These two falls are only about a 10 minute hike in from NC 215 and are practically visible from one another. It’s a little difficult to find the unmarked trail to them though. There are better descriptions out there but if you look at any good hiking map of NC 215 north of the Blue Ridge Parkway there is a hairpin turn just west of where Sam Branch and Wash Hollow meet. You can park in this turn and just up the road from there is a very steep trail up the embankment. After the initial climb, it’s quite an easy trail to the falls on Sam Branch.
The falls at Sam Branch is a long series of cascades down an irregular cliff. The trail approaches this waterfall pretty much right in the middle. The continuing trail is directly across the waterfall from where the trail ends. At high water this is probably an impossible crossing. This is where we say waterfalls are dangerous. This is a relatively advanced crossing and depending on the location one choses to do it, there can be pretty serious consequences for a slip or missed jump. People die on waterfalls in western NC every year. If you die on a waterfall we can guarantee the Asheville Citizen Times will jump all over the story and run it for three or four days while assorted people who never leave their couch will ridicule you in the commentary section. You don’t want that, so don’t attempt to reach Wash Hollow Falls if Sam Branch has a lot of water in it.
Having said all that, Wash Hollow is a very nice location. There’s a lovely pool at the bottom and plenty of rocks and logs for a picnic. This is also the end of the trail. You can reach the top of these falls but it’s steep, treacherous and the view is much better from the bottom anyway.
Cedar Rock Creek Falls is an easy waterfall to find and an easy hike as Pisgah waterfalls go. It’s located about 0.8 miles south of the Davidson River Fish Hatchery. Park there, cross the bridge and take the trail immediately to the right. Following Cat Gap trail it’s pretty much impossible not to notice the falls down in a cove on the left side of the trail.
This falls seems to make a lot more noise than you’d expect for the size of it. It has a nice pool at the bottom that we had no interest in attempting after a 40(F)-degree night in the forest. There is also a sheltered cave just before the falls.
The Middle Prong Wilderness is the less-visited half of the Balsams. Shining Rock – just across 215 gets far more hikers. We’ve climbed Mt. Hardy in the past but from the other direction (Blue Ridge Parkway). This time we approached from NC 215.
The Mountains-to-Sea Trail winds up to the ridge north of Mt. Hardy. This is actually a fairly confusing area as the long trail to Green Knob and Sunburst branches off as well as several short trails to lookouts and campgrounds. There are no blazes due to the status as a Wilderness Area so it’s pretty easy to get turned around. The ridges towards Green Knob have spectacular views of the Balsam Mountains just to the east.
Little Bradley Falls is in the Green River Gamelands near Saluda, NC. Easiest access is via a red-blazed trail that leaves across the road (Holbert Cove) from the trail to Big Bradley Falls. The trail follows the creek about a mile to the falls which are quite scenic.
There’s a lovely (if murky) swimming hole at most water levels here although it’s a substantially longer hiker than the more popular swimming holes on the way to Big Bradley Falls. On the plus side, you can actually see Little Bradley Falls close up without risking your life.
Another bonus is that along the trail we found several wineberry bushes with ripe berries. Wineberries are a close relative of the raspberry.
At 800 ft. high, Glassmine Falls is one of the highest in the Eastern US. It’s seasonal and this overlook off of the Blue Ridge Parkway is about the only vantage point. It drops into the Asheville watershed which is closed to all activity including hiking.
From the Glassmine overlook, the Mountains to Sea Trail runs north to the Black Mountains and Mt. Mitchell. This section crosses over Walker Knob (not to be confused with the Walker Knob above Montreat, which is probably visible from here). In May there are a lot of wildflowers in this area including the painted trilliums above, and the fringed phacelia below.
Goldmine Loop is a three to four mile trail segment located just off the end of the Road to Nowhere in the Smoky Mountains. Part of the trail follows a creek down to Lake Fontana and there is in fact the remnants of a cabin along the way.
The end of the Road the Nowhere incidentally is the Tunnel to Nowhere which has a certain place in Smoky Mountain lore by now. Only hikers and horses (intrepid horses apparently) are allowed through now. It’s about 1000 feet long and other than some fun optical effects when you’re in the middle of it, it’s really not that exciting.
We were doing a wildflower survey along the way as well. Melanie is particularly good with the wildflowers and generally spends about 2 hours after a wildflower hike with the assorted wildflower books coming up with a list of things that I will forget the name of by the time we go hiking next weekend.
However, to commemorate all the work she did on it, here is her list from this 4 mile loop:
Common Blue Violet
Sweet White Violet
Crested Dwarf Iris
Canadian Dwarf Cinquefoil
Baneberry (prob. Red Baneberry)
Pussytoes (prob. Plantain-leaved)
Aster species (2 different unknown)
Vetch species (unknown, purple)
Twin Falls, located in Pisgah Ranger District a bit north of the Davidson River campground is actually much more impressive than we expected. There are several ways to get there. We did it by parking at the horse stables off of FS 477 and hiking up the road to the Avery Creek Trail. This follows Avery Creek to a junction with Buckner Gap Trail. A mile or two up this trail is the Twin Falls branch trail, although there seem to be quite a few ‘extra’ trails around as well.
