Mount Buckley to Clingman’s Dome

This is a fun little triangle hike if you’re at Clingman’s Dome and don’t want to spend the entire time on the wide paved path with however many other people are currently visiting Clingman’s Dome. At the base of the paved path across from the gift store, stairs go down to the Dome Bypass Trail. Take these, turn right in 0.1 miles at the trail junction and head towards the A.T.

A.T. - Dome Bypass Junction
A.T. – Dome Bypass Junction

It’s about a half mile on a relatively gentle incline. The trail is rocky and has difficult footing but there are some good views down on the NC side of the park.

Misty forest near Clingman's Dome
Misty forest near Clingman’s Dome

Once you reach the Appalachian Trail, you can head to the right (northbound) towards Clingman’s Dome. We took a short detour the other direction here to reach the summit of Mount Buckley. Mount Buckley isn’t much to write home about (or a blog entry) but it is a peak, there’s a small grove of stunted spruce trees at the summit and depending on the season, there may be good views into Tennessee. On our visit, the entire AT was in the clouds, mist and intermittent rain so it mostly looked like this.

Clingman's Dome Lookout Tower Ramp
Clingman’s Dome Lookout Tower Ramp

We ended our hike with a trip up the architecturally bizarre lookout tower. If it isn’t strange enough normally, in the clouds it really looks like some alien space craft. There was absolutely nothing to see up here except the tower itself. Total distance for the triangle is right about 2.0 miles.

Skinny Dip Falls

Once upon a time Skinny Dip falls was a secret of sorts. It was a popular swimming hole among those who knew its location. Now it’s a popular swimming hole for everyone passing by on the Blue Ridge Parkway because there are a hundred web sites that mention it, many of them referring to it as a local secret. It’s not.

Skinny Dip Falls
Skinny Dip Falls

We actually don’t go here anymore simply because there is rarely parking at the BRP pullout closest to it and it is generally crowded. There are dozens of other perfectly good swimming holes that aren’t. Having said that it’s still a very nice waterfall, a very scenic bit of river and it does lie directly on the MST just below Graveyard Fields.

Skinny Dip Falls
Skinny Dip Falls

As you can see from these pictures, it really does have nice swimming holes. It’s about a half mile hike from the parkway with a relatively small altitude drop so it’s an easy place to get to and not a particularly dangerous place for kids. The three drops that make up the falls are all relatively small.

MST at Skinny Dip Falls
MST at Skinny Dip Falls

Anyway, we have checked it out once again. It’s still there, albeit now with a lot of nice new wooden boardwalks and benches overlooking the falls. It’s moderately crowded even in March when the water is far too cold to swim in (at least by our standards).

Crabtree Falls

Success at last! (If you’ve been reading the last few entries..) There is an actual waterfall picture with this waterfall.

Crabtree Falls is located on a 2 mile loop accessible from Crabtree Meadows on the Blue Ridge Parkway (near Spruce Pine). There was once a campground here but it has mysteriously disappeared from all Parkway literature and in fact you’ll cross through the overgrown remains of it (ghost campground!) on the hike.
First though, there’s an awesome bit of open pasture between the parking area and the campground which is full of milkweed (and thus butterflies) in midsummer.

Milkweed with butterflies
Milkweed with butterflies

After that you have several choices. The trail makes a loop with a couple access points to the campground loops. Going counter-clockwise to the falls is steep and rocky with a lot of steps and switchbacks, however, it’s also shorter. The clockwise route is more gentle and more scenic following several tributaries and then Crabtree Creek down to the falls.

Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls

These falls are easily visible from a bridge as well as access trails on both sides.

Flat Creek Falls?

Welcome to our second consecutive waterfall fail (sort of). We were on our way from Maggie to Cherokee so we thought we’d get in a small hike somewhere new. We tried Balsam Mountain / Heintooga Ridge Rd off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a less used access point to the Smoky Mountains. In particular, we were headed down the Flat Creek Trail which makes a loop (IF you count the road as part of the loop) from the Balsam Campground area.

Garter Snake
Garter Snake

Notice we are leading with a picture of a garter snake rather than the waterfall. This is a clue that there will be no waterfall picture. Here are the details if you’re on your way to Flat Creek Falls:
First, don’t bother in the summer. There is so much foliage you have no chance of a clear view of the falls. If you insist on trying to find the falls, follow the Flat Creek trail from the parking area along the road. This is actually a lovely trail and crosses a small creek on a log bridge before arriving at a wet crossing (rock-hop) of Bunches Creek. After this you’ll ascend the shoulder of a hill and then descend on the other side. 0.7 miles into the hike you’ll find a sign telling you that you’re 0.7 miles into this hike. This is actually a sign that you should turn towards the river (off trail) and head for the falls. You should be able to hear it from here and there is a faint overgrown trail with all sorts of logs across it. This will reach the river and then run along it to the top of the falls. Usual disclaimers apply, this leads to wet slippery rocks at the top of a large waterfall. The top of the waterfall is (as usual) dangerous and not all that scenic. You can go down a VERY steep trail along the waterfall to the bottom (actually sort of the middle). This trail is little more than an otter slide really and you still won’t have a great view. If you are serious about reaching the bottom of these falls, I’d consider bringing ropes.

Wildflowers
Wildflowers

Having said all that, Flat Creek Trail is a very nice trail, lots of wildflowers in July. Animal tracks everywhere (we only saw snakes) and a creek to keep you company.

Laughing Falls

Laughing Falls.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it?  We hadn’t really and as you may know from scrolling through this blog, we’ve been to a lot of waterfalls in Pisgah.   We were camping at Davidson River and I noticed it on the topo maps.  Close by as the crow flies but not accessible by trail.    Then, Melanie saw a sign at the campground, “Easy to Find Waterfalls” it promised.   They were the usual lot we’d expect – Looking Glass, Slick Rock, Triple, Toxaway.   There on the list was Laughing Falls.   Well, that sealed it, we had to go check this one out.

