Trail Blog

Bull Mountain to Jone’s Creek Campground Shuttle Hike at Jake’s Mountain

So last week I found myself staring at the Jake’s Mountain trail map going “What now?”. At which point, my primal inner 3 year old was immediately drawn to one thing about half way up the center of the map. Booger Holler.

What can I say? I was intrigued.

Which begs the question – what the heck? I mean, really, that is up there on the bizarre names list and apparently it was famous enough that the Park Service actually felt compelled to include it on their official map? The internet is suspiciously silent on the subject of Booger Holler, only noting that it may once have been a moonshiner hideout. Given the seclusion of the area and the abundance of water sources it seems like a possibility. Keep an eye out for old stills, (and away from any active ones), on this easy shuttle hike through Jake’s Mountain.

Is it goat approved? They let horses wander around, so I am guessing goats are okay.

How you get there: Park here at Bull Mountain Parking Lot: 34.580633, -84.144667. The parking lot is not so much a lot as an overgrown, rutted field. I got stuck in a 2 wheel drive pickup in the rear of the field. Be careful where you park!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 5 miles one way. The going is easy, but the pretty stuff is concentrated in one area near Jones Creek Campground.

Best season to do this hike: Fall and winter. The campground is fairly popular and the road will be heavily trafficked during warmer weather.


Trails to Take

Start off at Bull Mountain Parking, then head north on the blocked off road behind the trail kiosk. Continue straight until the road dead ends into a fork, then go left to get on trail 223D.

Now, 223D is going to wind off forever along the mountain side, staying mostly flat with the occasional minor incline. Easy hiking, but not so easy navigating. Three different roads veer off the trail, each one unmarked but partially blocked by a metal T. Ignore them all.

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Booger Hollar Hunt Camp Cabin located at 34.596362, -84.148022

At the final metal T the trail jumps off the now blocked old road bed and climbs into the woods becoming more trail like as it winds off through the forest. Shortly there after Booger Hollar hunt camp comes into a view. It’s a relatively nice wooden cabin with a deck contrasting with a porta-john style outhouse that has partially collapsed into the cesspit below. Essentially, it looks like every backwoods hunt camp you’ll ever find in North Georgia, but with a cabin instead of a busted down camper.

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I feel sorry for the guy using the outhouse…when it fell into the cesspit

The trail leaves the camp, circles a small decline, and then comes up on Trail 223C. Go right here and begin a steep, never ending descent to the creek. The trail switch backs several times, some of these are hard to see until you are almost passed them.

Eventually you get dumped out on, surprise, another unmarked road! The creek is now in sight, as is the car ford across it. In moderately rainy weather the ford is passable. On the far side of the creek trail 223A heads up stream, and the road bed heads off to the right. Below you and about 50 feet off the trail is a reasonably nice waterfall.

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Waterfall along one of the several large creeks in the area of the car ford

Following the road bed to the right takes you slightly up hill and then almost immediately down hill into Jones Creek Campground. Jones Creek is pretty popular, and camping with a goat could be annoying, (See Beware section). Campsites appear to be first come first serve, so if you arrive early and aren’t accompanied by hooved companions you may be able to snag a sweet spot on one of the several creeks that enter the area.

The road out of the campground (Jones Creek Rd) runs straight ahead, curving along through open woodland dotted occasionally with streams and struggling hemlock groves. The road passes over a creek, then shortly later passes through a wildlife clearing (again, no camping here), and finally meets up with Winding Stair Gap Road, the heavily trafficked gravel road you took on your way into Bull Mountain parking.

