My best fall outing in 2016 came on October 20. The season had been a let down for the most part due to the extremely warm and dry conditions most of the summer and fall. I had an aggressive plan this year primarily based on the dates of some of my favorite photos from years past. This…..was a strategical error on my part. October 1 came with primarily green dominated landscapes. Finally on the second half of October, color began to really pour in. On Thursday 10/20, weather was an issue as it was to be the last day of temps in the 70s before the first real cool blast came in, dropping temps into the 40’s in the mountains for that Friday and Saturday. I chose Upper Creek Falls, because, well most others didn’t. I would also need to ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway, through the Linn Cove Viaduct to get there. After 2 failed attempts t see color in the Grandfather area of the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe this day would be better. Read more
It was a family Sunday in early July. One of Kristin’s favorite areas in the Blue Ridge Mountains is in southern Virginia. Following the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Fancy Gap area to some attractions near Meadows of Dan, Va always makes a nice half day trip. It’s a short drive for us, and a quick way to escape a 93 degree hot & humid day in exchange for a nice 78 degree day with a nice breeze. After a nice lunch at the Groundhog Mountain picnic area, we made the short ride north on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mabry Mill at milepost 176
Mabry Mill is a beautifully restored and preserved working mill right off the Parkway. It is certainly one of the BRP’s top attractions. It has a nice restaurant and gift shop, that among other typical parkway souvenirs,sells stone ground cornmeal, grits and buckwheat flour all ground at the mill. The whole area is very picturesque. Some very iconic photos have been made here with the beautiful small pond, and mill combination. The best photos here seem to come in the fall. It’s a nice place to visit in summer as well. Come on a weekend day, they may have the mill open for touring. Expect crowds though, this place is popular. For more info on the beautiful Mabry Mill, please click here.
Graveyard Fields has now been reopened after being closed for several months for some much needed “upgrades”. This is an extremely popular Blue Ridge Parkway destination, and just wasn’t designed for the amount of traffic it has become accustomed to in recent years. While I was in the area in mid July, I stopped by to see the changes for myself.
It’s been a long cold winter….maybe the winter wasn’t so bad, but January didn’t end until…April!! Read more
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!!
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.
This is not what I was expecting to see as I made the curve into the Crabtree Falls area near milepost 339 of the BRP. In all of my 42 years in NC and the last 5 years hiking, never have I stumbled on something like this! I was always told they were up there. There is definitely something exciting and scary at the same time seeing one of these close-up in the wild. Rattlesnakes are right up there with bears, and mountain lions as the top creatures you do not want to run into or stumble upon. This poor guy was injured already, he had a spot by his tail. He was still very dangerous and did not like several of us taking his picture. If anything, this is a reminder that rattlesnakes do exist in the NC mountains and we should be aware of them. I am so glad I saw him first!!!
Beautiful Side View of French Broad Falls and Shoal Creek Falls coming together
It is Tuesday 7/10, a rare week day off for me and I am itching badly to get out and hike to some waterfalls. It is the first day in nearly 2 weeks that the temperatures are not forecast to be near 100, but this comes with a price….50% chance of storms. Me, being a gambling man says go for it, I am not afraid of a little shower. I have a perfect hike planned in the Wilson Creek Wilderness that includes 3 waterfalls that I have never laid eyes on. I am excited. Then, after driving 80 miles to Morganton NC, the bottom drops out, not a small shower but intense thunderstorm with blinding rains. This is a problem, so I stop, have breakfast and review the trusty iPhone weather maps and forecast. A very large, expansive line of storms was over my destination that did not break until middle Tennessee. This means this area was in for a lot of rain for a considerable amount of time. Me, not ready to accept defeat, did notice that the area of NC southwest of Asheville was all dry. Heck, I was this far, I will just change destination and have a great hike somewhere else.
Brevard is the town where my new destination was. This is a town surrounded by crazy waterfalls and mountainous attractions. What became a 50 mile loop on this day started at the intersection in Brevard of HWYs US 64, US 276, and NC 280. Once here, guess what followed me? New developing thunderstorms. What was once dry was now dark, loud, and very wet. At this point I decided that I drove this far, so I am going to see at least 1 waterfall. Luckily, taking US 276 north for about 7 miles brings you to one of the finest waterfalls in NC, a roadside beauty called Looking Glass Falls. The storm broke briefly and I was able to walk down to the base only to find nearly 100 kids waiting to swim. The water was very high, the thunder was very loud, and there were a lot of stupid kids swimming in this dangerously swollen creek in these conditions. For me though, it made for a good picture :).
Notice the idiot under the falls….this water was high and getting higher!!
