Moore’s Knob Loop

Sitting just north of Winston-Salem, are the Sauratown Mountains. This small, ancient chain was once a part of the much bigger blue ridge chain that sits just to the west. Moore’s Knob is the highest peak in this chain at 2579 ft. It sits in the popular Hanging Rock State Park, and is one of my favorite weekday hikes. The closeness to home, difficulty of this hike, and views it offers make it hard to beat.

The view above  is the popular Hanging Rock, for which the park is named after. This is about as close as I would get to this on this day.   It is a great hike reaching the top of this and one I will feature at a later date. This park is actually home to several great hikes.  Cook’s Wall, House Rock, Wolf Rock, Hanging Rock, Tory’s Den are all popular destinations.   The Park also has 5 waterfalls,  Upper Cascades, Lower Cascades, Tory’s Falls, Hidden Falls, and Window Falls.  They are all fairly small and can dry up to a trickle in the hotter dryer summer months.  The Mountains To Sea trail also runs through the park and is on a good part of the Moore’s Knob hike today.

The Moore’s Knob hike begins at the very top parking lot in the park. Driving to the top, you will pass the entrance to the visitor center and opt for the lake parking area. The trail begins here at at old rock picnic shelter/swim center besides the lake.   This area is packed in the summer months withs kids swimming in the cool spring fed mountain lake waters.  For the first mile of this hike, it is relatively flat. It is really just a nice walk through the the woods as you walk along the lake to start.  After about 1/4 mile, the trail  enters the forest on a series of long wood-planked boardwalks put there to help protect the environment.  The trail runs along the lake and the stream that feeds it and there are spots that can be marshy.   After a mile you will come to a sign and trail junction. Going left heads to Cooks Wall (another day for sure), and going right heads to Moore’s Knob and Tory’s Den. It is about here that things get real. The incline starts mildly then steadily gets steeper and steeper. I think one of the things that  makes this trail somewhat challenging for me is that it changes its texture here and becomes somewhat of a dry creek bed full of larger rocks and stones. Footing can be tricky, as ankles can get twisted when trying to make good time on terrain like this.  Once you reach the top of the ridge, you will know you have done some climbing. Moore’s Knob is still nearly a mile away down the ridge.

One thing that is constant with the Moore’s Loop is that there are just not many good wide open views.   This trail runs for a mile atop this mountain.  Even once the top of the ridge has been reached, every side path that would seem to be a nice wide open view is just a partially obstructed one at best. Right now with the lack of leaves, I was able to get a nice view of Pilot Mountain through the trees.

While hiking this ridge, the trail does a number of switch backs going up and down.  While the views are obstructed at best,  there are  some pretty cool rock formations along the way.  After about 3.1 miles, waalaa!! ……destination reached, Moore’s Knob and the Lookout Tower that sits on top of it. The following shots were taken while on the knob…..

This Lookout Tower sits atop Moore’s Knob at 2579 feet, the highest elevation in the Sauratown’s.

Once you have reached this peak, it becomes clear that all of the huffing, puffing, and sweat are worth it 100 times over. This is clearly the best view in the park, with full 360 degrees is available. There are things to be seen in each direction, from Pilot Mountain and Sauratown Mountain to the west-southwest, the Blue Ridge escarpment to the west-northwest, the Hanging Rock and Visitor Center to the north, The beautiful shot of the lake way below to the east, and to the south, the entire ridgelines of Moore’s Knob and Cook’s Wall. The rolling hills below and surrounding farmlands help to make the experience complete. There is also a very large rock to walk around at the top with places to sit and enjoy the view. It does not get much better than this.

Pilot Mountain & Sauratown Mountain

Hanging Rock Lake & Swimhouse

Hanging Rock Visitor Center & Parking Lot

Hanging Rock Lake

Finally, here is a guy that I ran into that knows how to spend a beautiful afternoon at Moore’s Knob, relaxing in the portable hammock while sitting on top of the world!!

From the tower back to the parking area, it is downhill all the way.  The trail is rock step, trail, rock step for the 1.2 miles which can be difficult on my old man knees.  A campground with a small amphitheater will come into play, and the only real creek crossing will occur just before the trail rejoins itself just past the lake to complete the loop.  In summary, this hike comes in at just under 5 miles. It earns every bit of the strenuous rating that it has been given. Some other trails in the park offer more numerous views and points of interest than this one, but none are any better.

