Mount Rogers / Grayson Highlands

Having broached the ten mile mark in Utah just a month before we did it again here in the Virginia High Country (this would become our son’s new longest hike at 11 miles). We were camping nearby at Grindstone and entered along the AT which quickly put us in the Lewis Fork Wilderness

See? There’s even a sign. The AT eventually runs along the edge of some large open meadow spaces where you may well find wild ponies. The wild ponies definitely make this area unique as far as hiking.

Here’s a wild mare and her foal. Don’t mess with the foals, the mares are small as horses go but still pretty solid and willing to knock people around to protect their young. Also, even when they’re being friendly (like licking the salt off of you) they have a tendency to nip.

From here the AT goes very close to the summit of Mt Rogers, although you’d still need to take a side trail to reach it. The views are spectacular at the branch for this side trail. We were told the views from Mt Rogers itself were non-existent (at least in May) so we skipped it. Thomas Knob shelter is also up here and it’s completely infested with horses.

This could well go from cute to annoying if you were actually spending the night here. We weren’t so we looped around at Rhododendron Gap and headed back towards the road on the Virginia Horse Trail. This looks reasonable on a map. It’s not that bad but the horse trail is quite a bit rougher than the A.T. even though it doesn’t have quite as much altitude change. Good news though you traverse several more meadows filled with wild ponies. We even saw a cow in this section and have no idea where it came from.

Secret Falls

So first of all, there’s a sign at the trailhead that says “Secret Falls”. Kind of ruins the Secret part of it. We happen to know the Forest Service official who put up this particular sign and he just shrugged when we pointed that out. Oh well.

Anyway, Secret Falls is in the Nantahala National Forest in the general vicinity of Highlands. It’s about a mile hike each way to a very pretty falls.

Along the way there are a couple of stream crossings, they are small and can be leapt or rock-hopped across. The trail continues beyond the falls and appears to follow the river canyon, possibly into Georgia (which isn’t far away). We didn’t follow it any further than these falls though so we don’t know what’s down there (yet).

Old Homestead Trail

This trail is found on the north shore of Lake Watauga in northeastern Tennessee. The trailhead doubles as a boat ramp and some maps mark this as trail 603. It is theoretically blazed but a wildfire has wreaked havoc on that and this is a challenging trail to follow. The lake-side of the loop follows a high ridge that at times is not much wider than the trail. Once it descends it meets a forest road which makes up the other half of the loop and that is trivial to follow. We saw bears on the forest road and bear evidence everywhere. The views of the lake are wonderful.

If you’re hiking this, we’d recommend a map and compass even though you have the lake as a handrail on one side.

Whiteside / sol’s creek

These are two short hikes we did the same day, starting with the Whiteside Mountain loop trail just outside of Cashiers, NC. This is a popular day hike, it’s only about a 2 mile loop in total. Might be more exciting if you’re nervous around heights or maybe don’t expect a few steel cables will keep you from falling over the 700 foot cliff alongside the trail.   The views are awesome though.

Florence Preserve

Next up was a totally different kind of hike.   We went to Sol’s Creek just east of the town of Argula, NC.  Calling it a town is way beyond a stretch but it shows up as such on USGS maps as well as (shockingly) Google maps.    No trailhead for this one, just a guard rail to jump over.  Best way to find this one is to find Sol’s Creek and then find where it crosses 281.  You want to go a half mile upstream which can be accomplished by a combination of deer paths on both sides of the river and walking up the river itself.   We found this extremely small salamander on one of our river crossings.

Please note, the west side of the creek is private property where it meets 281.  A half mile or so from the road you’re notice the river is getting a bit wilder and steeper and then you’ll come around a bend and see this lovely view:

At these water levels it’s easy to get up to that middle level below the higher falls.   It’s kind of a fun slide too.   We didn’t try to go higher than that and wouldn’t recommend it.   If you’re experienced at orienteering and bushwhacking you can manage this hike just by following the river upstream.   A map and compass isn’t a bad idea though.

Florence Preserve / Wildcat Falls

We did a short hike in Florence Preserve, mostly just to check it out since we hadn’t been there before. Florence preserve is located just outside of the small town of Gerton, North Carolina.

