Trail Blog

GEORGIA: Saving the Hemlocks at Angel Falls

The old adage you can’t just take, you have to give holds true for use of park service lands just like it does for warlords exploiting local villages. A warlord has to keep the peasants alive, and an avid hiker has to keep the forest alive.

Which is how I ended up treating hemlocks dying of wooly adelgid at Rabun Recreation Area Campground with Save Georgia’s Hemlocks (http://www.savegeorgiashemlocks.org/). Where I also found out about a nice, short waterfall hike at the campground that is worth a quick visit if you are at the rec area to begin with.

Is it goat approved? No. The Cradle of Forestry guy in the golf cart would probably run you over with righteous zeal for disturbing his domain (more about him in the “Beware” section).

How you get there: The trail head lies within the second loop of the campground, near site 53 (gps: 34.760750, -83.472252). The campground has a $5 day use fee for the trail and the beach. 

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 1 mile out and back. Really only suitable as a side trip if you are there to hang out at the beach, see the ritzy lake houses, kayak or view some of the other sightseeing locations listed at the bottom of this review. Or if you are out treating hemlocks of course!

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


Trails to Take

The trail starts off behind a kiosk at site 53 in campground loop 2 of Rabun Recreation Area Campground. It is pretty popular, and should be easy to spot. There is limited parking in the area, and more parking at the bathrooms in campground loop 1. You can use the access road at the back of the loop 1 area to take a 3 min walk into loop 2 to reach the trail head.

However you get there the trail follows the creek and crosses a small bridge. All the hemlocks in the campground and throughout this trail are treated and cared for by Save the Hemlocks – which is why most of them are still alive for us to enjoy!

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CCC camp spring box

The trail continues up, passing by a spring box built by the local CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps – a depression era “putting people back to work” program that built much of the park structures we use on the east coast). From there it continues to climb until at 0.5 miles you reach Panther Falls.

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Panther Falls

The trail switch backs, continues to climb, and begins to pass the hulks of hemlocks for whom help came to late. This area is hotter (no hemlocks for shade) and more erode (no hemlocks to hold the soil). At the very top is Angel Falls, a picturesque multi-cascade wedged among mountain laurel. The trail loops back on itself and then all you have to do is walk back down.

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Angel Falls
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Trail Map

OTHER PLACES YOU MUST CHECK OUT

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Nacoochee Dam

Nacoochee Dam Roadside Park (34.755796, -83.500819) – 1920s era dam with small power plant that impounds Lake Seed.

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Nacooche Indian Mound

Nacoochee Indian Mound (34.683690, -83.708985) – Indian mound that once held the Town House at the center of a large Cherokee town.

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Stovall Mill Covered Bridge

Stovall Mill Covered Bridge (34.711691, -83.657878) – covered bridge at a mostly eroded mill site. Has a great swimming hole popular with locals and picnic tables.

BE WARNED

  1. The parking is limited. You can park in loop 1 at the bath house if you need to, but be sure to display your day use permit.
  2. There is a $5 day use permit.
  3. In all honesty, the Cradle of Forestry guys who are in charge of this campground are a little…excessive. They will ticket your truck if you forget to display the permit. They will chase you in a golf cart. They will lay down the law with the all the bombastic force of someone who firmly believes they are cleaning up the riffraff. The only issue I have is they view “local people” and “riffraff” as synonyms. And by local, I mean all the people who lived here long before the Atlanta retirees came with their money, their lake houses, and their firm belief in their own superiority. Basically, if someone invites you to go to this campground and this hike, do it. But if you are a “local” or someone who lives like a “local” you may feel highly insulted dealing with these people and going to this place.
  4. Take time for the other places to visit! This area and the lake are beautiful and well worth spending a few days exploring. And the campground is well kept, if you can deal with the keepers.

In sum: 

If money moved mountains the whole world would be a mountain range.

NORTH CAROLINA: The Poetry of Goats at Carl Sandburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trails to Take

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

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The climb up the driveway through hemlocks

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

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Slave quarters turned chicken quarters

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

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

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Buck sheds and vegetable garden

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

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First pond behind the apple orchard

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

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Glassy Mountain Overlook

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

BE WARNED

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

In sum: 

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

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

—Carl Sandburg
from “Suburban Sicilian Sketches”

Yonah in the Distance at Unicoi Gap on the Appalachian Trail

Why is it every winter I forget how hot it gets in the summer? Till of course that agonizing day where the morning starts out at 50F and quickly becomes 80F by 1 pm. Seriously mother nature, go easy on us mere mortals with the temperature swings!

