Friends In High Places – Whiterock Mountain and Jones Knob On The Bartram Trail

You really need to do this hike. Seriously!

OK! So it’s off the beaten path. I’ll give you that. But you won’t be disappointed. The views from Whiterock Mountain and Jones Knob are worth it. I promise!

A gorgeous long-view of the Tessentee Valley from Whiterock Mountain.

View of the Tessentee Valley from Whiterock Mountain.

And, it’s one of the easiest hikes along the Bartram Trail (BT). This is a promise too.

Granted. I haven’t hiked the entire BT – yet – but this section is certainly nothing like the grueling section from Wallace Branch to Wayah Bald. That’s practically straight up hill for 11 miles.

Fortunately – and you’ll be happy to know this – you do most of your climbing in the car on your way to the trailhead for Whiterock Mountain. What a relief, right?

With A Little Help From My Friends

Amazing things happen when you have supportive friends.

I’m starting a new venture. It’s called Mountain Trails Yoga and it’s a fusion of two of my favorite things; the cardio workout of a vigorous hike and the strength, balance, and flexibility of yoga. And it’s a blast too.

Well, I mentioned this idea to some friends who just so happen to be board members of the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society and they immediately started suggesting great places for a yoga hike.

Signs indicating the beginning of Forest Service road 4522 to Jones Gap.

Entrance to Forest Service road 4522, leading to Jones Gap.

Doing Tree Pose on top of Whiterock Mountain.

A perfect spot for some hiking yoga!

One of their suggestions was the hike from Jones Gap (elev 4360) to Whiterock Mountain (elev 4480) on the BT. And it turned out to be a perfect place for a yoga hike – complete with open rocky balds and breathtaking views.

It’s the sort of mountain top you might imagine a yogi sitting cross-legged, practicing levitation.

So, anyway, we picked a day, invited more friends in high places – a couple who work for the National Park Service and another couple who are scientists at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory – and headed out.

On The Trail Again

Once you get to the trailhead and put on your pack, go north through the Forest Service gate and along the old service road. This will pass through a wildlife clearing which ends at the junction of the yellow blazed BT and the blue blazed trail to Jones Knob (elev 4622).

If you’ve got the time, take the short trail up to Jones Knob. You’ll get a great view of Whiterock Mountain and wonderful perspective of the whole hike.

An amazing view of Whiterock Mountain, looking from Jones Knob

Looking towards Whiterock Mountain from Jones Knob.

Taking in the view from Jones Knob.

Taking in the view from Jones Knob.

Beyond Jones Knob, the BT basically follows a gently undulating ridge line towards Whiterock Mountain. I’d classify this hike as easy to moderate and very family friendly. Just be mindful of your children and pets once you reach the open rock faces.

The trail winds through rhododendron tunnels and shady hardwood forests. Besides the occasional view between the trees, there are two points of interest between Jones Knob and Whiterock Mountain.

The first one is the graveyard. It’s not really a graveyard but it certainly gives the appearance of one. The graveyard is an open rock face, looking over the Tessentee Valley and toward Whiterock. Large flat boulders litter the rocky prominence, giving the impression of toppled tombstones. It’s a nice spot to rest, have a picnic, do some yoga or simply contemplate your life.

Happy hikers enjoying the views from the Graveyard on the Bartram Trail.

The Graveyard on the Bartram Trail.

The view of Whiterock Mountain from The Graveyard.

Whiterock Mountain as seen from The Graveyard.

A weathered old sign welcoming hikers to Whiterock Gap.

Whiterock Gap with directions to one of the two water sources.

The second point of interest is Whiterock Gap (elev 4120). There’s a well-marked water source – one of two on this section of trail – right below Whiterock Gap, which adds to its appeal as a comfortable campsite.

And this spot could come in handy for you. A lot of people will visit Whiterock for the spectacular mountain sunsets. So if you’d rather not do a “night hike” after the sun goes down you can always camp here instead and hike out in the morning.

Not long after Whiterock Gap you’ll come to the blue blazed junction for Whiterock Mountain (the BT continues on its way to Fishhawk Mountain). This short spur gives way to a rocky path that eventually opens up dramatically to the most amazing views in the southern Appalachians.

A sign indicating the short blue blazed trail to Whiterock Mountain.

