The Blue Wall Passage

The Blue Wall Passage is part of the Palmetto Trail – that winding, twisting, and unfortunately sometimes road walking trail that crosses the best state in the US from mountains to sea. Wondering what state that is? Hint: it’s in the only state with palmettos.

Is it goat approved? Far as I can see, hell yes.

How you get there: Head for Lanier Lake in Landrum, SC. There’s a small lot to park in at the end of Dug Hill Rd (Google Palmetto Trail Parking).

Time for hike: The trail is about 3mi round trip from parking lot to the falls and back up an old road bed. The grade is never strenuous, but you do have to go uphill for about a 1/4 mi. Add in the trip around the ponds and you could probably eek out a 5 mi day here.

Best season to do this hike: Winter. Summer would probably be kind of buggy with the ponds.


Trails to Take

Easy peasy – just follow the paved road that becomes a gravel road, and eventually you get to two nice ponds and a small but pleasant waterfall. When given the option to turn, continue straight to pass both ponds and reach the waterfall. Turning results in traveling around the ponds. I never did find where the Palmetto Trail leaves the Blue Wall Passage though…


TRAIL MAP

BE WARNED

  1. Not a lot of parking.
  2. Tends to be popular with joggers.
  3. May contain hordes of rabid birders during certain times of the year.

In sum: 

A goat can pull of anything. Even donut bandannas.

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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: 

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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Bridal Veil Falls at Dupont State Forest

While I don’t think anyone’s ever been married here, the waterfall certainly has quite a train of cascading water to go with the otherwise unassuming 4 foot drop at the top. Even better, this is the most explorable and interactive of Dupont’s available falls, and is less popular because it takes a lot more work than the main showpiece falls to reach.

Along with the waterfalls, this hike passes the horse barn, air strip, and Fawn Lake. The airstrip and barn date from a time when the current park belonged to the Dupont family and was used as a vacation retreat. The names of no longer resident horses are still on the stalls in the barn, and the old aircraft hanger and managers house still stand at the air strip. However, unlike the defunct film plant lying at the center of the park, these relics are accessible to the public, (though the managers house is now ranger housing).

Is it goat approved? Yes. I have blanket approval to hike as often as I want with goats.

How you get there: You want the Fawn Lake parking area off Reasonover Road.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 4.5 miles round trip out and back. It’s pretty easy going except a serious uphill on Airstrip Trail.

Best season to do this hike: Year around.


Trails to Take

 

Start out at the parking lot. Go out to the left up Fawn Lake Road (23). This trail goes up to Fawn Lake, a small pond popular with sunbathers and swimmers. Fawn Lake Loop (22) goes behind the lake and makes a good short cut around the more popular road when the park is busy.

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Fawn Lake

Past the lake the road meets up with Conservation Road (18) on the other side of the power line cut. Conservation Road runs up to the airstrip, airplane shed (redone now as a shop), and the managers cabin. The view off the airstrip is fairly impressive, but beware as this area is extremely popular with the less polite version of the common mountain biker. The rare German mountain biker may also appear in unexpected flocks in the vicinity in nice weather.

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The airstrip

Conservation Road crosses the airstrip, descends past the workshop and the gravel pit, and then runs past Bridal Veil Falls Road (6). Turn onto Bridal Veil Falls, and no shock here…you get to go to Bridal Veil Falls. The road runs past the horse barn too.

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The horse barn

The Bridal Veil Falls Road dead ends at a turn around, then a short stretch of trail leads to a viewing platform and eventually the falls themselves. You can walk up to the upper most 4 foot fall on the rock face by climbing down some boulders.

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The 4 foot upper falls and the start of the very long cascade

The way back is via Corn Mill Shoals (19) because by midday you do NOT want to go back down Bridal Veil Falls Road – the tourist horde will be approaching. The turn for this trail is between the falls overlook and the actual gravel Bridal Veil Falls Road.

