopter pad at Deep Creek Gap for the views...

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Little Cataloochee Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Little Cataloochee developed as an expansion to Cataloochee Valley with many of the sons and daughters of the original founders spreading their wings, albeit just a few miles away. Travel these days is limited to hiking boots and horseback, but a sense of time and place is still available through the historic restorations made by the National Park Service. Little...

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Scout Camp Loop on Art Loeb Trail and Little East Fork Trail, Shining Rock Wilderness

Backcountry wilderness. If you really want to get a taste, then this hike is for you. Starting at the remote Camp Daniel Boone, the northern terminus of the Art Loeb Trail enters Shining Rock Wilderness immediately. As you begin the nearly 2,000′ ascent to Deep Gap, on the southern shoulder of Cold Mountain, you will cross numerous streams as you hike through...

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The Pinnacle Trail at Pinnacle Park, Nantahala National Forest

Pinnacle Park is an 1,100 acre tract of land owned by the town of Sylva in Jackson County, NC that was previously used as the community watershed. In 1991 it was leased to the Pinnacle Park Foundation for developing hiking trails that pass by streams, waterfalls, and beautiful long distance vistas. The Pinnacle, where the park got its name, is a large rocky outcropping...

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