Florence Preserve

There are several trails in the preserve, they are colored and blazed but not named. The ‘yellow’ trail leads up onto Little Bearwallow Mountain where the remainder of the trails are. On the way up we saw these toadshade trilliums.

Toad Shade Trillium

A left turn on the blue trail will quickly bring you to Wildcat Falls, a small waterfall that runs across an exposed rock face before funnelling into a rock chute.

Wildcat Falls

Other trails continue higher up the mountain, we’ll have to come back and try them another time.

Steel’s Creek Falls

Steel’s Creek flows off the east side of the Blue Ridge in the vicinity of Table Rock. The MST parallels the creek for several miles. The southern access point is from FS 228 off of NC 181 north of Glen Alpine. Follow this road until it ends which includes a wet crossing of a smaller stream (may be dangerous in high water) and a whole slew of campsites along Steel’s Creek.

View of Steel's Creek from MST
View of Steel’s Creek from MST

From the end of the road it’s a short walk along a trail to a swimming hole and small waterfall in the river. From here you have to figure out the best way across which is likely to be above the falls rock hopping. Across the river, you can pick up the MST and head north (MST-east) towards a whole bunch of waterfalls.

Steel's Creek Falls
Steel’s Creek Falls

Steel’s Creek Falls was very obvious to us in October foliage. It’s a huge cumulative drop through several steep gorge sections. It’s also rather dangerous to get near. This is the view from the MST. There are other view points but they generally involve some risk.

Rocks in Steel's Creek
Rocks in Steel’s Creek

Elsewhere along the hike there are some excellent swimming holes in the river and a lot of huge boulders to climb on in safer places than where the falls are. This is a pretty classic canyoneering river for the adventurous as well.

Chasteen Creek Cascade

Chasteen Creek is an easy hike in the Smoky Mountains National Park. The easiest approach is from the Smokemont campground. Drive all the way through the campground to the very back where there is parking for about 10-12 cars in front of a gated road. This is the Bradley Fork Trail which follows Bradley Fork upstream. Chasteen Creek Trail is the first right, about 1.2 miles (2 km) in. Just after the turn is backcountry campsite 50 which has good creek access. A half mile or so (~ 1km) up this trail are the cascades.

Chasteen Creek Cascades


It’s a relatively small set of falls but there is a nice viewing area which would make a good picnic spot on a longer hike (like the Smokemont Loop).


Chasteen Creek Cascades

Campsite 50 is also one of the easiest backcountry sites to reach in the park.  Just over a mile each way and relatively flat.  There are three fire pits set up there.

Issaqueena / Spoonauger Falls

Since we were already at Oconee State Park for an orienteering meet, we decided to visit a couple of waterfalls nearby.

Issaqueena barely qualifies as a hike. The top of the falls is practically visible from the parking area. There wasn’t a lot of water flow at this one when we visited but there was some good fall color and you have a view looking out to the south towards the town of Walhalla.

Issaqueena Falls

Spoonauger Falls is located just inside Ellicott Rock Wilderness Area. The hike in is 0.4 miles along the Chattooga River Trail from Burrels Ford Road, then 0.1 miles switchbacking up to the falls. There’s not really a swimming hole at this one but you do have to hike along the Chattooga to get there. We went in November so swimming wasn’t an option. Instead we spent our time there trying to get Alaric to look at the camera for the picture.

Spoonauger Falls

High Falls – South Mills River

High Falls of the South Mills river. It’s a beautiful spot especially with rhododendrons in bloom. There’s quite a lot to say about this one.
First of all, the name is just terrible, this is one of the least ‘high falls’ in Pisgah forest.
It’s also pretty remote. On a hot day when the cars at Looking Glass and Sliding Rock were parked a mile down the road, there was no one at all here. Of course, that may be because there are no marked trails to get here.

