GEORGIA: Yonah Mountain

Yonah Mountain is a popular small park encompassing a single stony rise near Dahlonega, GA. The mountain stands by itself, visible from both the Appalachian Trail and distantly from the area of Dawsonville, providing an incredible view from the cliffs surrounding  the summit. A good location for spotting Atlantans out for the weekend, and a great hike for dogs, enthusiastic kids, and less enthusiastic spouses, this basic but beautiful jaunt makes an awesome opening to this winter’s hiking season.

Is it goat approved? The trail is heavily used, but sparsely maintained or patrolled by the powers that be. I would not recommend a goat because of the traffic level, but it could probably be gotten away with here.

How you get there: Google “Yonah Mountain Parking Lot”. On the satellite image Yonah Mountain Road appears to travel up to the summit – but this road is gated and inaccessible. The actual parking lot is at 34°38’14.6″N 83°43’36.1″W off Chamber’s Road. Come early! The parking lot is large but heavily traffic. However, if 8 am isn’t going to work with your three year old, there is fairly steady turnover of cars and you can get a spot later in the day.

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Parking is extensive, but it is not really extensive enough. Come early to get reasonable parking locations.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 4.4 miles round trip out and back. Expect a nearly relentless uphill the whole way to the summit.

Best season to do this hike: Year around. Wildflowers bloom throughout the summer, and primitive camping is allowed even on the summit throughout the year. However, be aware that the Army trains at the park, and the trail is closed on training days.


Trails to Take

The trail starts on the left hand side of the parking lot, about even with the pit toilets, (yes, that is the source of the  strange smell you are going to be wondering about). It climbs first slowly through a lowland  forest of unremarkable hardwoods. A short bridge crosses an unremarkable creek. Then, the trail comes up parallel to a steep incline, which develops into a wooded cliff. Boulders pop up, growing larger and larger, finally culminating into a rock scramble at one point.

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Boulder scramble

Beyond the rock scrabble a field pops up out of the trees, leading to the first view of the hike, looking northwest. The trail continues on the far side of the field, growing steeper and showing signs of extensive erosion.

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Wildflowers found on the trail

The trail comes up to a gravel road, turns right onto the road, and continues up to the Army training area. There are more pit toilets here. The trail splits at this point – if you want to go to the summit stay on the gravel trail to your left. This trail continues up a steady pace and begins to cross small rock faces. The number of wildflowers increases. The trail crosses a large rock face. At the far side of the rock face is another trail split. The right hand trail goes to a spectacular view at a primitive campsite. The left hand trail passes a small spring and continues, again at a steady climb, all the way up to the summit, which is around a quarter mile away at this point.

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Trail side spring
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Side trail at the rock face view

The summit itself is a bit of a let down for most people. The views are nonexistent, though side trails will take you out to the notoriously dangerous cliff faces where better, if stupidly dangerous views, exist. The main object of the summit is a large clearing surrounded by picturesquely stunted oak trees that pretty much screams “camp here”. Yeah, you can camp here. In fact, I plan to do so in the future.

Anyway, turn around and go back downhill to the car when you’re ready to go onto the more challenging stuff the winter hiking season has to offer!

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Field at the summit of Mount Yonah

 

TRAIL MAP

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Trail Map (courtesy of HikeTheSouth.com – my photo did not come out)

 

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. The US Army trains on the mountain, (they go rock climbing or something). When they are there you can’t be. Call 706-864-3367 to check on what days they are in residence.
  3. Reminder that Yonah Mountain Road doesn’t actually get the public to Yonah Mountain. The real parking is off Chamber’s Road nearby.
  4. The cliffs of this mountain have claimed many lives, including those of experienced hikers and backpackers. The views are not really good enough to die for, so stay back!
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The US Army closes the park on training days.

 

In sum: 

Always go the fun way. Life is too short to be boring.

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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.

Fant’s Grove Humidity Hike

You think you’re tough? You think you’ve acclimated to the sauna-esque climate of the Deep South? Test that belief by taking a little hike during midsummer at Fant’s Grove, South Carolina’s most well known experimental forest.