Look for this sign and the blue blazes that lead to the Whiterock Mountain overlook.

A group of hikers sitting on Whiterock Mountain, enjoying the views.

Friends in high places – basking in the glorious views from Whiterock Mountain.

This is Whiterock!

You’ve made it! Sit and rest and bask in the sunshine. Take in the views of the Tessentee Valley below you and the southern Nantahala Mountains to your west. On a good day you can see Albert Mountain and maybe even Wayah Bald.

Saying you can see forever might sound like an exaggeration, but when you’re up here on Whiterock…you can almost believe it.

Don’t rush! Take your time and enjoy this magical place. And when you’re ready, simply retrace your steps to the trailhead at Jones Gap.

A young woman sitting on Whiterock Mountain.

Taking it all in on Whiterock Mountain.

What is it about sitting on top of a mountain that makes your spirit soar? Drop us a comment and let us know what it is for you.

See ya on the trail,
Tastelikchickn

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 3.5 miles one way to Whiterock Mtn – plus an additional 0.3 mile to Jones Knob
Elevation change: 120 ft to Whiterock/262 ft to Jones Knob
Water sources: Streams
Trailhead: From Franklin, NC: drive 9.5 miles on 64/28 towards Highlands. Turn right on Gold Mine Rd. Travel 0.8 mile and then turn left on Dendy Orchard Rd. Go 2.6 miles and turn right on FR 4522 (Jones Gap Rd). Drive 2 more miles to the Jones Gap trailhead.

 

Walking Along The Little Tennessee River Greenway

Well. I haven’t been a complete slug. Sure the holidays kept me busy and I wasn’t able to hike in the woods, but I didn’t sit on my butt at home and eat Snickerdoodles either.

That’s not my style. I’m like a herding dog. You know what happens when they don’t get enough exercise. They’ll drive you crazy.

Walking along the Little Tennessee River Greenway.Greenway sign for the historic Tallulah Falls Rail Road.Some of the many people who enjoy the Greenway daily.The thing is…I will too! So, when I can’t hike, I walk. And, fortunately, we have a great place to do it.

The historic Nickajack Bridge on the Greenway.There are many scenic spots along the Greenway.One of the many mile markers on the path.This great place is called The Little Tennessee River Greenway. And for a public green space, it is well used – and loved – by many people around here.

Open meadows and wooded areas offer a variety of enjoyable walks.With benches and shady gazebos, you can take in the peaceful views.Berry picking is a popular summer activity on the Greenway.On any given day, no matter what the weather, you’ll find walkers, joggers, runners, bicyclists, bird watchers, dog walkers, berry pickers, amateur botanists, picnic-ers, Frisbee golfers and even geocachers enjoying this four mile riverside trail.

There are numerous flowering plants adorning the Greenway.The meandering Greenway.One of several bridges as the Greenway crisscrosses the Little Tennessee River.Obviously it’s not the Appalachian Trail, but it’s a great place to stay in shape, get outdoors and breathe in some fresh air.

There are lots of public green spaces popping up around the country. Got one near you?

See ya’ on the trail (or maybe on the Greenway),
Tastelikchickn

New Year’s Day on the Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop Trail

Green moss encroaching on a blue blaze.How did I let this happen? It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to hike in the woods.

Somehow October and November got away from me. I was beginning to show signs of Cabin Fever. And that’s not good…for anyone.

What to do?

You and I both know there’s only one cure for Cabin Fever; lace up your boots and hit the trail. Sounds like the perfect prescription, doesn’t it?

I love where I live! I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it a million more times. But there are hundreds of trails within a short drive of my home. It’s really a hiker’s paradise.

Choosing a trail, however, can feel like standing in the middle of a video store and trying to decide what movie you want to watch.

Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to pick this time. I headed straight to Standing Indian so I could hike one of my favorite loops; the Park Creek-Park Ridge loop.

The beautiful Upper Nantahala River.Follow the sign to the various trailheads.There's always some green to find in the winter woods.The Trail

The Park Creek and Park Ridge trails are actually two different trails and fabulous in their own way. Taking the half mile connector between the two trails turns an “out-and-back” trip into a very nice roundabout walk, bringing you right back to where you started. It’s perfect for families and hikers of almost any age.