At least she installed a pretty awesome view from this trail to make up for it…

Is it goat approved? Dunno, but the thru hikers were pretty chill about the goat.

How you get there: Park here: 34°48’05.5″N 83°44’35.1″W. There is a HUGE gravel pull over on the side of Hwy 75. But it does get full on good weekends. Also, beware of hitch hiking thru hikers who want to pile in the truck to go to Hiawassee at this spot.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is a little under 9 miles out and back.  Yes, I know what the map says, but Google doesn’t know about all the switch backs. Budget some extra time for photography at the overlooks.

Best season to do this hike: Most seasons, though the rocks at the Yonah Overlook section are probably going to ice a lot in winter. Also this area is very close to the start/end of the Appalachian Trail. This means the traffic is very heavy in early spring (start of the hiking season) and fall (end of the hiking season). However, the wildflowers won’t be in bloom unless you go after April 1st, (the trilliums were beginning on April 1st).


Trails to Take

You must take the “trail” as the thru hikers refer to the Appalachian Trail. They speak as if it were the only one in existence, or perhaps that it is both a physical and metaphysical journey that they have undertaken to prove to themselves…whatever it is they decided to spend 6 months of their lives proving.

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Boulder Field

The trail starts in the parking lot, climbing up in a long arc through a boulder field then bast a stream. It intersects with Rocky Mountain Trail at about 0.5 miles.

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Yonah Mountain view (its the weird prominence in the distance)

At 1 mile you will see several campsites, including 2 official ones behind the “camping” wooden sign post that are particularly fancy. The trail makes its way for the next 0.5 mile or so along rock face amid stunted and windblown oak trees. Views of Yonah Mountain and general foresty/mountain goodness abound.

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Stairs from hell section

The trail descends steeply, reaching a saddle with a large boulder in the bottom, the makes a short climb…followed by the downward stairs from hell. They just keep going and going and going. You will feel like you’re on a stair master at the gym, and worse yet, it is annoying to let people around the goat through this section because you have to step off the stairs to provide room for hiking poles. Expect to be delayed here.

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The rhododendrons

The trail reaches Indian Grave Gap Road where a trail to a campground peels off to your left (blue blaze). It crosses, then climbs through some particularly pretty rhododendrons, back out into the open, and back into rhododendrons again. The hike is not particularly difficult in this stretch.

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Trillium on the trail

The trail comes up on Tray Mountain Road, where it crosses and ascends a set of wooden stairs. It passes through a stand of rhododendron, past a not very appealing campsite and then into an open area that is clearly heavily camped, backed by rhododendron. This is the Cheese Factory. The “trail” runs right through it and ascends on the other side.

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Final overlook under storm clouds

 

Another 0.5 miles or so brings you up on a small overlook and another campsite, followed shortly thereafter by a meet up once again with Tray Mountain Road. There is a large “Jeep pit” in the road that fills with water and some Jeepies may be playing in the mud. Around the 1st of April every year some boy scouts do trail magic (pancakes and sausage and eggs!) at this crossing. Cross the road, climb a stretch of switch backs, and you will reach your final destination – a major overlook.

From here, turn around and head back.

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Map of hike

BE WARNED

  1. The Cheese Factory is heavily camped – most campers show up in the late evening.
  2. The stair section is tight and you may be delayed there allowing others to pass.
  3. The last overlook is very popular – go early (before 9 am) or late (after 4pm) to have the place to yourself for photography.
  4. This is bear country. Bears eat goats. Be aware of the tasty hamburger on leg’s vulnerability.
  5. Parking can be full during the summer and wildflower season – this place is popular.
  6. The section with views of Yonah Mountain gets a lot of sun exposure and gets extremely hot late in the day making it a challenging stretch for a tired goat and human on the way back.
  7. Don’t be surprised if hitch hiking thru hikers want you to give them a ride to town. This is perfectly normal.

In sum: 

Keep an eye out for “trail magic” at the parking area and other road crossings. If they have extras they feed even stray day hikers. Thumbs up on the sausage boy scout troop!