Originally marginal farm land, the forest known as Fant’s Grove is now the Experimental Forest for Clemson University. Along with several research farms nestled among the pines and oaks the forest itself also acts as an outdoor lab for forestry and ecology work. For those into history a number of ruins are present in the forest, some of which are visited on this trip. The only real snag is the overwhelming southern heat and humidity, which will get you even if the yellow jackets don’t.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. They do everything else, so as long as you don’t go play with the cows and sheep with a goat in tow, they probably won’t care. The horse back riders in the forest are generally the really serious trail riders, and their horses find a goat amusing rather than terrifying.

How you get there: Google “Fant’s Grove Trail Map” which has a grey box with GPS coordinates for the parking areas on it.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 8.5 miles round trip, including the out and back to the point on the lake.

Best season to do this hike: Winter or cooler weather. You want to avoid the yellow jackets, and the sweltering summer humidity unless you’re a South Carolina native who is used to putting up with it. During the school year it is also a popular location for students/classes and this will increase the traffic while clogging the parking areas with forestry student pickups. You can identify these by the number of bucks and ducks unlimited stickers on the windows, as well as a preponderance of camo, which is considered a primary color akin to red, blue, and yellow in the south.

Trails to Take

I went with the red and grey trails, which make a loop from the parking lot just before the church, (Fant’s Grove Road Trailhead), down to Big Oaks Parking Lot and back. The route is something like B6 -> B7 -> B9 -> B10 -> B11 -> B12 -> B24 ->B25 -> B27. The “B” numbers are posted on standard metal park service trail markers, but be prepared to find numbers that aren’t on the map. However, the numbers go in order, so if you find a B26, odds are if you walk past it you will eventually find B27. In general though, expect to be lost, (see BEWARE section). Every one who hasn’t ridden there for thirty years gets lost, that’s part of the fun. They even have an orienteering challenge that is hosted in the forest each year cause everyone gets turned around.

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Trail marker with number

The trail heads out from the parking lot, which is a pull in area for horse trailers and a smaller pull in up top for cars/trucks. If you are parking down in the pull through, park hard on the side of the road so that horse trailers can pass without taking out your rear view mirrors.

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Old pump house that once fed water to the research areas from natural springs

When you leave the parking area you want to head to your left. There will be up to 3 trails presented to you that all look to be blazed red. Take the left most. You will know you have the right one if you pass an old pump house. This takes you past the church, then across the road. Be careful crossing the road because cars go about 60 mph down through here. When you cross the road, almost immediately, you will see a historical sign for the old school house. The ruins are scattered among the bamboo grove. Further down hill about twenty feet off trail to your left is a sign indicating the original spring that provided water for the school.

The trail winds out through the woods, eventually dumping you out on Rocky Ford Road. You can go left to continue on the red loop, or go right to go down the road. About 1.5 miles from the trail intersection Rocky Ford Road will leave you on a point of land jutting out into the lake. If you walk down to the lakeshore, you will be looking right across at one of Google’s little jokes – the Redneck Yacht Club Cove.

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The neck of the point is also a great place to stop and water goats or play in the water. There are several cut offs of the main part of Rock Ford Road, but the one you want to get down to the neck/cove is the 3rd cut off, which goes very sharply to your left and slightly down hill, while the main road becomes overgrown with lespediza.

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Cherry walks on the bottom of Lake Hartwell, which for most of its history has been at least 15 feet below full pond since Atlanta keeps draining the south dry of water like a giant straw pointing to the west. Though since the drought cycle is 11 years of good weather and 11 years of desertification, it does refill occasionally.

The Rocky Ford Road is an out and back, after which you continue on the red trail, which eventually joins up with the blue trail just before dumping you in the Big Oaks Trailhead parking lot. During the school year when classes are being held this parking lot is usually packed with forestry majors out for classes – which is why I recommend parking up at the Fant’s Grove Trailhead or elsewhere.

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Big Oaks Parking – too small for horse trailers, but popular with students and bikers

To continue, cross the road and walk along the edge of the experimental agricultural plots. Walk along the backside of the plots, and then the trail goes into the woods. At this point it is blazed yellow – the purpose and position of the yellow trail is anyone’s guess, like most of Fant’s Grove. You’ll see those yellow blazes pop up occasionally. The red trail will cross right across the yellow trail and you want to go left once you find it.

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Experimental plots planted in sunflowers

At the next intersection, go right, (yellow blaze is to your left and a small red arrow does point right to help you figure it out). Then follow the trail back to where you left the truck and you’re done.

