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Archive for the ‘Easy Day Hikes’ Category

Hibernation

As the English poet George Herbert said, “Every mile is two in winter.”  With winter just around the corner, that means it is time for our blog to enter its first season of hibernation.

While Charles and I do sometimes brave the elements for a winter hike, we are generally three-season hikers who prefer to spend the winter reading books and dreaming of spring trails.  That said, don’t let our brief dormancy deter you from exploring our site or from leaving your comments or suggestions.  We will still maintain the blog on a regular basis and will continue to update our Hiking the High Country facebook page.

So until spring arrives once again and reawakens both the woods and our writing, we wish you all a safe and happy winter!

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The following entry is by Jon Burr, a guest blogger living in Saxapahaw, NC.  Jon is an avid hiker, kayaker, writer and a former student at Appalachian State University, where he came to know and love the High Country.  He is currently a teacher at Elon University.  The following entry features his most recent adventure in Eno River State Park, which is part of the NC “low country.”

The high country destinations detailed on this site were once in my backyard and an important part of my everyday life. I hiked the same trails, swam in the same waters, and took in many of the same views. Several years ago, I had to leave the mountains (though, as they say, I never really left), and these familiar natural sites were replaced with the buzzing of city streets and the whirr of interstate traffic. I quickly became a stranger in an artificial land.

Adventuring outward, I soon discovered a few urban oases that might make high country travelers who have journeyed to the “lower country” think they have returned to the familiar hills of Appalachia. These places have become my home away from home.

One of my favorite “lower country” destinations (max. elevation of 730 ft.) is Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina. Between the park’s eastern and western halves, it is home to a combined 20+ miles of trails through forests and along the river’s banks.

On this occasion, our journey took us into the western section of the park via Cole Mill Rd. We parked at the picnic area and hiked on a spur towards the Cox Mountain Trail. After only a few minutes of walking, we came upon a familiar sight to those in the high country who have been to Grandfather Mountain—a suspension bridge!

Approaching suspension bridge from east

My childishly energetic jumping, bouncing, and running on the bridge made for a harrowing journey, and the dogs with us quickly became timid. Once I calmed my gait, we were able to cross. After walking for around 1/2 mile, we passed the Cox Mountain Trail and hiked towards a popular gathering spot within the park—Fews Ford. At this location, the river becomes shallow and many people and animals frolic in the cool waters.

Fews Ford looking east toward Buckquarter Creek Trail

After some swimming, we followed the Fanny’s Ford Trail along the western banks of the river (instead of the Buckquarter Creek Trail and Holden Mill Trail that span the eastern banks).  Much to our delight, we were soon rewarded with a wildlife sighting!

Turtles of the Eno

On this visit, we also saw many fish and frogs. Previous hikes have resulted in regular deer sightings and even an occasional fox. Showing the same childish spirit exhibited on the suspension bridge, I hopped into the waist-deep water (a chilly surprise!) to get a better photo. Instead of being rewarded with a photo-op, I emerged smelly, soaked, and covered with algae—and, alas, I had scared the turtles away. Eyes were rolled. We hiked on.

When water levels are up, the park is one of the most beautiful places in this part of North Carolina to canoe / kayak. We soon found out why. The many large rocks make for a technical paddle and some churning waters. This is a great spot to stop and enjoy the river and its rapids.

Looking north from rockface on Eno's banks

Taking advantage of the low water levels, we decided to cross the river and hike on the more popular Buckquarter Creek Trail because it hugs close to the river’s banks. Our crossing allowed us an encounter with another of the park’s many small rapids. This one had me wishing I’d brought my kayak!

Whitewater!

A short hike later, the Buckquarter Creek Trail leaves the banks of the river, dips into a dense, tranquil forest, and becomes the Holden Mill Trail.

Hiking south towards river on Holden Mill Trail

After a few miles of hiking through forests and along the riverbank, we looped around and returned to Fews Ford and, after another 1/2 mile or so, the parking lot. Another fun day in the “lower country” of Eno River State Park—a hat tip to my high country friends.

Hike it: Eno River State Park is a natural playground. Compared to the high country, none of the trails are terribly strenuous. Linking multiple trails together could easily result in an all-day adventure. Wear “water shoes” and swimming trunks because you are likely to get wet (and will probably have more fun if you do).