The trail ends in a canyon with cliffs on three sides. Hundred foot waterfalls pour into the canyon from opposite corners. It was really difficult to get pictures of the falls as both of them complete the drop in several distinct cascades. Definately a worthwhile hike though.
Deep Creek is a campground and trailhead in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s located just outside Bryson City on the North Carolina side of the park. From the Deep Gap trailheads it is an easy 3 mile loop (or less if you backtrack a bit) to reach three different waterfalls.
Tom’s Branch Falls is just about 2/10ths of a mile up the Deep Creek Trail and enters Deep Creek from a side stream.
Farther up the Deep Gap trail, Indian Creek Falls is just off of the main trail.
Juney Whank Falls is actually about a half mile in the opposite direction from the trailhead. It can be reached by backtracking (which is cheating of course) or by crossing Deep Creek and doubling back on the Deep Creek Horse Trail.
The bridge over the falls is rather surprisingly close to the water. I would suspect in higher water the bridge would definately be in the splash zone.
We went up to Salem, Virginia for the Div III Final Four since Williams College was once again involved.
Williams won their Friday semifinal against Guilford College in a relatively tense affair, but at least that meant Friday night was more festive.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin Stevens Point was victorious in the final on Saturday in another exciting back and forth game. The Div III Final Four is pretty low-key. It’s nothing like a sell out (at least not this year) and there isn’t a whole lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding it.
We also made a side trip to nearby Blue Collar Joe’s Donuts which is just north of Roanoke.
This is definately a worthwhile detour if you’re passing by on I-81 (which we do a couple times a year). They have some very creative concoctions including: Blueberry pancake with maple and bacon, PB&J, Turtle, Blueberry Cheesecake, Coconut Creme Pie and Lemon Drop.
Our first BBQ contest judging of the year (and Melanie’s 15th overall) was at the American Bass Anglers event at Lake Lanier, Georgia. The setting on the lake was pretty nice and realistically you’d never know this was also a bass fishing tournament since the boats were all out on the lake most of the day.
Just in case any competition teams happen to read this, we’d like to share our newest BBQ pet peeve: chicken thighs smoked in muffin pans. Myron Mixon did this on national TV and now everyone thinks it’s a great idea. For one, they come out looking like chicken balls which is not the most appetizing form of chicken. Second, it doesn’t seem to pick up any smoke flavor whatsoever. We’re not saying this couldn’t be done well but 50% of our respective entries at this contest were in muffin form (compared to about 2% in the past).
Our first AT hike of the year, we drove to northeast Tennessee and hiked three miles up to Double Springs Shelter from TN 91.
The lower portion of this hike crosses the Osborne Farm which is in trust to the A.T. This includes a couple stile crossings of pastureland.
After the farm the trail is wooded and winds up the ridge. Double Springs shelter is just barely off the trail.
Bearwallow Mountain is remarkably close to Asheville but not directly accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway so not nearly as well known as some of the other area mountains.
The hike itself is pretty easy, about a mile up a forest road which is maintained because of all the radio and cell towers at the top. On a clear day there are good views of Asheville, Hendersonville and Lake Lure.
Panthertown is a valley in the eastern portion of the Nantahala National Forest, just north of Lake Toxaway. It is not heavily used and this was our first visit to it – a few days after Toxaway had received more than 10 inches of rain.
The trails in general are not well-signed and there are old trails that are being reclaimed by the forest, new trails that will eventually be official, and then some unofficial trails. It’s generally a map and compass area. Schoolhouse Falls is easy enough to find however. Almost everyone else we saw in the forest was in the vicinity of Schoolhouse Falls which has a lovely big swimming hole at the base of it.
About 2 miles upstream from Schoolhouse is Greenland Creek Falls. The trails go up out of the gorge and connect back with the river about a half mile from the falls. We decided to bushwhack up the river directly. There was an old trail on the east side of the river but portions no longer exist. With high water, this is a strenuous hike that involves almost as much climbing as hiking. There are several more falls along the way. Pothole is the most impressive of these but it involved hanging over the river from branches just to get a glance at it.
The Greenland Creek Falls trail is not marked but it mostly heads upstream from an old forest road. At high water it involves crossing several tributaries.
There are a bunch of waterfalls in DuPont State Forest, most of which we have neglected to visit so we decided to check out a couple of them.
Triple Falls – named for obvious reasons is only about a quarter mile hike along the river. The only vantage point where you can see all three sections is from the trail well above it but there were people scattered all over the rocks at each level of the falls.
