Cascade Falls

After visiting Laurel Ridge this morning, I decided to spend the afternoon exploring the northern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. My main goal was to see Cascade Falls, but I knew that would only take a short while. I went as far north as the Cumberland Knob, which is just south of the Virginia state line then turned back south and exited at US 421. As expected, the highlight of the drive had to be the Cascade Falls as it was by far the prettiest scene on this trip. The NC section of the Blue Ridge Parkway seems to be divided close to the 421 intersection. South of 421 seems to be the attractions that are 4000 feet and higher in elevation, while north seems to be the 4000 feet and lower, which seems to lead to less dramatic waterfalls and views in my opinion. With this said, it is still very beautiful up here, I would rather be exploring up here than working any day of the week.

Cumberland Knob is the northern most attraction in NC. It has the distinction of being the very first recreation area built on the BRP back in 1937. That being said, it is really nothing more than a very nice picnic area that will support many picnics and parties. There are some open fields for the kids to run and play in. After taking this in, I decided to take the short hike to the Cumberland Knob. It is a very short hike with only a short distance going up hill. Once there, all there is waiting for you a very old shelter with fireplace and a small open field. There were no views of any kind of here. I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed. There was the option of hiking back or continue on down into the Gully Creek Gorge, an additional 2 mile hike. Since I knew nothing about the Gully Creek Gorge, I decided to head back and work my way towards Cascade Falls. There is an overlook just down the road from Cumberland Knob that the name of something to do with Fox Hunting. It had an excellent view and even a good view of distant Pilot Mountain. It was far too hazy to get a picture of that on this day. There is also a short 250 foot trail leading to another view point that is even better, probably the best in this area.

Here above, is what awaits you on the Cumberland Knob

After Cumberland, the parkway winds and goes as it does for about 12 miles or so with not much to see, then it skirts the outside of Stone Mountain State Park. The only access to Stone Mountain State Park is down US 21 from the parkway and there are no signs saying that you are here or how to get inside. I think that this could be done better as Stone Mountain is an excellent state park and one of my favorite places to visit. It has some great hiking up the 600 foot dome, and a number of waterfalls including the 200 foot Stone Mountain Falls. Since the BRP runs along the edge of the park for a good number of miles, and provides several overlooks that show the rock dome below, I would think there would be some signs of how to get inside the park, maybe just an oversight….

Immediately as you exit Stone Mountain State Park, you will enter Doughton Park. This is an excellent area to spend a lot of time. There is the Brinegar Cabin, Bluff Mountain, a large trail system that includes a 20 mile loop that one could spend several days hiking. Down the mountains along the trails are other cabins, smaller waterfalls, and great chances to see wildlife. The Mountains to Sea Trail runs right through this area but stays mainly on the mountain tops. There is a Bluff Mountain Lodge, Bluff Mountain Coffee Shop and Restaurant and Gift Store available. They have all been closed now for 2 years but word is they re-open in 2013. I hope this is true as the best fried chicken the world is served at this restaurant. The Parkway has to make its way through a dramatic part of Bluff Mountain where there is a steep rock cliff to the one side and a steep fall off with a beautiful mountain lake way at the bottom. In the winter, the springs will freeze all over the rocks for an impressive view, sometimes even a small waterfall appears. All is dry in the hot summer months though.

After Doughton, The Northwest Trading Post will be available soon, which is a very unusual and nice Parkway store that has a lot of good to offer. Local products, art and tons of parkway memorabilia are offered here.

The last stop on my trip was EB Jeffress Park. It is about 5 miles from the US 421 intersection at mile marker 272. It is here that the 1/2 mile trail to Cascade Falls begins. The MST runs through here as well. After a short walk with self guided information signs about the plants, the trail begins to drop. It will cross the creek and continue to run along it. There will be an overlook soon, looking straight down it from the very top, a very cool view. The better view though is just down the path, down some steep rock steps that puts you looking up at the falls and down at the falls. This is where you really appreciate the beauty of Cascade Falls as you have great views up the falls and down the falls as it just seems to fall endlessly. The water level was very good on this day as some storms had gone through the night before. I could see this almost drying up in periods of drought though. I was very surprised by this waterfall and enjoyed it tremendously. It is definitely one of the top attractions on the northern NC sector of the BRP.

