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Archive for the ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’ Category

The Boone Fork Trail is one of the best day hikes in the area.  Beginning and ending in Julian Price Memorial Park, this five mile loop covers dynamic territory.  Rolling hills and cow pastures segue to mountain brooks and marshes; after crossing the Boone Fork as a calm, flat stream, it reappears nearly halfway through the trail as a rowdy plunge through primeval boulders.  The trail culminates in a floodplain meadow with the river mild and circumspect before its wilder descent.

We like to hike this loop clockwise, which means striking out west from Price Park.  You’ll have to spear through the park and wander through the campgrounds that ring the lake (often crowded in the summertime), which might wrongly lead you to believe this is a simple car-camper path.

Experienced hikers should suspend their disbelief.  The Boone Fork Trail is as vibrant as a Mahler symphony, and the first movement is deceptively simple:  after you leave the camping area, you’ll walk up briefly into the woods to emerge in an expansive pasture.  Lori Beth and I ate a lovely picnic on one of these knolls looking south toward the Tanawa Trail.  These pastures will give you great views of Grandfather Mountain and Hanging Rock before they funnel you back into the more immediate hills.

The second movement takes you literally down into fold of the mountains; you will have to bounce across wet stones, rivulets, and fallen logs.  The only problem with the trail comes at this point: the path often becomes a quagmire, and it seems unevenly maintained in places.  Intrepid hikers have blazed useful side trails to circumvent the sludge, but a few particular parts require forethought (e.g., one can weave carefully through the rhododendron to avoid the mud).

After wallowing briefly in the mire, you come to the third movement.  The streams become fordable, the path drier and steadier.  Suddenly, you hear the river’s rush on your left, then it emerges:  immediate, imperative, and very present.  The river is stunning when it finally appears; it crashes through cracked granite and roars perpetually on its frothy course. 

Above: view of Boone Fork River

We often tend to stop near here for lunch; there are several little paths down to the river from the main trail.  We’ll sit on the rocks and eat a sandwich amid the spray.  We’ve seen lots of wildlife around here (a frog, a jumping trout—one of our friends saw a bear).  At this point, the trail is close to Old Turnpike Road on the other side of the river, and one may see other wildlife (i.e., drunken frat boys).

The trail will eventually wind up and away from the river and lead into the fourth movement:  a slow and stately walk back to the placid river you crossed initially.  As the river flows down, you walk back up; overall, you’ll follow its course obliquely.  The end of the trail leads you through floodplains, erstwhile beaver dams, and waist-high wildflowers.  The river’s peaceful beginning belies its stormy progress.

Above: view of river near picnic areas– some evidence of beaver construction can be seen when hiking this area

A dynamic loop trail (like a Mahler symphony) can be a transformative experience.  At the end, you have been brought back to where you started, yet changed through the process.  In saecula saeculorum.

Hike it:  To access the Boone Fork Trail, visit the Julian Price Memorial Park around mile marker 295.  (The Memorial park extends from mile marker 295-298).  Once in the park, cross the wooden bridge and you’ll be on the trail.

The entire loop is 5 miles in length and takes about 3 hours to complete (depending on your pace, fitness level, etc.)  For novice hikers, it may be a little strenuous, but it’s still a hike that almost anyone in generally good physical condition can do.  While I have often seen children on the trail, I would personally recommend that your little one be old and fit enough to tackle the diverse landscapes the trail has to offer (wooded trails, stream crossings, some rock hopping, a ladder).  The trail is extremely well-marked and you’ll see a mile post every 0.5 mile.  There are also several lovely swimming spots along the river.

Entry by Charles

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There are many trails in the Moses Cone system that are well worth your time, but the trail leading up to Flat Top Tower is one of my favorites.  That’s because this trail offers something that will please almost any type of hiker.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and Charles and I are in no rush. We walk up the Flat Top trail at our leisure, stopping to snap photos and admire wildlife.  While the entire trail is beautiful, it’s the first few hundred feet that I love best.  Not only do I find the rolling meadows and views of Grandfather aesthetically inspiring, but more importantly, these views remind me of the childhood days I spent hiking the Moses Cone system with my grandparents.  It was these two wonderful people who taught me how to love the Blue Ridge mountains.

Above: view of Grandfather from trail

As we work our way up the trail, we move through wooded copses and out onto an open field.  The sun is high overhead and it’s one of those spring days where all you want to do is lie in the sun and not move.  Charles and I somehow resist this urge and continue up the trail, knowing the best is yet to come.

Above: meadow adjacent to Cone Manor graves

After moving through a mile and half of gravely, switch-backed trails, we make it to the top of the mountain where the fire tower rests.  I’m initially hesitate to climb the tower as it seems thin and shaky, but the sound of voices from the top boosts my confidence and I head up.  (Plus, I know I can’t wimp out after coming this far; what would my fellow hikers think of me?)

At the top, it feels like I can see the whole world.  To the north, Boone stretches out before me and to the south lies Blowing Rock.  In the distance, I can even see Table Rock, Price Lake, and Mt. Mitchell.  Knowing that common words are a poor substitute for scenes such as this, I record the vista, hoping to in some way preserve its magnitude.

