Saturday, June 25, 2011

High Shoals Falls at South Mountain State Park 6/25/2011

It is a one mile hike from the main parking area to High Shoals Falls.  If you complete the loop instead of backtracking the hike is 2.75 miles total.  At the start there is a choice of walking through the picnic area to the Headquarters Trail or following the more interesting Hemlock Nature Trail along the creek.  There are several informational signs on this .3 mile trail and places to access the creek.

The nature trail ends at the Headquarters Trail which is more of a dirt road then a trail.  Turning left the trail rises a short distance above the creek then drops down to a bridge where Shinny Creek joins Jacobs Fork.  This is one of our favorite spots to put our feet in the creek.  Shortly after this is the Shinny Creek Picnic Area which is a small area where several trails meet.

At the end of this area are the two ends of the High  Shoals Falls Loop Trail.  Taking the left side of the loop leads to the falls in half a mile.  This section of trail is much more natural with rocks and roots in the trail.  The trail is following the creek upstream but only climbs gently.  There are small cascades and several places to access the creek.

This is considered a geology hike and there are signs telling about the geological features of the area along the way. One of the signs tells about Hugo Rock.  The steep rock outcrop beside the trail had cracks in it when Hurricane Hugo came through in 1989.  You must now step over or around this large slab of rock that slid down during the storm and  rests in the trail. 

When you reach a combination of steps, boardwalk, and bridge crossing the creek you are almost to the falls.  This is an especially pretty area with the water falling over the rocks.  You can see the main falls above you through the trees.  The walk from here to the falls is short but steep.  There are stone steps and wood steps up to the observation deck for the falls.

To view the falls it is a right turn and a short distance along the side of the hill.  The viewing platform is large and gives good views of the falls.  There are signs warning of the danger of climbing on the rocks or playing in the water here.  There is a pool below the falls that looks tempting to play in.  We have seen people playing here but there are safer area for water play.  A young man died at these falls about a week ago.   The rhododendrons were still blooming along the trail especially near both the lower and upper falls.

 After viewing the falls we returned to the main trail and continued up more stairs to the upper section of the falls.  The upper falls are much smaller.  Another of the geology signs points out the potholes in this area.  Just beyond here the trail crosses the creek on a wood bridge.  We saw about 30 or 40 large minnows in the water near the bridge.

The trail leaves the creek and follows what appears to be an old road.  At .4 miles from the falls is an intersection.  A left turn leads downhill to the Upper Fall Camping Area.  This is primitive hike in camping but there is a pit toilet.  Water must be carried in or creek water can be treated.  There was a copperhead snake near the trail in the camping area.

We backtracked to the above intersection and continued uphill for a short distance to another intersection.  A left turn leads deeper into the park but we continued straight.  From here it is a steep downhill walk to where the loop portion of the hike began. 

This is a very busy trail during the summer months.  We passed many groups of hikers and families playing in the creeks.  Horses are allowed on portions of the trail but not in the area of the falls.  This hike is family friendly but children should be properly supervised as there are dangers to be aware of.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tom's Creek Falls 6/19/2011

It was Father's Day and we promised the Grandchildren a visit to a waterfall so we ignored the bad weather and headed for Tom's Creek.  The trail head is on Huskins Branch Road off of 221 north of Marion, NC.  The road starts out paved, turns to gravel, and back to paved.  Shortly after returning to pavement there is parking for a few cars and a signboard that is currently blank on the right side..

The trail is only about a half mile long, easy to follow, and mostly level.  There is a small creek on the left and a hill with interesting rocks on the right.  The Grandson walking ahead of the group spotted a deer crossing the trail.  There was one tree down across the trail that we stepped over easily.  There were rhododendrons scattered along the trail.

There are several primitive campsites along the trail.  At about half way there is a wooden bridge to cross on the left.  After this point the creek is right beside the trail.  It had been raining so we spotted lots of mushrooms.  Just before the waterfall there are two very short steep hills.  Once at the falls there is a big old log to sit on and view the water.

Of course we didn't sit on the wet log today.  Instead we climbed down the bank area to the creek and took off our shoes.  This is a great area for playing in the shallow water.  We spotted two crayfish and a small salamander.   If you cross the creek and go a few feet downstream there is an old mine hiding in the trees.  Approach carefully as the water at the entrance appears to be deep.

On the trail side of the creek there are the remains of the foundation of an old building on the hill side.  If you climb up the short but steep hill behind them you will find an old road.  Turning left and following it will lead to a smaller upper falls.  It was slippery from the rain, we had small children with us, and it started to rain again so we headed back.  I will return soon to get pictures of the upper area.

