GEORGIA: Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail

I couldn’t get up the southern/eastern side of the jacked up gravel road to Springer Mountain. Instead, I went from the western/northern end of the gravel road maze, drove 5 miles in to Blue Ridge WMA, parked at Three Forks Parking Area, and hiked in 10 mi round trip to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail the hard way.

Well, it wasn’t actually all that hard…the terrain is moderately easy, and there is plenty to see in the area. Attractions include Long Creek Falls, the Benton MacKaye Memorial, the southern terminus of the Benton MacKaye trail, two amazing trail shelters, and lots of water to hike along during part of the hike. Plus the end point of the hike at the southern terminus of the Appalachain trail!


Is it goat approved: No. This section is placarded as “no pack stock”. So goat on a leash – maybe. Goat with a pack, forget about it!

No pack stock…

How you get there: Google Three Forks Trailhead or go to gps (34.663550, -84.183102). There isn’t real parking, just a wide spot in the road where people (in season LOTS of people) pull off. I recommend coming from the back side from Doublehead Gap Rd – not from the Nimberwill side – you will drive rough gravel roads for forever if you come from Nimberwill. If you come in from the north side it is a relatively good road that even a low ground clearance car can handle. You also only drive about 5 mi, down what is an absolutely beautiful stretch of road along a river. If you come after a major storm bring a chainsaw – these forestry service roads are cleared, but not always in a hurry and the hemlocks dying from wooly agelid fall on the road a lot. The drive itself is gorgeous, despite the dying hemlocks. There are nice free camping spots along the river, but camping in designated spots only is strictly enforced and spots are usually all taken on weekends. If you do camp – be kind – don’t damage the remaining hemlocks.

Ride in is beautiful

Time for hike: Total hike, from Long Creek Falls to the Southern Terminus and back to parking at Three Forks trail head is 11.25 mi round trip out and back.  From Three Forks parking area it is 1 mi out to Long Creek Falls (2 mi round trip). From Three Forks parking area it is about 1.2 mi to the Stover Creek Trail Shelter, 3.2 miles to Springer Mountain Parking Lot, and from Springer Mountain Parking lot it is about 1 to Benton MacKaye Memorial, Springer Mountain trail shelter, and the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Best season to hike: As always I highly recommend winter for the best views and lowest traffic, but if you are okay with high traffic any time of the year is fine. Rhododendron will bloom in the spring, and the yearly exodus of Appalachian trail hikers hits hard around April 1st or so. If you want to sleep in a trail shelter come in winter – the shelters stay packed in warmer weather.


Trails to Take

Starting off at Three Forks trail head, you want to go away from Long Creek Falls, and across the river on the other side of the road via a wooden foot bridge. The trail continues following water through thickets of rhododendron under overhanging dying hemlocks and pines. The trail is obvious, extremely well maintained, and beautiful. The Benton MacKaye Trail goes off to your left as you climb. This trail is built on one of the proposed routes for the AT in honor of Benton MacKaye, one of the original proposers of building the Appalachian Trail in the 1930s. Not surprisingly with this history, it often parallels, intersects, and sometimes runs on the same route as the AT. Benton MacKaye is marked with DIAMOND white blazes. The AT is marked with RECTANGULAR white blazes. So be careful about which one you are following!

Crossing the river at the start of the hike
Well maintained trail structures

You continue to climb along the Elysian Fields worthy river valley over several more bridges, then the trail sharply swings to the left. Google will tell you to go straight here on the wide old road bed, but that’s not the correct course. Follow the while rectangular blazes and go down to the creek, cross it, and climb up the other side. Shortly thereafter you will pass a side trail marked with a blue blaze and a “shelter” sign as is typical on the AT. This is Stover Creek Shelter, which is massive and has a bear box for food in the form of a Northern Tool and Equipment tool box. I have no idea how they got that thing out there, but it’s there for the spoiled AT thru hikers.

Past the shelter the trail leaves the river, climbing up on dry ridges and frankly, uninteresting forest land. The Benton MacKaye crosses the AT again, but the correct way is well marked. At no point does the climb become ardous, but it does meander for a while before finally reaching Springer Mountain Parking/Trailhead. This parking area is large, but doubtfully not large enough for everyone during the season. Cross the parking area and head up the AT on the other side.

Spinger Mountain Parking Lot with an impatient dog

From this point the trail becomes beautiful once more, climbing over rocks and under stunted oak trees as it traces the ridge line of the mountains. Views abound through the de-leaved trees. The Benton MacKaye comes back in to the AT, forming it’s personal southern terminus, and about half a football field down Benton MacKaye from the intersection is the Benton MacKaye memorial plaque, well marked and stuck on the side of a boulder.

