Saturday, May 18, 2013

Crabtree Falls 5/12/2013

After the heavy rain this past week we thought that Crabtree Falls would have lots of water flowing.  The falls were pretty spectacular but we were also surprised by how nice a wildflower hike this turned out to be.

The Crabtree Falls area is located around mile marker 309 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.  The picnic area, camping area, and store are closed this summer due to budget constraints but the trail can still be accessed.  Instead of parking at the trail head for the loop you must park at the store parking lot and hike past the amphitheater and through part of the camping area.  This adds about a quarter mile to the two and a half mile loop hike.

As soon as we exited the vehicle we began to see wildflowers.  There were violets and other small flowers dotting the ground.  There were dogwood trees in bloom between the trail and the amphitheater.  Before we reached the official trail head we were seeing white and pink trillium.  After easily following the signs we reached the parking lot and trail head for the loop.

The first part of the trail is wide and only gently sloping.   We passed the point where the return of the loop joins on the left and began to hear water running in the distance.  Soon we descended a set of stone steps and the trail got narrower and steeper.  I was stopping frequently to photograph the wide variety of wild flowers.

There was a tree down across the trail that we had to stoop to pass under then another set of stone steps led to what looked more like a small creek then a trail.  We walked in two segments of trail about one hundred feet each that were under an inch or two of water  but there were lots of rocks to walk on.  The sound of the water was getting louder.

After a fairly steep section with switchbacks we arrived at the falls.  There is a nice bridge over the creek with a bench at the center.  We took pictures, enjoyed the falls, and ate our snack.  We had only seen a couple of single hikers on the trail up to this point but now several groups of hikers including dogs seemed to arrive all at once.

We decided to head on up the trail.  The stone stairs on the far side of the bridge are in need of repair but not too hard to negotiate.  Beyond the stairs the trail climbs fairly steeply away from the falls but is not technically difficult.  Once the elevation is gained this side of the loop becomes almost level.  One section of the trail has a stone wall along the side.

When we crossed the creek again above the falls it was much quieter.  The trail follows the creek past quiet little holes until it turns and follows a smaller run towards the campground.  We reached a sign pointing one way to complete the loop and the other way to the campground.  We shortened our hike about a half mile by cutting across the campground following the signs for the amphitheater.  

This trail is well signed and easy to follow with just a few places that could use maintenance.  I would not hesitate to bring the children on this hike.  The Spring wildflowers were a special treat.  The hike would be shorter as an out and back on the first section instead of a loop but we would have missed the painted trillium that were only on this part of the trail and the chance to walk along the creek.




Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Orchard at Altapass 10/6/2012

We have visited the Orchard at Altapass many times to enjoy the old time music, the storytelling hayrides, the gift shop, the ice cream, the homemade fudge, and of course the apples.  This summer they added a new reason to visit.  There have always been grassy lanes between the rows of trees that could be explored but now there is a series of ten family friendly marked trails.

There is a large signboard at the north end of the parking lot beside the blacksmith shop.  There are maps and brochures with activities for the children to complete along the trails.  After some discussion we decided on a series of trails.  We started out on trail 1  which is also the Orchard road.  We followed the level road out to where trail 10 begins on the right side.

Trail 10 begins with steps dropping away from the road and continues downhill fairly steeply.  The trail is short and interesting with a variety of flora. We stopped to watch a woolly worm crossing the trail and photograph odd shape fungi.  Soon the trail levels off and turns left.  Just ahead is the McKinney family cemetery.

The woods have been allowed to reclaim this small cemetery.  We located about ten or twelve stones most of which were unreadable.  There is a new stone erected for Cove Charles McKinney by his descendants.  If you take the hayride  you will hear some fun stories about Mckinney and his large family including four wives with separate houses.

After enjoying the cemetery we backtracked up trail 10 and part of 1 before taking a right turn on trail 9 which parallels the road back to the parking lot but runs between rows of trees in the orchard.  The trail is grassy but easy walking.  There were a few apples left on the trees and flowers along the sides of the trail.

We took some time to enjoy the activity around the barn area (and use the restrooms) before the second part of our walk.  There was apple butter cooking in front of the barn in a big copper kettle.  After hanging around for a bit and saying goodbye to our hiking companion, Jill we headed back over to the trail head area.

