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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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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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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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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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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Oconaluftee River Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There are only two trails in all of Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can ride your bike or walk your dog. The Oconaluftee River Trail near Cherokee, NC is one of them. Starting at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, this easy 3-mile round trip is a stroll along the river, and through history. You pass by the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of 19th century...

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Big Creek Trail to Mouse Creek Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Exactly what the name implies, Big Creek in the Smokies is larger than some rivers in the area. Add in a 70° day after a couple snow events and Big Creek will really roar. When Big Creek roars, that brings out the kayakers, so there was even more of a show than just the scenery. Big Creek Trail is an old logging road that follows the creek westward beneath the...

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Tennessee Gulf Trail, Martha Sundquist State Forest

Surrounded on three sides by Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee’s Martha Sundquist State Forest is the only one in the state forest system with a dedicated hiking trail. The Tennessee Gulf Trail (named for a former owner of the property, Lambs Gulf Company) follows Brown Gap Creek from the northwestern to the southeastern corners of this 2,000 acre cove hardwood...

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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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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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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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