Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chestnut Knob Trail at South Mountain State Park

We headed to South Mountain State Park on a quest to find the yellow lady slippers.  We thought the Chestnut Knob Trail might be a likely spot but we stopped at the visitor center to inquire about them.  We were directed to a spot near the parking lot where they had bloomed two weeks earlier.  There were three blooms that hadn't turned brown yet.   They bloomed early this year..

This hike starts from the parking lot at the end of the park road.  After viewing the lady slippers we  followed the main trail past the restrooms for .2 miles and turned right on the Chestnut Knob Trail.  We usually like to take the Hemlock Trail along Jacob Fork when we start out in this park but it meets the main trail further down then our turn.

Most of the elevation gain for this hike occurs in the first .7 mile.  There are switchbacks and steps in the trail but this section will get your heart pumping.  At the top of this section is a right turn for a short spur trail to the Jacob Fork River Gorge Overlook.  From here you can view High Shoal Falls in the distance.  Retracing our steps we continued along the Chestnut knob trail.

From here it is a .9 mile walk through the woods  to the next intersection.  There were flowers blooming here and there along the trail.  Almost all the way there were blueberry bushes.  Some were blooming, a few already had green berries growing, but most had only leaves.   There is still some elevation to gain but the trail is gentler here and sees much less traffic then the trails around the falls.

This trail  goes up a final set of steps and appears to suddenly end at a cross trail.  Actually a right turn is the continuation of the Chestnut Knob Trail and a left turn leads to the Chestnut Knob overlook in .2 miles.  This intersection as with all the intersections in this park is well marked.  After a short distance there is a wider area with a hitching post for horses that have come up from the Sawtooth Trail.

From here the trail is narrow and goes downhill as it rounds the end of the knob.  This is the most difficult part of the trail with rocks and roots to negotiate but it is short and worth the effort.  At the end are a number of boulders to climb on and take in  the view.  We sat on the rocks and enjoyed our lunch and the view before retracing our steps back to the parking lot.

View From Chestnut Knob Overlook

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jump Off Rock 4/23/2011

We were in Hendersonville on a day trip and decided to take the short drive out to Jump Off Rock.  Starting downtown we turned west on 5th Ave. which changes to Laurel park Rd.  This is a pleasant drive through nice residential neighborhoods.  The road climbs uphill most of the way and dead ends at a circle with parking.  Just a hundred or so level feet ahead is Jump Off Rock. 

You have the choice of just enjoying the great views and the gentle breezes or you can hike any or all of the three short trails leading downhill.  There is a grassy area and benches between the parking and the rock.  Part of our group had had enough hiking for the day and relaxed at the top while the rest of us walked a little and found a geocache.

The geocache was hiding near this little cave just down from the rock.  The Grandsons enjoyed climbing down here to look for it.  The overlook has a railing and the trails are not overly dangerous but this is a place that you need to keep a close eye on children and not let them run ahead on the trails.

Carl Sandburg Home NHS 4/23/2011

What is a home tour doing on a hiking blog you ask?  We have driven by the signs for the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site many times thinking it was just a house.  Finally doing a little research we discovered that there were five miles of hiking trails on the property including a trail up Glassy Mountain.  We decided to visit during the Junior Ranger special event since the Grandsons would be visiting us along with their parents that weekend.

From the parking lot is a .3 mile walk up to the house including crossing a bridge at the lower end of the front lake.  The boys picked up the folder for the Junior Ranger patch which listed six activities at the contact center and we followed the path uphill along side the pasture toward the house.  They needed to complete four of six activities to earn their patches.  We stopped to make blue bird feeders for their first stamp in their folders then went on to take the house tour.

During the house tour we learned that Carl Sandburg was a great lover of nature and spent many hours in contemplation on the big rock behind the house or up on Little or Big Glassy Mountain on the property.  There were no window shades in the house so they could better see the birds at the feeders and enjoy all that nature had too offer.

While Carl as busy writing poetry and history and reading his thousand of books and publications his wife and daughter became famous for their special breed of goats.  They raised hundreds of goats on the property taking the new babies into the summer kitchen in the basement of the house to feed and handle making them very tame and friendly.  One of their goats held the record for milk production for many years.  There is still a small herd on the property that can be visited and petted.  For the special event they were demonstrating cheese making and providing samples.