Though there are no scenic overlooks or amazing waterfalls along this trail…or any “special” places you need to see – it still offers plenty of lush beauty, the solitude of the backcountry and the soothing sound of babbling water practically anywhere on the trail.

In fact, like most trails in Standing Indian, there are several places along this loop where it’s hard to discern the trail from the stream. But that’s all part of its charm.

Leaving the Backcountry Info Center, follow the signs and the blue blazed trail through the Standing Indian Campground. Various trailheads will branch off from this feeder trail.

I always start with the Park Creek trail first. It travels for about a mile along the Upper Nantahala River on what I think is an old railroad grade. History buffs might know for sure, but I do know there are other old grades in the basin.

Take your time as you pass through the thick rhododendron and dog hobble and check out some of the large boulders and rocky places along the river. Little side trails will reveal nice long views of the river, swimming holes, and some beautiful whitewater cascades.

A bridge over Park Creek.Leading the way on Park Creek Trail.One of the many cascades on Park Creek.The trail takes a sharp left turn when it reaches Park Creek. For the next mile and a half the path meanders around this bold tributary and begins a gentle, long climb.

I don’t think many hikers venture pass this point. Park Creek Trail begins to narrow and you’re likely to find fewer signs of travelers and many more tree branches and blow downs across the path.

This was the first time I’ve hiked the trail in the dead of winter. And, to my surprise, after about two miles in, I found a clearing I had never seen before. It was about twenty feet off the path. The thicket that separated it from the path is obviously too dense to permit detection in the summer.

It’s always fun finding these woodland meadows. The forest service maintains these openings for wildlife, but they’re nonetheless surprising when you happen upon one – a clearing in the middle of seemingly nowhere.

Doghobble encroaching on the path.

The trail crossing Park Creek.

Moss covered stone on Park Creek Trail.

Somewhere around the 2.5 mile mark, you’ll have to ford Park Creek. It’s fairly wide at this point and, depending on the amount of recent rain, the large stepping stones can sometimes be submerged.

It’s always a good idea whenever you’re hiking in Standing Indian to use trekking poles or a walking stick. With as much water on the trails and the numerous stream crossings, trekking poles come in handy, providing extra balance and stability.

There’s nothing worse in the winter than slipping off a rock and getting your foot soaked.

In about another tenth of a mile and you’ll come to a fork in the path. Park Creek Trail continues to the right and the Connector Trail to Park Ridge Trail turns left. This spot is generally well marked (although the sign looked like it was in need of some repair when I was there on New Year’s Day).

Trail marker for Park Ridge Trail.Rhododendrons along Park Ridge Trail.A spring running through the middle of Park Ridge Trail.There’s only about 550 feet of elevation gain on Park Creek-Park Ridge loop and most of it comes in the last quarter mile of the Connector Trail. It’s easy enough with switchbacks and when you reach the top you’ll find yourself at the intersection of three forest service roads.

These grassy roads are not on any of the maps I own, but one of the roads has a sign indicating it connects with Kimsey Creek Trail.

Turn right once you reach the forest service road, walk about 20 yards and take the Park Ridge return trail on your left. You’ll notice a set of stairs to the right. This is the continuation of the Park Ridge Trail which follows the ridge line between Park Creek and Kimsey Creek.

The Return Trip

A map of the Park Creek-Park Ridge Loop trail.

Park Creek Trail is marked as 33 and Park Ridge Trail is marked as 32 and 32A, which is the Connector Trail. The dotted line highlighted in orange is the AT at Rock Gap. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

From here it’s all downhill. For the next mile or so, you’ll amble around tall poplars, oaks and an occasional beech tree. Every now and again you’ll come across a rhododendron thicket hiding another soggy branch you’ll have to cross.

Eventually this will intersect with the old railroad grade you started on. Turn right and follow the signs back to the Back Country Info Center.

Anytime of year is great time to hike this trail. In the summer, it offers a lush forest, cool shade and plenty of watery distractions. In the winter, when the leaves are gone, you can see the incredible contours of the land around you as it makes a big circle around Bee Tree Knob.

Just shy of five miles, this fantastic loop is great for a family hike, power walk or even some scenic trail running. Let me know what you think if you ever get the chance to try it.