Hiking trail 2 is a two mile loop that leads through and around the perimeter of the orchard.  The first section passes by apple crates and other orchard supplies then switchbacks down through the rows of apple trees. We were gently working our way downhill. There are good views of the mountains at the far end.

There was only one intersection where we didn't see a sign telling us which way the trail went.  We correctly guessed left toward the woods.  As we entered the lowest road toward the woods we had to watch our footing as there were rotten apples scattered in the trail.  We gradually left the orchard and dropped into the woods.

There was a log bridge to cross.  I was a little hesitant since there was no handrail but the top was flattened out and it really wasn't bad.  There is a waterfall down here in the wetter seasons.   It is fed by a spring that was dry when we were here.  The very active train tracks are visible here also.  The hayride gives more information on the trains also.

After about a half mile in the woods the trail comes back out in the other side of the orchard opening up to more good views as you head uphill.  We saw deer prints and bear scat in this section.  I am sure the wildlife enjoys the orchards in the early morning and late afternoon.  There was one confused apple tree that was blooming in the Falll instead of the Spring.

This trail is definetly child friendly with gentle trails and lots to see.  The brochures at the trail map include activities for the children to do on the trail.  This is a place to wander and explore rather then a place for heavy exercise of a challenging hike.  Be sure to check out the building for things like the hatching butterflies.  The short trail up to the butterfly garden is also well worth taking.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Laurel Falls 4/14/2012

We have passed this trail head many times without stopping.  The parking area was always packed and the idea of a paved trail didn't much appeal to us.  This 2.3 mile round trip hike turned out to be a better experience then we had expected.  It is an uphill hike and although not steep there are few level areas.  There are drop  offs beside the trail especially near the end so children needed to be closely supervised.

The trail winds around the side of the hill.  There were a variety of flowers along the way including the first flame azaleas that we had seen blooming this year.  We watched several chipmunks playing past the first turn in the trail.  Further up we saw a number of small birds in the rocks on the high side of the trail.

As we reached the higher parts of the trail there were some nice views of the mountains.  These views should still be good after the trees are fully green.  A ranger passed us carrying a bag of litter that he had collected.  Why can't people be more careful with their trash!.  The ranger cautions everyone that he passes on the trail that the big rock at the falls is slippery.

The creek is way below us when we first spot it.  The surprise is that we are so close to the falls.  There is a large series of cascades just below the main falls causing the creek to drop very quickly.  A small corner in the trail and we are there.  The trail crosses the creek on a small bridge  and continues.  We sat on the bench past the bridge to relax and listen to the falls.

We watched two groups with children go out on the rock that the ranger had cautioned about being slippery.  One wrong step could have been disastrous.  Maybe I am overly cautious but they make me nervous.  This is a good place to bring children and possibly even strollers if you don't mind pushing uphill but please be careful.

Grotto Falls 4/13/2012

We hiked this trail on a weekday and felt lucky to see someone backing out of a parking space in the main parking area.  There are chemical toilets at the parking and more parking spaces on down the road.  This very popular trail head is located on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail accessed from Gatlinburg, TN.  The hike to the falls is 2.6 miles round trip.

The trail is wide  enough to walk side by side and only had short sections with rocks and roots to step over.  It is not steep but gradually climbs around the sides of the hills.  There are steep drop offs beside the trail in places  We crossed  four small streams with no bridges but we did not get our feet wet.  There was some very fresh bear scat in the trail.

This trail doesn't have any wide open vistas but the woods are pretty and there were lots of wildflowers along both sides of the trail.  On the right were lots of little flowers mixed in the mossy areas on the uphill slope.  On the left were lots of trillium on the downhill slope.  No one seemed to be in a rush  to complete this trail.

It seems like there is no indication of being near a creek or waterfall when the trail rounds a corner and you are beside and above the creek.  There are a series of pretty cascades almost directly below us.  The falls can be seen in the distance only slightly above us.  The last hundred feet of so to the falls are the most difficult of this easy hike.  There are some wet slippery rocks to negotiate.