Another half mile or so down the same trail is the creatively named High Falls. There are probably about 5 “High Falls” within 30 miles of our house and oddly enough none of them are really all that high. This is a rather popular picknicking area. There are several nice pavillions on the ridge above the falls which no one uses. Instead, most people prefer the rocks at the base of the falls.
Also partial to the base of the falls is Trout. This is actually a little ways below Triple Falls but it was a moderately hot day. This hike appears to generally be very popular with dogs.
South Mountains State Park is about halfway between Asheville and Charlotte, located off a confusing network of roads south of Morganton. Despite the relative difficulty in getting there, it was pretty crowded on the day we went.
The park has a dense network of trails in the eastern half. By far the biggest draw is High Shoals Falls which is about a mile or so from the parking area. Several different sources bill this hike as easy. While it’s short it actually involves a lot of climbing on uneven, slippery stairs.
Technically, there’s no swimming at the falls although we saw about 20 people directly in front of the no swimming sign. There are a multitude of decent swimming holes along the trail though which generally follows the bank of the river.
From the Black Balsam parking lot, it’s about a 5 to 6 mile loop along the Little Sam trail to Chestnut Bald and then back around to the Balsams on the MST and the Art Loeb Trail.
In early August, we were able to collect a bit more than a pint of wild blueberries. We could have almost any number of blackberries if we’d wanted as well but we have plenty of those in the meadow at home.
This is the view south from the saddle between Chestnut Bald and Silvermine Bald, neither of which are particularly bald these days. There are good views further along the Art Loeb Trail and also good open meadow campsites.
These two falls are located in the southwestern part of the Pisgah Ranger District. Toms Springs Falls, besides being hard to pronounce has about 4 other names depending on the map you use. It’s not particularly difficult to get to, there’s a trailhead a bit west of the fish hatchery and it’s a half mile hike along an old forest road to the falls. It’s fairly impressive but there’s not really a good spot to sit at the base of it or swim in a pool.
Catheys Creek Falls is located right along side Catheys Creek Road. There are a series of cascades visible if you walk along the precipitous edge of the road and peer over. Well below most of the drops there’s a tiny pull-off, big enough for one car and a goat path leading down to the river. This picture is just the bottom section of the falls, most of it is not visible here. We couldn’t find a decent vantage point of the whole thing. Trout was disappointed to discover that Catheys Creek isn’t a good spot for swimming either. There’s a small pool here but more rocky drops just below it.
The crazy 8s race in Kingsport, Tennessee was my first 8k race (on roads anyway). It was attractive mainly because of the late night start time (10 pm).
That’s me in the center with number 101. As usual, I get a low number due to alphabetic superiority. 101 is much better than 1 though. When you have number 1 people actually expect you to be good.
The race itself is really impressive, along with the stadium finish portions of the course cover luminary-lit rural streets. Nearly every house along the course had people in the front yard. It appeared that all of Kingsport was out late for this event. Incidentally, I did run the entire course and finish, survive, etc…
There were 1,950 runners in this race. Orienteering races don’t have mass starts generally and the largest 5k race I had previously run in had probably 250 people in it. Lots of extra skills are needed here like not tripping over other runners and getting trampled.
This entry could be called Round Butt Bald because that’s the mountain we circled but since we didn’t summit it that seemed wrong.
From Bearpen Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway we took the connector trail to the Mountains-to-Sea trail and followed that to Wet Camp Gap. Wet Camp is a high open meadow filled with blueberries, blackberries and assorted wildflowers. There’s also a small pond in the center but it was mostly empty on our visit except for a couple remnant pools that were packed with tadpoles.
There’s an unofficial but easy-to-find trail leading southwest out of Wet Camp Gap. This eventually becomes a steep manway to the summit of Gage Bald where there are excellent views of the surrounding mountains. We had a bit of a picnic up here. By the way, these little sling chairs are incredibly light but they’re a bit tricky to set up and it’s definately a learned skill to get out of them with any modicum of grace.
Usually we expect to be scratched up after any sort of bushwhacking. We were after this hike but it wasn’t from Gage Bald, it was actually from the MST heading around Round Butt Bald back to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Haywood Gap. This section is narrow and treacherous, especially overgrown with blackberries and nettles. At the high point on this trail we considered hiking up to the summit of Round Butt Bald. The east approach to the top was pretty much a wall of blackberries and after donating some blood to them we abandoned the attempt and decided to try some other time in a less-summery season (like say, winter).
Green Knob is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway a little north of Mt. Mitchell State Park.
It’s a half mile hike from the parkway or it can be reached from the Black Mountain campground which is much longer and more arduous. There’s not much of a view on the way up but the tower is situated to give a spectacular view of the Black Mountains.Inside Green Knob Fire Tower
The tower is open to hikers and slightly more comfortable than the rocks below it. The top of the trail is overgrown in the summer and requires a bit of pushing through rhododendrons. The view is also partially occluded in June, so it’s probably a better trip in early Spring or late Autumn.