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).
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.
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’.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve passed Fryingpan Mountain about 100 times without ever hiking up to the tower on top. It’s located just about a mile down the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Pisgah Inn.
The hike is a little less than a mile up a forest road, not particularly interesting in itself. The tower was closed for renovations when we went up there but the view is still impressive, especially during the peak of Autumn colors. The view below is looking south towards Pilot Mountain.
Besides being an easier hike the view is much better than from Mt. Pisgah which is completely covered in large towers.
The Chimney Tops trail on the Tennessee side of the Smokies is a popular one with good reason. This is actually the most crowded trail we’ve been on in a long time. The peaks are quite noticeable from the Tennessee side of the park near US 441.
The trail is about 2 miles with something like 1300 feet of elevation gain. It’s a constant climb although there are some very scenic river crossings along the way. There are good views of Mount Mingus and Mt. Le Conte. The highlight of this trail though is the finale which is a rock climb to the top. There are signs warning of this at the trailhead but they don’t really show off the exposure of this rock face. Near the summit it becomes apparent just how much prominence there is to the west.
Probably less than 20% of people hiking up the trail actually climbed to the top. The views are good although honestly they aren’t all that much better than other nearby peaks. There were about 10 other people on the summit which is relatively close to capacity. It does feature 360 degree views but it isn’t a very large area and there are couple of very exciting crevices to avoid.
This section of the A.T. runs 7 1/2 miles from Stecoah Gap at NC 143 to Yellow Creek Road. It’s not the most exciting section but we it was a bit we hadn’t done yet.
There are two waypoints of a sort along this stetch. One is Brown Fork Gap which has a shelter just above it. We stopped for lunch here. Coming northbound to this shelter you’ll have just completed the fairly hideous climb out of Sweetwater Gap. The next site of interest is Cody Gap which is also a reasonable campsite. In between is a high ridge with some great views of Lake Fontana and the Smoky Mountains.
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.