Benton MacKaye Memorial
Southern terminus of the Benton MacKaye Trail

Past Benton MacKaye is another blue marked shelter trail to Springer Mountain Trail shelter, a beast of a double decker shelter with it’s own itinerant caretaker, surrounded by heavily used camping meadows. Recent signage indicates, however, that camping here would be ill advised – there have been serious bear issues in the area. The park service recommends not sleeping at Springer Mountain trail shelter at this time due to bears. There is another bear box/big metal tool box here, but do you really want to sleep somewhere with a 5 am wake up call from a black bear?

Springer Mountain Trail Shelter (it has a second floor inside)

Not far past the trail shelter is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, set among a grove of stunted oaks overlooking the mountains. There are two plaques – one set in the rock face, and another set in a boulder amid the oak trees. Welcome, at last, to the start of the journey!

The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail

When you get back down to the Three Forks trail head, cross the road and finish the day with an easy 2 mi out and back hike to Long Creek Falls, which is well worth the visit.

Long Creek Falls

Trail Map


BEWARE SECTION

  1. Don’t camp at Springer Mountain trail shelter if you don’t have to as of 1/19/19. The forest service has posted signage warning of bear issues at the trail shelter. Press on for Stover Mountain Shelter, which is about 3 miles away.
  2. Camping near the Three Forks Trail Head is at designated camping sites only – the park service does not have a sense of humor about this, and their stringent enforcement is why the area is still as pretty as it is.
  3. Watch out – Benton MacKaye is DIAMOND white blaze, the Appalachian Trail is RECTANGULAR white blaze. Don’t get confused!
  4. Trail shelters are marked by rectangular blue blaze trails – you may have to walk a ways down one of these to find the shelter, but the shelter does have privy’s and water sources for those who aren’t comfortable going to the bathroom in the great outdoors.
  5. Don’t expect to get a spot in the trail shelters on the weekend or on any day of the week in the summer. Always plan to be able to tent camp if needed – this area of the AT is extremely popular.
  6. The AT thru hikers generally start heading north about April 1st – if you want the serenity of a quiet forest, don’t hike this section during this time or during the rhododendron bloom.
  7. If you are visiting this area after a major storm, bring a chainsaw to clear the road of debris.

In Sum

The Journey Begins! Sounds like a movie tag line doesn’t it?

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Bearden Falls at Jake’s Mountain

As my husband and the goat put it “Why exactly on a cold wet Sunday at 8 am are we going to watch the mundane magic of di-hydrogen mono-oxygen engaged in release of potential energy? You can watch water drip off the eves at the nice dry house instead…right?”

But really, where is the fun in that? 

This hike includes several mid-calf deep creek crossings, a lot of hemlocks (please be kind – these are threatened), and a lot of gorgeous water. It is an easy hike up until the last scramble to the base of the falls. 

Is it goat approved? Yes. I took a goat on this one and it went well. This trail *may* be popular during warm weather or trout season.

How you get there: Google it, or navigate to 34.588640, -84.192591. This will be a spot on the gravel road with a large off the road campsite to your right. Pull off the road as you can, and walk to the big off the road campsite. There is an obvious road going from the campsite into the woods, (NOT car passable), that crosses a stream with a log bridge. This is the trail head.

Time for hike: To the falls is about 3 mi out and back. 

Best season to do this hike: Winter – best view of the falls, fewest bugs, and fewest people. Fall would be nice, and spring when the rhododendron bloom would be good too. There are numerous mid calf deep water crossings, keep this in mind.


Trails to Take

From the road, head towards the large road side campsite (or park there if no one is using it). The trail head is the big road looking trail heading off from this area into the woods. It crosses a creek at the campsite area in a wide ford that when I visited had a log bridge. The trail/not car rated road goes off through a hemlock forest in the woods. It emerges at another river crossing, this one fairly deep. You want to cross the river here – there aren’t any better spots up or down stream and those hopeful little side trails lead nowhere. So suck it up buttercup.

Lots of creek crossings
Poplar forest
Goat and husband on the big rock at the base of the falls

The trail continues in an obvious, easy route along the river, crossing moderately deep water several more times as you climb up the narrowing valley. Eventually you cross one more creek, the main water course is to your right, and the trail seems to disappear. At this point, look for where people have scrambled up on the left hand side of the valley, and follow this path along the edge of the rhododendron. Climb up until you see the huge rock sitting mid stream near the base of the falls. Cross out to the huge rock and you will get a gorgeous straight up look at the falls.