It’s at this junction that my long suffering husband gave a certain fat goat a ride back :).

map

 

BE WARNED

  1. Jones Creek Campground in VERY cold weather might be suitable for goats, however, most of the time it has a few too many yuppies to be fun. The banks of the creek, as well as all large clearings off Jones Creek Rd are marked as “no camping”. So, what to do if you actually want to camp? Camp out in the woods away from the campground, camp at the unfilled lake near Bulls Mountain Parking, or you can actually camp at the Bull Mountain Parking area if you want to talk to people a lot.
  2. Jones Creek Rd is not very small car friendly. The road to Bull Mountain Parking is okay though.
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Goat transport unit – 1 cheap plastic Walmart box and a long suffering husband’s car

 

In sum: 

When you take the fat goat for a hike, its better to underestimate his hiking ability. Or you end up with a shuttle hike instead of an out and back with camping…

 

 

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GEORGIA: Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail

The origin of the name Blood Mountain is lost to time. Some say it comes from a bloody battle between the Cherokee and Creek Indians in the nearby aptly named Slaughter Gap. Others that the reddish color of the plant life on the mountain inspired the name. But personally, I suspect it actually derives from the first poor soul who tried to climb this peak and all the blood, sweat, and tears left clawing their way up through the boulder fields to the spectacular views at the summit.

Is it goat approved? I wouldn’t take one here, even if there’s snow on the ground. The trail is extremely popular with day hikers and thru hikers. However, if the apocalypse comes, or a mass pandemic and the vast number of people migrating to Atlanta ceases…the goats would really love this one.

How you get there: Park at Byron Herbert Reece Access Trail. GPS 34.742001, -83.922440. The parking is limited, regulated, and very popular, but with a decent turnaround as day hikers go up and come back down. The turn is well marked for the parking area, and it’s just past Mountain Crossings, where the Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the road.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 4.2 miles round trip out and back. The going is strenuous the first 2/3rds, climbing rock stairs and significant grades. The last third levels out and crosses a series of GORGEOUS rock faces with incredible views, culminating at the imposing TWO ROOM trail shelter. Seriously, this is an awesome hike.

Best season to do this hike: Fall, winter, and early spring are best. Summer, starting about mid-April, many AT thru hikers are coming through, and it will be busier and less fun.


Trails to Take

Start off in the parking lot, and the trail kiosk should be visible on the loop. Trail’s behind the kiosk.

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Lower Trail Fog

We were racing the autumn fog this morning, and if you too are looking for spectacular cloud photos at the crack of dawn, the first stage of the hike will climb up through fog. On the left a creek tumbles down, crossing the trail at one point.

The trail gains steepness as it ascends and dries, reaching a saddle where a confusing trail junction occurs. The access trail from Herbert Byron Reece Parking Lot is meeting the Appalachian Trail at this point. You want to go right and uphill to go to Blood Mountain. If you go left you’ll just descend to the road and Mountain Crossings Store.

The trail becomes rockier and rockier, and a series of depressing stone stairs ascends among large boulders jutting out from sassafras trees. The hemlocks at the parking area and near the creek peter out and are overtaken by stunted buckeyes and maples. The trail winds up a series of switch backs in a serious climb, then levels.

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The upper fog is gone…leaving a spectacular sea of clouds stretching to the horizon and Blood Mountain a lone rocky point rising out of the fog.

The trail goes along the edge of the mountain now, level and easy going, until you reach your first rock face and the first spectacular view of the morning. If you’ve made it before the burn off starts, but after the air has cleared (before 10 am at the latest!) beneath your rocky aerie lies an ocean of perfect cloud cover.

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The clouds are pretty awesome!

A series of rock faces lead up the face of the mountain, the crevasses and boulders becoming larger and more spectacular, until finally a well camouflaged rock shelter emerges from among the wind blown buckeyes and weather trimmed mountain laurel. This is Blood Mountain Shelter, the only two room shelter with a fireplace I have ever seen. It is frankly spectacular, well maintained, and fascinating in construction. Sadly the old fireplace has been blocked in as fires are no longer allowed on this section of the trail due to the threat of forest fire.

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The Blood Mountain two room chalet of a shelter!

Large rocks surrounding the shelter offer further perches and views, then it’s time to go back to the parking lot.

