Bearden Falls at Jake’s Mountain

As my husband and the goat put it “Why exactly on a cold wet Sunday at 8 am are we going to watch the mundane magic of di-hydrogen mono-oxygen engaged in release of potential energy? You can watch water drip off the eves at the nice dry house instead…right?”

But really, where is the fun in that? 

This hike includes several mid-calf deep creek crossings, a lot of hemlocks (please be kind – these are threatened), and a lot of gorgeous water. It is an easy hike up until the last scramble to the base of the falls. 

Is it goat approved? Yes. I took a goat on this one and it went well. This trail *may* be popular during warm weather or trout season.

How you get there: Google it, or navigate to 34.588640, -84.192591. This will be a spot on the gravel road with a large off the road campsite to your right. Pull off the road as you can, and walk to the big off the road campsite. There is an obvious road going from the campsite into the woods, (NOT car passable), that crosses a stream with a log bridge. This is the trail head.

Time for hike: To the falls is about 3 mi out and back. 

Best season to do this hike: Winter – best view of the falls, fewest bugs, and fewest people. Fall would be nice, and spring when the rhododendron bloom would be good too. There are numerous mid calf deep water crossings, keep this in mind.


Trails to Take

From the road, head towards the large road side campsite (or park there if no one is using it). The trail head is the big road looking trail heading off from this area into the woods. It crosses a creek at the campsite area in a wide ford that when I visited had a log bridge. The trail/not car rated road goes off through a hemlock forest in the woods. It emerges at another river crossing, this one fairly deep. You want to cross the river here – there aren’t any better spots up or down stream and those hopeful little side trails lead nowhere. So suck it up buttercup.

Lots of creek crossings
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Goat and husband on the big rock at the base of the falls

The trail continues in an obvious, easy route along the river, crossing moderately deep water several more times as you climb up the narrowing valley. Eventually you cross one more creek, the main water course is to your right, and the trail seems to disappear. At this point, look for where people have scrambled up on the left hand side of the valley, and follow this path along the edge of the rhododendron. Climb up until you see the huge rock sitting mid stream near the base of the falls. Cross out to the huge rock and you will get a gorgeous straight up look at the falls.

Bearden Falls

TRAIL MAP

The trail follows the river more or less

BE WARNED

  1. The road in is a forestry service gravel road for the last 1.8mi. A low ground clearance car will not enjoy the ride. I had to maneuver a bit in a Honda Fit.
  2. The trail is semi unofficial, and there are side trails. Stay with the main river and you will eventually reach your destination.
  3. The trail does go past a roadside campsite.
  4. The last stretch to the bottom of the falls is a scramble, you may not want the 3 year old kid or the ancient dog for this last bit.
  5. There are numerous calf deep water crossings to reach the falls.
  6. Due to the general lack of care that Jake’s Mountain is treated to, if you see trash pick it up – no one else will.

In sum: 

Who says adults can’t play in the creek?

NORTH CAROLINA: Looking Glass Rock Trail in Pisgah National Forest

A kid/dog/lazy person friendly hike up Looking Glass Rock Trail is a great way to see it all without actually, you know, doing it all. The trail winds up on a series of moderate switch backs, past some nice rock faces, and dead ends at a spectacular summit frequented by rock climbers and photographers. For those interested in tacking on a little additional mileage to this 6.2 mi roundtrip out and back, the nearby Slick Rock Falls Trail (#117) and Sunwall Trail (#601) provide additional ways to enjoy this popular tourist hike.

Is it goat approved? No, but it is dog approved.

How you get there: Google Davidson River Campground in Brevard, NC. When you reach the turn for the campground, keep going. The road will fork sharply just after crossing a bridge. You want to go left here, and the trail head is on your right a few miles ahead. If you miss the fork you will unfortunately pass the heavily trafficked Looking Glass Falls, at which point, once you wade through the RVs and the minivans, you need to turn around and try again.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 6.2 mi out and back to the summitThe trail varies from flat to moderately steep inclines/switchbacks.

Best season to do this hike: Year around. However, in the best weather you will have the hardest time finding a place to park!


Trails to Take

The trail head is obvious, well marked, and frankly, has a big freaking paved parking area and a huge sign. You can’t miss it.

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The trail begins behind the sign, climbing first through foggy morning forest frequented with tended hemlock groves and hardwoods. The first switch back is just the start of the climb – the next 2 miles will be a continual steady progression up a series of switch backs until you reach the summit. At the summit the rock faces begin to appear. Keep an eye on those to the left side of the trail. One of these is the emergency helicopter landing location for air lifting out injured hikers who got a little too up close and personal with gravity. It contains some old carvings on the rock from some semi-historical destroyers of natural beauty too.

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The trail dead ends at the final rock face of Looking Glass Rock, which has an impressive view when the weather is clear, and an eerie one as we enter the seasons of fog in the southern Appalachians.

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TRAIL MAP

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BE WARNED

  1. Come early as the parking fills up quickly and back in.
  2. The final cliff face is misleading – it is a sheer drop off, and that is NOT obvious if the fog is thick. Stay to the tree line or enjoy testing gravity the hard way.
  3. There are supposedly Peregrine Falcons that nest on the rock face. This may cause the trail to be closed or have limited access during nesting.

In sum: 

Mediation on the mountainside is the  perfect way to start a Sunday.

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SOUTH CAROLINA: Yellow Creek Falls

Yellow Creek Falls is a short, easy hike starting at a picnic shelter off Hwy 28 near Wahalla, SC. This is a great one for kids and fat dogs because the trail is mostly flat, it ends in a spectacular fall, and it is out and back. So let the kids run on ahead! Let the fat dog lay in the creek for a while! And take it easy on this 1.5 mile round trip hike.

Is it goat approved? No, but it is dog approved.

How you get there: Parking entrance  is at 34.804926, -83.127007 OR you can google “Yellow Fall’s Trail”. Parking is free here, unlike at the nearby Stumphouse Tunnel.

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WARNING: Parking area is smaller than it appears!

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 3 miles out and back. The trail is pretty easy, with a few minor creek crossings. It ends at the falls.

Best season to do this hike: Year around, but may be excessively busy during the summer and other serious tourist seasons.


Trails to Take

From the central parking area, (which lies at the main large picnic shelters and has the pit toilet), the trail runs off to your left. It is the only trail leading away from the parking area. The path crosses several pretty creek crossings, peppered with dog hobble and foam flowers. Then it descends down a series of hills, following the curve of the slope  None of the route is very challenging. The final reveal is the 3 story tall Yellow Creek Falls at the terminus of the trail. For those wanting more excitement to their day than 3 miles the nearby Issaquena Falls and Stumphouse Tunnel offer further exploration opportunities, though you will have to pay to park there.

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Yellow Creek Falls

 


TRAIL MAP

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BE WARNED

  1. Okay, there really isn’t much to warn you about this one. Except the picnic area is a little overgrown and the parking area is kind of small for the number of visitors.

In sum: 

A good trail can be judged by the number picturesque creek crossings you can find on it. This one has about 5 plus  a waterfall. It is a pretty darn good trail.

 

 

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…

 

 

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?

Bridal Veil Falls at Dupont State Forest

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

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

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

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

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

Best season to do this hike: Year around.


Trails to Take

 

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

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Fawn Lake

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

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The airstrip

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

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The horse barn

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

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

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

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

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

TRAIL MAP

Map

BE WARNED

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

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Bridal Veil Falls Overlook

 

In sum:  

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

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

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

 


Working Water Without a Wheel: Mingus Mill

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

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


The Mountain Farm Museum

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

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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…

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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.

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In sum: 

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

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.