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Pools on the Bridal Veil Falls rock face sometimes have tadpoles and salamanders in them

Corn Mill Shoals will dump out on Shelter Rock Trail (67). At this point, turn left, proceed across a few creeks and listen for the screaming. The way back to the parking area is up Airstrip Trail (1), the mecca of mountain biking for the park. The crazy wheeled nutcases come screaming down the trail at regular intervals and slide to a stop at the bottom. Can you go up this on foot? Yes. Should you? Well, that depends on how relaxed you are about confrontation and how fast you (and the goat) can get out of the way. I made it to the top, so you can too! The trail itself is rather fun to walk, and it comes back up at the, no shock here, airstrip. Then you can take Conservation Road and Fawn Lake Road back to the parking lot.

TRAIL MAP

Map

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. Bridal Veil Falls is popular with tourists. Don’t get trapped by hordes of small screaming kids.
  3. Airstrip Trail is very popular with screaming mountain bikers. Don’t get run over by hordes of screaming twenty somethings on mountain bikes.
  4. When the fourth person asks if they can pet or take a picture with the goat…the correct and appropriate answer is no. Embrace it. Own the “no”. It’s not rude, it’s standing up for your red blooded American right to be left the heck alone. If you don’t, you won’t get off the trail till after dark.

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Bridal Veil Falls Overlook

 

In sum:  

Life is better in the woods. Well, in the woods with a goat.

NORTH CAROLINA: Mingus Mill and Other Ways to Get Off the Couch at the Cherokee Indian Reservation

If being inside isn’t what you really thought you were going to be doing on a trip to the mountains, first of all, you definitely have the moral high ground there, and secondly, here’s a list of some great FREE stuff to do that will get you and your non-hiking relations outdoors even if it is pouring rain and everyone else just wants to movie marathon at the cabin.

 


Working Water Without a Wheel: Mingus Mill

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The Mingus Mill, (built in 1886), located just up the road from the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in Cherokee, NC is a short walking trail and historical exhibit. Yes, the mill does in fact work, and it is in fact water powered. But you won’t see a water wheel! This mill runs on a much cooler historical turbine located under the mill itself, (you can walk underneath to see it). The turbine looks like a thick metal sewer pipe with a rod coming out of it that drives the classic stone grinding stones in the mill.

The turbine itself is driven by water just like a wheel. The water enters first via a long and high maintenance raceway and then falls into a very tall and frankly terrifying wooden square pipe known as a penstock. The pressure of all this water, (22 foot/pounds), inside this wooden pipe that I can’t believe isn’t leaking, drives the turbine and provides about 11 horse power. It’s a really cool and unexpected piece of engineering that I am really proud our park service had the foresight to purchase and maintain. Much of the land in this area that is park land was purchased in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression as low yielding farm acreage became extremely unprofitable. The mill met a similar fate – it was purchased by the park service, leased back to the operator, and when the operator died it was put out of service until restoration in I believe the 1960s.


The Mountain Farm Museum

The Mountain Farm Museum sits behind the Oconaluftee Visitors Center. Animal highlights include live pigs, (if you’re into that sort of thing), a flock of roaming chickens, and the huge field next door that is frequented by elk. The museum has most of the essentials of farm life, including a house, an orchard, a meat house, corn crib, lye production, sugar cane crushing, pasturage, honey bee hives made out of hollowed out logs, and this really awesome barn. Seriously, love the barn. It’s like my dream goat barn.

farm

Hunt Down Some Elk

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This picture is elk walking down the river in the middle of Cherokee (I do not own it, but I wish I did!)

Elk have been reintroduced into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park after over a century and a half of absence. Their original extirpation was by over hunting and habitat loss, sources of extinction that are no longer a major threat in the first world. Frankly, seeing an elk walk down the side of Big Cove Rd in Cherokee is incredible – they are easily 3 times the size of a typical white tail doe, and stand about as tall as a show jumper horse. These are HUGE animals, and incredibly beautiful. The privately funded reintroduction plan will put about 400 elk into the area by the time it finishes, making Cherokee and the surrounding area a mecca for wildlife photography.

Interested in seeing elk up close? The best locations are the grassy areas near the Cherokee Town School off Big Cove Road, the field near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, driving over to Cataloochee Valley (this is an all day trip – elk are best spotted in the early morning), and I found a few heading out of town on Hwy 19 towards Deep Creek.


