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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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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County Road 2 from Hoosier Pass, Pike National Forest

There’s a reason they call it Summit County. An old mining road climbs from Hoosier Pass above 12,000 feet and is surrounded by several of Colorado’s famous fourteeners. The first half of the road meanders through a spruce and fir forest with occasional views of the massive mountains that envelop the region. The rest of the way is above treeline, offering...

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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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Spraddle Creek Trail, White River National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service has done a nice job of building trails up the watersheds that drain into the Town of Vail. Included among these is Spraddle Creek, located across I-70 from Vail Village. The reward at the top of the ridge is a mountain meadow that overlooks Vail, Beaver Creek ski mountain, and the Holy Cross Wilderness far, far away. Hike in late September for an...

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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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Mountains to Sea Trail Near Old Bald, Nantahala National Forest

Love the high country in summer. It’s like getting an extra month of spring. For much of its length through the Western North Carolina mountains, the Mountains to Sea Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is an area near mile marker 434 on the Parkway, beneath Old Bald, where the MST winds through mixed forest and high mountain meadows teeming with...

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Little River and Goshen Prong Trails at Elkmont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Little River headwaters region of the Smokies was heavily logged in the early 20th century. As a result, a community called Elkmont sprung up in the valley below to support the lumberjacks and their families. Elkmont eventually became a mountain resort for the well-to-do of eastern Tennessee with its rustic cabins along the river. These days those quaint cottages...

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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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Walking the Cades Cove Loop Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Perhaps the most popular feature in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove is a throwback to 19th century living. Cades Cove is a wide, verdant valley surrounded by mountains that today is teeming with wildlife and spring floral beauty. The 11-mile Loop Road around the valley provides an opportunity for motorists, bicyclists, even walkers like me to...

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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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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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Palmer Creek Trail at Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Smokies? Is it 6,000 foot mountaintop vistas that expand the imagination? Perhaps you think of the half-million acres of forest or the hundreds of varieties of wildflowers. There is one other constant in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that is water. Cataloochee Valley is surrounded on all...

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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