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Elk River Falls to Jones Falls

What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in February. The winds were light, temps about 50, sunshine was bright, water levels were up and the trails were barely dotted with hikers. There were 2 spectacular waterfalls in this hike, one at the beginning, and one was the destination. Along the way, I crossed the Tennessee State Line along the Appalachian Trail for an added bonus. One hike, 2 waterfalls, 2 states, and the trail I would love to have the opportunity to hike from beginning to end some day, the Appalachian Trail. This was a fine day.

This day begins at Elk River Falls, a location that I have visited numerous times. The waterfall is only about 0.2 miles from the parking, so I usually visit here and hike somewhere else like Roan Mountain, or Grandfather Mountain. Thanks to the internet and some other hiking blogs like http://www.appalachiantreks.blogspot.com, and http://www.hikingbill.com, I became aware that additional hiking opportunities exist right where I was parked, at Elk River Falls. After walking down to the base of the falls and enjoying the scenery for a few minutes, the new hike began, to Jones Falls.

This journey leaves the Elk River Falls parking area on an old dirt road, that is currently gated off to traffic. The road is fairly easy hiking, going up and down a little. After leaving the river for a short while, it finds its way back to the river, where it crosses or fords it. Do NOT cross the river here. Instead, there will be a small open meadow here to the left of the road. At the right edge of this meadow, a faint trail picks up and runs along side the river. There will be some stakes marking this trail. On the other side of the river, it opens up quite a bit to some rolling pastures and meadows.

The river ford above and cool horseshoe shaped rapid on the Elk River below


After a short up close walk along the river, the Elk River makes a sharp right turn. It is here that you leave the river. The trail continues into the woods at this point and crosses a creek which I later learned was the Jones Branch. This is the only tricky creek crossing on the hike but it is fairly easy to make it across dry. After the creek, the trail goes up, somewhat steeply. It is fairly short though and after a few switch backs the trail ends at a junction with the Appalachian Trail. This is marked by the familiar white rectangular blazes painted on the trees throughout.

To reach the Jones Falls , make a left turn at the Junction and hike for about 0.6 mile. The trail this direction will be mostly uphill, but not terribly steep. Just after joining the AT, the trail crosses the state line and you are now in Tennessee. There are no markers that show this, but it is indicated on my Everytrail Google Maps. After some switchbacks, the trail begins to head into an area where the waterfall can be heard. If you look carefully, it can be seen to the left on the other side of the steep drop off. It is just after this that the AT continues to the right and a blue blazed trail with a sign for Jones falls takes over.

At this point, Jones Falls is just ahead. The sign says 1M, but it is more like 1/10 of a mile, not sure about that one. Once there, look up. This beauty is over 100 feet tall and on this day at least flowing pretty freely. With this being on a smaller creek, I can imagine this drying up to just trickles in the dryer summer months. Footing at this fall is tricky, be careful, and enjoy. This is the end of the hike and at this point, head back the way you came.

Jones Falls

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Stone Mountain State Park Winter Hike

Well, if the recent 60’s weren’t enough, today we hit the low 70’s, in February…Crazy! There was no way that I was not going to find a way to get out and enjoy this. My choice today was Stone Mountain State Park. Stone Mountain State Park is one of my favorite places to hike, especially during the week. The location is very close to the triad where I live. The park sits just at the edge of the Blue Ridge escarpment. The elevation at the summit is only 2305, the temperatures here while a a tad cooler than the triad, tend to be similar to that of lower elevations, which makes it a prime hiking spot in the winter. This park was one of the original places that I began hiking so it holds a special place with me. I can not think of another hike that offers more variety in it!

This park has waterfalls, 4 named ones, Stone Mountain Falls, Widow Creek Falls, Middle Falls, and Lower Falls. I would say that only Stone Mountain Falls and Widow Creek Falls are the must see ones. Stone Mountain Falls lies on the loop trail, while Widows Creek Falls is located deeper into the park with its on trail. My trip here usually begins with the drive to the back side of the park to see Widows Creek Falls. It is only a short distance from the road, and a gorgeous 25 footer. It is on a small creek and dry weather, especially in summer can almost dry this up.