Just in case you aren’t planning to read any further … don’t go check this one out. It is for the experienced bushwhacker only. It is not an easy hike and on top of that, there’s very little to actually see once you get there.

Laughing Creek
Laughing Creek

This is not it. We don’t have a picture that does it justice because there is no clear view of the falls. If you really must go, take Old 280 just a little east of the Pisgah Forest entrance near Davidson River. Turn left on FR 1360 and follow that uphill until it ends at twin gates. You want the lower (right) road which immediately crosses Laughing Creek at the pleasant little confluence shown in this picture. This is the absolute highlight of this hike. If you choose to go on, after this wet crossing turn left IMMEDIATELY. You’ll probably have second thoughts at this point because there really is not much of a left turn to consider taking. There is a second gate in the woods here indicating what must be one of the least used forest roads in Pisgah. This is little more than a wildlife track at this point. Sections are collapsed or completely buried in rhododendron and mountain laurel. A half mile or so of pushing through this will bring you to the falls. There clearly is an impressive waterfall in here and you’ll get glimpses of it but we were unable to find a reasonable place to get a view of it. Perhaps in winter it’s possible.

Harpers Ferry

So Harpers Ferry isn’t really a day trip from Asheville but we were on our way back and it was a short detour off of I-81. We’ve been associated with the Appalachian Trail and the ATC for years but we’ve never visited Harpers Ferry (home of the ATC) until now. It’s a pretty impressive setting at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers. The population is under 300 and most of the town is part of the National Historic Site.

Harpers Ferry, WV
Harpers Ferry, WV

Assuming you can park (the train station is the only real parking in town) it’s an easy walk through town to the AT bridge over the Potomac. Once across the trail merges with the 120-mile long C&O Towpath trail which is a nice flat bikeable route from DC to Cumberland, Maryland. The AT runs north bound along the river for a couple miles before it climbs to Weverton Cliffs. There are dozens of other trails out of Harpers Ferry, most of them involve a bit of a climb since it’s up in all directions.

Carl Sandburg Home NHS

The Sandburg Home is a National Historic Site, not necessarily where one would normally think to go hiking but now that we have a two year old along, we’re looking for shorter scenic hikes that involve farm animals. Well, not necessarily but it’s a nice bonus.

goat herd
goat herd

Mrs. Sandburg kept a prize-winning herd of dairy goats and their descendants still live at the home in Flat Rock, NC. Most of this site is free by the way. The goat barn and pens as well as several miles of trail that loop around the property or go up to the top of a nearby hill. The only cost is for touring the home itself.

Carl Sandburg Home
Carl Sandburg Home

We did not tour the home as it did not have nearly as much intrinsic attraction value as say, a goat. At least for a two year old. We did take several trails around the property though and overall it’s a pretty nice location for a short hike. It is particularly popular with dog walkers.

Douglas Falls

Douglas Falls is located in a rarely visited portion of Pisgah National Forest known as the Coleman Boundary. It lies directly below the Craggy Gardens area but is difficult to get to. One way involves hiking down from the MST near Craggy which is an elevation drop of over 2000 ft. The other approach is FS 74 from the vicinity of Barnardsville. This is a very long forest road that passes several other falls visible from the road. Eventually the road ends in a parking lot.

Douglas Falls
Douglas Falls

It’s only a little more than a half mile to the falls which is a 70 ft drop. It’s relatively easy to walk around behind the falls from where this picture was taken.

Eastatoe / Dill Falls

This is a little confusing since the last post involved a South Carolina waterfall called Eastatoe Falls (among other things) and now this one contains a North Carolina waterfall about 10 miles up the road with the same name.
This Eastatoe Falls is located on private property just off Highway 178. The landowners have graciously allowed people to park in their yard (follow signs) and visit the falls.

eastatoe_falls

Dill Falls is located up NC 215 from Rosman almost all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a bit confusing but basically follow Forest Road 4663 to 4663B and follow that one until it ends, park there and hike down the continuation of the road to the river. Incidentally if you’re considering exploring the rest of the 4663 forest road complex, we can tell you that as of late 2013 there are miles and miles of this road with no connection to anything else.

dill_falls

Our old map shows those roads connecting to the Balsam Lake area. They probably still do but it cannot be traversed with a car (4wd or otherwise). Balsam Lake is a nice little lake on the eastern edge of Nantahala National Forest. The building visible here is the Balsam Lake Lodge which can be rented. There are a couple easy short trails along the edge of the lake.

balsam_lake

Station Cove / Eastatoe

Oconee Station is a state historic site in northwest South Carolina. There’s an old outpost there and not really a whole lot else. The Palmetto Trail Connector comes through the park and about a mile north is a branch trail to Station Cove Falls.

Station Cove Falls
Station Cove Falls

There are some good rocks for picnicking here and a couple good spots to play around in the water. We came across this salamander there as well.

Salamander
Salamander

Eastatoe Falls isn’t really related, it’s about 15 miles east on the Foothills Parkway but we visited them on the same day. This waterfall has a bunch of names, Twin Falls on some maps, Shady Cove Falls on others. It’s not even clear to us who owns this land and maintains the trail there. Either way it’s a short walk from the parking area off of water falls road in Eastatoe Community. At the end is a viewing platform and a pretty spectacular vista.

Eastatoe Falls
Eastatoe Falls

There’s a straight drop on the left and a series of cascades on the right. There are many warnings about the dangerous rocks here but the river a bit downstream of the falls looked to have some nice swimming holes accessible from the trail.