It’s been a long cold winter….maybe the winter wasn’t so bad, but January didn’t end until…April!! Continue reading “Finally, A Nice Spring Day In NC Mountains”
Well, just a week after we enjoyed several days in the 60’s and 70’s, change came like it often does. After 4 solid, I mean solid days of rain, it was coming to an end Thursday night. However, some arctic air slipped in with just enough time to cover most of the triad with a cover of snow ranging from a dusting to 4 inches. It was our first snow this winter and excitement was widespread. Saturday morning came, the sun was back out and I wanted to go somewhere. I decided a short trip to Mabry Mill in southern Virginia would be a nice as I had to get back early for other commitments. Mabry Mill in Virginia is a beautifully restored historical mill site along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was seeing this place in my mind with just a little snow on it and a big smile came accross my face. Off we went. As we headed north along US 52 however, the snow was becoming more and more intermittent along side the road. Just past Pilot Mountain, the snow was gone. This was odd, as snow usually falls up here and misses us in the triad. Just as we passed the Virginia state line, still snow free, US 52 begins to climb. About halfway up the mountain, the snow began reappearing rapidly. By the time we reached the top, we were in the middle of a winter wonderland covered in 6-10 inches of fresh snow. The highways had been plowed thankfully, so travel was still safe. When I got to the BRP, we had a decision to make.
Mabry Mill was just a mile down the road, but the BRP is a National Park and does not get plowed. It is often closed in places in winter. Having been here several times already, I knew the grade was not steep through here and the snow on the road was packed, so I took a chance. Boy, was I rewarded!
The views this day were far better than I had imagined. The snow was deep, fresh, and untouched. The sky was a deep and dark blue. Few people will see this beautiful place like this. I was blessed. After a half hour in the snow, the coffee in nearby Meadows of Dan was especially good on this chilly day. Soon after, we had to head home, but we stopped at Fancy Gap for lunch. The benches in the pictures below show just how deep this was. After that, our magical morning was over and the snow was soon a memory!!
One of my favorite routes to the NC mountains includes traveling via I-40 to exit 86 in Marion, then routing my way to NC Hwy 80. The route that NC 80 takes once it winds past Lake Tahoma, is one that is straight out of a Forza video game. The crazy twists, turns, narrow & sharp U curves, just make it so fun to drive. By the time the climbing stops, one will find itself at 3000 feet or so, crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is not the elevation gain that is that crazy, just the way it does it. I have traveled many a mountain highway, this one is tops. Knowing that, please be careful if driving it. The real cool aspect to Hwy 80 is not the elevation gain, or even how it does it, but instead where it takes you. Once on the parkway, going left will take you to Mount Mitchell State Park where you can access the highest peak in the eastern US at 6684 ft, Craggy Gardens and some very special views and numerous other overlooks. Going right on the BRP, you are just minutes from the Crabtree Falls area with the campground, coffee/gift shop, hiking trails, and my favorite…Crabtree Falls. Keep going up the parkway and you will soon be in Little Switzerland with lots of shopping, good dining and Grassy Creek Falls. Just a few miles more and you come to Linville Falls. So it’s really the location that Hwy 80 crosses the Parkway that makes it such a special route.
But….what happens if you just skip the parkway and just keep on NC 80? Well, this day I found out. The road heads back down hill for a ways, then at 2.2 miles past the BRP comes the entrance to the left that leads you to Black Mountain Campground. Don’t pass this by, there are plentiful hiking, camping opportunities here and even my other hobby, golf at the legendary Mount Mitchell Golf Course.
Finding such a beautiful golf course on the back side of Mount Mitchell with the giant mountain looming all around was a real treat for me. Notice the cloud on the mountain, even as it is clear and sunny everywhere else, Mount Mitchell looms in darkness way up there some 3700 feet up and 20 degrees colder. This was such a find that a friend and I returned days later just to play golf. It was very beautiful with the South Toe River flowing all through it and witnessed some huge trout in some of the pools. At that point I wanted to go fishing. This is why people love to camp up here, so much to do!!
Anyway, at 2.2 miles past the parkway, turn left onto South Toe River Rd, cross the creek and immediately take a a left. This will get you to the first waterfall featured here, Roaring Fork Falls. Follow this a short ways and it will dead end, this is the parking area, the trail head is well marked.
The trail to Roaring Fork Falls is just .5 mile one way, just a slight ascent to get there on a very well maintained old logging road. It is a very pleasant hike. There are a few old, deserted buildings to add to the scenery. It won’t be long before the road makes a sharp left turn, the trail to Roaring Fork Falls breaks off here, crosses a small bridge and then becomes a smaller trail covered in roots, just for a short ways though.
