Trail Reports

McKee Branch, Caldwell Fork, Hemphill Bald, Cataloochee Divide Loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Posted by on Sep 29, 2015 @ 11:13 am in Forest Hikes, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Rated Difficult Hikes | 4 comments

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 Valley. Next turn is on Hemphill Bald Trail where you go back up the drainage for a return to the Divide at Double Gap. From there it’s an easy stroll past The Swag back...

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Hangin’ with the Elk at Cataloochee – A Photo Essay

Posted by on Sep 20, 2015 @ 10:16 am in Forest Hikes, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Inspiration, North Carolina, Photo Essays, Rated Easy Hikes | 7 comments

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 a bull off season. During the rut, cows and calves form harems with one or two mature bulls. At this time of early fall, people come from far and wide to this corner of the...

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Slickrock Creek Trail to Lower Falls, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness

Posted by on Sep 13, 2015 @ 11:17 am in Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina, Rated Moderate Hikes, Tennessee, Water Hikes | 1 comment

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 though is the Slickrock Creek Trail to Lower Falls in the far northern corner of the wilderness. A series of dams on the Little Tennessee River nearly a hundred years ago created...

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A Day on the Cataloochee Divide – A Photo Essay

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 @ 11:27 am in Forest Hikes, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Photo Essays, Rated Easy Hikes, Vista Hikes | 0 comments

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 Ski Area, Maggie Valley, and the Blue Ridge Mountains far in the distance. What they share in common is the Cataloochee Divide. The divide is the ridge that separates...

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Road Prong Trail to Chimney Tops, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Posted by on Aug 22, 2015 @ 1:26 pm in Forest Hikes, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Difficult Hikes, Tennessee, Vista Hikes, Water Hikes | 0 comments

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 Clingmans Dome Road to meet the other. It was this latter, known as Road Prong Trail and formerly Indian Gap Road, that we chose for our adventure to Chimney Tops. We...

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Grand Highlands at Bearwallow Mountain – A Photo Essay

Posted by on Aug 10, 2015 @ 10:18 am in Hickory Nut Gorge, Hiking Blog, Inspiration, North Carolina, Photo Essays | 0 comments

Grand Highlands at Bearwallow Mountain – A Photo Essay

Grand Highlands is a real estate development in Henderson County, NC. What sets it apart is location. A location that is described as “an open meadow placed on a mountaintop.” Land that affords you some of the most spectacular views in Western North Carolina. I think of it as a picturesque spot for taking photographs of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and valleys. Within a stone’s throw of two delightful hiking trails that were built and maintained by the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Grand Highlands is also a launch point...

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Bob Stratton Bald via Connector 54A, Nantahala National Forest

Posted by on Jul 29, 2015 @ 1:48 pm in Cherokee National Forest, Citico Creek Wilderness, Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina, Rated Moderate Hikes, Tennessee | 0 comments

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 Citico Creek Wilderness and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness. During the green seasons Bob puts on a dazzling display of wildflowers with a remarkable array of colors that rival...

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Crabtree Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

Posted by on Jul 24, 2015 @ 1:06 pm in Blue Ridge Parkway, Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Moderate Hikes, Water Hikes | 2 comments

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 wildflowers can be found, and by July ferns fill the dense hardwood forest and soak in the spray of the falls. You can complete a loop hike by continuing through the forest beyond...

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Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob Summits, Pisgah National Forest

Posted by on Jul 11, 2015 @ 12:40 pm in Blue Ridge Parkway, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Moderate Hikes, Vista Hikes | 4 comments

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), the wildflowers abundant, and the adventure plentiful. Under normal circumstances, the views from these treeless summits are fantastic, oft times exceeding 50 miles. In this...

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Ivestor Gap Trail to Shining Rock, Shining Rock Wilderness

Posted by on Jun 28, 2015 @ 2:00 pm in Blue Ridge Parkway, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Moderate Hikes, Shining Rock Wilderness, Vista Hikes | 0 comments

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 ‘Kalu and his children. There are a half dozen trails through the wilderness that meet at Shining Rock, but the most direct is the Ivestor Gap Trail. If you’re...