High Falls of the South Mills River

The ‘unmaintained’ trails are pretty well marked though and while fairly strenuous hiking, there isn’t much altitude change. The easiest way to get here is to come down the South Mills trail from the Wolf Ford road on the east side of the Pink Beds. At the S. Mills River crossing, follow the unofficial trail up Billy Branch (you can see the confluence from the bridge). Shortly up that trail there is an easy crossing of Billy Branch and the trail returns to the S. Mills. There is also a harder crossing of Billy Branch immediately after leaving S. Mills trail if you’re impatient and like climbing mud banks. This trail crosses one saddle but otherwise stays along the mills eventually crossing it. The crossing is wet and slippery. The falls is not far past that. The river trail does continue to Wolf Ford where it branches with both options rejoining the South Mills trail in different places.

Kelty baby carrier

And now – a complete and utter digression about baby carriers. Those of you who could care less about baby carriers can just quit reading right now.
We normally take Alaric for hikes in an Ergo backpack carrier. It’s comfortable (for me), has a similar feel to a well packed backpack and there’s no real danger to him. On the negative side, he can’t see much beyond my shoulders.
On this hike we tried a Kelty carrier (see picture). It has a crazy high center of balance. Alaric is free to lean over one side and then the other so it’s like 20 pounds of randomly shifting gear. His head is as high as mine so low branches are an issue. All that twisting and crouching gets tiring, but he liked being able to see more. So basically, I’d consider using this carrier again but not on a narrow trail or a hike with any sort of bushwhacking / orienteering and difficult footing. On those I’m sticking with the Ergo.

Baskins Creek Falls

The Roaring Fork nature trail is a car trail out of Gatlinburg, Tennessee into the Smokies. There are several major waterfall hikes here of which Baskins Creek seems to be the one that no one takes. Baskins Creek Trail is an L-shaped trail that starts and ends at different locations on the Roaring Fork road. The falls is pretty much right in the middle.

Mountain Laurel

We took the trail from the eastern trailhead simply because it’s a rolling path over several spurs rather than a continuous descent (followed by a continuous ascent on the way back). The first ridge was awash in mountain laurel.

Baskins Creek Falls

The falls is down a steep bit of trail into a quiet cove. There wasn’t much of a swimming hole when we visited but it would be easy enough to stand in the falls.


We also saw this salamander at the falls. We’d normally try and ID it but that’s difficult for salamanders so we’ll just leave it at that.

Coontree Mountain

For this hike we parked at the Pisgah Forest stables. We did this apparently because we like to be bothered by horseflies while getting our stuff together. We followed the road to the Bennett Gap trail, followed it north through the junctions with the Coontree loop and continued on to a random highpoint past Coontree Mountain somewhere along Bennett Gap trail. From there we backtracked to Perry Cove and followed that trail back to Avery Creek. The views are probably better in the winter but they aren’t bad. John Rock and Looking Glass Rock are well-situated. This is the view to the northeast towards Clawhammer Mountain.

View from Coontree

This is a good hike to do if you hate your ankles and wish to punish them. Maybe your knees as well. The ascent up Bennett Mountain is actually long but relatively gentle. Once the trail merges with Coontree Loop there are a couple ascents that probably register on the rock climbing difficulty scales. There’s another of those ascents after the saddle that the Perry Cove trail comes out of. North of Perry Cove the trail is along a narrow rocky cliff edge where we stopped to rest and take in the semi-obstructed views.

Bennett Gap Trail

Perry Cove is a wicked descent. We did the hike in this order after looking at it on a topo map. I don’t think I’d really want to climb up Perry Cove. It’s an interesting trail though that covers hardwood cove, some open meadows, several wet stream crossings, old road beds and some great wildflower vales. This is a showy orchus. There is only one plant in this picture so that I don’t have to figure out what the plural of ‘orchus’ is.

Showy Orchus

The loop plus the viewpoint is probably around 4 – 4.5 miles with around 1100 feet of ascent.

Barnett Knob

First a note of warning – this is not a very interesting hike. In fact it’s probably not even worth an entry. Barnett Knob is one of those lookout towers we’ve driven past on the BRP a dozen times and so we finally decided to hike up and check it out.

Barnett Knob

This is just a few miles from the southern terminus at Cherokee/Smoky Mountains NP. There’s a forest road up to the summit but not much of a view once you get there. Some nice wildflowers along the way is about the best we can say for this hike.