Taking Cherry to the Cheese Factory on the Appalachian Trail

No, they don’t still make cheese on the Appalachian Trail, but one of the best shady and soft grounded camping areas in GA is named for a long vanished dairy operation. The original cheese factory was started by an eccentric New Englander in the 1800s, and those familiar with historical agricultural will agree he must have been very eccentric. The site was 15 miles from the nearest farmhouse in the 1800s, it is rocky, rugged, lacking in water, and not highly productive pasturage. While other Georgians sold their government allotted parcels to speculators in the 1830s, this crazy New England dairyman apparently tamed the rugged mountain sides, installed some cows, and went at it. He managed to run a successful dairy and even produced cheese that actually won awards.

This is a great hike for landscape photography and for getting that goat out for a quick trip on an otherwise crowded weekend.

Is it goat approved? Dunno, but the thru hikers were pretty chill about the goat.

How you get there: Park here: 34.791716, -83.706993. Be warned the road in up Tray Mountain  Road is pretty rough, but not impassable. It will take you about 30 minutes to reach this point from Hwy 75.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6 miles out and back. Budget some extra time for photography at the overlooks.

Best season to do this hike: NOT SUMMER. You won’t be able to get a campsite. Also this area is very close to the start/end of the Appalachian Trail. This means the traffic is very heavy in early spring (start of the hiking season) and fall (end of the hiking season). However, the wildflowers won’t be in bloom unless you go after April 1st.


Trails to Take

You must take the “trail” as the thru hikers refer to the Appalachian Trail. They speak as if it were the only one in existence, or perhaps that it is both a physical and metaphysical journey that they have undertaken to prove to themselves…whatever it is they decided to spend 6 months of their lives proving.

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Cheese Factory Campground

Anyway, the trail goes up some wooden stairs, though a stand of rhododendron, past a not very appealing campsite and then into an open area that is clearly heavily camped, backed by rhododendron. This is the Cheese Factory. The “trail” runs right through it. The blue blaze trail leads down and across the road to a small spring, (this may be dry in summer!). There are further campsites in the rhododendron. Personally, set up your tent here early in the day…so you have a spot when you get back.

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Peach blossoms bloom at the first overlook

The trail climbs out of the Cheese Factory, then along a ridge line to the first small overlook at ~0.5 miles. This picturesque spot is also a campsite and has significantly more goat forage than the Cheese Factory.

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At the second (and biggest) overlook with a yearling trainee

Shortly after leaving this overlook the trail crosses a road near a giant pit dug into the road by jeep traffic for some reason. It then climbs a relentless series of switch backs, culminating in a gorgeous summit and overlook at 1.5 miles. This is the best spot on the hike for photography.

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Storm clouds roll in over the Appalachians at the second overlook

The trail descends from the summit and travels another 1/2 mile to the trail shelter, (off to the left on a blue blaze trail). There is also another spring here. There is an overlook area that is worth visiting down the blue blaze trail before you reach the shelter. The hike continues another mile down hill to complete 3 miles out. Then turn around and head back for your second chance at photographic bliss at each of the three overlooks.

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Sunset after a day of photography

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BE WARNED

  1. The spring at the Cheese Factory does go dry in the summer sometimes.
  2. Get your campsite at the Cheese Factory early.
  3. The Cheese Factory is heavily camped – while goats were tolerated, expect to tether them and provide some type of food to them. Despite being described as “grassy” it is not a good spot to let them loose to forage and there isn’t much goat safe forage in the area. The campsite at the first overlook has significantly more forage if you need it or carrying chaff hay.
  4. There is a trail shelter on this hike. Don’t camp there. It’s generally full of young-ish males comparing their gear and bicep muscles.
  5. This is bear country. I use a bear canister, but many people also hang their food here to make sure your breakfast “hangs” around.

 

In sum: 

Appalachian is the fourth oldest surviving place name in America. The Spanish came up with it when they first arrived in Florida around 1528 to describe the territory of the Appalachee Indians they encountered (and subsequently enslaved/slaughtered/ converted/sickened).

 

GEORGIA: Germany in Georgia

I once spent a very odd evening watching my husband play RISK (a board game of world domination) with his coworkers. The *ahem* winner *ahem* of this board game was a very nice and very german guy who choose to start out in:

A. Germany

B. Playing all the black pieces

C. Then proceeded to wage a nasty and bloody campaign of lightning destruction across the entire world map culminating in the unabashedly brutal subjugation of even his own wife while taunting the rest of the players for being inferior.