Other Not So Free Options

Oconaluftee Indian Village – Save this for when it’s not raining and you will need to purchase tickets for this one. The village is a partially guided, partially wander around by yourself tour of historical cherokee dwellings, tribal buildings, and crafts. The blow gun demonstration is generally considered the highlight, but everything else is pretty good too. There is a small arboretum next door, but it has fallen into disrepair since my childhood. Instead, check out the Fire Mountain mountain biking trails if you brought a bike or walk up to the fire tower.

On To These Hills – An outdoor drama about the removal of the Cherokee Indians via the Trail of Tears. In general, pretty moving, but not suitable for extremely small children who won’t get what is going on. At the age of 8 or so I enjoyed it.

Cherokee Indian Museum – A good option in the rain because it is completely indoors, this museum centers around the history of the Cherokee from prehistory up to the 1800s. Big kid favorite overall, but be prepared for the very outdated CG in the intro movie.

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One of the dwellings in the Oconaluftee Indian Village

NORTH CAROLINA: Waterfalls of the Cherokee Reservation

 

Waterfalls aren’t really what you go to Cherokee for, but if you are interested in taking in a few the most reasonably nearby ones are Soco Falls between Cherokee and Maggie Valley on Hwy 19, Mingo Falls behind the Cherokee KOA, and The Deep Creek Trilogy of Indian Falls, Tom Branch Falls, and Juney Whank Falls. All these falls are FREE to visit, open pretty much all the time, and are family and kid friendly.

Is it goat approved? The Smokey Mountains National Forest guys aren’t too big into goats I can tell you from personal experience. However, the Deep Creek Trail is partially on a horse trail, and if you are there in the winter when the tourist traffic is much lower you could probably get away with it.

 


SOCO FALLS: A Kid’s Waterfall

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Soco Falls

How you get there: 35.492680, -83.169191. The waterfalls is right off Hwy 19 between Cherokee and Maggie Valley. Parking is VERY limited and difficult because it is an unmarked heavily trafficked pull off on a bend in Hwy 19. All the warning you will get is one little sign about 0.5 miles from the pull off. This park is free and despite what it says online, there is no signage indicating that it ever closes.

Time for hike: There is a short and extremely vertical trail down to the falls. The trail itself is very worn as of my visit, making it exciting for kids, challenging for easily bored husbands, but probably not for your 90 year old grandmother or the arthritic 17 year old Labrador.

Best season to do this hike: Any time of year, but probably not in a heavy downpour as the trail is very steep.

 


MINGO FALLS: The Falls of the Vomiting Bird

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Mingo Falls

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Chinese temple worthy stairs to the falls

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Note vomiting bird. Think it has something to do with the creek name…

How you get there: 35.531855, -83.275751. The falls are right off Big Cove Rd, the epicenter of the commercial campgrounds in Cherokee. Literally, drive down Big Cove till you pass the KOA and then hang a right across the river and you are there. The parking area is small and for a tourist site the visitor level is moderate on week days. This park is free and has no signs indicating it ever closes.

Time for hike: About 15 minutes out and back. The trail is maybe 1/4 mile if that, though that section of stairs at the front is soul sucking if you slacked off all summer hiking and are out of shape. Like Buddhist temple search for enlightenment by climbing the stairway to heaven kind of sucking. This is a great trail for families being close to the campgrounds and a doable climb.

Best season to do this hike: Any time of year.


JUNEY WHANK FALLS: The Baby Falls of Deep Creek

Juney Whank falls

The least impressive of the 3 waterfalls at Deep Creek, and the second most easily accessible, (Tom Branch is 1st), it is kind of like your own little put in your pocket and take it home kind of waterfall. Not too big. Not too small. But just about right.

How you get there: Google Deep Creek Trail Head in Deep Creek, NC. Now, there is a big campground and blah blah blah at this location. How you should get to this trail head is by taking Tom Branch Rd. This brings you in the back way – less traffic and less likely to be fees/etc associated with visiting. Tom Branch is gravel as you approach the trail head, but it is passable gravel even for your minivan with the dog and six kids loaded in the back. Just follow it in, cross the one lane bridge next to the campground, and the trail head is right in front of you. The parking area is small and based on the “drop off loop” I suspect during high season for tourists it is nigh impossible to park here if you arrive after 11 am. As an interesting side note – this is the one area I saw locals hiking. And speaking Cherokee, which was pretty cool!