Bearden Falls

TRAIL MAP

The trail follows the river more or less

BE WARNED

  1. The road in is a forestry service gravel road for the last 1.8mi. A low ground clearance car will not enjoy the ride. I had to maneuver a bit in a Honda Fit.
  2. The trail is semi unofficial, and there are side trails. Stay with the main river and you will eventually reach your destination.
  3. The trail does go past a roadside campsite.
  4. The last stretch to the bottom of the falls is a scramble, you may not want the 3 year old kid or the ancient dog for this last bit.
  5. There are numerous calf deep water crossings to reach the falls.
  6. Due to the general lack of care that Jake’s Mountain is treated to, if you see trash pick it up – no one else will.

In sum: 

Who says adults can’t play in the creek?

GEORGIA: Lance Creek Trail at Jake’s Mountain

I wanted to go to Springer Mountain while it was miserable outside to see the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The Honda Fit actually made it within 1.8mi of the trail head…but it shouldn’t have. I got a lot of use out of those skid plates under the car and I still fully expect the bottom to fall out of the car on the way to work Monday. The roads at Jake’s Mountain aren’t meant for low ground clearance cars, so instead of continuing to commit automobile suicide an hours drive from any paved surface, I went to check out this trail instead.

Jake’s Mountain doesn’t have much water, and it has even fewer trails that run along water, however, Lance Creek Trail (223 A) does run along a substantial water course with lots of small rapids. The trail also passes possible still ruins and what looks like a covered hand dug well, suggesting there might be more house site ruins in the surrounding area. This particular hike goes slightly farther than the trail itself, ending at a less well known campsite beside the river.

Is it goat approved?Yes. I have done the bottom of this with a goat.

Parking on the side of the road in the campground

How you get there: Head for Jone’s Creek Campground at Jake’s Mountain (34.604849, -84.151070). The road in was passable (barely) by a Honda Fit. If you have a wide vehicle with low ground clearance you will not be able to drive down to the campground and I don’t recommend driving down Winding Stair Gap Rd either. This is the land of Jeeps and low taxes, so you kind of are expected to get there under your own power without maintained roads, cleaned out ditches, or filled in potholes.

You know, I’m willing to pay more taxes if they would maintain the road in return

Time for the hike: 5.45 mi round trip from the off trail campsite to the Jones Creek Campground.

Best season to do this hike: If you are camping come in the winter – the campground stays solidly full during the summer. Go all the way to the far end of the campground and get the site under the hemlock trees on the river. If you are not camping come whenever, but realize the start of the hike may be buggy as the area has lots of puddles and seeps.


Trails to Take

Park in the campground, or if you have the right vehicle, go past the campground, up the hill, and around the corner and park at the huge car ford. NOTE: The trail rapidly becomes non-car friendly on the far side of the ford, and the trail, though it looks like a road, has a car barrier a short way up it. So no jeep trails here!

River near the campground
Possible old still site?

However you park or camp, you want to pass through the campground towards a large open field, then over a bridge and past a campsite situated under surprisingly healthy hemlock trees. The road goes up a moderate hill, then turns a corner coming up alongside a large flowing river. Shortly thereafter a large ford presents itself to your left. Do not cross the ford, continue straight. You are now on 223A Lance Creek Trail.

Car Ford with a goat

The trail, looking much like an old road, travels through bottom land, passes a car barrier, and thereafter shortly passes what may be an old still site with rusted out metal barrels. After that watch for a pile of large rocks to the left of the trail which may be a covered hand dug well. Trail 223B Saddle Back Trail goes off to the right. If you want to bushwhack to the Appalachian Trail this trail will get you closer to the AT than 223A.

Possible covered hand dug well
Small Falls
The trail is pretty much an old roadbed

If you continue straight the trail gets closer to the water, culminating in a small off trail falls at 2 mi. Nearing 2.5 mi the trail crosses two streams, and then the main trail goes off to the left to continue the loop around on 223 Bull Mountain Trail. If you continue ahead on the still very visible old road bed you will come out of the dense mountain laurel to an open clearing where the road bed ends and the river cascades into a reasonable pool for soaking in hot weather. This area is an unofficial campsite that sees infrequent use. After some exploring, turn around and head back to the car!


TRAIL MAP

BE WARNED

  1. The drive in on Winding Stairs Gap Rd and on the road to the campground itself is GRAVEL. For those not from Georgia this means it’s a *@&!*( ride in a low ground clearance car. There will be potholes, rock faces, and the road will not be maintained. I made it to the campground in a Honda Fit, but I had a tough time and I had to stop at one point and dislodge a tree limb that hung between my tire and fender.
  2. If you were thinking of bushwhacking to the Appalachian Trail, it is about 1 mile from the end of this hike. That 1 mile is up a sheer wall of mountain laurel, loose soil, and drop offs into water. I turned around pretty quickly, but if you are gung ho, take 223B, it will get you a little closer, then be prepared to bushwhack up hill for a mile to reach the AT.