Trail Map

Map

 

BE WARNED

  1. Bear canisters are required in this part of the trail if you are camping. The recent explosion in the black bear population in North Georgia is probably the reason why.
  2. No fires. No seriously, they are terrified of fire up here – we survived some bad ones a few years ago that almost came down the mountains for the rest of Georgia. Pack the gas burner if you want smores instead.
  3. Parking is, as usual, busy and over worked. Plan accordingly.
  4. If you want fog, get up to the rocks by 9:30, or at the latest 10 in October. If you want the view, come on a sunny day around lunch.

 


Nearby Historical Stuff: The Indian Princess’s Grave

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The grave of Trahlyta

The giant pile of stones in the middle of the intersection of US 19 and US 60 in Stonepile Gap, GA is an interesting bit of history lodged literally in the middle of the modern world.

The pile of stones is over the grave of Trahlyta, a Cherokee princess whose tribe lived on Cedar Mountain nearby. The tribe had achieved immortality by drinking from magic springs shown to them by the Witch of Cedar Mountain. Okay, so this sounds a bit bizarre, but let me tell you for some reason there are A LOT of legends of immortal tribes/people in this neck of the woods. The Cherokee refer to them as the Nunnehei, (The People Who Live Anywhere), and consider them a race of Spirit People. Supposedly they had a large townhouse on Blood Mountain and other settlements in the surrounding area. Who knows, maybe the fount of eternal youth is in Georgia and not Florida…

Anyway, I digress. The legend goes that Trahlyta jilted a potential suitor, and that suitor decided to let his testosterone do the thinking. So he kidnapped her and dragged her away from the springs that were the source of her eternal youth. Predictably, she died. The suitor, while being an idiot in terms of logic, was apparently slightly better at geography, and took her remains back near her home place for burial as she requested.

Later travelers began the custom of throwing a stone as they passed onto the pile, and over time the  marker became so large even the highway department couldn’t pave over it.

 


In sum: 

When you take pictures where it looks like you’re above the cloud layer you can tell people you climbed to whatever elevation you want and they’ll believe you. By the way, Blood Mountain is stumpy even by Appalachian standards – it rises a mere 4,459 ft and is only the 6th tallest in Georgia.

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A Mini Nimberwill Nomad At Jake’s Mountain

The Nimberwill Nomad is an incredible long distance hiker. He’s kind of like wonder lust personified, or maybe Odysseus if Odysseus had said “screw this getting home stuff, let’s just turn this thing into a magical mystery tour instead”. The Nomad’s treks are described as odysseys for a reason on his personal website (https://nimblewillnomad.com) because frankly, what this guy does isn’t really comparable to what the rest of us mean by “hike”. He hiked the Appalachian Trail of course, but he’s also walked Route 66, across the entire United States in a big loop, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, and basically anything that might be described as “epic”.

While he’s originally from up North, he retired to the Nimberwill area here in North Georgia. For those not versed in North Georgia’s many microcosms, Nimberwill is the area around Nimberwill Creek, Nimberwill Church, and in short, the area where Jake’s Mountain State Park lies. So one of the internet’s more insane hikers comes from here. Maybe hiking the goat here will inspire it to want to climb mountains too…

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One of the Nimberwill Nomad’s treks – Route 66

Is it goat approved? They let horses in here, so I am going with “yes probably”.

How you get there: Park here at Bull Mountain Parking Lot: 34.580633, -84.144667. The parking lot is not so much a lot as an overgrown, rutted field. I got stuck in a 2 wheel drive pickup in the rear of the field. Be careful where you park!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 4.2 miles round trip out and back. The going is easy, with only two moderate uphills and down hills. There are three seperate fields starting at 1 mile in that would make good camping locations in the Fall and Winter. Summer the flies would be bad as we are near the lake *ahem* make that swamp with a drainage system and a dam.

Best season to do this hike: Fall, winter, and early spring. Summer the flies and mosquitoes will probably be bad.


Trails to Take

Starting off in the parking lot, (or well, unmowed field you left your truck in and hope you can get it back out of), you want to go back up the road to the trail kiosk. Behind the gate just beyond the kiosk is the “trail” though it will look more like a road at this point.