After visiting the barn we headed out onto the trails going to the trout pond, part way up Big Glassy to the rock outcropping area, around by the small reservoir and  then around  Small Glassy to the view point ending up back behind the house.  A right turn took up down to the far end of the front lake where we spotted a number of fish and a turtle near a  bridge.  A short walk along the lake shore brought us back to the contact station and parking area.

This is a family friendly destination.  The house tour which is the only fee is a bit long for very young children but the goat barn, lake, and trails would be fun.  Because we were there on Junior Ranger day the tour was more child friendly then usual and the Grandsons got to ask and answer a number of questions.  There is a picnic area near the parking lot overlooking the dam at the front lake.  I would like to return to hike the rest of the trails.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Granny Burrell Falls in Panthertown Valley 4/19/2011

We began our hike from the west or Salt Rock trail head for Panthertown Valley.  We had read in a couple of places that four wheel drive might be required for the last part of the drive in but our van did fine.   There were potholes but the largest dip had been partially filled with gravel and we took it slow.  There were about fifteen cars at the trail head but we only saw a couple of people on the trail.  We started downhill on the Panthertown Valley trail which is a gravel road and very easy to follow.  There are frequent side trails some of which are marked and some that aren't.  We soon reached the Salt Rock overlook and our first views of the valley.  This valley has been referred to as the Yosemite of the East because of the granite domes.   We rested on the rocks and found a geocache before continuing our hike.

Continuing downhill we took a right turn at the Deep Gap trail thinking we could approach the falls from above.  This trail was more shaded and therefore cooler then the main trail.  We took a small trail on the left and got to within seven hundred feet of the falls when we dead ended at the creek.  We decided to backtrack and follow the suggested route to the falls rather then fording the creek.  This side trip was very pleasant with wildflowers in bloom.

Back on the main trail we continued downhill to a four way intersection.  We turned right on the Mac's gap trail.  This section was very pleasant with a couple of nice campsites.  After a short distance we came to a creek crossing on a small wooden bridge.  There was a sandy beach on the creek and the water was very clear.  It would be a nice place for summertime water play.  A right turn on the Granny Burrell Falls trail took us a short distance along the creek to the falls.  There were several places to step out onto the rocks at the creek side and view the falls.  The area below the falls also looked like a place for summertime water fun.

After finding the geocache hidden near the falls and taking a few pictures we headed back the way we came.  We will definitely be back to explore more of this valley.  There are many more waterfalls and other points of interest down here but they will have to wait for another day. 

Lower Whitewater Falls from Bad Creek Trail Head 4/18/2011

This hike begins at the Bad Creek Trail Head  on the property of the Duke Power's Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station property.  There is a large parking area and portable toilets.  The trail passes through a young grove of trees before climbing up, around, and down the other side of a wooded hill.  This trail is not overly difficult but is not stroller friendly.  As we rounded the hill we could hear the river down below.

At the bottom of the hill we walked through a level area and began to see wildflowers, ferns, and other ground covers.  Soon we were crossing the river at the twin bridges.  The trail ends at the intersection with the Foothills trail.  This location as with all the intersections on this hike is well signed.  We made a right turn and continued across the valley area.

After following a small run for a short distance the trail climbs away from the river.  There are wildflowers scattered all along the trail. We saw seven other hikers total on the trail today.  There is much less traffic on this trail then at Upper Whitewater falls.  We wondered why we weren't following closer to the river but once we reached the falls overlook we understood the need to go around the gorge.

At the next trail intersection we turned right on the spur trail to the falls overlook.  The trail goes through the woods, joins a gravel road for a short distance, then turns right off of the road.  If you pay attention to the signs and blazes it isn't hard to follow.  There is a short climb followed by the final steeper downhill to the  overlook.  The view from the overlook is fantastic and worth the effort to get there.

How long is this hike?  The sign at the parking area says 1.7 miles to the overlook.  The sign at the overlook says 1.9 miles back to the trail head.  The signs at the Foothills Trail and the spur trail add up to 2.4 miles one way.  This sign by the twin bridges agrees that this is a 4.8 mile round trip hike.  We wonder if this trail has been rerouted at some time.