Where did you hike on New Year’s Day?

“All Is Well” Moments – A Pause That Refreshes The Body And Mind

Alright, I’ll be the first to admit it. This may be a little more existential than most people are ready for…BUT – and this is a big but – I’m certain I’m not the only person to have moments like this, especially in the wilderness.

Anyway. I love fall! I love the colors. I love the cooler temperatures. I love the crisp, clear blue skies. And I love the sound of walking through fallen leaves.

Our foliage is nowhere near peak right now – still lots of green in the mountains – and if not brilliant, it promises to be a good year.

I finally got to go for a walk in the woods, first time in a while, and it was the best day ever. Resting next to a bold stream, I found a deep, calm pool below a tiny waterfall. Brightly colored leaves were dancing an endless ballet, telling a story of unseen forces, in the constantly changing eddies.

In fact, if it weren’t for the leaves you would never know there were invisible currents below the surface. Much like life itself.

How could you not take pause to reflect at such a beautiful spot…at such a perfect moment?

This is, for me, what I like to call an “all is well” moment. My life works when I’m in the woods, taking time to notice what’s around me. My thoughts become clearer. My creativity soars. My spirit is renewed. And I come out more refreshed, more focused, more relaxed.

It’s the very reason why I hike so much.

Take time to find your “all is well” moments within nature. It’ll change your life and you’ll never be the same person again.

I’d love to hear what renews your spirit. Maybe it’s a gorgeous view, sitting under the largest tree in the forest or meditating on a lone boulder. I don’t know…whatever. Give us an idea in the comments section.

Deep Creek and Juney Whank Falls

Looking for a good time? Maybe some wholesome family fun? Deep Creek is about as close as you can come to a natural amusement park…and a helluva lot cheaper.

We’ve been going for years and we’ve only seen and done a fraction of what’s available.

Cool and refreshing Deep Creek in the GSMNP

Looking upstream at the calm, lower section of Deep Creek. Great for younger kids to tube!

There’s so much to love about Deep Creek! Each time we go I promise myself we’re going to explore more of the whole area.

But, alas, I’m just a kid at heart. All we ever do, like so many times before, is tube down the half-mile long white water rapids of Deep Creek. All day long; up and down, one run after another with a little swimming thrown in now and then.

It’s so much fun. You’ve really got to try it for yourself!

Here’s a video from last year’s trip. I didn’t feel like walking back to my car to get my camera this year. It would have kept me from making another run.

Located on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain Park and just north of Bryson City, there’s so much more to Deep Creek than tubing. I know, for some of you who have been there, that’s going to sound blasphemous, but it’s true.

You’ll find lots of hiking trails, bridle trails, waterfalls, camping and picnicking around Deep Creek.

Admittedly, I’ve never done all these other fun things, but judging from their popularity, I’d still recommend them.

Useful tips I wish someone told us the first time we went tubing at Deep Creek:

  • Go early and plan to stay all day
  • Tube rentals range from $3 to $5 a day – make sure you get one with a bottom
  • Wear water shoes and a swim suit that won’t get pulled off by the strong water
  • Plan to have a picnic while you’re there.
  • Try to avoid weekends. They’re VERY crowded.

On this year’s trip I did manage to break tradition…slightly. I got everyone to go on a very short hike to Juney Whank Falls.

I did say very short hike, didn’t I?Juney Whank trailheadThe trailhead is right at the main parking lot and it’s only .3 mile to the falls. Luckily everyone was interested in doing it. (I think the idea of seeing a waterfall motivated them.)

It’s an easy walk. Most of the trail is shared with a wide bridle path which meanders around Deep Creek. The grade is easy – around 200 feet elevation gain – and the trail, like most National Parks, is well maintained.

Juney Whank is a charming waterfall with about an 80-foot drop, and well worth the trip. There’s a very nice bridge spanning the falls with a built-in bench to sit and rest as you watch and listen to the tumbling water.

Viewing the upper section of Juney Whank Falls

This is the view looking up at Juney Whank Falls.

Viewing the lower section of Juney Whank Falls

This is the view looking down Juney Whank Falls.

You can keep walking – the trail makes a loop – or go back the way you came. Katie and I decided to head back the way we came since the kids were stating to show signs of hunger and you know how irritable hungry kids can be on the trail. It was time for dinner.