  • Length: 4.1 miles (Holden Mill Trail + Buckquarter Creek Trail)
  • Duration: 2-3 hrs.
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Hike Configuration: Loop
  • Blaze: Red (Buckquarter Creek Trail) and Yellow (Holden Mill Trail)
  • Condition: Rugged
  • Trailhead: Either parking lots at the park entrance at 6101 Cole Mill Rd.
  • Traffic: Moderate
  • Directions: 1.) From the high country, travel east on I-40 towards Durham. 2.) Merge onto I-85 North and take exit 170 for US 70 West. 3.) Turn right onto Pleasant Green Rd. and then left onto Cole Mill Rd. 4.) Cole Mill Rd. dead ends into the park.

Entry by guest blogger, Jon Burr

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Gragg Prong Falls is the perfect place to beat the hot weather that rolls in during the late summer months in the High Country. It’s also a family-friendly place that offers an array of outdoor activities from hiking to fishing to camping to swimming.

Even though I’ve lived and hiked in the NC High Country for years, I’ve admittedly never visited Gragg Prong Falls along Wilson’s Creek.  So I was stoked when my friend Maureen (affectionately called “Mo”) suggested that we spend our Friday afternoon hiking and swimming along the river.

After a bumpy ride along a gravel road, Mo and I arrive at the trailhead.  Our plans are simple: hike as long as we feel like it and swim when we get hot.  The trail is well-marked and relatively even; only the occasional river crossing gives us pause, and I bemoan the fact that I’m wearing sneakers instead of amphibious shoes.

Above: Mo crossing river along trail

After about thirty minutes of trail grubbing, we arrive at Gragg Prong Falls.  I’m immediately impressed–water pours over smooth bedrock and killer swimming holes dip in and out of the silver rock face.

Above: Gragg Prong Falls

Above: awesome swimming hole at top of falls

Above: swimming hole at bottom of falls; also a campsite

After a few hours of swimming, Mo and I continue down the trail in the hopes that we’ll find an even better swimming hole.  We hike for another mile or so and along the way spot Appalachian-style cascading falls; unfortunately they’re inaccessible and since time is running short, we head back to Gragg Prong.  By the time we return the crowds have simmered down and we spend the rest of our evening dipping in and out of rocky pools and lying like lizards in the warm summer sun.

Hike it:  The Wilson’s Creek Area rests far below the house-ridden hills of Blowing Rock.  It’s a popular area for visitors during the high season, so it’s best to visit on a weekday if at all possible.  There are a multitude of campsites, swimming holes, and hiking trails, but before creating your itinerary, it’s best to check out the Visitor’s Center or to buy a good map from a local outfitter.

  • Length: Gragg Prong is roughly 3/4 mile from trailhead
  • Duration: 30-40 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Hike Configuration: there and back
  • Blaze: White Circle (Mountains to Sea blaze)
  • Condition: Excellent, well-maintained
  • Trailhead: Small gravel parking area at bridge
  • Traffic: Heavy during high season
  • Directions: Getting to the trailhead is easy.  If you’re headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, turn left onto Roseboro Road in Linville, shortly after Beacon Heights around mile post 305.2.  (If headed north, Roseboro Rd. will be on your right, just before Beacon Heights.)

Once on Roseboro, drive until you see a bridge; the parking area and trailhead will be on your right.  For a map of the area, please visit the “trailheads” tab at the top of our blog page.

Additional Resources:  NC Waterfalls, Wilson’s Creek Area & Hike WNC

Entry by Lori Beth

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A few weeks ago, the hubby and I were looking for a quick, local hike on a sunny spring day.  So we decided to drive out to the Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, a place we had somehow bypassed during all of our local adventures.

The Natural Area itself is small and the trails short and few (once you see the park map, you’ll know just what I mean).  This is not one of those places you visit for a hardcore, leg burning hike or to get away from the chattering crowds.  It is, however, an ideal get-a-way for families with children, folks who enjoy exploring rare plant life, or people who want to be rewarded with remarkable views after only a short walk.

So instead of talking trails, let me share what I think is the strongest feature of  the park—the views from the top.  Enjoy!~

Above: views from Luther Rock Overlook

See it:  To visit the park, hit 221 toward West Jefferson.  After about 13-15 miles, start looking for the brown park signs on the right that will guide you to the Natural Area.  Restroom facilities, a water fountain, and picnic tables are provided.  No special equipment is required.  Just a good pair of anti-slip tennis shoes if you decide to brave the rock outcroppings for a view.

For additional information on the park , please visit the following:  Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area

Entry by Lori Beth

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