Time for hike: The hike to visit all the falls is a loop of about 2.5 miles in total. Juney Whank has its own loop, but frankly Tom Branch and Indian Creek are more impressive, and the trail is very easy…so just do them all. Start on Deep Creek Trail, (this trail head is to one side of the parking lot), and follow this mostly flat trail out to Tom Branch Falls, then up a slight incline along the river to Indian Creek Falls, and finally about a mile on increasing but not crazy incline to Juney Whank. Then its down hill to the parking lot.

Best season to do this hike: Any time of year.

 


TOM BRANCH: Deep Creek’s Place of Meditation

Tom Branch

Tom Branch Falls is actually across the river from the trail and has its own seating area and spot to go down and play in the river. A good area to let the kids cool off or to relax and enjoy the sound of the water.

How you get there: Google Deep Creek Trail Head in Deep Creek, NC. Now, there is a big campground and blah blah blah at this location. How you should get to this trail head is by taking Tom Branch Rd. This brings you in the back way – less traffic and less likely to be fees/etc associated with visiting. Tom Branch is gravel as you approach the trail head, but it is passable gravel even for your minivan with the dog and six kids loaded in the back. Just follow it in, cross the one lane bridge next to the campground, and the trail head is right in front of you. The parking area is small and based on the “drop off loop” I suspect during high season for tourists it is nigh impossible to park here if you arrive after 11 am. As an interesting side note – this is the one area I saw locals hiking. And speaking Cherokee, which was pretty cool!

Time for hike: The hike to visit all the falls is a loop of about 2.5 miles in total. Juney Whank has its own loop, but frankly Tom Branch and Indian Creek are more impressive, and the trail is very easy…so just do them all. Start on Deep Creek Trail, (this trail head is to one side of the parking lot), and follow this mostly flat trail out to Tom Branch Falls, then up a slight incline along the river to Indian Creek Falls, and finally about a mile on increasing but not crazy incline to Juney Whank. Then its down hill to the parking lot.

Best season to do this hike: Any time of year.


INDIAN CREEK: The Generic Waterfall of Deep Creek

Indian Creek

My husband described this as the most boring waterfall on the loop for photography. It is big, has plenty of water after a rain, and is, okay, yes, a waterfall. But beyond that…nothing too exciting. Unless your husband does crane stance when he doesn’t realize you have the camera out.

How you get there: Google Deep Creek Trail Head in Deep Creek, NC. Now, there is a big campground and blah blah blah at this location. How you should get to this trail head is by taking Tom Branch Rd. This brings you in the back way – less traffic and less likely to be fees/etc associated with visiting. Tom Branch is gravel as you approach the trail head, but it is passable gravel even for your minivan with the dog and six kids loaded in the back. Just follow it in, cross the one lane bridge next to the campground, and the trail head is right in front of you. The parking area is small and based on the “drop off loop” I suspect during high season for tourists it is nigh impossible to park here if you arrive after 11 am. As an interesting side note – this is the one area I saw locals hiking. And speaking Cherokee, which was pretty cool!

Time for hike: The hike to visit all the falls is a loop of about 2.5 miles in total. Juney Whank has its own loop, but frankly Tom Branch and Indian Creek are more impressive, and the trail is very easy…so just do them all. Start on Deep Creek Trail, (this trail head is to one side of the parking lot), and follow this mostly flat trail out to Tom Branch Falls, then up a slight incline along the river to Indian Creek Falls, and finally about a mile on increasing but not crazy incline to Juney Whank. Then its down hill to the parking lot.

Best season to do this hike: Any time of year.

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In sum: 

If you wanted to get your hike on but you brought the kids, the dogs, the grandparents, and all the women who would rather go shopping, these are the waterfalls you can actually get them to go to before everyone goes out to shop for moccasins.

NORTH CAROLINA: The Poetry of Goats at Carl Sandburg

Like most men, Carl Sandburg’s estate came to be home to goats because of his wife. He might have been a famous poet and biographer of Lincoln, but lets face it, we don’t go to Carl Sandburg’s house to read poetry or devolve into discussions of the Civil War, (I mean, technically Lincoln was on the other side from our perspective anyway).