So what about next year?

Next year I promise to explore more. Serioulsy! I do. I mean I will. You can hold me to it. ‘Till then…

See ya’ on the trail,
Tastelikchickn

Directions to Deep Creek:

From the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, take the Veterans Blvd exit and follow the signs to Bryson City. Stay on this road and veer right at the light just before the river. The road changes names to Slope St. Turn right on Mitchell St, then left on Everett St. Cross the railroad tracks and turn right on Depot St. Turn left on Ramseur St and then an immediate right on Deep Creek Rd. Veer left onto West Deep Creek Rd and follow this as it winds around to the Smoky Mountain Park entrance. Pick up your tubes before entering park and then drive another half mile to the Deep Creek parking area.

Something More Than A Gift

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long…nearly nine months. But it’s not like I haven’t thought about it practically every day since the hike.

I guess some things just need time to process.

It was my youngest son’s birthday; his thirteenth. That’s an important day for most kids – “Woohoo! I’m a teenager!” – and a pretty significant “coming of age” birthday in many cultures.

I wanted to get it right.

My hiking buddy, River.

This is my buddy, River. He’s always game for a hike.

The Plan

My youngest son, River, is a good kid and I wanted to do something special for him; one of those memorable father and son things you hope your kid never forgets. Only time will tell if I accomplished this…for him. I mean, I know I’ll never forget that day.

It had to be something fun and exciting; something more than just a gift. It had to be something special so we could use code words and wink at each other like we had a secret. And it had to be something where I could weave in the talk – you know, as in, THE talk. He’s thirteen after all.

Then it came to me. A hike! What a great way to spend the day – dirt, snakes, creeks, backpacks and, best of all, no Xbox, no TV, no distractions and no girls. (No offense, ladies, but you can’t have THE talk with a girl around.)

I remember when I got THE talk. Everything was very serious. “Sit down, son. It’s time we have the talk.” It was heavy, significant, mysterious, cold and clinical. There was no room for levity. Both my parents were present and there were things I wanted to ask that I wasn’t comfortable asking around my mom.

You understand, don’t you?

The Nantahala River running through Standing Indian.

The Upper Nantahala River at Standing Indian, Nantahala National Forest

Anyway, I wanted something different for my son. It was going to be a conversation – not a talk. It was going to be safe for him to explore any topic. I was going to listen to him as much as I spoke.

Making it part of a fun activity seemed like the perfect way to approach it.

Since it was his day, he was part of the planning process – although I reserved a few surprises for him. He chose Standing Indian for our hike. It’s not very crowded and there are tons of trails to choose from.

For my part, I read about “rites of passage” in different cultures; what they did and what it all meant. And I think I came up with a good plan.

Besides our hike, my plan included some fun things, a surprise picnic and some extra special snacks – you can never have too much food for a teenage boy.

I polished my talking points; the things I wanted to cover. And I made room in the plan for spontaneity.

But I still had to come up with the perfect gift – a gift that would be the BEST GIFT EVAH.

Bearprint in the sand, Upper Nantahala River.

Finding this bear print was one of the big highlights of our hike.

It finally dawned on me. I scrounged around looking for my old pocket knives. He’s wanted a pocket knife for years, but his mother kept telling him he needs to be a little older. I would have given it to him when he was ten – that’s when my dad gave me my first pocket knife, but that’s another story.

I didn’t mention the pocket knife to my wife. You know the old adage, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Besides, he had to be old enough sooner or later.

His birthday finally came. It was the most beautiful November day I’ve ever seen. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the leaves were still in color.

My son, River, decided he would like to take the path that followed the Upper Nantahala River. Now, before that lands on you like, “how apropos,” I don’t think it had anything to do with his name. The trail is flat. He’s not much into hiking up mountains…yet.

After 45 minutes, we came upon a nice spot in the river – rapids upstream, slow moving pool downstream and a fairly level rocky, sandy area.

I wanted to ease into my talking points. Give him a chance to play, let loose and be a boy before I talked to him about being a man. So we poked around here and there, exploring the sand bar. We collected some garbage that someone else left behind, found a big bear print and I taught him how to skip stones on the water.

