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.