The walk here is short, but the best shots require a creek crossing, which can be tricky. The bedrock up here when wet, can be as slippery as ice. Be careful.

The next waterfall is seen while hiking the 4.3 mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail. This waterfall is a 200 foot waterfall, and has taken a number of lives. Fences are up, signs are up to stay off, but for some reason, people continue to fall over. The best place to view this waterfall, is at the bottom, of a 298 step stairway. Yes, 298, a lot of steps, especially if going up.

The other two waterfalls are further downstream from Stone Mountain Falls, and really are hardly worth mentioning. They are good to see once and can be done so by taking a one way spur trail that leads off the Stone Mountain Loop Trail about halfway between the Homestead and Stone Mountain Falls.

One of the treats I get to see most of the time when I come here is deer. For some reason, I see more here than any other place. It is rare that I do not see them. On this day, I was able to count 17 deer in 6 different locations. Usually, they are seen eating the grass along the roadways through the park, but I have been startled a few times on the trail. They tend to not fear humans much which could be a bad thing is they ever got tired of this area and left the protection that the state park offers them.

Now on to the hike, the 4.3 mile loop trail really offers a little bit of everything. There is a summit climb to 2305 ft which can be climbed by a longer, more moderate climb, or a short but steep one. When I began hiking, I used the moderate longer route, I almost always opt for the short and steep one now though. There are two separate access points with large parking lots, restrooms and drinking water sources. There is a long walk through a thick rhododendron forest that comes out at the Hutchinson Homestead. The Homestead is a restored farmsite from the 1800’s that includes the house and a number of barns, blacksmith shop, tobacco barn, meat cooler, laundry site, and spring box. The buildings are open to tour on weekends. All of this sits in the valley with the huge Stone Mountain Dome just in the background. It is quite picturesque, especially when leaves have bright color and they sky is deep blue with a few white puffy clouds. On this day however, all the trees are bare and the sky was more of a haze. No complaints though, it is February and 72 degrees.

After the Homestead, the trail returns to the forest. For the next mile or so, the trail will wander through more rhododendron, cross a small creek a number of times and eventually meet up with Big Sandy Creek. You will know when you reach this stream as it is loud, lots of small cascades and rapids as it rushes its way down the mountain. This reaches a climax at Stone Mountain Falls, a 200 foot waterfall. From there, 298 wooden steps must be climbed. You might be inclined to curse them, but just imagine the climb to the top if they were not there. After a little more uphill past Stone Mountain Falls, an old standing stone chimney sits. This is also the meeting place for the Loop Trail and the upper spur.

It should also be noted, that, just in case 5 miles is not long enough, this hike can be extended to around 8 miles by taking a side trail called Wolf Rock Trail. It will climb a mountain adjacent to Stone Mountain, offer some sensational views, from Wolf Rock and Cedar Rock. It will connect with the Black Jack Ridge Trail and eventually circle back around to the Loop Trail at the Homestead.

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Compression Falls – Short but Steeeep!!

Compression Falls is a gorgeous, wide, scenic, and picturesque 30 foot waterfall with a plentiful water flow. It is located on the Elk River in the very eastern most section of Tennessee. The other waterfall that this river is famous for is Elk River Falls. It is located just 4 miles upstream in North Carolina. To my knowledge, there is no trail connecting these two. It would be a sweet hike though. While these two are fairly close on the river, they are more like 45 minutes apart by car. This can be attributed to the extremely remote location of these falls, and the ruggedness of the gorge the Elk River runs through.

To get there, take US highway 321 to Elk Mills, Tn. If coming from NC, Be looking for Poga Rd for a left turn. Follow Poga Rd up the mountain about 3 1/2 miles. Make a right turn on Clawson Rd for 1/2 mile and then a right turn onto Dark Ridge Rd. The road will change to gravel. Parking used to be up by an old barn, but now there there is a small parking area off to the right. On my last visit, the access to this, needed some serious maintenance though. This was only a 1.4 mile roundtrip hike that begins fairly level and the waterfall was very nice. With that in mind, before you consider viewing this falls, a section of about 0.2 or 0.3 miles is absolutely straight down. Once the trail comes out into a clearing under some power lines, a trail to the left goes down to the river. This might be the steepest section of trail that I have ever hiked, no switchbacks either. I fell once and nearly 3 or 4 other times down this rocky steep trail that just seems to never end. It was clear by some of the bent trees that people were using these for leverage. If you do this, be careful and take your time, it can be done.