We go for the goats. Mrs. Sandburg raised Saanen, Toggenburgs, and Nubians for showing and commercial production. Now the park service keeps a herd of about 15 around the place for photo ops and keeping the kids entertained while their parents go on hikes and house tours. So stop by and enjoy some goats that you don’t personally have to feed, raise, and keep in the fence!

As an aside – this is also a great place to go enjoy the rapidly disappearing Eastern Hemlock. These trees line the drive way and there are numerous gorgeous specimens around the property.

Is it goat approved? This isn’t a BYOG. They provide the goats.

How you get there: Park here 35.273330,-82.444616. Then walk in!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is at best 2.5 miles if you walk everything.  More of a fun day out wandering around than a work out except for 0.5 mile up to Glassy Mountain which is very vertical. Budget some extra time for goat hugs though!

Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year. Remember you get baby goats in spring!


Trails to Take

The paved walkway down from the parking area immediately brings you up to the property’s largest (but by no means only) pond. You can hike around the pond on either side, or continue past the +20yr old concrete bathrooms, across the wooden bridge, and proceed up the driveway to the house in the distance. The driveway is lined with hemlocks and is a climb. If you don’t want as much of a climb go around the pond then up the back trail which comes back around to the house.

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The climb up the driveway through hemlocks

The original farmstead sits at the top of the hill, starting with the main house, (which can be toured – talk to the park rangers hanging out in the basement). There are various outbuildings near the house that were originally slave quarters and later under the Sandburgs became an overflow library and a chicken coop.

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Slave quarters turned chicken quarters

Following the gravel drive another set of restrooms in a white wooden building comes up, followed by a wooden spring house and an equipment shed. Behind the hedges further on lies a classic in ground greenhouse behind a hedge.  Across from green house is a green house that was once the abode of the goat farm manager – because rich people throughout history have always been too lazy to get up and actually deal with the less convenient parts of livestock ownership.

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Next comes the garage and behind it the most important part of the whole trip – the goat barn, (not pictured today because they are in the process of restoring it). When not being restored it has a large open loafing area with hay mangers. The old milking parlor is out back, along with acres of gorgeous pasture that has been managed for grass…because the park service doesn’t really get into goat management, but they know a good looking green lawn when they see one.  It is pretty…

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Buck sheds and vegetable garden

Anyway, the most athletic portion of the trip can be found by taking the path past the garden plots and the buck sheds, through the old fruit tree orchard, and past a small dammed pond.

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First pond behind the apple orchard

The trail splits, so go right and climb up Glassy Mountain on a snaking gravel walk way that pretty much never relents till you get to the top. There is a nice pond about 1/3 of the way up to stop and rest at though.

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Glassy Mountain Overlook

The overlook gives you a good view of the Hendersonville diaspora…then its back to take selfies with goats. Which is what you really came for anyway right?

BE WARNED

  1. The parking is limited and far from the main house. Come early!
  2. While the hike is dog and kid friendly, only the kids can go in to see the goats.
  3. It’s not really a warning, it’s a suggestion – if you like baked goods hit the bakery in Hendersonville before you head home. And the Mast General Store for hiking supplies. It’s a good spot to go on a quick supply run before you head back to the house after a day of goats…

In sum: 

Carl Sandburg’s only known poem about goats, despite a life time of living with them. I get the impression he wasn’t much on the species…

The sober-faced goat crops grass next to the sidewalk.
A clinking chain connects the collar of the goat with a steel pin
driven in the ground.
Next to the sidewalk the goat crops November grass,
Pauses seldom, halts not at all, incessantly goes after the grass.

—Carl Sandburg
from “Suburban Sicilian Sketches”

“Goat Out” at Birkhead Mountains Wilderness

Ever wanted to feel like you’re visiting the mountains without actually doing all the back breaking willpower draining climbing up hill only to slide back down hill, (then find yet another up hill in front of you), that the Appalachian elevations force you to do? Birkhead Mountain Wilderness is your ideal place then. Take the goat out to enjoy some uphills that end before the challenge stops being fun and some downhills that stop before you end up sliding on your butt. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t laugh when the goat slides down on its butt when it misjudges the mud under the leaves!

