Biltmore Estate Grounds, Gardens and Conservatory – A Photo Essay

While a walk around the 250 rooms of Biltmore House will thrill you with art and craftmanship and history and architecture, your visit to Biltmore Estate isn’t done until you get outside and explore the gardens and Conservatory, and the 20 miles of hiking and biking trails available. Because my brother and I were there on gift passes, we weren’t able to visit...

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What Do You Mean You Haven’t Been to Biltmore Estate Yet?

Hard to believe I’ve lived in Western North Carolina for 15 years now, and had never visited the world famous Biltmore Estate. My brother managed to score a couple of gift passes, so we decided it must be about time to go after all these years. Now I might actually spring for the price of admission just to go back some day. Built by George Vanderbilt, heir to the...

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Snowy Balds at Roan Highlands – A Photo Essay

There was a snowstorm over Roan Mountain the last Friday in February, 2020. Seeing Roan Highlands covered in a blanket of snow is always a highlight of WNC winter. So on Sunday, March 1st I set out for this glorious destination high above the little town of Bakersville. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do in winter. This makes three in a row now. As...

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Hiking Above the Clouds at World’s Edge – A Photo Essay

August 2005 saw the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (now Conserving Carolina) 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...

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Rocky Ridge and Stone Mountain Trails, DuPont State Forest

Tucked away in the northeastern corner of DuPont State Forest in Western North Carolina, Stone Mountain is the highest point in the state forest at 3,620 feet. Appropriately named for the exposed granite slab that traverses its summit, Stone Mountain offers a near 270° view of the surrounding terrain to winter hikers. Since the first time I went, nearly 12 years ago,...

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Tarklin Branch Trail to Wintergreen Falls and Thomas Cemetery Trail, DuPont State Forest

Located in the Guion Farm region of DuPont State Forest, this hike will take you to one of the lesser known, but equally memorable, of the exciting DuPont waterfalls. You are surrounded by majestic pine forest nearly throughout, with a walk along Grassy Creek for good measure. Most of the way is excellent double track surface, but that means you should listen for the...

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An October in Western North Carolina – A Photo Essay

Throughout the month of October, I traveled and hiked the high country of Western North Carolina seeking the seasonal change and corresponding forest color. One of the great things about the mountains is how you can follow the change as it lowers in elevation, starting with the highest peaks and ending in the lowest river valleys. My brother has been in the process of...

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That Day Tropical Storm Barry Came to Visit the Blue Ridge Parkway – A Photo Essay

Cloudy and very windy. That’s what greeted me the morning of July 14, 2019 as I first stepped from my car at Pounding Mill Overlook (milepost 413). Those who know me also know that I’ve been picking up trash and otherwise maintaining this overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway for each of the last 10 years. As I walked around to survey the accumulated trash since...

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Overnighting in the High Country on the Blue Ridge Parkway – A Photo Essay

There’s not much more beautiful than the high country along the Blue Ridge Parkway in June. The days are long. The forest has completed its greening and the heath bushes are in bloom. If you catch the sights in the evening or very early morning you can even avoid the crowds. I’ve been on the shelf for a few weeks with an ankle injury while hiking, and was...

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Linville Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway

Located at milepost 316.5 along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls moves in several distinct steps, beginning in a twin set of upper falls, passing through a small twisty gorge, and culminating in a high-volume 45-foot plunge. The Linville River flows from its headwaters high on the steep slopes of Grandfather Mountain and cascades through these falls as it begins a...

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December Walking on the Blue Ridge Parkway – A Photo Essay

The Blue Ridge Parkway frequently closes for snow and ice in late Fall and Winter. While it’s disappointing you can’t traverse the roadway by vehicle, the fun news is that you can still access your favorite overlooks on foot, without any traffic. It is so peaceful. Most access roads to the Parkway are maintained during snow season, so you can get to the...

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Halloween at Max Patch – A Photo Essay

Few places in the Southern Appalachians are more scenic than Max Patch along the Appalachian Trail on the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee. Even more so when the magic of Fall coloring surrounds the mountaintop. You can see my complete trail report for Max Patch and Buckeye Ridge, and learn about an unexpected adventure I had a few years ago on my first...

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The Year That Fall Never Arrived – A Photo Essay

Like a child anticipating Christmas, this year has had us waiting… waiting… waiting for the leaf peeping season to begin. Combine a very wet summer with a September where the warmth never ended, and it’s like the year that fall never arrived. This day, October 12, 2018, was the first day all autumn where the overnight temperature dropped into the...

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A Day with the Azaleas at Andrews Bald – A Photo Essay

Andrews Bald is the highest bald in the Smokies, standing just under 6,000 feet. Every year in the month of June, the flame azalea and rhododendron show arrives for all those willing to hike a couple miles to see. You start at Clingmans Dome and take the Forney Ridge Trail to reach Andrews Bald. Here is a complete trail report that describes the hike. In addition to the...

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Indian Creek and Juney Whank Loops at Deep Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Deep Creek is one of many popular recreation areas found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Camping and picnicking are in abundance, as well as plenty of waterways for fishing and tubing. The assorted hiking trails also make it a fun destination for you and me. This hike, a combination of two different small loop trails affords the opportunity to visit the three...

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Shut-in Ridge Trail to Ferrin Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway

The Shut-in Ridge Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail are one as they traverse the Blue Ridge from the North Carolina Arboretum to Mt. Pisgah. Along the way, there are several jumping on and off points where you can access this trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway, enabling short day hikes. One of these short sub-sections is along Bent Creek Gap Road at BRP milepost 400....

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New Year’s Eve at Cataloochee – A Photo Essay

Cataloochee Valley in the Smokies is of course most popular during the green seasons. People come from far and wide to experience the wildflowers in Spring, the myriad of hiking trails in Summer, and the exciting elk rut and colorful foliage in Fall. But Winter too has its appeal. Perhaps the best reason to go to Cataloochee in winter is the solitude. The crowds are...

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Hiking 500 Miles in the Smokies

The first time I went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park more than 15 years ago I knew it was someplace special. But it took me nearly 10 more years before I ever set foot on one of her trails. Work kept me busy and I had different recreational interests, but when I got serious about hiking around 2008, you couldn’t hold me back. Most of my early hikes were...

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Buck Spring to Pilot Rock, Pisgah National Forest

Starting at the former site of George Vanderbilt’s Buck Spring hunting lodge near Mt. Pisgah, this hike crosses the summit of Little Bald Mountain before dropping down the watershed to Pilot Rock, one of the many plutons found within the Pisgah Ranger District. The high country is home to thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron, while various maples, oaks and...

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