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BE WARNED

  1. Be prepared to be lost. No complete map of Fant’s Grove’s many trails, roads, and bush hogged cuts exists. Bring a compass or a friend with a good sense of direction.Ask anyone who looks like a cowboy out of a 1970s western sitcom for directions. They’ve probably been riding the place for years and will know what’s what.
  2. Don’t park at the Big Oaks Parking area during a week day when Clemson is in session. Students may block you in when out for labs.
  3. Leave space when parking for horse trailers to pass if you are at the Fant’s Grove Road Trailhead parking area. Alternatively, park in the uphill smaller lot with the ropes that is more meant for hikers.
  4. Be careful crossing the road…I used to drive like  a maniac through the forest, and I’m not too surprised everyone else still does.
  5. Dove season means open season on shotgun shells in the experimental agricultural plots. Prepare not to be dead if you go during this period. Ditto for deer season.
  6. If you happen to pass the Swine Center and see a sprinkler running DO NOT go play in it! This is the overflow for the lagoon, (for those of a non agriculture persuasion a lagoon is a pond where they sediment out manure, similar to a human sewer system sedimentation system). Which means you aren’t dancing in the rain, you’re dancing in *&!^@.
  7. Watch for yellow jackets. And horses running away from them. This forest is bad for the little yellow menaces.
  8. Agricultural and experimental plots are present in the forest. Goat grazing may delay thesis and dissertation completion! Be kind to suffering graduate students!

In sum: The best moments of your life happen in college, (well, undergrad anyway).  The least best moments happen at 1 pm in 100% humidity when you’re running from yellow jackets in the Clemson Experimental Forest.

Horsing Around at Garland Mountain

It is surprisingly refreshing to come upon a park devoted solely to horseback riders. Like mountain bikers, the riders of four legged beasts enjoy going fast, and generally don’t get the opportunity to do so because a 1000lb behemoth rocketing down the trail at 40mph tends to have trouble stopping quickly when the random family with the baby stroller pops out of the shrubbery unexpectedly.

An added perk to this wonderfully horse and hiker only slice of heaven is I have it from the mouth of a Cherokee County park service guy that goats may use the trails, provided they are on leash, and don’t commit suicide by freezing in the middle of the trail when a horse comes around the corner at a gallop

Is it goat approved? Yes. Per the park service guys and one member of the Garland Mountain trail maintenance group. However, it is a park devoted to horseback riders which is maintained by a volunteer force of horseback riders, so horses ought to come first.

How you get there: You want to go down Highway 140. Just after you pass through Waleska, GA, (a nice spot to grab a sandwich) it’s a few miles further on. You’ll see the brown and white sign for it just before Garland Mountain Road which is not surprisingly the road you want.

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Massive parking lot! This place is SO EASY TO PARK AT! It’s great! Also has a restroom as seen on the right.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 4 miles round trip, using the orange, yellow, and green trails

Best season to do this hike: It wasn’t too buggy in the summer, but I would avoid the weekend during nice weather for horseback riding as this place is super popular.

Trails to Take

Start off at the parking lot. To the right of the trail kiosk is the trail you want. Its an orange and yellow blaze. Take a good look at the trail signage – it’s indicated with horse shoes pointing in the appropriate direction. It takes a minute to make sense.

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Trails are easy, flat, and well maintained thanks to the local horse clubs

Follow the orange trail (Sorrel) down, crossing over some small intermittent streams and past a nice picnic area with lots of horse tie outs. Then go up a short hill and you’re on the green trail, the “Garland Greenway”. This trail feels like an old road or rail line and is wider with more grading. Follow that up until you reach a pair of gates blocking further forward movement. The yellow trail comes into your left, and you can get back on that to go back around.

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One of the several well maintained picnic areas in the park

All in all, the park is well maintained, with good signage and only a few random side access trails made by users in search of a short cut. It goes mostly through hardwoods, with a preponderance of nut trees, which seem to be common in the northwestern part of Georgia. Elevation gain exists, but since the trails are designed for horses they run parallel to the hillside and their are no grueling climbs, just nice easy up and down swoops suitable for a prolonged gallop. Good little short trip for those days when you really want to be lazy.