As a nice bonus, if you start off at the Thornburg Trail Head you can visit most of the historical sites in the park. The Birkhead Wilderness once belonged to, no shock here, the Birkhead family, and they rented land out to tenant farmers. Therefore there are several interesting old sites to visit on this hike, and some old road beds to be seen.

Location: Birkhead Mountains Wilderness Area in northern Uwharrie National Forest

Is it goat approved? Yes. I have written proof the really cool forest manager is okay with a goat on a leash. This wilderness area is hiking only  which means there are no bikes, no horses and no all terrain vehicles, so the only on trail obstacles are the occasional backpacker or light hiker, all of which seemed mildly amused at my fuzzy four legged companion. However, be mindful that wilderness area means minimal trail upkeep and more likely run ins with carnivorous wildlife (see Beware section below). Overnight camping is allowed in this wilderness area, which may add to the fun of a trip out to this awesome little slice of heaven.

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The parking area is fenced, and fairly small

How you get there: Oh lord. Just seeing this section makes me cringe. Getting here is a massive pain! You need to be on Lassiter Mill Road. What Google maps, paper maps, and directions online will do a bad job of telling you is that Lassiter Mill Road crosses Hwy 49 on a bridge rather than intersecting with the highway, which is a very unusual arrangement for North Carolina Piedmont roads. So how do you get to it if it doesn’t actually intersect with 49? Go down to Mechanic Road, and turn onto that. Mechanic Road dead ends into Lassiter, and if you turn right at the dead end you’re headed in the right direction. Look for the sign for the Thornburg Trail Head on the right hand side of the road. The parking area is on the left across from it.

Time for hike: The total distance is about 10 miles of wonderful up and down terrain, which I completed in about 3.5 hrs. This is a loop hike. 

Best season to do this hike: Winter, but not the hunting season (see Beware section). The trails and camping are supposed to be EXTREMELY popular in the warmer seasons, so if you want to enjoy nature and not spend all day answering questions about pack goats January and February are your friends.

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Camping is very popular in the park!

Trails to Take

Starting off in the parking lot you want to walk towards the green house. This house looks at first glance like it might be in good enough shape to be occupied, but it’s actually a historical site. There’s some fun signs around the house to read and some old buildings to explore that are worth checking out. If you grew up in the south it will feel a lot like visiting your great grandparent’s place. Though, my grandparents weren’t posh enough to have their well built into the back porch of the house like this one does!

The trail heads off down a large, old gravel road behind the house that is very obvious. First a basic warning – there are tons of side trails off this main road that you are on. Avoid them. They go out to wildlife management plots or dead end into the trees. Stick to the biggest and most obviously well trod trail, (though this can be confusing since they pull a farm implement called a disk that digs up dirt down the trail periodically to disk the wildlife plots. This makes a side trail look like lots of people have been trampling through the mud even though no one goes that way). Look out for extremely worn brown metal National Forest Service trail markers to help guide you in the right direction too.

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Bakri on the ‘it might not be here after the next flood’ bridge. Unleash your goat when trying to cross this one or you both might end up in the creek!

This gravel road leads down to a deep creek which has signs of obvious severe flood damage around it, (see Beware section). You can ford the creek, but if a more recent flood hasn’t finished it off, there’s a bridge you can go over on. After the bridge the trail continues along overgrown bottom land, then comes to a major intersection. You want the trail on the left! Take this and go up hill towards a big open wildlife field.

The trail will skirt the wildlife field, then go off through the woods. You will eventually reach a spot with confusing signs, just before the trail heads uphill again and past some rocks on the right. If you look, the signs have penciled in mileage around the original writing where prior hikers have tried to stop future hikers from being as stupid as they were. All these signs are telling you is that you have a long ways to go before you reach Robbins Branch Trail/Thornburg Trail intersection. Nothing else. They look like they are trying to indicate a trail crossing, but they are not! In fact, don’t even read the damn things and just continue along the trail. It’s probably less confusing that way. While you continue on your walk, keep an eye out for “trails” that seem to cross or come up along side the trail you are on. These are the remnants of old roads that once ran through the forest, back when travel was by horse and wagon. There are also old road beds visible when you hike Hannah’s Creek Trail later in the loop.