The Main Event

Eventually we sat down on some boulders to watch the water dance through the rapids. Quiet time.

At one point he put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome. The big one-three. Know what that means,” I asked?

“Yep. We’re gonna have THE talk.” And he smiled at me as if to say, “I’m ready.”

And that’s how it began; me wondering how he knew we were going to have THE talk.

It turned out easier than I thought. Being prepared helped a lot, I’m sure. And my son’s disarming humor and charm certainly lightened things up.

We talked about responsibility – both to himself, his family and his community. I answered his questions about what it means to be a man – to the best of my ability since I’m still figuring it out myself.

He asked questions about all the changes going on with his body. And, yes, we even talked about sex, love and relationships.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, I pulled out a handful of pocket knives. His eyes got as big as a harvest moon. I said, “You’re ready. Pick one.” He looked at all of them, touched them, opened them, turned them around in his hand and finally chose one.

A handful of pocket knives. Choose.

Guess which one River chose?

He suddenly sat straighter. He seemed taller. His shoulders suddenly got broader. He batted his eyes, fighting back the overwhelming sense to cry. He doesn’t know, yet, grown men cry too. I forgot to mention that in THE talk.

He gave me a big hug and said, “I love you, Dad.” And, yes, my heart melted as I said, “I love you too.”

River jumped up and hopped around the sandbar, whooping and hollering. He just couldn’t contain the excitement any longer.

Turning back to me, he said, “Let’s go home. I can’t wait to show Mom my new pocket knife.”

I swallowed hard. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

See ya’ on the trail,
Tastelikchickn

I’d love to hear how you’ve handled or plan to handle this special time for your children. Let me know in the comment section.

Lost in Time on Timber Ridge Trail

(Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

(Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

Primordial. That about sums it up.

It’s not every day you get to go back in time, but that’s exactly what it feels like – to me at least – when I’m hiking on Timber Ridge Trail.

The feeling…it’s much more than being out in the middle of nowhere; though the remoteness is undeniable. It’s much more than the cool, damp, earthy-smelling air that settles in this deep ravine – even on a hot July day. And it’s so much more than the narrow path, fighting nature’s attempt to reclaim it.

There’s something else that makes it so primeval.

Primeval in appearance, this fern was growing on a live tree.

Deep, Dank and Dark

This moderate, 2.3 mile hike, starts at the same trailhead as Big Laurel Falls. The trail splits once you cross the bridge over a tributary of the Upper Nantahala River.

This is the lowest point of the trail at 3750 ft. Everything around you angles up sharply from here.

You’re surrounded by several 5,000 footers; Standing Indian Mountain (5499), Albert Mountain (5250) and Ridgepole Mountain (5043) – and then several more mountains and ridges over 4500 feet.

Being pinched in this dark, narrow creek bed, you feel buried deep in the mountains. It’s a bit deceiving, though, because you’re still 1600 feet higher than the town of Franklin.

Nonetheless you feel so small, dwarfed and enclosed. The shadows are heavy. Even in July, by 4 PM, you would swear dusk had fallen upon you. Sunlight is a commodity in this part of Standing Indian.

This wild mushroom adorns the Timber Ridge Trail.

It was the first day it hadn’t rained in about a week. By the afternoon the forecast was calling for only a 20% chance of rain the rest of the evening. The river was slightly higher than normal and the roar was deafening. We had to shout so we could hear each other.

The day was hot and sticky. At home the thermometer read 89 degrees. We’d been shut in for days. My wife and I needed to get outside. We needed to cool off.

Despite the fact that it was 69 degrees at the trailhead, 20 degrees cooler than home, the air was steamy, heavy and thick with moisture.

The forest canopy is dense this time of year and the Rhododendron tunnels are so dark, making our way rather tricky, we could have used headlamps.

I don’t know if it was from the darkness or from the tactile sound of the river – or both, but you could feel a palpable tension. There’s a living force here. This place is alive. For some reason, and I don’t always feel this, it was telling us to move along this afternoon.

From darkness to light - emerging from a rhododendron tunnel.

The light at the end of a Rhododendron tunnel.

Upward and Onward

The steepest part of Timber Ridge Trail, about 250 ft, is in the beginning and fortunately it doesn’t last too long. Once you’re out of the dark Rhododendron tunnels, the path begins to climb a gently rising ridgeline, which continues until the trail intersects with the AT.