This is technically the Bull Mountain Connector Trail at this point. In about a quarter mile the road intersects with Jones Creek Connector Trail, (or again, at this point, road). Go right on this.

The road winds out through the woods, gradually becoming less and less defined. It crosses the first field at around a mile, and finally becomes a track instead of a two track. The trail winds down hill into a second field, then across the dam for the “lake”. The dam is humongous, but the lake it was meant to contain has either succumbed to the drought last summer or a lack of funding. The dam is holding back an underwhelming shallow water water mosquito breeding mud sucking swamp. With a rather expensive looking drainage set up.

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One of several camping fields
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The swamp at the bottom of what probably was meant to be a lake…

The trail continues across the dam amid late fall wildflowers, climbs a hill, and reaches another field. This one is probably the best camping spot – large, well drained, protected from high winds and far enough away from the swamp to thwart the worst of the insects. I will definitely back here for an overnight hike!

This little training jaunt ends at the fork of Jones Creek Dam Trail and Moss Creek Trail. A good 4 miler for a 3 month old kid, and a good leg stretch for a lazy human hiker.

 

TRAIL MAP

map

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. Bull Mountain Parking Lot is a very…optimist…name. The field at the end of the road isn’t that great for parking. It is rutted, with bad traction, no mowing, and a general sense that you are going to get stuck. I got stuck in the Ranger. Bring 4 wheel drive if you have it…and if you don’t, be careful how you park.
  3. Bikers, runners, and to a lesser extent horseback riders all do big get togethers at this park. You may arrive at a free for all Jamboree that you were not invited to. But that’s cool – cause a goat is always in fashion!

In sum: 

I once read an interview with the Nimberwill Nomad during his trek of Route 66. He doesn’t carry much of anything – no extra food or a heavy pack. The answer to why he doesn’t I found kind of profound. In his words, every piece of gear you have is an expression of your fears. You bring a first aid kit because you are afraid of injury. Food because you are afraid to go hungry. Boots because you are afraid to twist your ankle. A tent because you are afraid to sleep outdoors. What must it be like, to walk alone and unafraid?

SOUTH CAROLINA: Ashmore Heritage Preserve and the Old Camp Spearhead

The Ashmores Heritage Preserve lies off Hwy 11 in South Carolina, wedged between Mountain Bridge Wilderness and the remains of Camp Spearhead. The trail system is pretty simple – there’s the yellow blaze Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, Wattacoo Lake Loop, and a slew of logging trails. Not sounding super exciting? Well, that depends on what you like. If you’re into abandoned structures, mountain lakes, and most importantly peace and blessed quiet then this is a good place to spend a Saturday morning in October.

Is it goat approved? I don’t have official permission, but I would say this is a okay place to hike with a goat as it is low traffic and trails are predominately gravel or hard packed earth. There are signs that horses have been ridden on the property…though signage would suggest this is sort of not allowed.

How you get there: Park at 35.081871, -82.583914. Parking is off the side of the road and well marked.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 4 miles round trip with a section that is out and back. It’s pretty easy going, but it requires above a level 0 navigation skill if you are doing the logging trails. The blazed trails are relatively easy to follow.

Best season to do this hike: Year around.


Trails to Take

I decided to go play out on the logging trails instead of jumping straight on the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail (orange blaze). If you aren’t into navigation and getting lost, to get on the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail walk uphill from the parking lot on Persimmon Road. The first gate on your right leads up a gravel road. About twenty feet past the gate on the gravel road the orange blaze will drop off into the woods on your right. Turn down it to continue on the less *ahem* interesting route.

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Artificial bat cave on the property

For more fun (and also probably getting lost a lot) keep going straight. You’ll reach a creek with an iron bridge across it and a second wading spot, probable for ATVs or horses nearby. Cross the bridge and go right on what looks like a large, normal trail. This logging road is unblazed. It first comes up to an intersection with three exits. The far left exit is a logging road running straight up hill…this one isn’t much fun and doesn’t seem to go anywhere interesting. The center trail runs along a hill side…and also seems to go nowhere interesting. The trail on your right continues along parallel with the road. You want this one.

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The pond at dawn

At the next intersection, go right. At the third go right, and at the fourth and final intersection go right. Finally, you’ll come up on an intersection with an old road showing signs of pavement, and you can see the pond off on your left. The pond is located around GPS 35.085252, -82.578693. It’s pretty cool, and may have some interesting rare plants around it depending on season.

From the pond you can go back out, take a left and continue along the logging road that runs parallel with Persimmon Road. This will eventually dump you on Wattacoo Lake Trail. Turn right on this flat, easy trail. It will take you down along a creek side, past an old home site, (look for the non-native yucca plant and the old tire), and along what was probably the original access road for the home site. The Wattacoo Lake Trail will dump you off at the Mountain Bridge Passage Trail a few minutes after leaving the creek behind.

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Storage building ruins

Now, here’s the part where I started kicking myself – this junction between Mountain Bridge Passage Trail and Wattacoo Lake Trail? It’s back up at Persimmon Ridge Road, and literally behind an orange gate downhill from the parking area by maybe 200 ft. So, if you want to wander logging trails, go up hill to the gate I went in. If you’d rather just go to the pond and the abandoned camp…walk down hill from the parking area about 200 ft, and walk around the orange gate on your left. You’ll be right at the trail junction.

Anyway, from here take Mountain Bridge Passage Trail. It winds you out through the mountains in a pretty stereotypical hike, but the final descent leaves you somewhere more interesting than the average dead end. When you pass the sign for Ashmore Heritage Preserve you are now technically on private property as I understand it. From here on in you are on the now defunct Camp Spearhead property, also referred to as the “civitan camp”. Camp Spearhead originally functioned as a summer camp for disabled kids and adults, but when the camp closed it was purchased by Naturaland Trust in 2006. Naturaland Trust has kept it as a conservation area, and thus we get to go exploring!

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Council Circle

The Mountain Bridge Passage Trail descends from the mountains to meet a bridge, a river, and the first of two large ruins on the site. The buildings themselves have weathered very well, and can be explored with minimal risk. The first building appears to be a storage or cooking area. The camp road in front of the ruin runs out to Hwy 11 (and additional parking for trail access) on the right and further into the camp on the left.

The camp includes a couple of picnic tables, open fields, sidewalks, overlooks, bridges, and decorative plantings that have long since gone feral. There are a number of gravel roads which I did not fully explore as well. I didn’t find any cabins, but I would assume some type of camper housing was there originally. Many buildings have been demolished (or burned down) since the camp’s closing.

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Intact screened auditorium

There is a large screened auditorium in amazingly good shape given that this camp closed in the early 2000s and next to it a grove containing a council circle of sorts for campers.

Once you’re done exploring the ruins, it’s just a short hike back uphill to the car.

 

TRAIL MAP

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Black trails are logging trails, orange line is Mountain Bridge Passage Trail, and the purple is the Wattacoo Lake Trail. Parking is the blue star near Persimmon Ridge Road

BE WARNED

  1. This is not a level 0 navigation trip. Plan accordingly.
  2. There are signs of drunk people activity at the old camp. Maybe don’t plan to come after dark on Friday or Saturday nights unless you are bringing enough beer to share.
  3. There are bears. Duh.

 

IN SUM:

I say “Husband, I have found some cool abandoned summer camp buildings”

Husband says “Did you find any abandoned summer campers?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In sum: 

Camp Spearhead used to be a summer camp for disabled kids. While the old camp is no longer, I hear they still do the camp down near Greenville. So don’t feel too bad enjoying the nice ruins!

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.

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.

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

TENNESSEE: Visit The Jetson’s House at Clingman’s Dome

Okay, so Clingman Dome’s real claim to fame is being the highest point in the state, but lets face it – that viewing tower at the top of the mountain? That is totally reminiscent of Jetsonian 1962 futuristic architecture! Seriously! Or possibly a flying saucer according to my father…

Jetsons
Seriously, check out the towers in the background versus Clingman’s Dome!

Is it goat approved? Nope. Trails are very popular and the park rangers thicker than rainbow flags at a Pride Parade.

How you get there: Google Clingman’s Dome. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Cherokee, NC. Parking is limited and fills quickly.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 0.5 miles one way, or 1 mile out and back. The grade up the trail is significant.

Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year except when the road to the dome is closed from December to March.


Trails to Take

Park and walk. The trail to the top is paved and pretty much straight ahead. There are side trails, among which I would recommend the short 2 mile or so round trip to Andrew’s Bald where wildflowers can be viewed in season. And of course, the crossing of the Appalachian Trail.

Supposedly on a good day you can see 100 miles from the top of Clingman’s Dome, including several nearby towns. There is also a unique spruce forest occupying the summit, which exists here because the high elevation produces an unusually cool climate. I have heard several reasons as to why many of these spruce trees are dead – ranging from European beetles to excessive car exhaust. Whatever the reason, they add a unique flare to photography at the summit.

And one final interesting story about Clingman’s Dome – supposedly the Cherokee believed that on this summit was a sacred, hidden lake known only to bears. The bears would come to it to be healed of wounds and to escape from humans. If a warrior went on a vision quest on the mountain it was said he might be able to find the lake. Apparently you would know you had found the right body of water by the thousands of bear paw prints on the shore from all the bears that had come to bathe in the waters.

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Views abound along the paved trail
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The ramp up to the viewing tower at the top
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The viewing tower, or the Jetson’s summer cabin

BE WARNED

  1. The only restrooms are pit toilets in the middle of the parking lot. There doesn’t appear to be any restrooms at the visitor center or at the top of Clingman’s Dome.
  2. The trail is paved but the grade is significant enough the park service has a sign warning people it is dangerous to take strollers…probably because if you let go your offspring is pretty much a gonner! If you are bringing a relative with a heart condition, out of shape, or elderly they may not have much fun climbing to the top, though there are plenty of places to rest.
  3. Strollers will not make it into the visitors center or very easily up the ramp to the viewing tower. Plus see proceeding point about offspring annihilation. Make the kids walk for this one.
  4. There is a giant pile of rocks at the start of the trail that kids (and adults) like to climb and can legally do so.
  5. The Appalachian Trail, always a glutton for punishment, crosses right at the top of the grade up to Clingman’s Dome. Cause making you climb the absolute highest point in the Tennessee on your way to Maine is character building or something I guess.

In sum: 

Seriously, when do I get my flying car and dream house on a single vertical stilt above the clouds?

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.

map

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.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Lilies Among the Locks at Landsford Canal State Park

If you grew up in a place where gardening meant you ate,  you probably have a great grandmother with an extraordinary green thumb hanging off a limb somewhere in the family tree. Or possibly perched on a ladder next to it doing some judicious pruning and tent caterpillar burning while planning what she’s going to do with all those apples that didn’t fall to far from the tree.

Mine planted a lot of things, both pretty and productive, but the pride and joy, the one item my great grandfather’s snapper lawnmower had better never snap off, were the red spider lilies.  When I grew up and got into native plants I began to realize that the flowers my grandparents had cherished – azaleas, irises, and hydrangeas among others, were all foreign imports. Even those beloved red spider lilies sprouting on my tormented grandfather’s lawn are native to Japan were they decorate graves instead of sod.

But then I found out we have our own versions – the piedmont azalea, the wood hydrangea, native irises, and even an equivalent for those lovely, lacey red spider lilies. South Carolina has its own spider lily – the exceeding rare Shoals Spider Lily. The Shoals Spider Lily (hymenocallis coronaria) is an endangered flower that grows in a very dangerous place – right in the middle of flood prone rivers. Hydroelectric dams removed much of this historically abundant flower, (first noted in the 1700s by William Bartram – namesake of the Bartram Trail in Georgia), by covering the shoals on which it lives and regulating the rivers to prevent flooding. However, some populations still exist in SC, GA, AL, and NC, including right in the middle of the Catawba River at Landsford Canal State Park. So come and enjoy a rare site – a river in bloom!