For a less…awkward…outing with your coworkers, check out Helen, GA – a rather embarrassing tribute to the only other things we Americans know about Germany – that it has fancy pastries, odd architecture, and lederhosen.

Oh, and outside this fake german town are some cool waterfalls.

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The German bakery in Helen, Georgia

Is it goat approved? I’d keep the goat at home for this one, unless you plan to teach it how to yodel.

How you get there: These hikes are all in the Helen diaspora. Google Helen,  then google Duke’s Creek Waterfall, its next door neighbor Raven Cliff Falls, and the famous Anna Ruby Falls north of Helen.

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Raven Cliff Falls Parking: 34.709535, -83.789066 (4.9 miles round trip out and back)

Duke’s Creek Falls Parking:  34.702030, -83.789232 (2.2 miles round trip out and back)

Anna Ruby Falls:  34.757196, -83.710484 (1 mile round trip)

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 8 miles to go out and back to Duke’s Creek, Raven Cliff, and Anna Ruby Falls in total. Plus however much walking of the pseudo-german town of Helen, Georgia you are interested in.

Best season to do this hike: Spring or Fall. Avoid Oktoberfest because it raises the DUI rate and the traffic. Avoid summer because, well, where else are people going to go for a good time than a beer garden in Helen?


Trails to Take

RAVEN CLIFF FALLS

An easy trail winding along the river from the parking area to a final climb to the falls.

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Raven Cliff Falls

raven cliff


DUKE’S CREEK FALLS

A continuous downward run with several switch backs. The climb back out is not hard, but continuous.

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Duke’s Creek Falls

Duke's Creek


ANNA RUBY FALLS

An easy uphill culminating in a very busy end platform.

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Anna Ruby Falls

Anna Ruby Falls

 

BE WARNED

  1. Anna Ruby Falls is $3 a head to get in regardless of how you get in, (car, walking, etc.) and is very popular. Go during an unpopular time.
  2. Duke’s Creek Falls is $4 a car to park, (its self service pay though). Raven Cliff Falls, its next door neighbor is free however.
  3. Helen, GA requires a $5 fee to park, though if you park behind the Hofer’s Bakery and get a spot its free so long as you are on the premises.
  4. For those into wildflowers check out the trilliums on the Anna Ruby Falls Trail.
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Anna Ruby Falls Trail trilliums

In sum: 

RISK is a game of world domination that teaches you a lot about your coworkers and the countries they come from.

Never challenge anybody from Germany or Africa. Ever.

 

Urban Goat on The Go: Columbia’s Canal Walk

Columbia, South Carolina is not the location most people would pick if you said to name a place rich in history. Which kind of makes it a secret! Only in the last fifteen years or so have the numerous ruins and historical structures been brought to wider appreciation.  One such gem that the people of Columbia have recently rediscovered is the 1891 canal that once brought cotton bales around the rapids on the Broad and Congaree Rivers. It is a great place to spend an afternoon bomb proofing a baby goat and rediscovering some history for yourself.

If you are interested in more less well known Columbia history check out Underground Columbia, the mill ruins at Riverbanks Zoo, and the network of underground tunnels beneath downtown Columbia that are currently used for storm drainage. Note these are not goat friendly…

Is it goat approved? Yes, at least for kids. The park ranger seemed amused

How you get there: Google Columbia Riverfront Park. That is the parking location. Yes, it is a ritzy looking spot for being right next to the water and sewage treatment plant.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 5.2 miles out and back to canal locks for the historical Columbia Canal.

Best season to do this hike: Any time but dead heat summer. Its easy, it’s flat, and it is going to be coated in people regardless of when you go, so you might as well please yourself in terms of the weather.


Trails to Take

There is really only 1 trail – it goes along the original tow path for the canal. To reach it there is a paved trail from the parking lot which starts near the red school house building, (this is an original school house built in the area).