After about a mile the understory opens and large patches of ferns begin to appear. Ferns are not uncommon in this part of western North Carolina and I love seeing them, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see.

A woodland carpet of ferns!

For over a mile, the forest was carpeted in ferns.

Ferns as far as the eye can see.

They were everywhere as far as you could see; for over a mile, the understory was covered in ferns; tall, beautiful ferns. The only other thing below the hardwood canopy were some giant – and I mean giant – mushrooms.

Maybe it’s from all those trips to the natural history museums as a kid, or looking at books about dinosaurs or seeing fossilized evidence of long dead ferns, but, to me, ferns, more than anything else, represent prehistoric life, primeval environments. Seeing this enormous patch immediately brought up my childlike imagination and put me on guard for Velociraptors and Saber-toothed Tigers.

At one point a huge owl – the biggest I’ve ever seen – flew silently overhead. My immediate thought was…Pterodactyl! I laughed out loud and quickly came to my senses, wishing my kids were here to see it too. They have such great imaginations and would have loved to play along with the primordial fantasy.

What would our lives have been like back then? Who knows? But it was fun tossing the idea around.

These mushrooms were huge and they were spread out amongst the ferns.

Giant Mushrooms? Giant Fungus? All I know is my dog wouldn’t get near these things.

Back to Reality

Unfortunately, like all great hikes, this one had to come to an end sooner or later. We reached the AT – time to turn around and head home. The return trip was uneventful and less imaginative, mainly because the 20% chance of rain turned into a 100% torrential downpour.

Soaked to the skin, we drove home happy, refreshed and completely alive – and grateful to be living in our modern world. I don’t think I’d like to be eaten by a Velociraptor. Would you?

Ever feel like you’ve been transported back in time when you’re out on the trail? Share your experiences in the comment section.

See ya’ on the trail,
Tastelikchickn

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 2.3 miles one way to AT junction
Elevation change: 850 ft
Water sources: Streams/Springs
Trailhead: 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian

Supermoons, Wild Azaleas and Sentient Fog

We should have gone yesterday. The whole purpose of the hike was to see the supermoon from atop Silers Bald. Yesterday would have been perfect, but not tonight.

We watched the forecast. It was calling for partly cloudy skies and only a 20% chance of rain in the evening. That was at 8 AM.

You know what they say about the weather.

This isn't what we saw - this is what we were hoping to see.

This isn’t what we saw – this is what we were hoping to see.

By noon the percentage of rain for the evening went up to 40%. By 2 PM it had gone up to 60%. That seemed kind of high to me, but my daughter was excited to go.

She’s always looking on the bright side of things and was happy to point out that a 60% chance of rain also meant there was a 40% chance of no rain.

We packed rain gear just in case.

As we drove to the trailhead off 64 West you could see the clouds, dark and brooding, low and full of moisture, creeping in over the mountains.

We were in a 12 passenger van with 10 other people. Not a soul wanted to turn back. In fact, we talked about everything but the weather and not like we were ignoring it, but rather like we were all excited for the chance to hike together. It doesn’t happen often.

I’ve never seen such a happy group of hikers.

By now I’m sure you can see where this is going, so let’s cut to the chase. It rained on us. It started about 50 feet from the summit and lasted the rest of the hike.

There was no supermoon for us tonight, but the rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. It was still an amazing hike.

“How can that be?” you might be wondering. Fair question.

First, you’ve got to understand this was no ordinary group of fair weather hikers. Nope! We’ve all seen our share of inclement weather and a little rain didn’t bother us.

Hikers, in the true sense of the word, will find enjoyment in almost any type of weather – not just fair weather.

Instead of complaining, we joked about the rain. We donned our rain gear – those of us who had it. We reminisced about past foul weather hiking. We sang songs. We opened our eyes to the beauty of a rainy walk.

It helped that the trail was ablaze with wild Flame Azaleas at the peak of their bloom – a month later than everywhere else around the area. And Mountain Laurel was surprisingly still in bloom too.wildazaleas

But the best part of the hike was seeing the fog rise up from the southern side of Silers Bald, crest the top as if being shot out of a fog cannon and then settling quickly in the valley on the north side of the bald.