Once at the river’s edge, you will be able to see and hear the falls, and there will be 0.2 miles or so from the river to the base of the falls. Make sure you mark the spot where you came down to the river. The trail to the river would be easily missed on your return trip. Luckily for me, someone had a bandana tied on a tree. Next is just walking along the river side, along the rocks until…..you reach the spray zone. Here the rocks are all wet, and to get to the big rock that juts out into the river for the best photos, will require some technical and careful maneuvering up some rocks. There was also a well placed dead tree connecting two parts over the pool. Be careful, you could get hurt if you fall here. It is not a long ways down or anything, but rocks are rocks and they usually win when in a confrontation with skin and bones. This part would be a lot easier if you are willing to get wet and just get in the river and wade, but I wasn’t. Despite this extreme short hike to the falls, it is a very popular place that gets a lot of visitors and you might see some kids jumping off the 30 foot falls, which doesn’t seem to be a smart thing to do.

As steep as this trail was going down, it is quite the beast to get up. No rope was needed, but the steepness and length of it, had me totally out of breath. After a few rest stops, I finally made the top and made my way out of there. This waterfall is really a treat, but I would like to see some improvements made on accessing this beauty!

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Snowy Pilot Mountain Walk

“Jomeokee”, or “The Great Guide” as it was once known to native Americans, Pilot Mountain sits alone in Northwestern NC. A metamorphic quartzite monadnock that stands at 2421 feet above level. It is a the shining star of the ancient Sauratown Mountain Range. The other remnants of this once great chain sit just to the east and are made available by the popular Hanging Rock State Park.

Snow!! This day was all about snow. February 19 was our first measurable snow this season which is rare. It wasn’t much mind you, but it was enough to get us all excited. I was able to drive to the top of Pilot Mountain the same day of the snow, so obviously it was minimal, maybe 2 inches on top.

Pilot Mountain State Park, sits just minutes outside of Winston-Salem, and is a wonderful breath of fresh air when time does not allow a longer trip to the bigger mountains just to the west. The park road takes you to the top, not the Pinnacle itself as this is unaccessible. Once there, you will find numerous picnic spots, well designed overlooks at the piedmont valley below and on the “Little Pinnacle”, you will find the grandest view of the Pilot Mountain “Knob”. There are also some very good hiking trails here that I love to explore in warmer weather, today they had yellow tape, saying “Do Not Enter”. I guess they care about us….

The above shot is taken on the Little Pinnacle with the piedmont valley floor below. Its was a beautiful day up here, crisp and chilly, with blue sky abundant. After a few shots though, it was time to get back to the real world. I will be hiking Pilot Mountain from the bottom up soon, and will report back on that later.

Usually there is an accessible trail up to and around this large Pinnacle, but it was closed today, that is a shame, this is what I came to see.

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BRP-339.5 Crabtree Falls Loop

Have you had the chance to see Crabtree Falls yet? If not, you should certainly plan a trip sometime to see this beauty in person. It is a 70 foot nearly vertical cascade on Crabtree Creek. No waterfall in NC does more with less water as the creek this is on is fairly small. This is yet another gorgeous waterfall offered by the Blue Ridge Parkway, this time at milepost 339.5. If your were to look on a map, and search for the town of Little Switzerland, you would be just about there.

Crabtree Falls is one of the larger attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It gets left out sometimes to its big brother just a few miles to the north Linville Falls. Make no mistake about it though, this is one fine waterfall, I personally prefer it over Linville. This attraction offers a very large campground with ampitheater, a fairly large gift/coffee shop as well. Too bad they are all closed this time of year, a steaming cup of Crabtree java would have hit the spot yesterday!

