Centennial and Lookout Point Trails, Wind Cave National Park

This hike in the heart of Wind Cave National Park combines two trails to make a 5-mile loop, and the two couldn’t be anymore different. Centennial Trail takes you through lush meadows, and a rocky canyon lined with pine, while Lookout Point Trail experiences the wide open spaces of the South Dakotan prairie. Centennial follows the path of Beaver Creek through the...

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Needles Highway at Custer State Park, SD – A Photo Essay

The Needles Highway in western South Dakota’s Custer State Park is more than a 14-mile road — it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen with fields of bright wildflowers, and rugged, almost other-worldly, granite mountains. The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations which...

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Boland Ridge Trail, Wind Cave National Park

Located in the remote northern corner of Wind Cave National Park, Boland Ridge Trail crosses the wide open prairie, then a series of ridge climbs offer panoramic views of the Black Hills, the Red Valley, and the western South Dakota plains beyond. Because of the isolated nature, elk and bison are often seen along this trail. In fact, we had to cut this one about a mile...

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Rankin Ridge Nature Trail, Wind Cave National Park

When you’re looking to get a good overview of the “above ground” features of Wind Cave National Park, what better way than to climb to the highest point. Fortunately, that’s easy to do with the Rankin Ridge Nature Trail. This one-mile loop takes you to an old retired fire tower with views into the Black Hills and as far away as The Badlands. Watch...

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Return to Badlands National Park 50 Years Later – A Photo Essay

Back in the 1960’s when I was in my mid-teens, my family took a cross-country western vacation that included stops at many of the scenic and picturesque national parks along the way. Included among those was Badlands National Park, the first stop on our trip. I remembered all my adult life the fascination I had with the Badlands, and promised myself I would return...

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Notch Trail, Door Trail, Window Trail, Badlands National Park

There are three short trails that share the same trailhead on the far eastern section of Badlands National Park. The Window and Door Trails are boardwalks that explore the spires and buttes of the Badlands Wall. Notch Trail passes through the Wall and offers a great view of the White River Valley. There is even a fun rope ladder that takes you to the canyon rim as you...

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Castle Trail to Saddle Pass, Badlands National Park

Our evening arrival to Badlands National Park coincided with a torrential storm that brought rain, wind and hail to the region. We learned the next morning that the campground was flooded, as was every arroyo in the park. We soon learned that the soft clay of the Badlands terrain does not mix well with lots of rain. Think quicksand — you sink inches with each step...

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May Day Flowering at Pisgah National Forest – A Photo Essay

What better way to spend May Day than wildflower hunting on Pisgah National Forest? We always think of the national park in the Smokies as being the go-to destination for Spring wildflowers in Western North Carolina. However, Pisgah National Forest is right up there. As you will see from the gallery below, there is quite the wide variety. I picked two destinations in the...

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Cruisin’ Little River Road for Wildflowers – A Photo Essay

What to do if you’ve got half a day to kill on the Tennessee side of the Smokies? Well, if it’s April, the obvious conclusion is a wildflower hunt along Little River Road between Sugarlands and the Townsend-Y. On Saturday, April 21st, I had an invitation to the annual Great Smoky Mountains National Park Volunteers Appreciation Banquet, but it wasn’t to...

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Bradley Fork and Cabin Flats Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is one of my new favorite Spring wildflower hikes in the Smokies. The flowers are brilliant along both the Bradley Fork and Cabin Flats Trails. 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. It is four miles up Bradley Fork to Cabin Flats Trail, then another...

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Pinnacle Mountain Trail and Ridge Trail, Table Rock State Park, SC

This park sits right on the cliff’s edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment that drops down from the mountains in western North Carolina to the upcountry of South Carolina. The park is more than 3,000 acres of trails, lakes, cabins and camping. Pinnacle Mountain Trail is the most challenging within the park, with a climb that exceeds 2,300 feet. The lower section follows...

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Playing in the Snow at Roan – A Photo Essay

There was a major snowstorm over the Great Smoky Mountains on December 8-9, 2017, particularly on the Western North Carolina side. Seeing Roan Highlands covered in a blanket of snow has always been a goal of mine ever since the first time I walked the Appalachian Trail across Round, Jane, and Grassy Ridge balds. With that in mind, I set out for the Highlands on the...

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Natural Bridge and Raven Rock Trails, Keowee Toxaway State Park, South Carolina

Another of the fun and exciting South Carolina state parks that line the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, Keowee Toxaway offers two hiking trails that take visitors over a natural bridge and through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, land once traveled by Cherokee Indians. Much of the trail follows the shore of Lake Keowee through the healthy oak/hickory forest...

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Oakridge Trail, Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park, located in the heart of South Carolina, is a land of towering trees, of floods and fire, of woodland paths and water trails used by people for more than 10,000 years. This rare, old growth forest became a national park in 1976. These ancient trees have witnessed wars, slavery, freedom, and destruction. There are 25 miles of hiking trails in...

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Old Sugarlands Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the more enjoyable trails I have hiked recently in the Smokies, Old Sugarlands follows West Prong of Little Pigeon River for a mile and a half, then turns to the east and ascends the western flank of the LeConte Ridge another 2.4 miles to a pastoral setting known as Cherokee Orchard. This trail receives surprisingly little use despite being surrounded by a hub of...