In sum: 

I had a good time. I cannot say the same for my car.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Licklog and Pigpen Waterfalls

A beautiful and easy stretch of trail takes you down to two nice waterfalls after a hike surrounded by rhododendrons and streams. You can park at the trail head or hike in on the Foothills Trail from Highway 107.

Is it goat approved? Not a great one for goats.

How you get there: Okay, first you turn down a gravel road. Then your gravel road crosses two creek crossings, (at the time of this writing in Jan. 2019 they could easily be crossed by sedans and small cars and were well maintained). Eventually you come up to the end of a small lake and the way ahead is marked as a private road. Follow the skinnier and less well maintained gravel road headed off to your right. This section is rougher than the preceding road and is ONE car only. If you meet anyone you may have to back the 600ft or so out. The road dead ends into a very small parking lot – make sure you park so you won’t be blocked in. The trail leaves from the small parking lot behind the trail kiosk.

Time for hike: Wagon Train trail and the mini falls is visible on Google. To the mini falls is about 0.9mi one way to the farthest fall or about 2 miles round trip. 

Miles on the Foothills Trail to various points of interest from the Licklog and Pigpen Falls parking lot

Best season to do this hike: Winter – you can see more of the falls with leafless trees.


Trails to Take

From the parking lot the trail heads out behind the trail kiosk. It winds among several streams. You will pass a wide trail heading off to the left up hill. Ignore this, the main trail goes straight ahead. Cross several foot bridges as you wind among the mountain laurel and rhododendron until you reach a trail intersection marked by the usual Forestry Service brown trail markers. Turn down hill to your left, (NOT straight) and you will immediately arrive at Pigpen Falls. The trail crosses the stream via a footbridge and continues on the other side. Walk another football field length or so and you will reach Licklog Falls. Then turn around and come back out the way you came.

Checking out the trail kiosk with the mini-polar bear
Pigpen Falls (it does have a smaller cascade to the side too)
Licklog Falls (courtesy of the web as I had a camera malfunction on this one!)

TRAIL MAP

Crude, but surprisingly helpful trail map

BE WARNED

  1. The parking area is very small.
  2. Part of the road on the way in is one car width only.
  3. There are 2 car creek crossings, though even after lots of rain I could cross them in a low ground clearance car.

In sum: 

You might want your sticks for this if you have a heavy pack or usually hike with them – it’s not as flat and bottom land-ish as it appears!

GEORGIA: Wagon Drivers Hidden Falls

Honestly, I saw the icon for this on Google and went “Wait. I’ve never heard of a waterfall at Brasstown. What gives?”. What gives is an easy hike on the less beaten of trails at Brasstown Bald. While Wagon Drivers Hidden Falls isn’t a spectacular plunge pool monstrosity, it is the only waterfall you’ll get on the Bald. It’s also about halfway down the 7 mi stretch of Wagon Train Trail from the Brasstown Bald parking lot to the back of the dorms at Young Harris. Most importantly, you walk the easy half of the trail to reach it from Brasstown Bald. If suffering is more your thing, you can come up to it from Young Harris too of course.

Is it goat approved? You could probably bring a goat up from Young Harris, but a goat at Brasstown Bald might result in you becoming an Internet meme.

How you get there: Park at Brasstown Bald. You will have to pay for parking here – $3 in winter and $5 in the summer. Per person.

Time for hike: Wagon Train trail and the mini falls is visible on Google. To the mini falls is about 2.65 miles one way, or about 5.3 miles round trip. 

Best season to do this hike: Winter – you can see more of the views with the leaves off the trees.


Trails to Take

Starting off at the Brasstown Bald parking lot, go up the paved trail past the bathroom as if you are heading for the top of the bald. About a football field length up this trail Wagon Train Trail crosses as an unpaved roadbed. There is a historical marker if you’re into that sort of thing.

Old blasting grooves cut into the rock face

The historical roadbed dates from the actual time of wagon based travel in mountains. Originally built by convict labor to allow local families to meet and mingle, during certain parts of the hike the original blasting bores used to turn vertical rock faces into horizontal road bed may be seen. The fact that it is an old roadbed means the trail is wide, obvious, and for much of its length proceeds downhill at a leisurely and unexpectedly easy pace. I was told by another hiker however that shortly after the mini falls, and particularly on the last 2 miles before reaching Young Harris, the trail drops steeply. The walk to the falls though will be filled with exciting overlooks (in winter) and a deceptively easy grade.

Turn right onto the road bed, and a short walk through dense rhododendron thickets will lead you to a clearing where the forest service dumps fallen trees, and afterwards a vehicle gate followed by a trail kiosk. Further travel takes you along a ridge line of moss covered boulders overlooking distant valleys and a sign announcing entrance to the Brasstown Bald Wilderness. As a wilderness area is camp-able in GA there are two campsites on the hike that are very nearly in the middle of the trail.