After this, I was not sure what was next, but there were so many cars trying to park, I could not turn around, so I kept going up US 276, up a steep mountain. There are many things to do on this stretch of highway. I only stopped for Looking Glass Falls, but there are numerous hiking trails to other waterfalls including Moore Cove Falls (nice waterfall, fairly short hike), Twin Falls, Cove Creek Falls, Jackson Falls, and Catheys Creek Falls. I have only hiked to Moore Cove Falls, but not on this day. There is also the favorite of many…Sliding Rock, here as well, where folks slide on their tushis down a 60 foot rock, not on this day though. The trails to Looking Glass Rock, Pink Beds Trail and the Cradle of Forestry are all here on this stretch of US 276 between Brevard and the BRP. It is quite a 20 mile stretch, that includes a very curvy mountain drive and lots of views of the beautiful Davidson River.
Now to the parkway, by now I was slowly outrunning the developing storms but every time I stopped, I could see them coming towards me with a BRP layer of fog moving in ahead of it. Anyone familiar with the famous BRP fog knows what this is and how thick it can be. It did however make for some of the best shots of Looking Glass Rock I have to date.
Looking Glass Rock Just Before The Fog
As the storm was catching up with me, it was time to move on. I was heading South along the Blue Ridge Parkway at this point. I wouldn’t be on it very long, but the stretch I did drive is filled with attractions and things to do. At the intersection with US 276, is an overlook of Cold Mountain, which makes beautiful sunsets. Numerous overlooks of Looking Glass Rock are available here. It is quite an attraction. It is a very popular Rock Climbing destination. It gets its name from the way it look when it gets wet and reflects sunshine. It rises from the valley floor to an elevation of 3969 feet. The trail to hike it has an elevation gain of over 1700 feet which should give an idea of the size of this pluton monolith. From the Looking Glass Rock overlook, there is a trail to Skinny Dip Falls, maybe next time… Shortly down the parkway next, is the hugely famous Graveyard Fields. I have already done a few blogs on this place, it is one of my favorites, with Second Falls, Upper Falls, and Yellowstone Falls. Even with storms all around, the parking lot was jammed packed. People love this place! Next comes the Devils Courthouse, another Giant Rock on a mountain top. It has a 20 minute trail to the top for an outstanding view, but the fog and storm were right on my tail, so not today!
Had time for a few shots of the Devils Courthouse, then I was in the Fog and Thunder again!
I soon came upon an intersection with NC 215. I had never previously traveled this road so I looked on the trusty GPS to see where it went. I noticed it reconnected with 64 just west of Brevard. I was getting pretty tired of trying to stay out of the storms, so I decided it was time to take it and turn back toward home. I wasn’t expecting any more attractions, how naive of me. This trip goes down the mountain as US 276 takes you up it (depending on which way you go). Once I got home, I learned that I passed the road to get to Courthouse Falls, a waterfall I have been wanting to see, now a return trip will happen. I did see a waterfall from the highway out of the corner of my eye and stopped to turn around. It was this large religious retreat center called “Living Waters” I pulled in and asked someone if I could walk down to the waterfall and they were very kind and said of course. I had no idea of the beautiful scenery that was about to present itself to me. I had found myself on the North Fork of the French Broad River, at a confluence with Shoal Creek. Both of these bodies of water fall over the same 20 foot rock shelf to form a truly beautiful setting that you have to see it to truly appreciate it.
French Broad Falls to the Left, Shoal Creek Falls to the Right
Here, a young family stands out in the middle island in river appreciating French Broad Falls
Shoal Creek Falls
Getting a view of both falls here is challenging. Here I was standing in the middle of the river in water about 1 foot deep.
This setting was gorgeous, however there is more. The folks at Living Waters had a trail with some steps and bridges that goes down stream to more cascades and falls. There were 3 cascades that would have names on some creeks but I could find none for these so I will leave them out. At the bottom of the trail is Cathedral Falls. It is a nice 20-25 foot waterfall, but what makes this special is the 150 foot cliff that this waterfall falls into, creating a big pool that rests against the cliff itself. I found some folds fishing down here and even found a good size catfish swimming in a pool in a hole in the rock. It was a difficult waterfall to get a photograph that showed all of the elements here, so I will have to go back and try again…shucks!
Watch out, these rocks are slippery!
Cathedral Falls….close up!
Cathedral Falls, looking down from the top at the pool below at the cliff with a few people fishing in it!
After this, it was time to head on home. When I got to US 64, there I was right at Toxaway Falls, which means Gorges State Park, Panthertown Valley, and Whitewater Falls were not far away. This is a place one could easily spend a week, it made a great afternoon drive avoiding storms!!