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In Search of Fall Color in the Smokies – A Photo Essay

There is no denying 2017 has been a disappointing year for fall foliage in the Smokies — so far. That’s why I titled this essay In Search of… you really have to look hard to find much beyond a few patches of yellow. The oranges and reds have been nonexistent. I started the day before dawn from Cades Cove driving toward Gatlinburg on Little River Road,...

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Rich Mountain Loop at Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This was the first trail I hiked in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was back in 2008 or so, well before I started this website. So I thought it must be time, nearly 10 years later, to do it again and tell you about it. Rich Mountain Loop is a combination of three trails: Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Indian Grave Gap Trail, and Crooked Arm Ridge Trail. Most people...

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Raven Cliff Falls and Gum Gap Trails, Mountain Bridge Wilderness

The air is nearly always cool at Caesars Head State Park in upstate South Carolina. It sits right on the edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment where refreshing breezes from the piedmont waft up and over the massive walls of rock. This hike is a casual stroll through hardwood forest on a sand and clay pathway to the Matthews Creek gorge and a suspension bridge over the...

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McCullough Gulch Trail, White River National Forest

This trail follows the McCullough Creek drainage up the gulch beneath the massive summit of 14,225′ Quandary Peak. It starts on an old mining road south of Breckenridge, CO, then changes to single track trail as it climbs the gulch. You’ll pass through pine and fir forest, get splashed by White Falls, marvel at the colorful granite, and count the variety of...

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West Ridge Trail from Loveland Pass, Arapaho National Forest

The easier of the trails at Loveland Pass, West Ridge surrounds two sides of the bowl that makes up the Loveland area and the I-70 corridor over the Continental Divide. Still, at 11,990 feet, this is no piece of cake for folks like me who are used to mountains no more than half the elevation. Several ski slopes are visible from the ridge. Look too for cute rodents to...

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Vail Pass to Uneva Ridge, Eagles Nest Wilderness

This marvelous example of Rocky Mountain vistas starts, oddly enough, directly beside Interstate-70 at Colorado’s 10,585′ Vail Pass. The trail winds through forest and meadow, then climbs steeply above treeline to Uneva Ridge, 1,500 feet above. Along the way you will enjoy breathtaking views of four distinct mountain ranges as you pass into Eagles Nest...

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Rocky Mountain Summer at Hagerman Pass – A Photo Essay

Highway 4, west out of Leadville, CO offers a driving adventure that takes you past lakes, among a various assortment of summer wildflowers, and over a high mountain pass that tops out just short of 12,000 feet. I needed the drive rather than hiking the first day after recovering from a newly discovered adult-onset allergy to cashew nuts. The annual visit with my brother...

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The Land Between Two Wildernesses – A Photo Essay

I like to do most of my summertime hiking in the high country to avoid the heat, and the bugs. It’s like getting extra, added months of spring. So when the first week of summer rolled around, I thought of that section of Pisgah National Forest that lies between Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hwy 215, and Black...

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Just Another Day at Stunning Roan Highlands – A Photo Essay

Ho. Hum. Just another day at Roan Highlands. Now, obviously I’m being facetious. Roan Highlands is probably my favorite place to go in all of Western North Carolina, especially in mid-June when it is catawba rhododendron and flame azalea time. It’s exciting to hike on the iconic Appalachian Trail, the views of Tennessee and North Carolina on either side of...

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Sugar Creek Gap, Nantahala National Forest

Remote. This little slice of Nantahala National Forest is truly far from anything. Once you are a mile into the woods from the trailhead, there is next to no evidence of human activity. It’s hard to know how many folks come here to hike, but there aren’t many boot prints in the mud. There are, however, plenty of deer tracks… and wildflowers. Wow, are...

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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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Scanning the Horizon from the Black Balsam High Country – A Photo Essay

When looking for some WNC high country scenery and perhaps refreshing cool air on a warm day, one of the first destinations I think of is the Black Balsam area at milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are half a dozen mountains here that stand above 6,000 feet, with encompassing 360° views from their treeless summits. This land that lies between the Shining...

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Middle Prong Trail at Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Perhaps the finest creek side trail in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Middle Prong Trail actually follows Lynn Camp Prong. Lynn Camp and Thunderhead Prong join to form Middle Prong just below the trailhead. You will walk alongside Lynn Camp Prong for the entire length of this hike, passing dozens of swift cascades and two exciting waterfalls. Look for a wide...

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Abrams Falls Trail at Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of the most popular hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Abrams Falls at the west end of Cades Cove has the full Smokies package all in one. Here you can find rich, bountiful forest with a floor of colorful spring wildflowers, a rushing creek that provides refreshing nourishment for all the plants and wildlife, good exercise as you climb up and over...

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The Green, Green, Greening of Spring – A Photo Essay

Pisgah National Forest comes alive in early May. It seems as though the greening happens almost overnight. Daniel Ridge Loop Trail is an amazing place to experience the changing of the forest from its sleepy, drab brown hues to the vibrant verdant that fills the senses. The creek along the pathway is the most picturesque in Pisgah Ranger District in my opinion, and the...

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Tennessee Smokies on My Mind – A Photo Essay

Every April I like to make a two-day trip to the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I usually stay overnight at the Cades Cove Campground. It is a glorious time in the Smokies. The spring ephemeral wildflowers are busting out all over. The weather is warming and the days are getting longer. The rivers, creeks and streams are usually full of cool,...

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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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