After returning to the trail head we drove down the power plant road to the Lake Jocasse overlook.  The lake was beautiful and the rhododendrons were in full bloom.  It was well worth the short drive beyond the trail head.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Moore Cove Falls 4/09/2011

We have driven by this trail head many times so today we finally stopped and hiked this short trail on the way home from a longer hike.  This trail is on 276 about 8.5 miles down from the parkway.  The parking is on the left  right past the first bridge after Sliding Rock.   The hike begins by crossing a foot bridge over Looking Glass Creek and climbing up the hill.

Almost immediately we began seeing wildflowers.  I counted five colors of violets - deep purple, light purple, purple and white,  white, and yellow.  There were several other varieties of flowers also.  And at the first creek crossing there were butterflies.  We were never far from water as the trail circled the hill.

This trail couldn't seem to decide if it wanted to go uphill or downhill.  Large portions of it are mostly level.  There are several creek crossing but footbridges are provided.  This is a popular and well maintained trail that is appropriate and interesting for children.  We passed several groups of people having a relaxing stroll or enjoying the water.

As we approached the waterfall we heard thunder in the distance and began to feel the first raindrops.  We took a minute to get a few pictures and headed back up the trail.  Quick afternoon showers are common in this area  with sudden downpours but today it only sprinkled.  By the time we were nearing the trail head the sun was coming out again.

Sam Knob and Flat Laurel Creek 4/9/2011

It is Spring  with the Azaleas in full bloom and the leaves on the trees at home in Shelby but up here over a mile above sea level it  still looks like winter.  This trail head is at the end of Black balsam Road at around mile marker 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  When we arrived about 9 a.m. the parking lot was almost full but there are enough trails here that it doesn't feel crowded.

We started out on the trail past the gate to the left of the restrooms.   The trail is blue blazed and there is a blaze on a rock at the start but we only saw a few blazes along the trail.  The first half mile or so is along a grassy area and across a meadow.  The bluets and dandelions are just starting to appear.  This meadow should be beautiful in a week or two.

At the far side of the meadow signs indicate a right turn for San Knob and a left to Laurel Creek.  We turned right and begin a steady but not too steep climb to the top of Sam Knob.  The first section is wooded but after a short flight of steps it becomes more open with great views.   Just below the stairs is a muddy area where you can see a spring coming out of the hill.

Beyond the stairs there are areas where the trail is narrow with a steep drop off on one side and a steep hill on the other.  There are rocks to negotiate but nothing too difficult.  You can hear and see Laurel Creek far below and view Devil's Courthouse in the distance.  As you near the top the trail forks.  The left fork takes you to the slightly higher peak but you will want to visit both. 

To the left is a very large quartz rock and great views to the north.  We watched a pair of Towhees play on the rocks and looked at Highway 215 winding its way down into the valley.  We found the geocache that has been hiding up here for about ten years.  Then we backtracked a few hundred feet and took the other short trail to enjoy more views before heading back down.

We headed back down to the trail junction only seeing two other couples the whole time on the knob trail.  If we headed back the way we came the hike would be 2.2 miles total but we wanted a longer loop hike so we turned toward Laurel Creek.  The connector trail is a gentle downhill that would be quite wet in spots if there weren't a series of short boardwalks. 

 The trail crosses a small tributary before reaching Laurel Creek.  We knew we were approaching the creek by the line of trees ahead.  There was about fifty feet of mud to cross right before the creek.  To reach the Flat Laurel Creek trail we had to cross Laurel Creek.  With a little planning and a long step or two we were able to cross without getting our feet wet.

We turned left and headed back toward the trail head.  We could have turned right and followed the trail farther along the creek.  Up stream a short distance we found a campsite by a pretty spot in the creek  and had our picnic lunch.  There are several  nice primitive hike in campsites along these trails  A towhee stopped by to see if we would share our lunch with him.

Soon the trail began to gently climb uphill and away from the creek.  We could still hear the creek and occasionally see it.  At times the trail is wide and at times it narrows.  There are numerous crossing of small runs and at times the water runs right down the trail.  The bottoms of our hiking boots got wet but that was all.

This trail climbs to the top of the hill and makes a long circle around the valley below returning to the opposite end of the parking lot from where we started.  In numerous places along this hike Pussy Willows were blooming.  This is the first time I have seen them in bloom since growing up in Massachusetts.  This approximately four mile hike was very pleasant with lots of variety without a lot of  difficulty.