View from the trail in winter
Brasstown Bald Observation Tower is just barely visible on top of the mountains

The trail descends slowly and easily following the ridge line, with continued impressive views, including a very distant view of the observation tower on top of Brasstown Bald itself. Watch the mileage counter as you descend among the moss, rock faces, and boulders – the waterfall is truly hidden and you have to stop and look to find it.

Part of the very well hidden Wagon Drivers Waterfall

The trail starts to drop more steeply, rounds a bend past the second of to extant stone fire rings, and shortly thereafter the 2.3mi trip ends at an unassuming stream crossing the trail. If you look to the right, moving around the rhododendron in wet weather, a small but pleasant cascade is visible. Is it big? No. Is it spectacular? Hardly. But on a wet winter’s day after 2.3mi of overlooks, rock walls, and spectacular mossy boulder fields, it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to be the turning around point.


TRAIL MAP

BE WARNED

  1. You will have to pay to park at Brasstown Bald.
  2. Tends to be popular on the Brasstown Bald end. The middle of the trail is pretty quiet.
  3. The trail is an old road bed, but there are boulders, wet spots, and uneven terrain which may make it unsuitable for very small children or people with bad knees in places. In general though, a relatively in shape person with a reasonable sense of balance or a pair of hiking poles will not have a problem.

In sum: 

Everyone thinks the dog is some fancy expensive breed. It’s actually just an unpapered muddy Great Pyrenees with expensive tastes. 

NORTH CAROLINA: Big and Little Bradley Falls

An easy hike in the Green River Game Lands off Hwy 26 just over the North Carolina line and right up the road from Saluda, this hike rewards you (usually) with just a single fall. Read on to find out why…

Is it goat approved? You could take a goat if you wanted, but the hike in is pretty short. 

How you get there: Parking is located at 35.262304, -82.284552 or you can Google “Little Bradley Falls”. There are numerous pull offs in the general area to take advantage of. 

Parking pull off

Time for hike: The trail to the little falls is visible on Google and is about 0.6 mi one way with 2 water crossings.  The trail to the big falls is placarded as hazardous, and with the river up I had to turn around at the first water crossing.  However, the trail to the big falls is scenic, and worth walking down to the ridiculous water crossing that requires swimming to cross. 

Best season to do this hike: Winter and preferably NOT in ice or after a heavy rain as the the water flow at the crossings you have to do is substantial. Significant down trees and signs of flood damage suggest this area is prone to catastrophic flooding after periods of prolonged rain and landslides. 


Trails to Take

Start off at the pull over. If you came in from Hwy 26 you want to cross over the river and the trail (RED BLAZE) goes up on the side of the mountain on the other side to your right. It is a bit hard to see the start – the trail climbs up the side of the mountain, it doesn’t run through the small flood plane at the base.  Once you are on the trail though it is easy to follow. 

Trail maintenance? Pah, we don’t have money for that!

The trail winds out through the woods. During my visit there were numerous fallen trees and significant ground subsidence and slides, probably from the heavy rain. While this area was protected, much of the route in had ice on the trees and the power lines were low over the road – visiting in winter storm advisory periods may not be advisable.

Beautiful stretches of scenic river

Anyway, the trail continues following the red blazes till you reach an intersection. The red blazes do in fact cross the stream – the trail that goes off to your left is an interesting (if covered in fallen trees) route out to more scenic and wild river. However, it doesn’t go to the falls – it appears to be the remains of an abandoned road given it’s width and the wild roses growing on it, which probably ran from the old home site at the parking area up to possibly another home site, though I turned around before reaching anything definitive. In any case, it won’t take you to the falls, go across the river to continue. 

First water crossing to Little Bradley. Don’t go left! 

You continue onwards, crossing another river and passing an old chimney stack at another home site, before ending at Little Bradley Falls at about 0.6 mi. Now turn around and head back!

Little Bradley Falls

Big Bradley Falls is on the same side of the road as the majority of the parking, and the trail begins behind a big wooden sign. It enters a wildlife opening, passing an old home site marked by periwinkle and day lilies. Follow the biggest trail through the wildlife opening and over to the mountain side.

Consolation falls before the impassable crossing to Big Bradley

The trail is wide, obvious, and  for a trail placarded as a death trap every twenty feet, surprisingly downed tree and deadfall free. There are numerous warning signs about the number of people who have died, how there are no safe viewing locations for the falls, and in general “abandon hope all ye who enter here” type signage. On this trip I didn’t even get to see the falls because the water crossing was flooded. Even when it is not flooded the center of the crossing is probably a good 4 to 5 foot deep, necessitating a swim rather than a wade. The trail continued beyond it and was well trodden, but it will have to wait for summer before I try swimming to the falls! If you happen to go in winter though, the river is beautiful, and a small consolation falls is worth a visit on this section of trail if it has recently rained. 