Indian Paintbrush

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is located in the southern portion of DuPont State Forest. It’s really more or less out in the middle so there are many ways to get there from all of the access points. I don’t believe there is any way to get there that is less than a couple miles on trail though. We chose the Fawn Lake access and followed Conservation Road which takes you up across an old airstrip and then down through an old farm to the river.

Bridal Veil Falls - Upper

It’s difficult to see the whole of Bridal Veil Falls. There’s an upper section in this photo then it sort of curves off to the right along a long frothy chaotic rock slide. At low water like this it’s easy enough to climb up the edge of the falls. We should probably point out that they call this slickrock for a reason. Footing is great, as long as the rock is dry, otherwise it’s like ice.

Bridal Veil Falls - Bottom

There are lots of rocks around the bottom of the falls and even some decent swimming holes. Well they looked like they might be. We had the youngster with us so we mostly sat on the rocks and spent time setting up photos designed to look alarming – like this one.

Five-lined skink

Melanie took her usual array of nice wildflower pictures. However this skink came and sat next to us on the rock so instead of the crested dwarf iris picture we’re ending with a lizard instead.

Laurel Fork Falls

It’s been a while since our last blog post. We’ve been doing some short hikes in Bent Creek that just don’t make very interesting entries. Young Alaric is ready for a real hike though so we took him out on the A.T. for the first time (that’s him in the carrier on my back). This hike is a fairly nice loop (‘lollipop’) hike into Pond Mountain Wilderness in Tennessee.

Starting from Dennis Cove Road, the trail runs along the Laurel River past several nice campsites. Eventually it winds down a section with some impressive cliff walls and this very nice bridge inside the wilderness area.
Just below this the river really starts to drop.

AT Bridge over the Laurel River


After a couple of slight climbs to cross over promontories the trail branches. The ‘high water’ trail continues about 300 feet above the river along the edge of Pond Mountain. We chose to descend to the river here. This is not an easy descent. The distance isn’t all that significant (for the A.T.) but it’s a steep slope across basically a boulder field. Footing is very difficult and treacherous. At the bottom though, Laurel Fork Falls is the reward. This is a beautiful falls and a beautiful area to hang out in.

Laurel Fork Falls


Continuing north-bound on the A.T. the main trail runs literally right along the river’s edge. There are some rocky ledges that it crosses, like this one that would be impossible to pass another hiker on. The trail follows the river past more nice campsites and then climbs onto a ridge where it meets the other side of the high water trail. Just up the high water trail from this junction is the Laurel Fork A.T. Shelter which is not the most spacious of shelters but it occupies a very nice ledge with good views.

'Low Water' Trail

From here we return on the high water trail and then the A.T. back to Dennis Cove Road. Roundtrip this is about 3.5 miles.

Courthouse and Bird Rock Falls

Our first interesting hike since the arrival of our son (the prior hike was deemed ‘experimental’ in nature). Courthouse Falls is a favorite of ours. There are several trails to it, or if the road is good and you’re bringing along grandparents, you can just take FR 140B in Pisgah until you reach the trail head. From there it’s about a 10 minute hike. The falls is there in the background of this picture.

Courthouse Falls

From there we visited a new falls (to us). Bird Rock Falls is located near the grounds of the Living Waters Ministry on NC 215 south of Courthouse Falls. It may also be called Cathedral Falls, or possibly they are different things. We aren’t sure. Either way right at the ministry there is a trail down from the road (you’ll hear the falls). There are several cascades into what has to be a great swimming hole.

Cathedral Falls

A trail runs along the river passing several more great swimming holes, a small cave and then it turns away from the road and eventually comes out at this impressive cliff wall. Besides the nice falls in the foreground, there is water coming off the cliff in several places as well. This is a great place to wander around but the rocks are slippery as one might expect around waterfalls.

Bird Rock Falls

After a rough day of judging BBQ over in Sevierville, Tennessee we stopped at a couple easy waterfalls on the way back home. Mingo Falls is located just outside the NC side of the Great Smoky Mountains NP on the Cherokee Reservation. On the way you’ll pass the fantastic new school complex Cherokee has built.