The trailhead for this is in the back of the campground, there is a parking lot and plenty of signs to get you to the right place. In February, you must park in the front and walk an extra 1/4 mile each way, but all in all it was only a total of 3 miles, and definitely worth it. Getting there is easy, basically 1 mile to the bottom of the falls , all down hill. There are some well placed steps in a few of the steeper areas. Once you get close the roar of the falls is evident, and when you first see it….wow!! Once there, there is a bridge that crosses the creek with a seat built into the middle to view the falls. Good luck getting to sit there in warmer weather. Both banks of the creek are accessible to get close to the falls for great pictures. I prefer the shots from the left side personally. In the summer, your shots might be filled with hikers cooling off in the cool spray put off. Enjoy your time down here, it is a special place.

Then….the fun really begins. The return trip, is where your body will get the workout it needs. The next 1/4 to 1/2 mile is straight up. While down at the falls, look up on the right side at the cliff way above, this is where you will be after many switch backs and steps. I find it best to just look down and climb up, next thing you know, you are there. Once there, an interesting shot of the waterfall from above is present, though it does not compare with the shots from the base. From here, the trail flattens out and follows Crabtree Creek for the next mile or so. There will be a few smaller waterfalls and cascades and a scenic view of the creek from a bridge. It then turns left and eventually joins up with the original trail just below the trailhead. The loop is complete and tired most people are tired and thirsty at this point.

As mentioned earlier, Linville Falls is just to the north, while Mount Mitchell and Craggy Gardens lie just to the south, all with numerous hiking opportunities and must-see attractions.

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Short Blue Ridge Parkway Drive – In & Out of Fog

This is all about a nice short  Sunday drive along one of my favorite stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It begins in Asheville, NC where I spent Saturday,  and drives up and along the crest of the some of the highest peaks in the east, the Black Mountains.  Being Super Bowl Sunday, I normally would have to bypass the short parkway road trip and make it back quickly as not  to miss the big game.   However I had no real interest in either team this year and the weather conditions were setting up for a memorable drive along the parkway.

This weekend brought an unusual but not rare weather condition set up in western NC.  It is known locally as “The Wedge”.  It is marked by low clouds, fog, drizzle, and cool air at the lower elevations.  Northeasterly winds come off the Atlantic and push all of this mess over us and against the mountains, where it usually can move no further.  When this occurs, temps like they were on Sunday were near 40 at the 700 ft level.  To escape this, you have to drive up, the further up you go the better it seems.  At the 4000 ft level, the sun is breaking out, temps are as high as the low 60’s, and views are tremendous,  as all you can see way below is the tops of the clouds that are hovering the over the valleys & lower elevations and the mountains that rise above from them.  On a day when most people wouldn’t think to drive up to the mountains to see the parkway, is when some of the most beautiful sights can be found.

The sights are hit or miss though.  There were several areas where the fog was very thick.  Most of this was in the Craggy Gardens and Mount Mitchell areas where the elevations were at the 6000 feet and above mark.  We were very excited to drive up to 6684 feet on the top of Mount Mitchell only to find the fog so thick we could hardly even see each other.  Craggy  Gardens is a great place to go for beautiful scenery, but today it was all fog and surprisingly strong winds.

Luckily, once past Mount Mitchell and back at the 5000 ft mark, blue skies began mixing again with the fog and some panoramic scenes of the Linville Gorge opened up to the north.  This is marked by Table Rock, a trapezoid  shaped rock topping the highest peak in the Linville Gorge, and Hawksbill Mountain sits just to its left in the photos.  These peaks along with a blanket of low clouds below us made the views breathtaking.   Views like this are what keep junkies like me coming back.  I didn’t have time to get any hiking done or get a chance to see any real waterfalls, but sometimes a short drive on the parkway can be just enough to enhance your day and tide you over until your next hike.  I still made it home in time to see the Giants topple the mighty Tom Brady and his Patriots for the second time in four years.

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BRP-316.4 – Linville Falls

“Plunge Basin View” of Linville Falls

Blue Ridge Parkway, Mile Post 316.4, is the turn in to the famous Linville Falls. Linville Falls may not be the single most spectacular waterfall in North Carolina, but it is definitely one of the most popular. This is one of the BRP’s top attractions. It was one of the featured waterfalls in the movie “Last of The Mohicans”. The parking lot here is huge, not only for cars, but large buses and campers as well. Between spring and fall, this area receives tons and tons of visitors. It is this reason that usually keeps me away in the prime season. There are just too many people for me to truly enjoy it.