There were lots of people playing and relaxing at the falls.  This is not a place to go for solitude.  The trail passes behind the falls in a sort of cave  where you can feel the mist from the falls.  We found a nice rock on the far side of the falls to enjoy our picnic while watching children climb around the rocks and water.  This is the trail that the llama train takes to the Lodge on LeConte twice a week carrying supplies. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ogle Nature Trail 4/13/2012

This little nature trail is on Cherokee Orchard road accessed from Gatlinburg, Tennessee but in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  We probably would have missed this neat little trail if there hadn't been a virtual geocache on it.  The house can be see from the parking lot. We walked through the house and Mitch spotted a bird nesting in the ceiling rafters. 

The nature trail begins to the right of the house and ends by the barn so we saved the barn for the end of the walk.  The trail leaves the house clearing and enter the woods.  There are small runs to cross and lots of flowers.  We took a short detour on the Twin Creeks trail to view more of the wildflowers.  This trail intersects the nature trail and leads back toGatlinburg.

Along the first half of the trail we followed an old road through areas that had once been fields and a cow pasture.  The trail passes the remains of the "weaner cabin."  There is a brochure available at the trail head that explains these and other stops along the trail.  Around the corner from the cabin site we reached the creek and a very interesting little building.

We have seen a number of mills in the parks we have visited but this is the first  tub mill that we have seen.  This is a small mill that is designed for  the use of a single family.  The water wheel was under the timy building and horizontal instead of vertical.  We went inside and looked at the grinding stomes still set up.

Outside the trail continues along the creek where the flume is still in place before  turning back toward the barn through an area that is much rockier.  There are a couple of places where the trail required stepping over or walking on rocks.  There is another small run to cross and lots more woodland flowers along the way.  This entire trail is mostly level.  The trail comes out behind the barn at the end of the house clearing.

Porters Creek Trail 4/10/2012

Porters Creek is in the Greenbriar section of the Smokies east of Gatlinburg.  It is accessed by several miles of gravel road that passes two picnic areas with restrooms.The first part of the trail is gravel road in good shape following the creek.   On the other side of the road are side trails leading to stone walls and old foundations.

 The trail is almost level and lined with flowers.  This is a pleasant shaded walk with lots of chances to explore.  There are stone steps leading up to the old homestead site and more leading to an old cemetary.  Past the cemetary are the remains of an old vehicle.  At one point there is a foot bridge where vehicles would have forded the stream.

At about one mile the road ends in a "cul-de-sac."  Our trail continues to the left.  Straight ahead is another hiking trail and to the right is a short detour to several buildings.  There is a well preserved cantilever barn, a springhouse with the water still flowing through it, and a restored cabin.  We  took a few minutes to wander through the buildings.

The main trail from this point is narrower but still easy walking through pleasant woods.  We saw a few flowers but the best was yet to come.  There was a stream crossing with a long footbridge.  The creek was pretty here as it tumbled down the rock. Just across the bridge was a natural garden area with lots of wild flowers.

After  the bridge  the trail climbs away from the creek and up on a good size hill.  This is the hardest part of the hike but it is not long to the waterfall.  It came upon us by surprise.  We were crossing a few stepping stones across what looked like just a little run when I looked to the left and spotted the falls.  Fern Branch falls are set back a hundred feet of so from the main trail and may be reached by a primitive side trail if you want a closer look.

This was a busy trail even on a weekday during the Spring wildflower season.  There  were less people on the second mile section past the road..I would recommend this hike for families as there is lots of variety to interest the children and just enough difficulty for them to feel they accomplished something.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chimneys Picnic Area 4/09/2012

We had heard that the little nature trail at the Chimneys Picnic Area had a spectacular wildflower display in the Spring so we stopped by on our way from Clingmans Dome to Gatlinburg.  The picnic area is not at the parking for the Chimney Rocks trail but closer to the Sugarland side of the park.  This is a nice picnic area with water and flush toilets. 

The stream along side provides a chance to play in the water.  Even without the nature trail this is a great place to stop but what a bonus the trail is.  This walk begins at a few steps on your right soon after entering the picnic area.   We began seeing flowers before we even got out of the van.  There were flowers everywhere along this trail.

There is a short section of trail before the intersection that forms the loop.  You can go either way at this point.  This narrow trail is not easy but that's alright because we weren't in a hurry to finish it.  There were many varieties of flowers to enjoy and a pretty little run appearing in several places.  This is a trail to just wander along slowly and enjoy.  I will let the flowers speak for themselves.

A Resting spot near the top of the trail.