After returning to the car, head back to the entrance, instead of turning back onto Hwy 80, turn left. You will pass numerous views of the golf course. In a short ways , make a right turn towards the campground and pull into the visitor parking area. Here , lies a huge map station of all the trails. Pass this by and cross the bridge over the South Toe River into the campground. The first left goes past several campsites then begins to slowly climb. The trail head for Setrock Creek Falls is just ahead. Before I got there, I discovered a different trail head. One that I have been wanting to hike for 2 years now, ever since climbing the Profile Trail to Calloway Peak on Grandfather Mountain. This trail is the one and only Mount Mitchell Trail, the one that runs 5.6 miles and climbs more than 3700 feet. I did not have the time,or supplies today for this but I will be back!!
Just past this wonderful discovery, is the Setrock Falls Trail. Once reached, it is a short climb up the creek to this very nice 75 ft, 6 tiered falls. To get the best view, there is a dead tree that crosses the creek that must be crossed. Once there, it’s a very nice falls.
In the map picture of the hike, the soon to be hiked Mount Mitchell Trail can be made out winding up the mountain. Today, though was just about the waterfalls here, and after returning to car, my fun day here was over. This was a great find today for me!!
Well, it’s now October in the NC high country. Leaves are beginning to change, and a chill is slowly pushing the heat away, as temps now struggle to reach 70. These are some of the best hiking conditions Mother Nature will have to offer. On this day, the 3rd of the four waterfalls I visited was Crabtree Falls. Crabtree Falls is not just a Waterfall but an entire BRP region with a large campground, coffee/gift shop, trails and picnic areas. The highlight of course being the 70 foot high Crabtree Falls itself.
The trailhead for this starts in the campground just past MM 339 on the BRP. The trail itself is mostly all downhill to the waterfall. Just down the hill from the trailhead, another trail meets from the left. Stay straight, this trail to the left is the one you will be coming back on, if you choose to make the loop. As you get closer to the falls , there will be 3 fairly long, steep, rock stair cases. They are slippery when wet. Also, when it has rained recently, like this hike, the trail itself is a creek. This adds to the risks, but also adds to the rewards of a prettier, higher volume waterfall! At 0.9 miles, the trail levels somewhat as you reach the beautiful destination.
A bridge crosses the creek just in front of the falls, providing an excellent view or photo op. Some better close up shots can be obtained by scrambling up either side, with the right side being more accessible. There are some fallen trees at the bottom. They help show the size of Crabtree Falls. Stay here for awhile and take this beauty in, because getting back is where the work begins.
Once it is time to leave, you have two options: return the way you came for a 1.8 mile out and back, or stay on the trail, cross the creek to make the 2.7 mile loop. Both ways include some serious leg burning climbing. The loop way has some additional pretty views of the creek including a few small cascades. There is actually a third option, a trail that continues down into the woods, but I have no idea where that ends up. Having more waterfalls to see on this day and not much day left, I chose the 1.8 route and went back the way I came. It is a strenuous 0.9 back to the trailhead.
It was one of those lazy weeks in late September. A few of us from work had a Wednesday off and no idea how to utilize it. Someone suggested that I take the group hiking to see some waterfalls. I thought this was a splendid idea. I had a course in mind and off we went. The weather was near picture perfect, being a sunny, low humidity day around 70. Our day was spent visiting Looking Glass Falls and Rock, hiking to Skinny Dip Falls, and we did some hiking and exploring in Graveyard Fields. As our day was nearing an end, the last stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway on this day was the Devil’s Courthouse, then we were on our way down the mountain on NC 215 and back to reality!
The Devils Courthouse is a beautiful view right along parkway. With a little imagination, one can just see the image while looking up at the beautiful rock formation. There is a sign that describes this rock profile with a little folklore thrown in for good measure.
“The bare rock profile named Devil’s Courthouse is sinister in appearance and legend. It’s “devilish” look has contributed to the many folk tales surrounding this mountain. Within the mountain is a cave where, legend claims, the devil holds court. In Cherokee lore, this cave is the private dancing chamber and dwelling place of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla.
Despite its name and reputation, Devil’s Courthouse is home to rare and delicate high-altitude plants. If you walk the one-half-mile route to the summit, please stay on the trail. Rare plants, like the Rock Gnome Lichen and the Spreading Avens, live on Devil’s Courthouse. Some of these alpine species may be remnants from the last glacial period. The panoramic view from the summit includes four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.”
I am not yet sure of the cave, or it being the private dancing chamber of Judaculla, but it is a beautiful place, that does show 4 states. It is 5720 ft in elevation at the top. To get there will require what the sign says is a 20 minute walk. I found that to be about right, and the climb will be about 250 ft. The trail is paved for most of the way, until the MST bears off, then a short ways up on gravel/dirt. Once at the top, get ready for one of the best views along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a large open rock viewing area, and a nice rock wall all around the edges. This is how an overlook should be.