TRAIL MAP

Trail map – there is an unmarked trail to Big Bradley Falls

BE WARNED

  1. Not a lot of parking.
  2. Tends to be popular.
  3. You will have to cross water TWICE to reach Little Bradley Falls.
  4. Numerous signage indicates Big Bradley Falls may be a somewhat dangerous area to visit and the Forest Rangers are tired of fishing dead bodies out of the falls from people falling to their deaths. 

In sum: 

Good day out in an ice storm! 

NORTH CAROLINA: The Back Way into the North Carolina Arboretum

If you like to be cheap you can walk into the North Carolina Arboretum from Lake Powatan for FREE. Yes, I did say FREE. It’s only about 4 miles round trip, so strap on some hiking boots and go check out Asheville’s world class arboretum without spending a dime – just a few calories. 

Is it goat approved? Not in the arboretum portion as they don’t take kindly to critters nibbling their plants. 

How you get there: Park just before Hard Times Trail head at 35.488179, -82.623145. This is a paved pull off, the connector trail goes off down the power lines. 

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 4 mi out and back total if you go to the main building at the arboretum and out to Lake Powatan then back to the car. The entire route is pretty much flat, and much of it runs in the bottom land next to the stream/lake. 

Best season to do this hike: Year around. While a decade ago this back way in was pretty much unknown, today it is very popular not just with mountain bikers (who have always frequented the area around Lake Powatan) but also hikers and the casual 3 year old cruising down the dirt trail on tricycles and pink sneakers. You will have company no matter when you go, so just wait for stuff to be in bloom or covered in Christmas lights at the arboretum.


Trails to Take

Starting off at the parking area, following the powerlines into the woods. Ignore Hard Times Connector Trail – just follow your little unofficial trail till it dead ends into a large, flat trail running along the creek. Go left to go the arboretum, or right to go to Lake Powatan. The route is flat, following the creek until you get to the big metal gate that separates Lake Powatan from the North Carolina Arboretum property. The gate closes promptly at 5pm so make it back out before then because the fence is tall and would be annoying to climb. 

The gate into the arboretum

The route continues until you come up on a sign and a trail running gently up hill towards the greenhouses. You want to go this way, either on the Carolina Mountain’s trail, or up the gravel road, (they both go the same place). You will pass a small childrens garden and the greenhouses are up on the hill. The greenhouses are no longer open – they are used for production. However, you can see inside the greenhouse through the big glass windows – they have some interesting plants usually on display. During the winter in the shade houses out behind the greenhouse you will find the majority of the arboretum’s bonsai collection. The rest of the year they are on display in the bonsai garden, but here, in the back stage area of the arboretum, they have a beauty all their own. 

From the green house take the trail that leads out of the greenhouse’s main parking area (think this is more of Carolina Mountains Trail). It will wind out through the woods on a picturesque, main trail and take you up to the main original building of the arboretum and the main gardens. Explore, enjoy, remember to stop by the gift shop and spend your money on something more meaningful than admission, then head back the way you came, satisfied in the knowledge you had a fun day out on the cheap. 

Chill’in at the arboretum Christmas event

Once you return to where you started, instead of going back up the powerlines, go straight ahead, in a few minutes you will pass a stone lined chute, the dam, and finally the picturesque and wintry lake Powatan under the steel grey sky. 

Lake Powatan
Chute down from the dam
Lake Powatan Dam

Then go home. Cause that’s about it on the interesting stuff for this hike. 


TRAIL MAP

Generally, its a straight line from Lake Powatan along the creek to the arboretum

BE WARNED

  1. Not a lot of parking.
  2. Tends to be popular.
  3. The gate out of the arboretum closes at EXACTLY 5pm. Don’t be caught on the wrong side – climbing the fence would be pretty hard. 

In sum: 

SOUTH CAROLINA: Miuka Falls

This one is a nice beginner hike with some opportunities to bushwhack and increase the level of difficulty if you get bored easily. However, I would suggest no super small kids, gravity prone dogs, or lazy people. Also, ignore what the internet tells you – there is only 1 waterfall on this trail you don’t have to bushwhack (read: go off trail) to find, and it is not super spectacular!

Is it goat approved? Actually, I am thinking yes, and will be going back with a goat in the near future.

How you get there: Park at Cherry Hill Recreation Area (34.941790, -83.087822) and the trail head is inside the camping area and is well marked. There is also a trail head at the roadside.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 7 mi out and back total if you go down to Winding Stair Campground, but to the falls it’s only about 2 miles out and backThe trail stays a continual moderate incline down a series of well made switchbacks on what was once an old gravel road bed. Very easy hiking for the terrain it covers!

