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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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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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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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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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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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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Forest Road 5031 from Courthouse Falls to Farlow Gap, Pisgah National Forest

Sometimes the forest roads in national forests make the best hiking trails. Such is the case with FR 5031 in Pisgah National Forest. Located near Courthouse Falls on the far southwestern side of Pisgah, near the boundary with Nantahala National Forest, FR 5031 is a means of getting from a drainage bowl to Farlow Gap on Shuck Ridge. For mountain bikers, you could connect...

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False Gap Prong Manway to Grandfather Tree, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Greenbrier section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with old growth forest, and with lots and lots of creeks draining into the valley from the high mountains of the Smokies above. The path of one of those creeks, False Gap Prong, takes it from near Laurel Top to Greenbrier Cove. A non-supported trail — otherwise known as a manway — follows...

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Little River Trail, South Mountains State Park

For a scenic stroll along a horse path through the South Mountains forest, you may give Little River Trail a try. Starting at the Cicero Branch parking area and climbing above Jacob Fork gorge, you will pass viewpoints for the North Carolina Piedmont and follow Little River to the end of the trail at a small but treacherous hidden waterfall. I hiked to Little River Falls...

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High Shoals Falls Loop, South Mountains State Park

North Carolina’s South Mountains State Park has more than 45 miles of marked trails. No doubt the most popular is the High Shoals Falls Loop Trail, a short, but tough climb to an 80-foot crystal-clear free-fall. Travel for a mile along rocky Jacob Fork River before beginning the steep ascent that requires stairs to navigate the tough terrain. From a viewing...

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Trombatore Trail to Blue Ridge Pastures, Hickory Nut Gorge

Blue Ridge Pastures is a grassy knoll northwest of Bearwallow Mountain along the Buncombe/Henderson County line. With terrific views of Hickory Nut Gorge, and on clear days The Great Craggy and Black Mountains, the reward for your hard work pays off. The Trombatore Trail will make you climb twice for your reward, once before and once after, but keep that reward in mind...

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Saluda Mountains Passage of the Palmetto Trail, South Carolina


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This section of the Palmetto Trail borders the Poinsett Watershed used by the City of Greenville, and roughly follows the North/South Carolina state line. Enjoy a delightful forest hike that winds among the Saluda Mountains as you’re passing through one of the most significant wilderness areas in South Carolina. In 1993, the Greenville Water System conveyed an...

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Oconee Passage of the Palmetto Trail, Sumter National Forest, SC

This climb up Station Mountain begins within Oconee Station State Historic Site then passes through Sumter National Forest on the way to Oconee State Park. Along the way you’ll enjoy the 60-foot Station Cove Falls and a botanical preserve inhabited by beaver. The climb is a good workout, as a peaceful hardwood forest and a well-maintained trail lined with switch...

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Buffalo Creek Park, Hickory Nut Gorge

Buffalo Creek Park is the gateway to 1,500 acres of land conserved by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy on Weed Patch Mountain that protects the northern headwaters of Lake Lure in Hickory Nut Gorge. The town of Lake Lure has since purchased 200 acres for the creation of Buffalo Creek Park and a network of hiking and mountain biking trails. When fully developed, it...

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Maddron Bald Trail to Albright Grove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Take a hike on the Maddron Bald Trail from the Cosby area of the Smokies, and you will be thrust into a different age and time. With a restored 19th century cabin and old family cemetery along the way, and mature forest as your destination, you might imagine yourself walking the trail in the days more than a century ago when settlers built their homesteads here. The...

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Elephant Canyon, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park

The Needles District forms the southeast corner of Canyonlands National Park and was named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. The district’s extensive trail system provides many opportunities for overnight trips or long day hikes including this one around, over and through Elephant Canyon. This 10-mile loop will take you up...

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Big Fork Ridge, Caldwell Fork, & Rough Fork Loop at Cataloochee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Start your morning with the elk rut in Cataloochee Valley. Then gear up for this enchanting deep forest hike that includes mountain creek crossings, giant old growth tulip poplar and hemlock, occasional views of the Smoky Mountains surrounding the valley, and a stroll down memory lane at historic settler homesteads. Enjoy this 10-mile loop in three segments, on three...

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Norman Wilder Forest, Pacolet Area Conservancy

Located in an area of Polk County, NC between Tryon and Saluda, the Norman Wilder Forest is a conservation easement that first opened to the public in 2001. Owned and operated by the Pacolet Area Conservancy, the 185 acres of protected mature third growth mixed hardwood forest provide hikers with a small trail system that meanders beneath the shady canopy. Lying on the...

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Grassy Creek Falls, Table Rock Trail and Lake Dense, DuPont State Forest

There are 84 named trails in DuPont State Forest. This robust and mature trail system is a series of arteries that connect the various and disparate sections of this family friendly recreation area. In the central region of the state forest I put together a semi-loop hike that took me first to a waterfall, then to a hilltop summit, and finally to the tranquil banks of a...

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