However, in 2012, the winter that wasn’t, the frequently closed off attraction is wide open, the gates are in place but open. The trails are wide open and in good shape, and people, while there are some others thinking just as I am, are so much fewer and far between. This….is the prime time to enjoy this waterfall. I was so surprised while stopping by this place after Elk Knob, that I decided to come back with my girlfriend and her family. There is one thing to keep in mind before coming this time of year. There is a very nice visitor center with a store and informative people to help you on your hike. There are also restrooms. Right now, the restrooms are boarded up and the store is closed until spring. The only resources that will be available to you when you arrive , are an informative map and an occasional drive-thru park ranger. Now to the falls we go…

Once at the visitor center there are 2 options, both leading to spectacular different views of this magnificent waterfall. The more traveled one is to the right or west side of the Linville River. This trail starts off wide and fairly level and will cross the river on a well built bridge. There are three attractions or view points here with the furthest one away being about 0.9 miles away, so plan on about a 2.5 to a 3 mile round trip hike to see all three of these views ( this includes the short side trails and steps at each view).

The first view is fairly easy to get to , the trail is level to this point. What you will see first is the “Upper Falls”. While this is considered part of Linville Falls, it is totally seperate and has a very large pool of its own. This will be on the left when you reach the end. On the right, is something I find to be very enchanting. After the pool, the river winds through this sharp S curve below you and narrows very tightly. The water is rushing at this point. At the very end on the right the water disappears into the rocks and spits out the other side in what we know as “Linville Falls” If you want to see that, you will have to back track and continue up the trail.

Once back on the trail, it will begin to climb, at somewhat of a moderate steepness. It is only about .3 of a mile or so to the next stop, then you will have to go down a few steps….which must be climbed back up of course. There are two views here in the middle. What you see is probably the best and most close-up shot of the entire waterfall, including the upper falls and the main falls. Trees make getting the perfect view and picture a challenge though. Once back on the main trail, it is only about .3 mile or so to “Erwins View” at which point you will be at your highest elevation. It gives a distant but more unobscured view of the entire falls, and also a good look at the famous “Linville Gorge” at this point looking up and down the river from this point.

Now, I will focus on my favorite hike here, on the left side or east side of the river. A trail leads to the left of the visitor center to what is known as the “Plunge Basin View”, and the river bottom. This trail is only about .5 mile from the visitor center but it starts going up and ends going down, somewhat difficult but not too bad. This well designed view is from the side of the waterfall and is my favorite view by far. It is the closest to the waterfall, and there are no trees to deal with, just yourself the large rock cliffs that go way above the waterfall itself, the waterfall, and large pool below. In addition to the most detailed view of the waterfall, you can also get a view up into the rocks, and see the once wide river, rushing through a very tight and narrow chute, falling powerfully and slowly chipping away at this beautiful cliff and rock formation. After enjoying this, head back up the trail and there is a side trail that goes to the river bottom. I caution you, this is steep with some steep steps, roots and rocks to manage in places, but it is well designed and managed, so I consider it safe, just tiring. Once down here, you can rock hop fairly close to the left side of the waterfall but still at a distance. The sound down here really shows off the power of this treat provided by mother nature. It is a very large pool as well, too bad there is no swimming allowed in the parkway waters.

If you have enough time and energy to explore both sides of the river, you will walk away with something close to a 5 to 6 mile hike , seeing this waterfall from numerous viewpoints. It is truly worth the time and energy, and if you are fortunate enough to come when the crowds are low, you are in for a real treat.

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BRP-294 A Visit To Moses Cone Memorial Park