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Training on the canal walk

 

The paved section descends down between the water treatment plant and the original retaining wall for what was once Columbia’s oldest, largest, and certainly creepiest jail. The Central Correctional Institute (or as my parents referred to it, the Columbia Penitentiary) was a massive granite block structure that was in use for 150 years until finally being decommissioned in 1994 after decades of complaints about how outdated the facility was. For a while you could take tours of the place, and my parents were fond of retelling stories about the walkways without rails, some of which were many stories off the ground…and how unpopular inmates were pushed to their deaths from these. The obviously very ominous and atmospheric jail, with its wonderful rusting razor wire fences, intact guard towers, looming stone walls, and even an inmate baseball diamond, was demolished several years ago to make way for some hideous cookie cutter condos. But the retaining wall is still impressive, if less creepy.

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Inside the jail before it was demolished. Note the very long drop from the upper floors…

The trail crosses over the canal itself a metal I beam bridge, to join the canal walk. Directly across from the bridge are the original Columbia Water Plant pump houses, which supplied water from the river to the city of Columbia until the modern water treatment plant was built. The modern water treatment plant lies on the opposite side of the canal and draws its water from the canal instead of the river.

To the left of the pump house buildings is the dam that powered the historical water plant and also contains the waste weir for the canal. Waste weirs are used to drain canals for repairs and to adjust water level. Unfortunately, this system was insufficient to keep the canal intact during the devastating 2015 floods, and damage to the canal, including a wall breach, is still being repaired. Interestingly, the canal we walk on today is the 1891 canal, but the first canal in this spot (built in 1820) was also destroyed by a flood. Given the nature of the Broad River to stay “broad” by flooding several times a year I suppose canal damage is inevitable.

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2015 flooding punched a hole through the canal wall and drained it

In the distance you may be able to spot the Columbia Cotton Mill, which is today the State Museum, and Gervais Street Bridge, hands down the prettiest route into Columbia. There are further canal and industrial ruins between here and these landmarks, but for whatever reason they had this section of the walk locked off today.

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Diversion dam that feeds water into the canal

Following the paved canal walk away from the water treatment plant and down the original tow path you pass under a rail line and highway bridge and by several overlooks. The canal today looks very different from when I first walked it 20 years ago. Back then it was, in the words of my hiking elder and grandmother “kind of dumpy” and significantly less busy. Today the thorny undergrowth is gone and you can see the river and the canal for almost the entire route. There is a small paved trail that comes off that you can take to get closer to the river, which is popular with fishermen and highly recommended because it sees less traffic and lets you get up close and personal with the water and the rocks of Broad River. In the spring, watch for the protected shoals spider lily, which blooms out among the rocks.

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The canal lock

The walk is easy, flat, and unless you are into swimming you can’t get lost. The tow path terminates at the restored canal locks. 20 years ago this area was fenced off, but now you can walk across the locks to an upper parking lot and there’s an actual plaza to overlook the diversion dam that feeds water into the canal. This spot is popular with fishermen and with bird watchers for the abundance of feathery mayhem that collects at the diversion dam.

Then turn around and head back.

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BE WARNED

  1. Traffic is heavy and parking is tight at Riverfront Park. Bring you something small and people friendly for this one, (and be prepared to pick up after it).
  2. Apparently they have problems with alligators in the canal now. Avoid feeding the goat to the wildlife.
  3. While this is such an urban walk the backpack and hiking gear will be unnecessary and totally out of place, bring a water bottle if you are going in summer – the asphalt bakes you to death.
  4. The area is patrolled by bored park rangers. If you need to avoid the rangers go to the new parking area at the canal locks instead of going to the one in Riverfront Park. However, the ranger I ran into did not seem bothered by the baby goat.

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In sum: 

Water manager during the 2015 flood: “Nobody panic okay, but I think we just poked a giant hole through the canal supplying all of our water…”

Sweet Home Alabama at Sweet Water Lake in Talladega National Forest

Talladega National Forest is a bit of the mountains in the middle of the plains, but for most of this trip to its northern tip you’ll feel like there’s more pine trees than rocks and elevation. And like the favorite anthem of Alabama state pride the ride in is pretty sweet – sliding around on white gravel roads weaving off through controlled burn pine forest.

The only downside is it might make you nostalgic for places whose full address is not only in space, but also, alas, in time.

Is it goat approved? Yes, I have official permission to hike with a goat out here. Thank you Talladega National Forest!

How you get there: Parking is at Pine Glen Campground – google it! The last several miles in will be a series of poorly marked gravel roads (look for brown forestry signs for the road number). Oh, and the Skyway Motorway is not fancy here – its just a bigger gravel road than the rest of them. Over all the general road maintenance is excellent and even low ground clearance vehicles won’t have trouble.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6 miles out and back to Sweet Water (yes, that is really the name, I know it sounds like something out of a made for TV movie) Lake.

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Pinhoti Trail Marker

Best season to do this hike: Any time. Its easy, it’s flat, and it is mostly shaded. You will probably encounter more activity in the summer as it ends at the lake and starts at a fairly well maintained rustic campground.


Trails to Take

 

The trail starts across the bridge from the parking at the campground, and follows the river. The blaze is blue, and this is also the Pinhoti Trail but instead of Georgia it is the Alabama Edition.

 

The trail meanders along a series watercourses and climbs several times up through fire cleared pine forest. A few wildflowers and a flat, placid river are the main points of interest. There is also an old stone wall just before the trail heads up hill for the final climb to the dreadfully named Sweet Water Lake.

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Sweet Water Lake plus a less preteniously named goat

Just before the lake the trail passes through a fun little field of yellow grass that may make you feel like breaking out the katana if you’ve been watching too many bad martial arts movies lately, then the lake comes in to view.

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The field – a good spot for a goat lunch

The trail takes its time along the lake shore, and the turn around point is the road down to the small boat ramp.

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BE WARNED

  1. Parking is limited at Pine Glen Campground. As in like only 3 official spots for hikers at the entrance…and in winter I got the last spot.
  2. The Pine Glen Campground (and thus your car) are in a flash flood zone. So is most of the trail. Maybe not a great spot to hang out if its raining and stuff. Especially since the last water course before the lake also appears to be the drainage for the lake.
  3. To hike with goats the park requires that goats be fed with weed free hay for 96 hrs before you arrive. I use a heat treated timothy/alfalfa blend chaffe hay in place of my usual stuff for this.

In sum: 

When the welcome sign to your state says “Sweet Home Alabama” it means you recognize you’re the source of the only politically correct anthem for the South. And you’re a tad smug about that…

History in Motion: Train Trestle on the Silver Comet Rail Trail

What do you do when an unexpected on trail injury cancels the main event for your weekend at Panthertown? You go home, get lazy, and decide to go on the second in the series of lazy day hikes for lazy people on the Silver Comet Rail Trail.

*Note: if you like scenery and enjoyable hikes, skip this one. But if you are trying to complete the whole Silver Comet…well, grinding is boring, what were you expecting?

Is it goat approved? They allow horses, so goats should be okay.

How you get there: Go to Rambo Road Trail Head at 33.914894, -84.868738

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 6.5 miles in a loop. About half of that is the unbelievably boring and flat Silver Comet and the other half is me getting impatient and doing some off trail walking.

Best season to do this hike: WINTER. The route is exposed to sun and would be ticky, sticky, and bitchy in warm weather.


Trails to Take

Get to the trail head. Go right. Walk…and walk…and walk…The train trestle is the bridge in the first picture – it doesn’t really look much like the historical trestle it was before the renovation.

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Spacious parking at the trail head and a water fountain? We’re lost in suburban hell again aren’t we…

This makes a good bomb proofing hike because it includes bikes, dogs, people, tunnels, cars, and off and on leash sections. As you go, watch for little blue signs on your left that say “Silver Comet Side Trails”. These are short (think a couple footballs fields in length) sections running parallel to the Silver Comet in the woods. When there aren’t a lot of mountain bikers around they are a great ways to add variety to the monotonous Silver Comet.

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The two tunnels on the route are good for bomb proofing goats to traffic. Without, you know, having to stand in the middle of the road.
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The powerline cut – a great way to go off leash and around private property

At the power line cut, I went right, walked down the dirt road through the cut to Willow Springs Rd, then turned right and went down Mt. Olivet Road back to the tunnel the Silver Comet takes under Mt. Olivet.

Then back to the truck.

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BE WARNED

  1. The website calls this a “remote” section of the Silver Comet. There ain’t noth’in remote about this place. Expect high traffic, high density subdivisions, and low quality scenery.
  2. If you really like train trestles the train trestle over which the Silver Comet travels on this hike no longer resembles a train track in anyway. Not worth walking out to if that’s what you came for.