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One of the horse playground obstacles

 

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BE WARNED

  1. This is a horseback riding and hiking ONLY park. This means that goats will encounter horses that are not familiar with goats. You may spend a lot of time standing off trail allowing spooky horses to pass. If your patience and politeness is insufficient for the job, go on a week day and if possible during very hot or very cold weather – the park is practically deserted.
  2. Note that bikes and trail runners are not welcome at this park – an important distinction if you enjoy these other hobbies and are tempted, (as I have been), to do something that maybe should be done elsewhere.
  3. There is mountain laurel in places in this park. Mountain laurel is poisonous to goats. Avoid the green vomit of doom by making sure the horned minions don’t partake of a lot of it.
  4. Park your car/truck/trailer by backing in. When dealing with parking lots used by horse trailers you want to make it as easy to get out as possible or a 7 horse slant load featherlite may accidentally block you in.
  5. If horses are a new species to you, keep the goat(s) and yourself as far away from them as possible. Horses that are frightened by these strange horned demons on four legs will kick, rear, or bolt, and may inadvertently clobber you dead in their attempts to get away from you and your animals.
  6. The trails here are short, so consider this as an easy day out or an after work dalliance, rather than planning a whole day. There are lots of great picnic areas with horse/goat tie ups. Lunch may be advised.
  7. There is a “horse playground” which has a number of training obstacles that may be fun to try with a goat so long as no horses are using it.
  8. Watch out for unauthorized ATV riders going 900 miles per hour down the trail. Goat versus bush guard doesn’t end well for the goat.

In sum: Life in the mountains goes at a slower pace. Especially on a nice, empty stretch of trail.

Goating Off Road on the Hidden Trails of South Hill Recreation Way

 

There are trails for which there are no maps. You find out about them from word of mouth, or possibly just by stalking someone who looks like a local when they dive down what appears to be a game trail and turns out to be a path of such spectacular spender that you begin to feel that you might have accidentally fallen through a wardrobe to an impossible fairyland. Their names, when they have them, invariably are far less amazing than the places they go and are generally based on the local topography, (“Gorge Trail”), what road they’re on, (“Guion Farms Trail”), or for the most literally minded, how hiking them makes you feel after a while, (“Dismal Trail”). Welcome to the wonderful world of the undefined and exploration rich hike that is traversing “social trails”.

Location: The area northeast of the South Hill Recreation Way, which encompasses the old drinking water reservoir and water pipes, the current drinking water reservoir, the Wildflower Preserve, several dams, the unofficial nudist beach, and an absolute maze of old and new social trails.

Is it goat approved? Yes. These trails are “social trails” so there are no hard and fast rules. However, accessing this area through the Wildflower Preserve or South Hill Recreation Way will require the goat to be on leash, (in theory). Off these official trails I would almost recommend keeping the goat off leash, since sections of the route are really more like walking through the woods than on trail, with the concomitant issues of tree climbing and general silliness.

How you get there: You can enter this maze from several directions, but the easiest is probably to start by parking off Burns Road, near the intersection with Coddington Road in Ithaca, NY. Look for the gravel pull over and the trail head for the South Hill Recreation way.

Time for hike:  Something between 1 hour and most of the day depending on how much exploration you are interested in doing.

Best season to do this hike: All year, but buggy in summer.

Trails to Take

*Solid red lines on the associated maps indicate clearly defined trails. Dotted lines indicate poorly defined trails, general directions to hike, and trail areas that are subject to shifting a lot*

Start off at the trail head off Burns Road. Walk down the gravel road that is the South Hill Recreation Way. You will pass a historical marker discussing how this trail used to be a rail line.

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A ways down the trail, a patch of pine woods will come up on your right. Start looking for unmarked social trails going off into the woods. The last time I was out here the trails going off the Rec Way in the vicinity of this patch of pines were the shortest route to get down the reservoir. Things may have changed. Continue down into the woods, trying to keep north to northwest on any social trails you encounter, but always heading away from the Rec Way. Avoid taking trails that pass by the “water reservoir – no trespassing” signs as this will take you too close for comfort to the current drinking supply. Eventually you should hit upon a well defined trail going off to your leftish/northwestish along the ridge above the water reservoir. If you miss this turning you’ll end up in a maze of trails that makes a loop on the south side of the reservoir before sending you back to the Rec Way.

Assuming you find the ridge, continue until you reach the reservoir dam and the outflow of the river. Then turn left off trail, and climb down the steep slope along the edge of the gorge. This is a bad area for loose rock – avoid the easy route of climbing right along the very edge of the gorge! Don’t hike with the goat on leash here, since you want it to die of its stupidity without taking you with it.