I would highly recommend this walk for those that want a quiet walk or a place for water play without a lot of effort.  It usually isn't crowded and has lots to hold the interest of children.  We have seen a snake in the rocks along the trail and there is poison ivy beside the trail so do be aware that you are in a wild place and watch where you step or what you touch.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Craggy Gardens Sampler 6/11/2011

View from the Visitor Center
Craggy Gardens is an area along the Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville  with several peaks above 5000 feet.  We came up here to enjoy the rhododendrons that peak about the middle of June but the first thing we noticed was how much cooler the temperature was up here.  There is a visitor center with restrooms, a small museum, and a gift shop on the parkway.  

We parked at the visitor center and hiked the trail that begins at the south end of the parking lot.  The signpost identifies this as the Douglas Falls trail but we were not hiking to the falls.  The trail immediately enters the woods.  It  is narrow and rocky  but gains elevation slowly and is not overly difficult.  Soon the falls trail goes right and downhill but we stayed on the trail that goes straight ahead.

After .3 miles we arrived at the shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's as a picnic shelter.  It was definitely built to last.   A junco was playing at the edge of the shelter when we arrived.   The main trail continues straight ahead from here but there are side trails leading left before and after the shelter that we wanted to explore.

We took the trail at the far side of the shelter up onto the bald.  The origin of the bald areas that are found in several places along the Blue Ridges is a bit of a mystery but they provide great places to view wildflowers and wildlife.  We find them to be peaceful places to hang out and relax.  There were lots of rhododendrons and the flame azaleas were still in bloom.

There was a bench in the shade of the oak trees that invited us to sit a spell.  There were small flowers scattered in the grass.  We watched butterflies flit around and bumblebees in the flowers.  This trail was busy today and there were other people on the bald but it was still quiet.  After about .1 miles the trail ended at an overlook. 

We turned back the way we came then took the trail to the right coming down to the shelter on the other side.  There were lots of berry bushes along this short trail  and great views of Craggy Pinnacle that we would climb later in the day.  We talked to a ranger resting in the shelter who said this would be a good year for the berries.

The trail continues .8 miles from here to the picnic area.  It is all downhill.  The first part of the trail is open to the sun and has lots of flowers and berry bushes.  As we lost elevation we were once again in the woods.  There were lots of interesting trees and rock formations along both sides of the trail. 

The picnic area at the end has tables, grills, and restrooms.  It can be reached by car from the parkway.  The majority of people on the trail today were hiking from either the picnic area or the visitor center to the bald rather then hiking the whole trail.   We hiked back to the van then drove back up to the picnic area for lunch.

After relaxing in the picnic area we drove north of the visitor center to the parking for the Craggy Pinnacle trail.  This is a .7 mile uphill hike.  We climbed through rhododendron tunnels and past more interesting rocks and trees.   The rhododendrons were past peak but the azaleas were just starting to bloom.  There were bluets and other small flowers along the trail.

The trail is not overly difficult but is narrow in spots and rocky.  Near the top is a signed intersection.  Straight ahead on the trail leads to the top overlook.  A right turn leads a short distance downhill to a lower overlook.  It is worth the effort to visit both overlooks.  The upper overlook was busy but that didn't stop the juncos from visiting.  The lower overlook was quieter.

This is a trail that we like to bring out of town company including children to.  It is a short hike but you feel like you have climbed a mountain and the views from the top are great.  We have hiked here with the grandsons and they enjoyed playing along the trail.  The area is fragile and dangerous though so you do not want to wander off of the trail.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chestnut Knob Revisited 6/5/2011

We had just done this hike on April 29 but our nephew, Blake was visiting for the weekend and wanted to do a mountain hike so we came back here.  The many flowers that we had seen a month ago were almost all gone now but a few of the blueberries in the sunniest areas were ripening. 

The trail was busier today also.  We met a group of five men, two women hiking together, a jogger, a pair of men, and a women with two dogs along the trail.  The smaller dog saw Blake in the tree and climbed up with him.  He was back on the move too quick for me to get a picture.  It was also much hotter on the trail.  Summer has arrived early.   

Big Butt Trail to Point Misery 5/29/2011

The trail head for this hike is located at the Balsam Gap Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Craggy Gardens and Mt Mitchell State Park.  The trail goes downhill from the parkway then levels out and parallels the road for a short distance.  Almost immediately we began seeing the trillium plants although most were past bloom.  This trail must have been beautiful a week ago.

Soon the trail turns away from the parkway and begins to climb to the ridge.  After a gentle uphill area there was one short steep section leading to where we began to see views between the trees.  The soil in the trail was damp but not muddy.  There was lots of sun filtering in between the trees allowing the area to be grassy.  There was no problem following this narrow trail.