In sum: 

Fortune cookie say “better to endure misfortune with your spouse, than to say something that will get you left in the woods by yourself”

How to Find the Waterfall on Three Forks Trail in Warwoman WMA

The boss says “You work too much!”. The husband says “You hike too much!”. I say I obsess over waterfalls too much. But really, if “work” and “non-work” are no longer options…what am I left with exactly?

That’s kind of how you too will feel if you don’t read these directions and try to find the right trail to the waterfall off Three Forks Trail.

Is it goat approved? Dunno. But with this much unmarked awesomeness any boys in green or unexpected families with quadruplets will be easy to escape.

How you get there: Get to here – 34.962330, -83.228944. There is plenty of pull off parking. .

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is around 2.5 miles round trip out and back including the Pothole Falls and the Chattanooga River. The hike in to the pothole falls is very quick if you are coming from parking at Hale Ridge/Overflow Creek Road, which is what I did instead of hiking the whole Three Forks Trail.

Best season to do this hike: Winter or early Spring. This area appears to be a popular camping area.  To really enjoy it with a goat you probably don’t want tasty snacks and interesting humans around to tempt the goat into…well, being a goat.


Trails to Take

The trail head is right off Hale Ridge/Overflow Creek Road(s). There’s some obvious pull offs and another one of those excessive engraved boulders marking the trail. You want to go towards the river, not down Three Forks Trail away from the river! The blaze is grey metal diamonds nailed occasionally to trees.

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Go this way! This is the trail head!

The official trail winds out into the woods, interrupted on a pretty regular basis by serious piles of fallen trees, (at least, there were a lot when I went). As you descend keep an eye out for a large, obvious UNOFFICIAL trail heading off to your left. It will probably have a piece of orange tape tied to the rhododendron surrounding the entrance. The entrance to this trail is also in a curve of the official trail. If you reach a large, open area, you have gone about 20 paces too far. If you reach “Three Forks Spur” signs you have gone too far – the spur is harder to follow than this unofficial foray.

When you find the trail, go straight down, following it with a dry creek bed to one side. The trail will dump you out on Holcomb Creek right at the Pothole Falls, (GPS 34.965919, -83.216288).

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Pothole Falls

Climb back out to the main trail, and go up to that clearing, (which is the official end of the Three Forks Trail). Now the fun begins. There’s the trail you came up. There’s the “Three Forks Spur”. There’s a trail headed up both hillsides. Then in front of you are another two trails, one wide and the other going over a hump and headed down hill. You want the trail with the hump.

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Yay! We found the Chattanooga River!

Follow it. It goes along a ridge, continuously headed downwards. Eventually…it just kind of stops. Ahead the ground drops off fast to the Chattanooga river. Follow your ears and slide down for the last 1/4 mile to the river and a fantastic array of potholes and rapids. There’s also an actual campsite down here!  GPS coordinates for campsite: 34.963132, -83.209032 .

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Rapids on the Chattanooga

Then, climb back out, find the trail again, and head back to the truck.

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Basic map – see text for GPS coordinates of campsite and falls

 

BE WARNED

  1. The main issue with this hike is it takes you off trail. If you are not comfortable with finding your way back, don’t have a compass/GPS, or tend to get lost in a crowded room, this is not the hike for you.
  2. If climbing up on your hands and knees while bushwhacking is not your thing, skip the Chattanooga side trip. Also, if it’s raining the slog up will suck and is best avoided.
  3. The Chattanooga loves to flood. That campsite – it ain’t exactly on high ground.
  4. The road up to the trail head is best traveled in a high ground clearance vehicle. In snow/ice/heavy rain the Overflow Creek Rd is not your friend as it is very shaded and has been washed out in the past, (it is as of this posting, however, not washed out). Take Hale Ridge instead, and be prepared for predatory potholes, unexpected gravel cavitation, and serious suspension surprises.
  5. More on the road – there were a lot of downed trees next to or partially blocking the road in winter. If it’s been stormy or windy you would benefit from bringing the chainsaw and some gas if you plan to reach the trail head in the truck.

In sum: 

Off trail means being willing to admit to yourself when you’re lost! Or you might be dead…

It also means when you come upon a random sleeping bag in the middle of nowhere…you make sure there isn’t someone still in it (or what’s left of them anyway).