At the bottom of the hill there is a section of river with large stones that is popular for swimming and sunbathing. Stay on your side of the river and continue along the river edge following a poorly defined trail. You will pass through an area of mud and small springs/streams.

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What counts as a “more defined trail”

The trail will become more defined, eventually leading down to a ledge of rock that you walk along and a very rocky area of the river. This, I have been told, is the unofficial nudist beach for Ithaca. Beyond the nudist beach is the pond/old Ithaca water reservoir. The trail climbs up hill, stopping at a picturesque clearing with a good view of the pond. Across the pond is a large field.

Continue along the edge of the pond on a mostly overgrown trail with excellent goat forage but also lots of snakes. Eventually you will reach the pond dam, a popular swimming location, and the cliffs above it are popular diving locations for the local youth/hooligans. There is the remains of a water control building, and old water pipes are visible across the river. Continue along the edge of the river, passing by a second dam along with an excellent fishing hole just below it.

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Old Stairs in the Woods

The trail will become much more defined and begin to feel “old”, (that is, like it was intentionally built). Ruins of walls and in one area, a quite nice set of stairs, will be passed. Look for trails heading up hill from the stairs, and follow these into another maze of social trails, eventually culminating in reaching the South Hill Recreation Trail again. Walk down the trail, or parallel to it on a social trail, until the hill becomes very steep, with the river in a small flat flood plane below it. As you near the end of the Rec Way a gravel road in varying states of disrepair comes off the trail and goes down the hill. This, or a social trail near it, leads more or less to the small water treatment plant along the river. Find a way down to this water treatment plant, (it sits right on Giles Street).

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What the trail looks like when it is “poorly defined”

Walk around the treatment plant, and directly across Giles Street from it is a gravel road that is usually barricade by a gate or rope or something. Cross the street, go around said barricade, and continue down a really really steep gravel road. The road goes around a hill, and drops you off at the river. Across the river, in the cliff faces, is some amazing old ruins dating from when the old reservoir was still in use, (apparently a different piping system is now used for Ithaca’s water). Then, turn around and head back, or across Giles Street bridge and explore the opposite side of the river!

South HIll Rec Way Map1

South HIll Rec Way Map2

South HIll Rec Way Map 3

 

 

 

Be Warned!

  1. This hike takes you near the CURRENT DRINKING WATER RESERVOIR FOR ITHACA. For those not up on basic public health, taking an animal, (or human), and letting it defecate near the place where your drinking water comes from is not a great idea. A fascinating example of prior mistakes in this area in Ithaca is the major 1903 Typhoid epidemic which killed hundreds, including Cornell University students, when the local water supply was contaminated with typhoid due to poor sanitation and possibly by asymptomatic typhoid carriers working for the water company. Needless to say this water company went bankrupt in the ensuing death and carnage, but the remains of this system’s piping can still be seen in the area. Ithaca still derives its water from the same dammed river that started the epidemic. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Possibly with the assistance of a goat. So keep your distance!
  2. These are social trails. This means that they are defined by social consensus, and as a result, that these trails may change in their location and where they lead over time. Be prepared to find my rough map is very nearly entirely inaccurate, not because I have it in for you, but because a bunch of other people, I guess, have it in for you!
  3. This hike leads along the edge of extremely unstable gorge cliffs composed of rock that has a bad habit of randomly falling to pieces under your feet or in your hands. Remember that only you can prevent your own embarrassing and excruciating demise. Stay away from the edge, don’t attempt to climb, and don’t follow the stupid goat who wants to do any of the above.
  4. This trail will require climbing “strenuous” hillsides.
  5. Watch out for snakes around the ponds.
  6. If you are easily embarrassed, watch out for nudists on the river.
  7. Be prepared for lots of off leash and out of control dogs.
  8. Be prepared for hippies, spiritualists, New Age shaman wannabes, and adults building club houses of out of tree branches and vines. This is Ithaca after all.
  9. There is a woman who walks the recreation trail that is deathly afraid of goats.
  10. There are tons of little creeks crossing the hike that Google appears to be ignorant of. Be prepared to get wet and muddy!