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Roan Highlands Redux – A Photo Essay

Posted by on Jun 24, 2015 @ 11:15 am in Appalachian Trail, Cherokee National Forest, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Photo Essays, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Moderate Hikes, Roan Highlands, Tennessee, Vista Hikes | 1 comment

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 Highlands bald mountain tops runs for 14 miles, the longest stretch of unobstructed vistas on the entire Appalachian Trail. Add to that the brilliant colors of the flowers, and you...

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Clingmans Dome Area Trails, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Posted by on Jun 20, 2015 @ 10:55 am in Appalachian Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Rated Moderate Hikes, Tennessee, Vista Hikes | 1 comment

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 Andrews Bald, and the iconic Appalachian Trail that crosses the summit. You can connect these trails at various junctions to make a six-mile hike that straddles the North...

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Appalachian Trail to Lover’s Leap, Pisgah National Forest

Posted by on Jun 8, 2015 @ 10:35 am in Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Moderate Hikes, Vista Hikes | 0 comments

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 Leap. The AT is unequivocally intertwined with the town — it is the first town, headed on a northbound hike, through which the AT literally overlaps the town’s main...

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Hemmed-in Hollow, Ponca Wilderness, Buffalo National River

Posted by on Jun 5, 2015 @ 11:52 am in Arkansas, Canyon Hikes, Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Difficult Hikes, Water Hikes | 2 comments

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 a dead end canyon with a 210-foot waterfall. If canoeing the river isn’t your thing, you can also get to Hemmed-in Hollow, as the canyon is called, through the Ponca...

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Elk Mountain Trail, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge

Posted by on May 29, 2015 @ 2:24 pm in Best Hike, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Oklahoma, Rated Moderate Hikes, Vista Hikes | 1 comment

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 for hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Elk Mountain lies within the Charons Garden Wilderness Area in the western corner of the refuge. You may not think of...

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Frijoles Canyon Nature Trail, Bandelier National Monument

Posted by on May 25, 2015 @ 9:12 am in Canyon Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Inspiration, New Mexico, Rated Easy Hikes | 0 comments

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 century AD. Handsome Pueblo revival-style structures and Civilian Conservation Corps trails now serve the park, enabling visitors to discover the history and culture of the...

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Posted by on May 22, 2015 @ 10:57 am in Arizona, Canyon Hikes, Hiking Blog, Inspiration, Vista Hikes | 1 comment

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

The labyrinth called Canyon de Chelly (pronounced d’SHAY) comprises several canyons that include Canyon de Chelly, Monument Canyon and Canyon del Muerto. At the mouth of the canyons near the tribal town of Chinle, in northeastern Arizona, the rock walls are only 30 feet high. Deeper in, the bright red sandstone bluffs rise dramatically to stand more than a thousand feet above the sandy floor. Sheer cliffs overshadow streams, cottonwood trees, and small, culturally significant ancestral farms below. The Canyon de Chelly National Monument...

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Syncline Loop Trail Around Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park

Posted by on May 17, 2015 @ 1:52 pm in Canyon Hikes, Canyonlands National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Difficult Hikes, Utah | 0 comments

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 appears to indicate an impact crater — either from a comet or meteor. This quite strenuous trek will test your mettle as you scramble up ledges, clamber over boulders and...

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Wedding Canyon and Monument Canyon Loop, Colorado National Monument

Posted by on May 13, 2015 @ 5:39 pm in Canyon Hikes, Colorado, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Moderate Hikes | 4 comments

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 Monument, the Saddlehorn, Pipe Organ, and the Kissing Couple. This 5-mile loop up Wedding Canyon, then back down Monument Canyon is a good introduction to ground level Colorado...

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Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park, Hickory Nut Gorge

Posted by on Apr 18, 2015 @ 11:41 am in Hickory Nut Gorge, Hiking Blog, Inspiration, North Carolina, Photo Essays | 3 comments

Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park, Hickory Nut Gorge

Sometimes your hiking plans just don’t work out. That happened when our plans were kiboshed by a closed and padlocked gate. They say when the world gives you lemons, go take photographs, or something like that. There isn’t much more beautiful in Spring than Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park. Morse Park on Lake Lure features beautiful vistas of the mountains of Hickory Nut Gorge and is a popular choice for an impromptu picnic, sunbathing, reading, bird watching or catching an afternoon nap in a lawn chair by the lake. Only...

