Trail Blog

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

GEORGIA: Hike in to the Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls

Every one who’s ever had a tree house understands the allure of living outside and up a tree. Len Foote Hike Inn is probably the closest you can get to a practical application of that. The structure stands about 12 ft off the ground on giant stilts, has hot water, HVAC, and food. Oh, and a pretty freaking spectacular view. Definitely worth a visit! This is also one of the few locations with protected, healthy Eastern Hemlocks on the property.

Is it goat approved? Nah. Too busy. Go and relax without a goat on this one.

How you get there: Park here: 34.567485, -84.244418 at the upper observation platform.

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Time for hike: The distance for this hike is a little under 10 miles round trip out and back.  And yes, despite the confusion online, I have actually walked it, all the way, with a gps enabled mileage counter counting the distance. It’s 4.9 in and 4.9 out. Suck it forum pundits!

Best season to do this hike: Most seasons, but the Piedmont azaleas bloom in late April, the leaves start in late September, and the rhodendron are blooming at the start of May. Oh, and the road is closed in snowy/icy weather.


Trails to Take

Start off at the upper overlook parking lot. This is accessed by entering the park, driving up to the visitor’s center and the huge parking lot adjacent to it, then turning left and going up a very steep road.

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Amicalola Falls

At the top of the road make a sharp right into a small parking area. This is the upper falls overlook parking area. The top of the falls is directly ahead, just follow the creek.

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Stairs to the base of Amicalola Falls

The walk to the bottom of the falls, while long and strenuous, is well worth the look before you head out for the lodge. Keep an eye out for trilliums, foam flowers, and other blooming plant life as you climb down and back up the gazillion stairs.

The actual trail to the inn is on the other side of the creek that feeds Amicalola Falls. Cross over the falls on the wooden bridge, walk up shallow concrete stairs, and cross the next parking lot. The trail is across the parking lot left of where you enter the parking area.

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Hike Inn Overlook

The trail is blue and green blaze. Blue is the Appalachian Trail and green is the trail to the lodge. If you want to go to the official gateway/start of the Appalachian Trail you can take either blue or green blazes – it is about 8 miles both ways, and the blue and green blaze meet back up at the start.

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Check out the native wildflower garden at Hike Inn

The trail climbs out of the parking lot, crosses the road to the large drive up lodge for the park, and then re-enters the woods. Shortly thereafter the blue (Appalachian) and green (Hike Inn trail) blaze separate, with the green heading off to the right.

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The inn emerges from among a hemlock grove

The trail from here is easy to moderate, with occasional benches in good cellphone or viewing spots. It starts out flat going through the woods, then winds over dry ridge lines, climbing steadily upwards. The first noticeable down hill sends you down into a small saddle with a creek. There are several creek crossings, and as you enter this area the views will become better.

The creeks become more numerous, culminating in a boggy section with a wooden walk way over it, at which point you are about 3/4 of the way to the lodge. There are wooden posts with numbers  on them counting down along the trail…but they didn’t make much sense to me, so use at your own risk.

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Several buildings make up the compound

The trail approaches the lodge from a distance, passing a degraded wooden sign indicating some other small side trails in the vicinity. The lodge itself is surrounded by Eastern Hemlocks, making it an obvious blob of dark foliage in the predominately hardwood forest. The trail passes right by the great porch, whose adirondack chairs, swings, and informal pack storage make it the place to stop and wait out a downpour or cool off in the burning heat of summer. Guests and non-guests appear welcome both at the porch and at the overlook behind the lodge. Stop to check out the native plant garden, which has a variety of wildflowers on display on your way to the overlook!

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Relax to a killer view

The lodge itself has twenty odd rooms which are separated into a variety of buildings raised off the ground on stilts. They do hiker lunch boxes with a heads up, and of course, you can stay at the lodge with advanced notice and avoid that prolonged hike back out.

Once you’re done with the photo ops, go the 3 miles further to Springer Mountain and the start of the Appalachain Trail or turn around and trek the 4.9 mi back to the parking lot.

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. You MUST have advanced reservations for the Hike Inn if you want to stay (http://hike-inn.com) and the rooms are not cheap! Don’t plan on camping in the vicinity – any activities are by “permit only”.
  3. It is about 3 miles past the inn to the official start of the Appalachian Trail. So if you do that to you’re looking at 16 miles round trip in one day, and while the trail isn’t hard…that’s a hell of a lot of walking.
  4. There does not appear to be a front gate enforcing park hours, but be advised that regardless of what time you roll in, you need to pay an attendant or fill an envelope with $5 per car.
  5. The signs that say “Hike Inn” mean “Len Foote Hike Inn” even if they sound like “hike in” as in, to hike in to a campsite.

In sum: 

Lifetime Scavenger List item #24091 – Find the Piedmont Azalea in bloom completed.

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Native Piedmont Azalea

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.

Inside of jail
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.

Canal breach
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…