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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Earliest Spring Wildflowers at Little Bradley Falls – A Photo Essay

Some of the earliest wildflowers of the new season can be found on the Green River Game Lands near the North and South Carolina border. The elevation isn’t quite as high here as it is in most of the mountains of WNC, so the flowers get a little bit of a head start. Look for chickweed, rue anenome, wake robin trillium, blue and Canadian violets, robins plantain and...

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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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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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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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12 wilderness areas for enjoying wildflowers

One of spring’s greatest joys is its abundance of beautiful wildflowers. From alpine mountains to dense wetlands to steamy deserts, designated wilderness areas feature a plethora of wildflowers, which are thankfully protected as a cherished part of these landscapes. With this year’s 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, all the more reason to get out there and...

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Mountain trails, wildflowers for Mother’s Day hiking

Just in time for Mother’s Day weekend, it seems, the weather has warmed, the spring wildflowers are in full glory, and two of Western North Carolina’s most popular outdoor hiking destinations have reopened. The long-closed, 20-mile Asheville-to-Mount Mitchell State Park corridor on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was shut down since fall for repairs to a giant road crack,...

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Chattooga River Trail, Nantahala National Forest

Designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the Chattooga River’s headwaters are in North Carolina, but it stretches into Georgia and South Carolina as well. In fact, at one point known as Ellicott Rock, it marks the common tri-boundary of all three states. There are more than 50 miles of trails along the Chattooga River but this four-mile stretch just south of...

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Hiking Mt. Sniktau from Loveland Pass

Perhaps one of the reasons you head for the Colorado Rockies is the wealth of national parks and monuments. Maybe you enjoy the amazing increase in distance from high altitude golf. If you are a hiker, perhaps you welcome the opportunity to climb one of Colorado’s famous fourteeners. If that’s the case then this hike up Clear Creek County’s 13,234 foot...

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North Derby and Hooper Lake Trails, Flat Tops Wilderness

Flat Tops Wilderness is the second largest U.S. Wilderness Area in Colorado. Located near the towns of Yampa and Steamboat Springs, it is 235,214 acres, with 38,870 acres in Routt National Forest and 196,344 acres in White River National Forest. The area is named for a series of flat top mountains that dominate the landscape. This is sub-alpine and alpine terrain with...

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