Is it goat approved? Nope. Trails are very popular and the park rangers very vigilant.

How you get there: Google Landsford Canal State Park and go to the first entrance to park. Note there is a $5 per person charge to visit.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 3 miles total out and back.  

Best season to do this hike: Go when the lilies are in bloom, starting in late April into May (with the peak generally around Mother’s Day).


Trails to Take

The trail is exceedingly simple. Go in entrance 1, Park Drive. You will pass 2 ranger residences almost directly across from one another. Right after that on the left is an UNMARKED gravel drive that goes into the woods and looks pretty darn sketchy. This is actually the drive way to the gravel lot in front of the old Lock Keepers House, (which is now an unmanned and apparently shuttered museum). There is a plaque from the Daughters of the American Revolution nearby with more history about the canal system as well. You can drive up and park, admire the stonework, and drive back out and down to the actual parking loop for the trail head.

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Canal keepers house

 

The parking area is at a large picnic spot on the Catawba River. The trail head for the canal trail is on the edge of the river behind the rustic log cabin. The trail splits into a “nature trail” that runs along the river and a “canal trail” that more closely follows the original canal path and ruins. Personally, take the canal trail out and the nature trail back in. While most “nature trails” are not that interesting, the one here is – expect turtles, herons, and great river views for your return trip!

 

Anyway, follow the signs for the canal trail, which quickly begins to pass ruins that are open for climbing and exploring and not behind the velvet ropes of your standard outdoor museum. The diversion dam that once supplied the canal with water is still clearly visible, as is the guard lock, the bed of the original canal, and the tow path that accompanies it. The trail mostly follows the old tow path, which winds along the contour of the hill, taking you past the remains of a bridge that once crossed the canal, and a culvert for diverting a stream UNDER the canal surprisingly enough. The canal eventually comes up to a huge section of towering stone work – this was originally the location of a mill and large pool where barrages could stop to load and unload flour. Now the trail goes down the canal bed through these towering stone retaining walls, (there is very little evidence of the original mill left).

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Walls of the canal at the mill site
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Lifting Locks

 

The trail follows the canal bed, then climbs back up onto the tow path to take the outdoor history enthusiast to the final grand piece of this outdoor museum – the upper lifting locks and a stone bridge at the canal terminus. The locks themselves are cool, but even cooler is a sign indicating the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path. This ancient thoroughfare is part of a longer path that connected the Great Lakes to the southern US, eventually ending all the way down in Augusta, GA. With the arrival of settlers the route became known as the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road, and provided access to the historically important towns of Camden, Chester, Newberry, and Rock Hill. Today the path has all but vanished – except for this remarkably preserved stone bridge.

The trail terminates at the second parking lot, so turn around at the lifting locks and head back. This time on the nature trail! And don’t forget the lily overlook!

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Shoals Spider Lily at the overlook

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BE WARNED

  1. To reiterate what every single sign will already tell you – the Shoals Spider Lily will not grow outside of its very specific habitat. Trying to grown the bulbs elsewhere doesn’t work – so pilfering is pointless.
  2. It costs money ($5 per person) to visit the park…but the gate is self serve…
  3. There is a canoe trail for up close viewing of the lilies. The large trail kiosk between the parking lot and the log cabin gives further directions on how to use this trail – it winds among a number of river islands as I understand it.
  4. Realize that you will need a canoe to view the lilies up close – these flowers really do live in the middle of the river. For close up photos from afar you will need more than digital zoom on your cell phone if you are standing at the viewing platform.

In sum: 

The Shoals Spider Lily blooms once a year, in early spring. Each bloom opens at night and lasts only a single day. How fleeting an existence for something so beautiful.

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Shoals Spider Lily