In Sum: The greatest secrets are the ones you discover for yourself, [or insert another boring fortune cookie-esque platitude of your choice here]

Take a Walk on the Wild Side at Howland Island Wildlife Management Area

While you’ll probably never feel like you’re on an island at Howland Island, this large land area is bound by the Erie Canal on one side and the Seneca River on the other. What it will feel like is that you are visiting the most well maintained swamp in the western hemisphere.

A hideout for horse thieves, a farming community, and even a Civilian Conservation Corps camp that ended up hosting German prisoners of war have all existed at one time or another on the island. Once the land became devoted to wildlife, a pheasant farm was built to raise and release pheasants for hunting. However, this mostly resulted in feeding the local wildlife rather than satisfying hunters, so that was eventually discontinued as well.

These days nothing much remains of this extensive history, and Howland Island is just a nice place for an easy relaxing day wandering around and watching for beavers, ducks, and frogs on the many well maintained roads.

Location: Howland Island Wildlife Management Area, a wildlife management area in Upstate New York.

Is it goat approved? Yes, they allow horses here and the trails are basically road ways.

How you get there: To get to the parking location you want to come in on Carncross Road, which becomes Hunters Home Road when it enters the wildlife management area. There is a pull off area just before the bridge that you can park at.

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View back down Carncross  Road from parking area

Time for hike:  8.3 miles round trip. This is a loop hike.  

Best season to do this hike: Year around, except summer when the insects are bad.

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Typical Roadway

Trails to Take

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Wildlife Trap

I enjoy the route that runs as much as possible along Erie Canal, but it’s really what scenery you like best. The ponds are good if you’re after beaver or waterfowl, (or just into impoundments, flood control, and wildlife traps). Most of the manmade ponds have signs on them that make navigating easy, though when the crop rotation on the island includes corn it can begin to feel like you’re lost on the set of “Children of the Corn” very quickly.

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CCC Camp Marker
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Local plant life

To start off with, go down the Hunter’s Home Road you are entering on. Just before the big building on your left is Eagle Hill Road. Take that, going through an area usually planted with corn. Then when a smaller road goes off to the left, take that. It will wind out through the country past a marker for the CCC camp that used to be in the area.

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Bridge over Erie Canal

When this road dead ends into another road, take the new road to the right, and all the way down to where the road dead ends into an old iron bridge that crosses over the Erie Canal. This bridge is not crossable by goats because it’s the grating style that allows snow, (and goat hooves!) to fall through.

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Go during the warm months to enjoy the abundance of green and brown frogs

To continue, go back the way you came, turn right at the crossroads and walk along the edge of the Erie Canal.  After several miles a road will come in on your left. You want to take that road, then turn left again at the next opportunity. Stay on this road all the way back until it dead ends onto Hunter’s Home Road (slight right to go onto Hunter’s Home Road). This will take you back to the parking area.

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Wildlife habitat or just a swamp?

 

 

Howland island map
Trail Map

Be Warned!

  1. Technically grazing is not allowed in the wildlife management area. Technically. However, the grass police tend to be spread thin, what with all the golf courses and psycho turf managers they have to cover too, so a nibble or so won’t get you into trouble.
  2. The steel bridge has a grating floor, which is great for letting snow drop through, and coincidentally makes it impossible for a goat to cross.
  3. It is very possible to become mindbogglingly bored at this walking area. If you feel that your attention span is no match for 8 miles of flat roadway you may want to bring an audiobook or similar.

In Sum: Good choices for that audiobook to accompany your walk at Howland Island are Gone with the Wind, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina. 

 

Star Gazing at Sugar Hill State Forest

 

If part of the fun of getting lost in the middle of nowhere lies in using the stars to navigate yourself back to civilization, or just if you’re an amatuer star gazer who packs the telescope in on your four legged cud chewing assistant, star gazing is at its best in the woods. Sugar Hill State Forest boasts one of the highest spots on public land near Lake Seneca that is also a significant distance from town, ( thus low light pollution). On a good clear and very cold night the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy are clearly visible to the naked eye at the tent horse camping area at Sugar Hill State Forest. So enjoy a good hike and a late night watching stars to celebrate the beginning of the thaw!

(http://cnyhiking.com/NCT-SugarHillStateForest.htm has an excellent walk through of the section of the FLT described)

Location: Sugar Hill State Forest

Is it goat approved? Yep. This park is primarily devoted to horseback riders, (since New York State took the enlightened approach of giving the two trail users that hate each other most – bikers and horses – their own separate parks), so goats are totally cool. I have camped here twice, once in the winter and once in the summer, and had no real issues. I even had a park ranger come over and say she thought the goats were cool.