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The real Robbins Branch/Thornburg intersection sign, with Bakri standing on Robbins Branch Trail

 

You will eventually reach the real Robbins Branch Trail/Thornburg Trail intersection. To go around the loop like I went, go left here and down the hill instead of straight ahead. Almost immediately you will pass 2 stone walls next to the trail on your left, (this way you know you’re headed the right way!).

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One of the stone walls

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Bingham Plantation sign

The trail goes out through the woods, eventually meeting up with Birkhead Mountain Trail. Not long after you turn onto that trail you’ll pass a major campsite with a concreted fire back and a yellow blaze trail that heads down to the water access point for this campsite. This trail continues up and down through the hills, crossing some nice little creeks and club moss strewn forest.

Eventually you will pass a small metal sign for the Bingham plantation site, which was once the heart of the Birkhead lands. I couldn’t find much at this site except for some earth hummocks. But it’s interesting nonetheless. The trail heads downhill and goes BEHIND this sign, ignore the well trod trail to the left, which appears to lead nowhere.

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Chimney remnants

The trail continues to the intersection with Hannah’s Creek Trail. Turn onto this, and as you drop in elevation along the edge of the hillside, look to your right to spot the old road bed that runs down and then leaves the main trail. As you go along, look for a camping area to your left with a big pile of suspicious looking stones in front of it. These are the remains of a once standing chimney, and the camp site has incorporated some of the fallen stone into a fire ring.

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Goat and human rock climbing areas abound on this loop

After you pass the pile of rocks you’ll go through an area with boulders, many of which are quite nice for a climb. Beware, however, that you are approaching the Robbins Branch Trailhead, and there may be many other people out enjoying a bit of rock hopping. Next up is the intersection with Robbins Branch Trail, which will take you back to Thornburg. This trail is the most heavily trafficked in the park from what I can tell, so expect to meet your largest numbers of people here. When you make it back to the Robbins Branch Trail/Thornburg Trail intersection, go back on Thornburg and return to your truck/car/suv/goat powered helicopter.

BE WARNED!

  1. Hunting season is NOT the time to visit this place! There are significant signs of hunter presence, including a permanent tree stand I found that was set up to fire ACROSS the trail! Don’t go with a goat during deer season!
  2. I was stalked by something on the Birkhead Mountain Trail for a ways. Could have been deer because neither the goat nor I got a good look at it, but it could also have been coyotes. Take a heavy hiking pole for any eventualities and consider bringing a human friend to beef up security for your hamburger on four legs.
  3. Signage is sparse, and trail markers (which are white blazes on trees) are worn. Be careful when navigating! While getting around the park is very doable, the number of trees blocking the original trail and the presence of what looks like historical road beds in certain parts of the park can make the trail unclear in places. Note in the trail review that there are also side trails for game management or possible external access (?) that can be confusing at times.
  4. Access from the Thornburg Trail Head may not be doable in flood conditions because you have to cross a sizeable creek with signs of serious flood damage on either side.
  5. There is an abundance of tasty holly on this hike – make sure your goat doesn’t gorge itself silly and become too fat to get back to the truck!
  6. The parking area at Thornburg and Tot Hill Trail Heads (these are the only 2 I’ve visited) are small and FENCED. This means there isn’t a ton of parking. Plan accordingly since overnight campers and day hikers all use these areas.
  7. Be careful on the first part of the trail to stay on the main trail and not get lost on the side trails that go out into the wildlife management plots. Look for very worn brown metal forest service trail markers to help you choose the right way.

In sum: 

Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’,
Though the streams are swollen,
Keep them goaties rollin’, rawhide.
Through rain and wind and weather,
Hell bent for leather,
Wishin’ my dude was by my side.
All the things I’m missin’,
Good vittles, love, and kissin’,
Are waiting at the end of my hike.

Saddle Up for Saddleback Trail at South Mountains State Park

 

Every girl dreams of owning a horse when they are a kid. Otherwise companies would not make things like ‘My Little Pony’, rocking horses, or Breyers figurines because there wouldn’t be any money in it. However, when little girls grow up to be adults they realize that horses require big trailers and big trucks and big wide open spaces. So they settle for hiking horse trails with the much angrier and grumpier mini-equivalent  of the horse: a goat.