Above: panorama from fire tower

Hike it: The Moses Cone Trail systems are among the most popular in the High Country.  Most of the trails are extremely accessible as they were once carriage trails commissioned by Mr. Cone.  Today thousands of walkers, joggers, hikers, and horseback riders frequent these trails and rest assured that should you hit one during the high season, you won’t be alone!  But if you’re comfortable with a general lack of solitude, then one of the many Moses Cone trails is for you.

The Flat Top Tower trail, in particular, is very popular.  From the Cone Manor to the top is 2.8 miles.  The trail is listed as “moderate” and you’ll gain a good bit of altitude as you hike.  The trail itself, however, is very accessible as it is switch-backed and gravelled.  The trail also offers a wide variety of experiences from meadows to woods to vistas, making it the perfect “please all” kind of hike.

For more information on the Moses Cone Trail system, please visit the following:  CNY Hiking & Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

Entry by Lori Beth

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

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The best thing about the first hike of the season is that it lets you know you’re alive—

and soft from the long winter months you spent eating girl scout cookies next to the fireplace.  But despite the physical complaints, there is something invigorating about plugging quietly over a mountain trail for the first time in months—and hiking to Storyteller’s Rock on Grandfather Mountain is the perfect place in which to do just that.

After squeezing into a parking space in the Boone Fork Parking lot, Charles and I sling on our packs and head up the Tanawha trail toward its intersection with the Nuwati, which is only 0.4 miles ahead.

As we hike, I’m reminded that the trail names reflect the heritage of the Cherokee Indians who lived in these mountains for thousands of years.  They believed that Grandfather was a sacred mountain where visionaries could interact with spirits of the underworld and gain insight into things to come.  The trail name, Tanawha, means “Fabulous Eagle” and the Cherokee believed that the eagle had claimed the mountain as his sacred home.  As we trek over loose rocks, tree roots, and rushing streams, I imagine that I’m treading the paths of those who once believed in the mountain’s magic and its great eagle spirit.

After just under an hour, Charles and I reach our destination—Storyteller’s Rock.  This high outcropping offers us splendid views of the Boone Bowl and surrounding areas.  As we snack on trail mix and chocolate bars, hawks surf the thermal uprisings and scan the dense woods for prey.  The sun is high overhead and trees sparkle on distant ridge lines.  And it is during these moments of observation that I realize why they call this Storyteller’s Rock—there is something about the high, windswept outcropping that asks the visitor not to speak, but to instead listen to the story that Grandfather—the Great Eagle—has to tell.

Above: views of Boone Bowl and ridge line toward Calloway Peak from Storyteller’s Rock

Hike it: The Nuwati trail (blue blaze) to Storyteller’s Rock is interesting and accessible.  It can be accessed via the Tanawha trail from the Boone Fork Parking lot at mile marker 300.  Once on the trail, you’ll run into a permit box where you’ll fill out a form that includes your name, number of people in your party, your license plate number, etc. You don’t need any specialized equipment and the trails are well-marked.  Toward the last part of the trail, you will have to navigate several streams using only your wits and a few dry rocks, but it’s really more fun than difficult.  (In fact, you can try to spot the rare Hellbender as you hop across.)

As you approach Storyteller’s Rock, you will notice several campsites just off the trail.  These sites are frequented by campers during the high season, so if you want to secure a spot (especially on a weekend), it’s a good idea to get there early.  The campsites are accessible enough that it’s not uncommon to see casual hikers pack in comfy pillows, bags of food, and even collapsible chairs.

On your way either to or from Storyteller’s Rock, you have the option to take the Cragway Trail (orange blaze).  This trail links the Nuwati and Daniel Boone Scout Trails.  It is difficult and you’ll gain altitude quickly, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the Boone Bowl from the Top Crag View and, higher up, the Flat Rock View.

For more information, please visit the following:  Tips on Grandfather Mountain

Entry by Lori Beth

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

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Bass Lake, part of the Moses Cone Memorial Park, houses some of the loveliest trails in the High Country.

Above: view of Bass lake

That’s why every fall, just after the leaves have abandoned the trees, Charles and I like to head out to the lake for a spirited walk.  This past Saturday was no exception.

We began our hike by circling the western side of the lake, pausing on our way to monitor a trio of brown-breasted ducks.  A formerly stocked fish pond, the lake is home to an array of bird life and it’s not uncommon to see ducks and Canadian geese paddling the lake year round.

After completing a half-circuit of the pond, we headed up one of the many carriage trails to the Apple Barn which is 0.5 miles from the lake. As we passed through, a friendly couple asked us to take their picture in front of the barn and we happily obliged.

After snapping a few photos, Charles and I headed back to the lake via the Maze trail which is 2.1 miles in length. This multipurpose trail is frequented by joggers, walkers, and horse-back riders almost year round.  The trail is gravel-covered and easy to walk, so feel free to leave those bulky hiking boots behind.

Above: view of Apple Barn from Maze Trail

Hike It: For more information about the Moses Cone Park and trail systems, please visit the following websites: CNY Hiking.com, Blue Ridge Parkway Guide & Moses Cone Memorial Park.

Entry by Lori Beth

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

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