Today I begin a new section of my blog, giving some recognition to probably the most important highway in the Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway or BRP for short.  As I hike different sections of this monumental highway, I will simply begin the titles as BRP followed by the number representing the mile marker of the location of interest.  The Blue Ridge Parkway winds 469 miles from Waynesboro, VA, to Cherokee, NC.  At 45 mph, and even 35 in spots, it is not made to be a travel route for speed, but one to just get out and enjoy the views.  It winds mainly along the ridge lines with a few peaks and valleys here and there.  The mountains it spans always seem to be gentler on the vehicles than the roads and highways that intersect it.  This is a national park, and aside from some specialty shops, cozy restaurants/coffee shots, and dated mountain lodges  managed by park service, you will not find commercial signs or gas stations.  It is best to have a map or gps, know where the next highway crossing will be and not let your fuel go too far below 1/4 tank.  The Parkway is a haven of outlooks that are designed to pull off the road and get out to view.  Some require a small hike up or down and most are well worth the time, but many are simply roadside spectacular views to get out and see and stretch the legs.  Expect to come across deer, wild turkeys, beavers, foxes, raccoons, and possibly even a rare black bear siting.  Living just an hour away from it, I have found over the years to enjoy bits and pieces of it, but have never made the entire trip.  There is just too much to see and do.  While this is a great adventure in the car, I find the true treasures that are along it, must me reached by hiking!

First off, I should not be allowed to travel freely on the BRP in late January.  Being a National Park and not a highway, it does not get plowed in winter and should be snow/ ice covered and closed in many sections.  Some  places up here receive up to 100 inches of snow in a typical winter.  This is not the case this year in 2012, the winter that wasn’t.  It is a toasty 60 degrees up here in the delightful mountain resort town of Blowing Rock, NC.  I am going to visit the Moses H Cone Memorial Park at BRP Post 294.  This is marked by a sign as you leave Blowing Rock and enter the mini-park area.  It is a vast 3600 acres covering both sides of the Parkway.  Today, I stayed on the side with the Cone Manor.

Moses H Cone, a man that lived a relatively brief 51 years, was a giant in the textile industry, especially denim.  His name is large in the triad town of Greensboro NC, having the Hospital and numerous medical facilities named after him, due to his large donations to his communty .  I have also read that Mr Cone’s donations were also instrumental in founding Watauga Academy, or what is known today as Appalachian State University….Go Mountaineers!!  Somewhere about age of 40, he and his entourage, made their way to the NC mountains and had this incredibly impressive, large, and beautiful mansion built on top of a mountain near Blowing Rock.  It goes by Moses Cone Manor, or Flat Top Manor.  It’s impressive beauty and size stand out way below looking up.  Today it is a craft center and receives 250,000 visitors a year.  Another interest Mr Cone had was building “Carriage Roads” or trails wide enough and level enough for the horse and carriage to comfortably pass.  There is a network of 25 plus miles of these carriage roads that today make for some of the easiest hiking in our mountains.

After taking some photos and just conversing with a few other hikers, I started my journey along the “Figure 8” trail, which is just a little side trail next to the manor.  It is short, with numerous info stations about the plant life that resides here.  After this short trek, I began the journey down to “Bass Lake” which can be seen way below from the manor.  The trail, or dirt road is nice enough and wide enough for a car, but it is strictly for hikers and horses.  It conquers the elevation change by long, and level switchbacks.   At about 2.2 miles, I reached the lake, and was amazed by the view from the lake of  the mansion way…above it.  It was a pretty day, and the blue sky made the scenery even nicer.  There is a side trail that goes all around the lake, I did this of course and enjoyed every minute of it, I will note that it was some 10-15 degrees cooler down here surrounded by the cool icy waters.  When I came to the point where the main creek enters the lake, I witnessed some very nice Beaver action, viewed a perfectly made Beaver Dam,  it was very cool.  It was now time to tackle the unavoidable, the hike back up… There were 2 ways back up, one that went through a 2.3 mile crazy route called “The Maze”, and a more direct route.  With my hike approaching the 5 mile mark, I decided today to take the more direct option, but I will be back at a later date to tackle “The Maze”.  There was one last stop on the way back at the large building known as the “Apple Barn”.  While Moses Cone was here, he grew over 75 varieties of apples.  Looking at all of the accomplishments this man had, he must have had an incredible “vision”.  As I reached the top, I kept thinking, wow that was mild.  His Carriage Roads were designed so well that there was never really a spot where it got steep, just a constant slightly uphill climb. It went almost unnoticed. At the end of the mild climb, the famous “Mountains To Sea” Trail joins in the finish the day.

This was a nice break from the trails I have been used to, the ones that are much more narrow, with roots, rocks and tight spaces to navigate.  I can see why this place gets so many visitors, which is another reason I have to visit it on a week day in January to really enjoy it, it is just too crowded.  Check out my slide show below for some of the photos of the day….

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