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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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Standing atop Wiseman’s View at night is a little scary.  The moonlit canyon inspires feelings of smallness, ineptitude, and a general sense of insecurity at one’s own ability to survive in such a place.  Yet in spite of these feelings, people such as myself are repeatedly drawn to this spot and to the Linville Gorge which plummets over a thousand feet below it.

Charles and I are on our way home, driving up from a long day of enjoying the sights and sounds of Asheville.  The moon hangs like a polished orb above us and is so bright we can almost see without the car’s headlights.  As we drive, a wood cock dashes across the road and I almost wreck the car trying to get a look at this seldom-seen bird.

It’s about the time we get to North Cove that I blurt out “Hey babe, let’s drive up to Wiseman’s View on our way to Boone.  The moon will be amazing and we may even see the brown mountain lights.”  I know that Charles, in his obsession with the Gorge and unquenchable moon-lust, won’t be able to say no.

And so we find ourselves driving up a narrow, gravelly, wet road on the west rim of the gorge.  On our way up, we enjoy views of Hawksbill as the leaves are not yet able to obstruct our view.  Surprisingly, quite a number of car campers have braved the wet roads and cool, windy night to stake out campsites along the road.

At the top, we park the car, throw on our jackets and walk out to Wiseman’s View.  Charles has a flashlight, but because the moon is so luminous, he stashes it in his coat pocket.  As we stand on the windswept overlook, Charles and I are bathed in moonlight and the sound of the rushing river below.  An enormous rainstorm the night before has risen the water level several feet and it sounds like a raging bull beneath us.  Looking out into the Gorge, we see two small campfires twinkle along the river; Charles and I muse about what it would be like to camp so deep in the Gorge on such a raw spring night.

We stand a while longer on the outlook, silently hoping to see a glimpse of the famous Brown Mountain lights that we were lucky enough to spot one weekend while camping along the river.  The lights are most commonly seen just along Table Rock.  Because it’s such a beautiful and mysterious night, I feel sure we’ve got a good chance.

See it:  The Linville Gorge is mysterious, dangerous, wild, and even mythical.  That’s why year after year so many people visit it.  Wiseman’s View is especially popular as it affords fantastic views of the Gorge just minutes after stepping out of your vehicle.

To get to Wiseman’s View, turn onto the Kistler Memorial Hwy. (formerly NC 105) from Hwy 183.  On your way up, you’ll pass the following places:

1. Alternate parking area for Linville Falls
2. Information Cabin (on your right)
3. Parking area for Pine Gap Trail
4. Parking area for Bynum Bluff Trail
5. Parking area Cabin Trail
6. Parking area for Babel Tower Trail
7. A sign will point the way (to the left) for Wiseman’s View.

You’ll also pass numerous car campsites.  These sites usually operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The campsites are easy to access, relatively large, and some can accommodate more than one vehicle.  Fires are permitted.

If you’re interested in the Gorge in general, you might enjoy the following links, which offer additional information on the Gorge as well as the Brown Mountain Lights:  Tips on Linville Gorge, Linville Gorge & Brown Mountain Lights.

Charles, inspired by our experience, wrote the following poem:

________________________________________
Wiseman’s View

We live here on the cusp of tame and wild:

civilization’s trappings (gaudy signs,

bright lights to mend the darkness, barking dogs

to insulate a house) can disappear

in seconds from a simple change of course.

We spent a day in artful buildings cast

by clever men:

before us lay their bright

ingenious pinnacles, and we drove home

through dynamited corridors of granite.

At last, we turned away from the perfection

and shame of man’s devices on a road

into the gorge.

Before us now lies darkness,

the cenotaph of Table Rock, the plunging

reality of cliffs and river pure,

two token campfires in the scary wild.

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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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