How you get there: You want to get on Tower Hill Road inside Sugar Hill State Forest. Near where Tower Hill Road intersects with Maple Lane there is a small gravel parking lot off to one side of the road. Next to the parking lot is a road going out through the woods perpendicular to Tower Road. If the gate is across the perpendicular road you can park at the small parking area. If the gate is not across the perpendicular road, you can drive up this road to the camping area and fire tower, (if you see the tower you are in the right spot).

Be careful using google maps for roads in the park as google has a distressing tendency to think power line cuts and other non-road artifacts are roads for some reason in Upstate New York. Sometimes it doesn’t show the full length of a road either, so to be safe use the official park maps from the department of natural resources.

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The Fire Tower. Yes, you can go up it!

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: If you really want to star gaze after you finish the hike, go in late winter when the snow has begun to melt. The skies are at their clearest, the park at its emptiest, and the snow is gone enough you can actually get to the camping area.

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Look for columbines and grouse (the bird)  in the park if you go in spring

Trails to Take

There are many roads in the forest which are worth walking, but I like the FLT because it lets you go through the woods rather than down roads. I have done the roads, visited the many primitive camping shelters in the park, and also done the FLT, but still the FLT remains one of my favorites.

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Dogo does some light lawn maintenance at the camping area

To start the hike, there is a trail running out of the campground area. It is a big cut through the woods down hill from the main camping field, almost directly east of the shed with all the tie stalls for horses. Follow this definitely a logging trail that someone just repurposed because it was convenient until you run into a graveled road.

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Ninja photography is possible along the many roads in the park
Signage for the FLT is a godsend

Now, I’m never quite sure how I do this, (because my navigation relies more on luck and prayer than I like to admit), but as the gravel road kind of comes around a corner it runs into the FLT. You want to go left on the FLT, which is initially headed south, but will eventually become east. Mostly this is going to be a walk through the woods. You’ll cross county road 21, then cross the abandoned section of Locust Lane.

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Man made watering hole (one of several along trail)

As you travel through this area you will run across lots of singing/croaking/getting their freak on frogs if you come at just the right time in the spring. These will be especially apparent around the old rock lined hollows that you will run across. Someone told me that those were originally water collecting pools to water cattle that were kept far from the few rivers/creeks in the area. Not sure if this is true or not… There were also some small trees that reminded me of balsams, which are not usual in the area.

Ruins as you approach Buck Settlement Lean-To

In any case, as you approach the Buck Settlement Lean-To you will be walking on what was a pre-1850s road, and there will be some stone ruins in the area, so keep an eye out. Once you pass the Buck Settlement Lean-To you’ll run into what looks like a road, (and is another historical road remnant), and you go left to go down the road, passing by a cemetery. Then, go on to cross a small creek next to a horse camping spot on Templar Road. The FLT crosses the road, but I like to turn around here and head back up hill.

Once you’re back at camp, gather some downed wood, start the fire for dinner, and make the goat haul the telescope up from the car. Get out the star charts, line ‘er up, and wait for the show to start.

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Dogo enjoying the moss

 

BE WARNED!

  1. The restrooms at the camping area, and the road up to the camping area off of Tower Hill Road, are closed during the winter season.
  2. I don’t recall ever paying to camp here, but make sure that’s still the case before you go.
  3. The roads into and around the park area are poorly maintained, (they even have signage telling you they don’t do a lot of road repair). I got a Ford Focus hatchback in, but I won’t say it was pretty.
  4. There are coyotes in the park that can be heard talking sometimes at night, but they do not seem to enter the camping area.
  5. There is a permanent wooden trail map at the camping area. Be careful of this map! One of the roads on the map actually runs exactly where two pieces of wood are joined to make the map. If you aren’t paying attention you can do what I did, which is not realize that it’s a road, not just a joint, and get really confused on where you are.
  6. The fire tower is a popular place for locals to visit, so expect to see some possible foot traffic to it even in winter.
  7. The camping is really only set up for tents and is basically camp where ever you want to in a big open field. Though I have seen people pull small trailers out there too.

In sum: Man has gazed at the stars for eons, but never before has one had to fight a goat that’s trying to eat the tripod for the opportunity.