Location: Saddleback, Upper Falls, and Raven Rock Trails of South Mountain State Park

Is it goat approved? Yep. This park has phenomenal horse camping and riding facilities, and perhaps because they have such a wonderfully inclusive arrangement (with bikers, hikers, and horses sharing the trails) they were open to me bringing a pack goat. Provided of course, that I did a special activity permit. Luckily the day 2 weeks after the approval of the permit was a really great day to go out for a hike!

How you get there: Easy. Google it. You’ll be winding through a lot of back roads, so take a GPS or good written directions. You want to park in the horse trailer  parking, which is the first massive parking area to your left as you enter, just past the park office.

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View of parking area from road to horse campground

Time for hike: The distance is approximately 4 miles one way, so 8 miles total.This is an out and back hike.

Best season to do this hike: Winter. I went on a day that started in the 20’s and still met plenty of people and two horseback riders. I weep for the level of traffic you would meet during the summer!

Trails to Take

Starting off at the parking area for horse trailers you want to get on Saddleback Trail, (note in “Beware” section that this trail is closed during wet conditions). You can either get on Saddleback from inside the horse campground, (a small connector trail runs out from around campsites 7-4, but this is only usable when horse campers are not present), OR you can get on from the trailhead in the parking lot, which is near the trail kiosk. Either way, Saddleback is a continuous moderate climb the whole way, (but this means it’s also a nice descent when you come back tired).

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Split rails on trail

The trail goes out through the woods, crosses the river, and then climbs up the hill, with split rail fencing on the side of the trail in places. Just follow this trail for a little over 3 miles, till it intersects with Raven Rock Trail. An interesting thing about the trail signs in this park is they don’t really tell you what trail you are getting on…rather they tell you what direction you need to go to reach another trail or point of interest.

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Note the gate to close Saddleback in wet weather, and the highly confusing park signs

 

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Anyway, you want to go right at this intersection, and just as you do you will see a great overlook of the mountains that is an unexpected treat and photo magnet. After this overlook the trail will begin to descend VERY steeply. Once you’ve escaped the tendency to take about a billion photos here, continue down to the next trail intersection, where you want to turn left and go down hill. This is a mountain biking trail, so be wary. At the bottom of this trail is another water crossing.

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Bakri at the hitching post while I eat lunch in peace!

On the other side of the water crossing is a huge backcountry campsite. The trail continues through here, and up to the turn to go to the waterfall where there is a nice picnic area with a spot to tie up horses (or goats if no horses are present). If you are hiking with some buddies, consider stopping here for lunch, tying the goat up, and while your buddies eat/watch goat, hike the 0.5 mile strenuous trail down to the waterfall. I have it on my husband’s authority that the waterfall area is well worth your time, (if you have any to spare). However, the trail to the waterfall is way too tight to take a goat with you.

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High Shoals Waterfall with ice, courtesy of the husband

After lunch, head back the way you came, though getting up that hill again might be a trial with a full stomach!

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BE WARNED!

  1. The entirety of Saddleback Trail is closed when it is raining or the ground is wet. Plan accordingly, and potentially call the park before visiting to ensure it is open.
  2. This park requires a special activity permit to visit with goats, but they are pretty cool about it. Park manager prefers that goats stay on equestrian trails, since most of the hiking only trails are very heavy trafficked (even in really cold weather). While it does curtail some of the fun, trust me, I sent a non-goat companion down one of these hiking only trails – they are not suitable for goat kind! They are very tight and very peopled.
  3. You will meet horses on Saddleback Trail. To avoid being trampled I’ve found that getting off the trail by several feet and holding still allows the horses the best chance to come to terms with the mini horse with the horns without freaking.
  4. The second half of the trail, as you approach the turn around, is very steep and very down hill. A goat that is not accustomed to doing 8 miles will struggle to reascend this area on the way back, so if you have a barn potato in tow, expect to have to stop and wait on them on this stretch. Also, a lot of this stretch is mountain biking trail, so keep an eye out.
  5. Water crossings are moderately shallow and may become deep at flood stage. Remember most of these trails are assuming you are on horseback, not on foot!
  6. Unleash the goat on water crossings if you don’t want a goat to accidentally plunge you into the river.

 

In sum: Lunch with a goat is a moral quandary. If I give the goat part of my snack bar…it will want more of my snack bar. And we all know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie…