It’s a rare Monday off work in January. After a busy weekend hiking, and NFL playoff games, I was feeling a little lazy today. About noon, I decided to get out of the recliner and make sure this nice 50 degree day was not wasted. It’s a good thing that I live within a half hour drive of Hanging Rock State Park.
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 had the chance to visit Clingman’s Dome twice this Memorial Day Weekend. On Saturday, with sunshine all through the area, I was disappointed to find the 6643 feet elevated Clingman’s Dome socked in with clouds and fog. Luckily I had one more chance to check it out on Memorial day, only to find some very beautiful, blue skies. The views up here are 360, and incredible. The lookout tower is very cool, an almost spaceship looking tower that stands 45 feet high. Now I can see why this is the top attraction in the Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail to the dome is a half mile one way, paved and fairly steep. The reward is certainly worth it!! Plan for cooler weather as temps on both days were in the mid 60’s on top, while the close by but much lower Pigeon Forge was baking in the low 90’s. The cool air was very refreshing!!
Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, and in Tennessee. It is third in the eastern US, only behind nearby Mt Mitchell, and Mt Craig, both in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. All three peaks are in the 6600 feet range.
I was blessed this weekend at this location!! I saw my first black bear in the wild, as a mother and two cubs were about 20 feet below the trail in some tall brush. I have hiked actively for 4 years and never seen one. It was a special moment and one that will make Clingman’s Dome a special place to be forever.
Clingman’s Dome is also right along the Appalachian Trail and is the starting point for the Mountains To Sea Trail! The road to the trailhead is the 7 mile Clingman’s Dome Rd off of US 441. It is closed from Dec 1 – March 31, while Clingman’s Dome is open year round. This means if you want to see this beauty if February, count on a much longer and surely a steep hike!
Today, I took the opportunity to visit two of my favorite waterfalls in the Wilson Creek Wilderness: North Harper Creek Falls, and Harper Creek Falls. Similar names, but different waterfalls on different creeks. The weather for this spring day hike was fantastic, deep blue sky and temps about 60. It was a perfect day to hike. My decision for hiking to The Harpers was made due to a very special young lady named Harper Grace turning 1 today. I could not make it to Atlanta for her party, but I can hike to 2 waterfalls that could be…..named after her. (Lol) Happy Birthday Harper!!!
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.
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.
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….