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Waterfalls Hiker

Roan Mountain Rhododendrons as seen from the well placed deck in the midst of the famous “Gardens”

It is mid June now and doing what has become an annual tradition, we are off to Roan Mountain to view the Rhododendron Gardens at their peak. Roan Mountain is beautiful any time of year, but there is something extra special in June, a color show that can only be rivaled by the brightest colors in fall. The two best places to see this vibrant color show, are on either side of Carver’s gap.  Carvers gap is a pass that sits right on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.  The mountains rise to over 6000 feet on either side, and the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway at this spot.  One side follows the Appalachian Trail, up and along the balds.  This in my opinion is where the color show is at its finest.  The…

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Karl Wallenda Tower

photoKarl Wallenda Tower RemainsBridal Veil Falls - Ga

Karl Wallenda Tower, a set on Flickr.

While hiking to the top of the Tallulah Gorge on the North Rim, you will walk past an old, rusty tower. My first thoughts were, “How Trashy”. When you get a little closer and read the sign, these are the remains of the towers that held the wire for Karl Wallenda to walk across the Gorge back in 1970. After just watching his grandson George Wallenda do his spectacular walk across Niagra Falls last week, this was a pretty cool piece of history to stumble up on. The other tower can be found along the South Rim Trail, probably rusting away as well. The waterfall in the pictures is Oceana Falls. I included them because this was the location and to give an idea of how far up Karl was when he did this. The sign said that during the walk, he did 2 headstands…..Crazy!!,

Deliverance

Oceana Falls by waterfallshiker
Oceana Falls, a photo by waterfallshiker on Flickr.

This is the last of the 3 waterfalls I visited at Tallulah Gorge. This one is called L’eau d’Or Falls. It is roughly 46 feet high. It will look familiar to some as the waterfall from one of the dramatic scenes in the movie “Deliverance”. I haven’t watched it in awhile, but I believe Burt Reynolds’ arm was broken by this point and Ned Beaty stayed with him while Jon Voight was forced to climb out of this 600 ft gorge for help. It is one heck of a climb even using the well built stairs, 531 from top to bottom. I am ready to watch the film again and look for other familiar scenes from the gorge now!

Roan Mountain Rhododendrons 2012 – One of Nature’s Finest Shows

Roan Mountain Rhododendrons as seen from the well placed deck in the midst of the famous “Gardens”

It is mid June now and doing what has become an annual tradition, we are off to Roan Mountain to view the Rhododendron Gardens at their peak. Roan Mountain is beautiful any time of year, but there is something extra special in June, a color show that can only be rivaled by the brightest colors in fall. The two best places to see this vibrant color show, are on either side of Carver’s gap.  Carvers gap is a pass that sits right on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.  The mountains rise to over 6000 feet on either side, and the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway at this spot.  One side follows the Appalachian Trail, up and along the balds.  This in my opinion is where the color show is at its finest.  The normal hike is to Grassy Ridge and back which takes you up and over Round Bald and Jane Bald before reaching Grassy Ridge.  Here, the trees are sparse, the grass is roughly ankle to knee high blowing in the breezes. The rest of the area is covered by blooming Rhododendrons, Flame Azaleas, and fields of smaller yellow flowers.  Combine this with awesome mountain views of NC on one side and Tn on the other, along with very good views of Mount Mitchell, Table Rock, Hawksbill, and Grandfather Mountain from Grassy Ridge, you have the makings of a memorable 5 mile hike.  Just be prepared for several up and downs, strong winds, much cooler temps than the valley and frequent fog.