As you can see this is a beautiful area and a “must-see” if you are in the area. We had some fun, clowned around a little, then headed back to the real world. The trip down seemed to take about half as long.
Finally! Finally! I have passed this location numerous times, seeing tons of cars parking at a prime Blue Ridge Parkway Overlook location, only to see them walking the “other” direction. Several times I have wanted to park here only to find no space available, still with no one looking at the overlook. The location I am referring to is the Looking Glass Rock Overlook at mile marker 417. It is a beautiful pull out with an excellent view of the very large Looking Glass Rock.
It is one of the prettier overlooks around, so it surprised me to see the people crossing the road to walk into the woods. I learned after some research, that folks were opting to park here for the 1/2 mile or so hike to one of the parkway’s best kept secrets, Skinny Dp Falls. Or, it use to be one of the best kept secrets. There is no sign along the parkway for this, only a narrow footpath with a sign “to” the “Mountains To Sea” trail. Any one that drives the parkway knows that the MST runs along this for many a mile.
The hike is fairly short, 1/2 mile or so. It starts off with just a slight ascent, reaches to MST, then bears off to the left. After coming to a bridge over a tiny stream, the trail begins descending. The roaring “Yellowstone Prong of the East Fork Pigeon River”…..what a name for a stream…..can be heard way below. The trail becomes somewhat rocky and rooty, but nothing severe. On this day a swollen stream crossed the trail. We had just had several inches of rain the day prior. It was wet here but totally safe and passable. I can see this drying up in times of drought. Soon, there will be stairs, then the beautiful Skinny Dip Falls.
Hard to describe, but here it goes. Skinny Dip Falls, is 3 ..10 to 15 foot foot falls with pools in between that are popular swimming holes in summer…..or skinny dipping!! I saw none of that however. It got its name some way!! Lol A half foot bridge assists you over the stream and let the fun begin!!
Not the biggest waterfall around, but one with lots of character, is what made this one special to me. After the short walk back, it is a mile or so south on the parkway to Graveyard Fields for some more hiking and waterfalls along the Yellowstone Prong.
I have been sidelined for a few weeks now. My beloved Accord, or the “Waterfallmobile” began crying for help. It seems this spring and summer have been hard on it. Lots of falls, many a trail this ride has delivered me to, never with a complaint. Not even the steep winding dirt roads, that some of my state’s more elusive attractions require navigating to could slow it down. But… the day came when it said …..enough!! It seems my travels prematurely wore the tires down and they needed replacing, immediately. Unfortunately my car requires a size that is rather costly! Continue reading “The “Waterfallmobile” Rides Again”
Grandfather Mountain was the site this past August weekend for the most rugged, craziest hike I have completed to date. I have been on some hikes that had steep inclines/declines. I have been on hikes that required ladders to climb large boulders. I have even hiked to Calloway Peak, the highest point on Grandfather Mountain via the “Profile Trail”. So…when I saw the warning signs in the parking lot at the famous “Mile High Swinging Bridge”, I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself, ” it can’t be that bad….they are just posting this for disclaimers”. Little did I know…….
I have been to Grandfather Mountain numerous times in my life. I even have a season pass there. It is after all North Carolina’s top attraction. The swinging bridge at 5200 ft, and the view that awaits on the other side are both absolute must sees. Just a short ways down the mountain are a number of other places to visit including a museum, fudge/ice cream shop, and a large outdoor wildlife center that allows visitors to get fairly up close for good views of black bears, cougars, eagles, river otters, and deer.
After the wildlife viewing, it was time to get down to business. There was this trail called the Grandfather Trail that needed my attention. This is where the fun truly begins. My hike begins in the Black Rock Parking Lot, the one below the one at the bridge. This is where they want all hikers to park. The red blazed Grandfather Ext. Trail begins here and connects with the Grandfather Trail in 0.6 miles. We had massive storms the day and evening prior and the ditches, and creeks were all flowing well along with just about every rock surface wet. This should have been a sign for me. When I fell and busted my tail on the grass before the trailhead, that should have been a sign. I hiked on. The ext. trail was nothing more than a connector trail, that was a creek the entire way on this day.
The shots above show the condition of the Ext. Trail on this day. It literally was a creek, not a tiny spring or two. This mountain just has a lot of water to drain I guess. It is the starting place for the Linville River, Watauga River, and Wilson Creek just name a few. Notice the fresh deer tracks along the trail, not an uncommon sight up here, they truly are everywhere.