I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was as if the fog was alive, breathing, thinking, scheming; blanketing the valley in soft, puffy silence.

When it comes down to it, it was the best hike ever (so far).

I got to do two of my favorite things tonight; walk in the rain and go for a night hike. Having my daughter with me made the trip that much better.

There will be other supermoons, other clear nights and other chances. Besides, my philosophy is a rainy day – or night – on the trail is better than a good day in the office.

See ya’ on the trail
Tastelikchickn

The Bold And The Beautiful Mooney Falls

(Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

(Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

You want waterfalls? Have we got waterfalls! They’re everywhere around the Nantahala Mountains. Little ones. Big ones. And some grand ones too.

You can easily see several waterfalls along the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, which is great for sightseeing, but, for the more adventurous souls, there are many more waterfalls to see off the beaten path.

So if you want to avoid the tourists, the crowds and the congestion, you’ll want to get out of your car and head off into the woods.

Trailhead

Trailhead

Take Mooney Falls, for example; it’s big, bold and dramatic. It’s situated only two tenths of a mile off Forest Service Road 67 in Standing Indian. It’s a very short walk – with long, gentle switchbacks – and there’s hardly ever anyone there.

Upper Mooney Falls

Upper Mooney Falls

Lower Mooney Falls

Lower Mooney Falls

This might have something to do with its remote location. Mooney Falls is about 6 miles past the Backcountry Info Center on a scenic, basically one lane gravel road. It’s not like people are just passing by on their way to somewhere else.

Most tourists won’t venture this far off the main road unless they’re interested in hiking, which makes it perfect for enjoying the beauty and solitude of this spectacular waterfall.

You’ll never have to compete for prime photo ops at Mooney Falls. It’s about as far off the beaten path as you can get. In fact, I’ve always had it to myself whenever I’ve visited.

Check it out yourself sometime. Oh! And let me know if you do. I’d love to hear what you think.

See ya’ on the trail,
Tastelikchickn

Trail at a glance
Mileage: .2 mile (one way)
Elevation change: about 200 ft
Water sources: Fill up before you go
Trailhead: 5.4 miles past the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian

A Little Hike To Big Laurel Falls

Big Laurel Falls

Big Laurel Falls

What a great destination! What a fabulous family hike!

The Big Laurel Falls Trail is the perfect “little” hike for people of almost any age. The path runs along bold streams and through thick Rhododendron tunnels. It’s easy to negotiate with just enough ups and downs to make it interesting.

And there’s quite a lot to see – and experience – in the half mile to the falls.Rushing Mtn Stream

A Little Piece Of History

Besides the natural beauty of the bold, rocky streams, you may notice an occasional piece of rusted old railroad track here and there.

Railroad track, you ask?! Here in the middle of a vast wilderness?

It makes you wonder how it got here, doesn’t it?

After digging around a little I found there once was a railroad grade through this remote part of Standing Indian. The path to Big Laurel Falls actually follows this grade for part of the way.

I suspect the railroad was used to haul equipment in and resources, like timber, out at one time. Whatever the reason, it makes for a great history lesson or educational mystery for your children to solve.

Trailhead on FS Road 67, 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center

Trailhead on FS Road 67, 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center

Best Time Of Year?

Anytime from spring through fall would be a great time to visit Big Laurel Falls.

In the spring, if you time it right, you’ll find an abundance of wild flowers and native plants blooming, including Trillium, Blue Eyed Grass, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel.

In the summer, when it’s hot and sticky, you’ll find a cool reprise from the heat anywhere along the trail, but particularly at the pool at the bottom of the falls.

And then in the fall, with the leaves showing off their radiant colors, you can sit by the waterfall, enjoying the spectacle of nature as you’re lulled into peaceful meditation.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Video Tour!

I could go on and on about how great this hike is, but…as they say…seeing is believing, so here are a few videos I made of my last visit. Enjoy!

Should you ever find yourself in the mountains of western North Carolina, be sure to visit Standing Indian and especially Big Laurel Falls. And, of course, let me know if you do. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

See ya’ on the trail,
Tastelikchickn

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 1 mile round trip
Elevation change: 250 ft
Water sources: Streams/Springs
Trailhead: 4.9 miles past the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian