Castle Trail and Medicine Root Loop, Badlands National Park

The Castle Trail is the longest in Badlands National Park, but can be broken up with three distinct trailheads. Medicine Root connects with Castle Trail at Saddle Pass and Old Northeast Road creating a loop of about five miles. The terrain is mixed grass prairie and arroyo, with views of the Badlands pinnacles throughout. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. It is...

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Hell Canyon Trail, Black Hills National Forest

I think of the Hell Canyon Trail in Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota as two hikes. There’s the stroll through the canyon with lush trees and bushes and a wide assortment of colorful wildflowers. Then, there’s the path along the canyon rim that exposes the devastation of the 2000 Jasper Fire, the largest in Black Hills history. The undergrowth is...

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Cathedral Spires to Black Elk Peak, Black Elk Wilderness

This is the hard way to get to the summit of 7,242′ Black Elk Peak, the highest in South Dakota. But, it affords you the opportunity to hike through the incredible Cathedral Spires, massive granite pinnacles that dominate the landscape in the Black Hills National Forest. Between the spires and the summit you pass through the rugged Black Elk Wilderness, named for...

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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 any more 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve protects the tallest sand dunes in North America, and a whole lot more. From the San Luis Valley floor to the crest of the 13,000 foot peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains — the park and preserve contains ecosystems ranging from sand sheet to dunes to tundra — each supporting specially adapted plant, animal 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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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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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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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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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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Walking the Pisgah Ridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway – A Photo Essay

Walking the Blue Ridge Parkway in winter is a great way to get a slow-motion view of the wonderful vistas that whiz by at 45 mph in your car. The Parkway is closed so you don’t have to worry about traffic. The only concern really is perhaps slipping on snow or ice. This latest in the Photo Essay series looks at a 4-mile stretch of the BRP between mileposts 412 and...

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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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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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Black Balsam to Silvermine and Chestnut Balds on Mountains to Sea Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway

Looking for a short, easy, serene getaway in the high country that offers outstanding long distance views of the Blue Ridge Mountains? This is the trail for you. This little stretch of the famous Mountains to Sea Trail will take you from Black Balsam Road, through a dark and deep balsam spruce forest, across Silvermine Bald and on to Chestnut Bald to a splendid overlook...

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Blue Ridge Parkway High Country – A Photo Essay

Leaf peepers head to Graveyard Fields in late September for the annual ritual of Autumn color in the high country. Located at mile 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields is one of the earliest locations to begin the chromatic display, as well as one of the most intense. From the bright red of the blueberry and sumac bushes, to the multi-colored hues of the maple...

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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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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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