Best season to do this hike: Advertised as a beginner trail, this one may be busy in summer. Winter and late Fall however, are very pleasant times to visit. Winter particularly would make the view of Miuka Falls a lot more impressive because the leaves won’t be blocking the water.


Trails to Take

The trail starts off at the Cherry Hill Recreation Area. You can park in the entrance to this campground during the off season (November till Spring) or if you come during the camping season at the trail head access just off the road. This access is just south of the entrance to the rec area.

The trail head and a part of the trail are visible on google maps as dotted lines – this can be helpful in figuring out where the trailhead is inside the camping area if you get turned around. The only area shown on google is the trail section down to Miuka Falls, NOT the full trail, which does in fact go down to Winding Stairs Rd/Winding Stairs Campground (3.5 miles one way from Cherry Rec to Winding Stairs Campground).

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Miuka Falls (the bottom can be reached by bushwhacking)

Anyway, once you find the trail its easy, obvious, and follows the old road bed down the mountain in a series of very manageable switch backs. When you start hearing water at about 1 mile in look for a left hand side trail leading off. This takes you out to an overlook of Miuka Falls – the only waterfall easily accessed from the trail.

If you decide to continue the trail continues at the same easy grade. When the switchbacks end listen for water – there are waterfalls off to the right hand side of the trail if you are willing to bushwhack to them (google has Cane Creek Falls actually marked for you!). As you continue the hike if you have time spend some of it buckwhacking out to each spot of loud water – there are numerous little cascades and falls out here, but no others will be easy access from the trail or without the usual perils of buckwhacking, like falling to your death or getting eaten by bears :).

Anyway, have fun, and don’t get eaten by bears!

SIDE NOTE: If you go slightly north of Cherry Hill Recreation Area on Hwy 107 you will see Moody Spring, which my family always said George Washington drank at (who knows if it is true). You can drink at it yourself, it’s right off the highway, but make sure the warning signs aren’t up. They put up signs if the spring tests as unsafe with too much bacteria.


TRAIL MAP

BE WARNED

  1. Not a lot of parking.
  2. Trail head is at a campground with camper septic service – could get crowded in the summer. Trail ends at another campground!
  3. Saw a kind of strange dude going up and down the trail. Not sure what was up with that. Might not be a great place to join up with strangers to hike.

In sum: 

Hiking with dogs is a great way to get pushed off rocks to your death. Hiking with goats isn’t much better.

NORTH CAROLINA: Looking Glass Rock Trail in Pisgah National Forest

A kid/dog/lazy person friendly hike up Looking Glass Rock Trail is a great way to see it all without actually, you know, doing it all. The trail winds up on a series of moderate switch backs, past some nice rock faces, and dead ends at a spectacular summit frequented by rock climbers and photographers. For those interested in tacking on a little additional mileage to this 6.2 mi roundtrip out and back, the nearby Slick Rock Falls Trail (#117) and Sunwall Trail (#601) provide additional ways to enjoy this popular tourist hike.

Is it goat approved? No, but it is dog approved.

How you get there: Google Davidson River Campground in Brevard, NC. When you reach the turn for the campground, keep going. The road will fork sharply just after crossing a bridge. You want to go left here, and the trail head is on your right a few miles ahead. If you miss the fork you will unfortunately pass the heavily trafficked Looking Glass Falls, at which point, once you wade through the RVs and the minivans, you need to turn around and try again.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 6.2 mi out and back to the summitThe trail varies from flat to moderately steep inclines/switchbacks.

Best season to do this hike: Year around. However, in the best weather you will have the hardest time finding a place to park!


Trails to Take

The trail head is obvious, well marked, and frankly, has a big freaking paved parking area and a huge sign. You can’t miss it.

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The trail begins behind the sign, climbing first through foggy morning forest frequented with tended hemlock groves and hardwoods. The first switch back is just the start of the climb – the next 2 miles will be a continual steady progression up a series of switch backs until you reach the summit. At the summit the rock faces begin to appear. Keep an eye on those to the left side of the trail. One of these is the emergency helicopter landing location for air lifting out injured hikers who got a little too up close and personal with gravity. It contains some old carvings on the rock from some semi-historical destroyers of natural beauty too.

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The trail dead ends at the final rock face of Looking Glass Rock, which has an impressive view when the weather is clear, and an eerie one as we enter the seasons of fog in the southern Appalachians.

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TRAIL MAP

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BE WARNED

  1. Come early as the parking fills up quickly and back in.
  2. The final cliff face is misleading – it is a sheer drop off, and that is NOT obvious if the fog is thick. Stay to the tree line or enjoy testing gravity the hard way.
  3. There are supposedly Peregrine Falcons that nest on the rock face. This may cause the trail to be closed or have limited access during nesting.