From Carver’s Gap, the other direction leads up to the Rhododendron Gardens, the site of the historic Cloudland Hotel that used to sit in both states, and one of my favorite places on planet earth, Roan High Bluff.  This bluff at over 6000 feet is not a part of the Rhododendron color show, but the view from the perfectly placed and  well built platform is absolutely second to none.  It is a must see if nothing else.  The Gardens are what the fuss is all about for most people.  Here the accessibility is much better for all people, restrooms are provided, along with a very well layed out paved path winding through one of the largest, most colorful thicket of Rhododendron anywhere.  There is an overlook with a beautiful large deck that oversees many, many Rhododendrons with Table Rock & Hawksbill to the left, and a grand view of Mount Mitchell on the right.  This area tends to be more crowded , as it should be, so come here with your imagination, camera equipment, and your patience!   At the peak of Roan Mountain at over 6200 feet, the Appalachian trail crosses right over it and also shows the remains of the old Cloudland Hotel that was prominent around the turn of 1900.  This hotel sat on the state line and old stories say that a sheriff used to sit in the NC side where drinking was illegal, and wait for people on the Tennessee side that were drinking to cross the room into the NC side and arrest them.  That must have been crazy.  Now all that is left is part of the original foundation.   I will let the photos do the rest of the talking for this blog entry.  Hope you enjoy!

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Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls (Lower Portion)Winding Staircase to Mingo FallsMingo FallsMingo Falls

Mingo Falls, a set on Flickr.

On the way to the Tallulah Gorge, I made a short detour to Cherokee to see and photograph Mingo Falls again. I was there 2 weeks ago and was not happy at all with my photo results. This is a beautiful waterfall standing over 200 feet high! It is a short hike, straight up many steps, but well worth is. It is one of the most beautiful ones NC has to offer I believe, but not the easiest one to photograph with the challenges the light provides.

Tallulah Gorge

Tallulah Black SnakeBridal Veil Falls - GAA view of Suspension Bridge from top of GorgeBridal Veil Falls - GaNice shot of a big house on top of GorgeBridal Veil Falls - Ga
Oceana FallsTallulah Gorge Suspension BridgeTallulah Gorge Black SnakeTallulah Falls Black SnakeHalf Way down the GorgeTallulah River
Hurricane FallsHurricane FallsHurricane Falls

Tallulah Gorge, a set on Flickr.

First time into the Gorge, I took the recommended 1.5-2 mile introductory hike that led me to several views along the North Rim at the Gorge and several of the waterfalls from way above. I then descended down the 531 steps to viewing platform across the large pool at the base of Hurricane Falls. If you get there early enough, this day I did not, you can obtain one of 100 Gorge Passes and walk further into the Gorge.

This Gorge is located just past the dam of Tallulah Falls Lake and is some of the headwaters of the great Savannah River.

Bridal Veil Falls – Ga

Another beautiful waterfall in the Tallulah Gorge. Unfortunately, without the Gorge Pass, it can only be viewed from above. This shot from above does though provide a nice shot down at the beautiful Tallulah River Gorge.

This one is called Bridal Veil Falls, seriously!! Another Bridal Veil Falls. That is now 3 waterfalls in my list that share this name, obviously a very popular name for a waterfall!

Hurricane Falls

Hurricane Falls by waterfallshiker
Hurricane Falls, a photo by waterfallshiker on Flickr.

Took my first steps into Tallulah Gorge on Fathers Day! What a beautiful place! At least 5 waterfalls and a very, very deep gorge. They say Linville Gorge is the deepest in the east, I am not sure after this place. It can not be by much. Anyway, the highlight waterfall is Hurricane Falls, which stands about 95 feet. From the North Rim Trail, plan on descending 531 steps to the bottom, as well as crossing a beautiful swinging bridge over the river. The problem is that you must climb those same 531 steps back out. Bring some water!!

If I had the Gorge Pass (they only give out 100 a day), I could get a more direct shot. Next time for sure….