Trail to Mingo Falls

It’s a bit of a stretch to call it a trail to Mingo Falls. It’s basically a long staircase and then a very short walk to the cove in which the falls is located. It could be strenuous if you’re as pregnant as Melanie is in the above picture though. The falls is quite impressive.

Mingo Falls

Just south of Soco Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Soco falls. This is also is barely classified as a hike. It’s a pull out on the east side of the road and a couple switchbacks down to some viewing platforms. Soco Falls is actually two separate falls at right angles at a confluence. This is the larger and easier to photograph.

Soco Falls

Trail Days 2011

Trail Days happens every year in mid-May in the small A.T. town of Damascus, Virginia. We’d never managed to make it here hiking-wise before so we decided to stop by in a year that will involve very limited hiking (due to Melanie’s pregnancy).

Damascus, Virginia
Damascus, Virginia

It’s actually a much bigger festival than we expected. The entire town is taken up with impromptu tent-colonies of current and former AT hikers. There are vendors all over the town park of the sort you’d expect for a crowd of long distance hikers.

Trail Days 2011
Trail Days 2011

Big South Fork NRA

We’d been meaning to visit Big South Fork for some time. As we were on the way back home from the Kentucky Derby, it seemed like a good time to stop by. Melanie was 7 months pregnant on this trip so all of these hikes are in the easy category and none of them are more than about a half-mile roundtrip.
There are many natural arches in Daniel Boone Forest in southern Kentucky. This is one of them located in the aptly named ‘Natural Arch Scenic Area’.

Natural Arch
Natural Arch in Boone NF

Yahoo Falls is the highest waterfall in Kentucky, just edging out the much more impressive Cumberland Falls. Yes, it looks like a 4 year old took this picture but it’s the best we could do. If you want a more panoramic photo, I’d suggest visiting in winter. Incidentally, if you stop by the Stearns Ranger District headquarters, you can pick up a packet of recommended hikes. This is by far the best packet of day hikes we have ever found at any national forest / park in the US (or elsewhere for that matter). It actually includes topo maps for each of the hikes.

Yahoo Falls
Yahoo Falls

The centerpiece of Big South Fork is the canyon of the Big South Fork. This photo is taken from the almost completely unsigned Blue Heron overlook (above the remnants of the Blue Heron mining colony). Signage is hard to come by in Big South Fork so we’d recommend getting a decent map. (Tragically the packet from Daniel Boone NF doesn’t include BSF hikes).

Big South Fork Canyon
Big South Fork Canyon

Highlands Area Waterfalls

We visited three waterfalls around Highlands, NC.

The first is Glen Falls, or maybe Glenn Falls depending on which National Forest signs you believe. It’s just southwest from Highlands and is fairly well signed. This entire trail was reconstructed in the winter of 2010-2011 with multiple new viewing platforms. The first two overlooks have views above the falls. This picture is from the third platform which has perhaps the best views of the falls.

Glen Falls

The second falls here is Picklesimer Rock House Falls which besides having a difficult name is very difficult to find. It’s south of Highlands along the Georgia border. If you can find the correct gated forest service road (there are plenty of instructions on other web pages) it’s a short hike to the end of it and then trails lead up the creek to this falls. There is a substantial overhang and cave behind the falls.

Picklesimer Rock House Falls

Dry Falls is located directly along US 64 west of Highlands. Last time we were over here there were some unimproved parking areas and a trail down to the falls. Since then the park service has built some overlooks and greatly improved the parking. This is the view from the overlook.

Dry Falls

Whitewater / Silver Run Falls

These two waterfalls are both short easy hikes just south of Cashiers.

Whitewater Falls is one of the highest in the eastern US. There is a separate parking and picnic area for it now and it’s about a quarter mile hike to an overlook of the falls. A separate overlook further down towards the Foothills Trail offers a better, unimpeded view.

Whitewater Falls

A less obvious wayside waterfall is Silver Run Falls. There is a very small pullout next to a National Forest sign for the falls. Again, it’s only about a quarter mile to this small falls. There is a high quantity of mica in the rocks and the water around this falls so if the sun is out, it’s a pretty impressive effect.

Silver Run Falls