Now that we have made it to the The Grandfather Trail, we are roughly halfway there. 0.6 down, 0.6 to go. The trail from this junction, begins out being rocky, wet and rocky this day. Shortly, Macrae peak becomes visible and fun is sure to be in the near future. The path opens up at Grandfather Gap with lots of huge boulders dotting the landscape. After this, the incline begins.
Cables, thick steel cables are the first assist you will find as the climb goes up over large slippery boulders. There is a narrow pass between 2 huge rocks that has cables and a ladder. From here the trail literally goes straight up!! There is no other way to put it. There will be at least 5 or 6 more ladders to climb, with dicey rocks to navigate between them. As you approach 6000 feet in elevation the wind is a big factor up here. There was also some considerable fog moving in and out, making this hike quite an experience.
Once you have climbed the triple ladders, or what I call the “Stairway to Heaven”, it keeps going up. The blue dotted trail parallels the cliffs now and the terrain is very rocky. It is not long however before you reach this days destination….Macrae Peak.
Once up on this last rock, I savored this moment. This was an accomplishment, not your ordinary hiking trail. A large group was on top with me all just in amazement of the trail and views. Calloway Peak is a beautiful view from here, but with the wet conditions, I felt it was a good point to head back.
Now comes the moment I was really nervous about , going down. This is where most falls happen, and with the crazy climbs just made, I was somewhat worried about going down. I took my time, 1 step at a time and got down eventually. I took the Grandfather Trail all the way back this time to the upper parking lot and then the 0.4 mile Bridge trail to my car that takes you under the mile high swinging bridge for a neat view and perspective. This was quite a hike, one I will not soon forget.
I was here only 3 days ago. I normally do not go to the same place back to back. As it happens, I found myself driving through the Linville Falls on the Parkway on my way to another destination. I got a quick glance of the Linville River, and noticed it was quite high. I was thinking, wow they must of got a ton of rain last night, much more than the sprinkles we received in the triad.
I have always wanted to see Linville Falls when the water was high, so today became my day. I pulled in, took the same Plunge Basin Trail I hiked over the weekend to see just the Plunge Basin View. Wow, it was awesome……
After this, I went back to the visitor center, and hiked the west side for a few views from the Upper Falls View, Chimney View, and Erwin’s View. This river was absolutely raging today and I was in awe most of my time there. I ended up with a nice 3 mile hike and some super views!!!
Linville Falls and Gorge is one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s top attractions. Linville Falls has the distinction of having the highest volume water flow of any NC waterfall, although it is certainly not the biggest or highest. With a nice gift center, restrooms, large parking lot, and numerous trails on both sides of the river leading to different and magnificent views, it is no wonder that this place attracts tens of thousands each year. Here I am on a Saturday morning, one of the busiest days up here, preparing a hike. What was I thinking? I had just stayed the night at the nearby Linville Lodge after attending the 1st annual Spruce Pine Barbecue and Bluegrass Festival the night before, so I was here and it was very convenient. The weather early on this morning was also perfect, so I could not resist. This day I chose to hike along the East side of the river or left side. This trail takes you to the Plunge Basin View and down to the bottom of Linville Gorge. The mileage is 0.5 to the Plunge Basin View, and 0.7 to the Linville Gorge. Do not let these relatively small mileage amounts fool you. It is some steep, rugged climbing down to the bottom, and then you have to climb back out.
The trail starts off relatively mild, taking you uphill. After 0.3 miles, you will reach a fork in the path where going straight takes you 0.2 to the Plunge Basin View, and going left takes you 0.4 miles to the the Linville Gorge. I begin by going straight here, you will want to see both views…trust me. Going straight, the path will level off and begin to drop, somewhat steeply, but nothing extreme. If stops at one of the finest views of Linville Falls, a side view known as the Plunge Basin View. You will be way above the falls here but a closer and more personal view of the falls and pool than the views on the west side of the river. The trails on the west side do however give a great view of the Upper Falls just above Linville Falls and an interesting view at how the river has cut its way through the rock to pop out on the other side like it does. All trails on both sides are must-hikes.
AAfter taking in this beautiful view for a few moments, it is time to keep moving. You will have to backtrack for 0.2 miles and head back to the fork in the path. It will now be 0.4 miles to the bottom of the beauty that you just viewed. For a trail that you know has to go way down, this fork trail surprisingly goes up for the first 0.1 mile. Then.. the trail turns down, way down. Steps, roots, rocks will have to be carefully navigated. The rocks will mostly be wet with mud puddles to avoid as well. Going down is always more dangerous than going up. There are no spots that require any kind of rope or anything, but please navigate this descent with care. Take your time. Here below is a view of the staircase that lets
After a few minutes you will find yourself at the river level and will need to rock hop upstream to get the best view possible. Once again, be careful down here. The views that will await you are phenomenal and will be well worth the short but strenuous hike.