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Cradle of Forestry, Pisgah National Forest

Posted by on Apr 15, 2015 @ 2:17 pm in Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Inspiration, North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Easy Hikes | 0 comments

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 come to North Carolina to transform the woodlands we know today as Pisgah National Forest. To insure the forest would remain enticing, Schenck established the forestry school to...

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Porters Creek Trail to Fern Branch Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 @ 1:03 pm in Best Hike, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Moderate Hikes, Tennessee, Water Hikes | 0 comments

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 four acts. The opening act follows a picturesque, cascading mountain stream. Act II is all about history — including farmsteads, a cemetery, and recreations of a 19th...

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Blue Ridge Parkway Maintenance Trail, Milepost 420

Posted by on Mar 27, 2015 @ 1:33 pm in Blue Ridge Parkway, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Easy Hikes, Vista Hikes | 0 comments

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 for a quiet and peaceful spot for lunch away from the madness of Graveyard Fields. With magnificent views of Pilot Mountain and Black Balsam and Mt. Pisgah, you will get a...

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Walls of Jericho and South Rim Trails, Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust

Posted by on Mar 25, 2015 @ 1:59 pm in Alabama, Canyon Hikes, Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Difficult Hikes, Tennessee, Water Hikes | 3 comments

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 bluffs on each side. Exploring the headwaters of the Paint Rock River, this demanding trek straddles the Tennessee-Alabama state line as it delves deep into the gorge. The...

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Lost Creek Overlook and Marble Plains Trails, Tims Ford State Park

Posted by on Mar 22, 2015 @ 9:48 am in Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Easy Hikes, Tennessee, Water Hikes | 0 comments

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 third wraps the shoreline near the park marina. Combining the Lost Creek and Marble Plains trails makes a nice loop along a portion of the lakeshore that is nearly three miles in...

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Oconaluftee River Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Posted by on Mar 11, 2015 @ 12:45 pm in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Rated Easy Hikes, Water Hikes | 2 comments

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 wooden structures that were restored here from locations all over the national park. You’re likely to see anglers in the river, maybe even elk in the meadows as you walk...

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

Posted by on Mar 8, 2015 @ 1:45 pm in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Rated Easy Hikes, Water Hikes | 2 comments

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 Cammerer and Mount Sterling Ridges. There are two featured waterfalls along the way: Midnight Hole and Mouse Creek. Beautiful spring-like weather and scenery, rapid whitewater and...

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Frozen Waterfalls, Pisgah National Forest

Posted by on Feb 22, 2015 @ 11:27 am in Hiking Blog, Inspiration, North Carolina, Photo Essays, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Easy Hikes, Water Hikes | 1 comment

Frozen Waterfalls, Pisgah National Forest

When bitter cold winter temps come around, perhaps the last thing on your mind is hiking. I get that. I’m no fan of the cold either. As with everything else though, Mother Nature has a reward if you are willing to tolerate the temporary discomfort. Frozen waterfalls! It’s a rare occurrence in Western North Carolina, but usually once a year, the air will stay cold enough, long enough, to freeze some of the waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest. There are several that don’t even require much of a walk to get to. So on a cold...

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Tennessee Gulf Trail, Martha Sundquist State Forest

Posted by on Feb 12, 2015 @ 11:59 am in Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, Rated Easy Hikes, Tennessee, Water Hikes | 0 comments

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 forest. Martha Sundquist, an outdoors enthusiast and former First Lady of Tennessee, suggested that the state forest bearing her name include a footpath for hikers. We’re...

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

Posted by on Feb 6, 2015 @ 11:52 am in Forest Hikes, Hiking, Hiking Blog, North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Rated Moderate Hikes | 2 comments

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 at the gap with the Daniel Ridge Loop. For hikers, it’s a delightful grassy gambol through new growth hardwood, past mammoth rocky outcroppings and across several...

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