There was evidence that the trail is being improved.  There were piles of timbers and rebar, new steps being formed by short pieces of timber, and some timber boxes filled in with dirt that we were puzzled by.  They didn't seem to be located where there was a need for them.  We were dismayed to see a mess of litter in one place where it appears the workers had lunch and left a bag of trash behind.

The trail continues along the ridge line with minor ups and downs  to Point Misery at about 1 3/4 miles from the parking.   There was  another short steep hill just before the point.  There were lots of flowers along the trail including a second variety of trillium at the higher elevations but again we were too late for most of the blooms.

There were flies and other insects all long the trail.  We could hear them buzzing but they weren't really bothering us.  We also saw bear scat in a couple of places.  We spent some time exploring the area around the point.  Had we continued on the trail we would have dropped steeply into a saddle before climbing Little butt but we turned back at this point.

Mt Mitchell Summit and Balsam Nature Trail 5/28/2011

View from Mt Mitchell Summit Toward Mt Craig
The summit of Mt Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi and a cool place to be on a hot summer day.  The road to this state park is accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  About half way up the park road is a nice restaurant with great views from the dining room or the rocking chairs on the back porch.  At the end of the road is a large parking area with a snack bar, gift shop, and museum.  

 It is a short but steep walk on a paved path to the summit tower.  The old tower was replaced a few years ago by this new handicap accessible tower that blends well with the environment.  The low profile makes it harder to spot from the distance.  There are superb views in all directions.   On the way up you will pass the entrance to the Balsam Nature Trail on the left. 

After enjoying the views from the top we went part way back down  and took the Balsam Nature Trail.  This is a natural surface trail that is wet and rocky in places.  The first part passes through a dense forest of short firs that smells like Christmas.  Many of the trees on the mountain top look almost like bonsais due to the short growing season.  We could hear the sounds of birds and flies.

This area stays damp resulting in a lot of moss and other greenery.  It was almost June but the ferns were just opening up.  The trail is almost level and straight until a sharp left curve then moves downhill more quickly to a fork in the trail.  Straight ahead was the Mt Mitchell Trail heading down the mountain.  The nature trail turned left and became less steep.

This section of trail had trillium on it although we were too late for most of the blooms.  There are a lot of dead trees down along the sides of the trail.  The park policy is to leave all down wood alone unless it is a hazard to the trail.  We traveled gently downhill or level until almost the end of the walk.  There were some spots in the trail that were quite wet but we were able to step over or around them.

After the trail began the final uphill climb we took a short gravel surface side trail right and downhill to the spring.   At the bottom there is short boardwalk with a wood deck and bench.  You can relax and listen to the spring water bubbling out of the earth.  From the spring it is a very short uphill walk to the trail end in the lower section of the parking lot.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mt Mitchell Camping May 27-30, 2011

View of Mt Mitchell Summit Tower from the Camping Area
The Camping area at Mt Mitchell State Park is for tents only.  There is a parking area for a single row of cars with no room for a longer vehicle.  At the end of the parking is a shed of firewood for sale and a path to site one.  To reach the rest of the sites you must climb a set of stone steps and proceed uphill on the gravel path.   Sites two and three are before the restrooms.  Sites four and five are across from the restrooms.  The rest of sites six through nine are uphill from the restrooms along the path.  There is a water spigot near the restrooms and one by site seven.

The sites are small but adequate and all have a tent pad, table, fireplace with grill, lantern stand, and bear box.  The surface of the site is gravel and  all the trees and bushes have been left undisturbed between the sites allowing for privacy.  The bear box is a large metal cabinet which was large enough to hold our cooler, two bins of food and cooking utensils, camp stove, and other odds and ends with no problem.  Most of the sites have a view of the surrounding mountains.

After we had  made several trips up the hill with our gear the rangers stopped by our site.  They mentioned that the trail past our site led up to a gravel pull off where we could park while loading and unloading.  This made loading at the end of the weekend much easier.  The rangers instructed us on the use of the bear box and made rounds every night to be sure all campers were storing everything that might attract bears.  They told us about a brand new cooler that had never been used being torn up by the bears because they recognized it as a food container.  They said not to keep items like soap and toothpaste in the tent as they smelled like food to the bears.

The lowest point in the campground is 6230' of elevation.   This makes the weather more like Canada then North Carolina.  During the middle of the day the sun got hot in the campsite but at night it felt like the 40's.  Clouds came over the mountains several times over the weekend putting us in damp fog for short periods of time before they moved on.