In sum: 

Mediation on the mountainside is the  perfect way to start a Sunday.

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SOUTH CAROLINA: The Paris Mountain 10 Mile

Paris Mountain is a small park near Greenville, SC that contains some day worthy mileage. Originally the site of the water reservoirs that fed Greenville in the 1800s, during the Depression the lower reservoir was converted into a swimming hole and the surrounding acreage into a state park. The park contains plenty of picture worthy Civilian Conservation Corps “parktecture” along with the ruins of a fire tower watch station and the original dam and workings of the 1800s water supply system. All of which is fully explorable and enjoyable.

Is it goat approved? No, but it is dog approved.

How you get there: Google Paris Mountain State Park. To do the 10 mile hike you need to park at the very first parking area you come to, just past the entrance gate on your right above the first lake. There is a $5 entry fee per person to the park, cash only if you come early.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 10 miles round trip in a loop. The trail varies from flat to moderately steep inclines.

Best season to do this hike: Year around. I did this hike in 94f and wasn’t super uncomfortable. For a relaxing weekend overnight, consider getting one of the primitive hike in only campsites on Reservoir #3.


Trails to Take

Start off in the first parking area you reach on your right after you pass the entry gate. This parking area is in front of a big picnic area above Lake Placid. Go down the hill from the parking area to the pedestrian bridge in the woods. This puts you on Lake Placid Trail. From here, follow the trail through a series of picnic areas to the main park office and swimming beach.

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Pedestrian Bridge

Past the park office join up with Mountain Creek Trail (orange blaze), crossing a bridge that goes over a picturesque swamp at the end of Lake Placid. Beyond the bridge lies an old amphitheater where Strom Thurmond (if you are from South Carolina you will know the name) did speeches in the 1950s. Continue on Mountain Creek Trail for 1.3 miles until it intersects with Sulphur Springs.

Stay on Sulphur Springs for about a mile, climbing up a pine tree covered and very hot hillside. The trail levels at the top, then descends down to the park road and a small parking area perched on a ridge line. This downhill is a good spot to find half-dead mountain bikers pushing their steel steeds uphill  in a Sisyphis-like attempt to reach the far side. At the parking lot you want to go straight ahead on Brissy Ridge Trail, NOT down to the right of the parking lot. Brissy Ridge wanders off through some not particularly exciting woodland, eventually meeting up with Pipsissewa Trail.

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Reservoir 3

Pipsissewa Trail is a bit misleading because it descends BELOW the actual level of Reservoir 3, then climbs back up to it, terminating at North Lake Trail. Go left on North Lake Trail to enjoy pictureseque and peaceful views of Reservoir 3, until you meet up with Kanuga Trail.

Kanuga Trail climbs up another hot, dry series of hillsides, twisting and turning past small springs, until it reaches the appropriate elevation, at which point it flattens out and runs along till you reach a well marked short cut trail that cuts across to Firetower Trail.

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Firetower Station Ruins

Firetower Trail does NOT have a fire tower at the end of it. It does have the building foundations of an old fire station where rangers watching for fires lived. To complete the full 10 miles of this hike you need to hike out to this station, (it’s only about 0.5 mile one way), and then come back and continue straight ahead onto Sulphur Springs (Hikers Only).

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Mountain Lake

Sulphur Springs (Hiker’s Only) is a steep downhill and contains the largest extant ruins and most picturesque scenery in the park per mile. The trail descends down and through a creek feeding into Mountain Lake, the original 1800s reservoir for Greenville. The path itself runs along what appears to be part of an original access road to the lake and the fire tower station. The downhill is steep, but the views at Mountain Lake and the large stone workings that form the dam of the lake are well worth the trip. At the lake dam you need to go DOWNHILL towards the interpretive sign and the stone cylinder to continue on the trail, not on the more obvious and wide road bed on the uphill side.

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Mountain Lake Dam

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Water Supply Ruins at Mountain Lake

Sulphur Springs passes an isolated gazebo in the woods, then terminates in a parking area. To return to your long lost car, cross the road on Sulphur Springs, make a right onto Mountain Creek, and follow it back out to the ranger station and along Lake Placid to the end of a great day of death marching.

 


TRAIL MAP

trail map

 

BE WARNED

  1. If you are planning to mountain bike this one be aware that trails do NOT allow mountain bikes on Saturdays and that during the remainder of the week some trails still do not allow biking. Mostly these sections are very prone to erosion or would be excessively challenging for bikers.
  2. The fire tower is not a fire tower – it is the house foundations of a keepers house, not the tower itself.

In sum: 

If you like to eat out this is the perfect hike. After 10 miles of sweat, tears, and possibly blood, you can go eat sushi, mexican, ice cream, or all 3 in Greenville in a matter of minutes.