How To Skip Stones – Like A Pro – on the Upper Nantahala River

Sure! I hike…a lot. It’s a means of getting from point A to point B; from the trailhead to a waterfall or maybe to a gorgeous mountain view.

There are times when I push hard to make miles. And sometimes, when I follow a whim or find some magical place in the woods, I’ll simply sit on a log, quietly contemplating, or explore the immediate vicinity, or play in a stream. No desire whatsoever to make miles. Just be.

Hiking isn’t always about trails, packs, and putting one foot in front of the other – for me, at least. I don’t need a destination to go for a hike. Hiking, as cliche as it sounds, is as much about the things you see and do while you’re walking as it is about getting somewhere.

Recently, I came across a rocky beach and a stretch of calm water on the Upper Nantahala River within Standing Indian. I fully intended to hike, but…there were round, flat stones everywhere and the water was like glass. I couldn’t pass this up! Could you?!

I love skipping stones. Always have. It’s definitely NOT something I’ve out grown – or ever will. It’s an…hmm…art form. Yeah. Or…maybe an exercise in mindfulness. It’s definitely meditative. Mm hmm! That’s it! It’s a meditative art.

Just the mere act of winding up for the throw and letting a stone fly across the water and all is right in the world, like when you were a kid. No cares. No worries. No thoughts. Just you and the ripples on the water.

Talk about relaxing?!

You should try it sometime. Or, maybe pick it back up again if you’ve lost touch with your inner rock skipper. I’m sure you’ll find it very therapeutic as well.

And here! This will help get you started – a quick tutorial on skipping stones. I say, “Go for it!”

How many skips can you get?

See ya’ on the trail!

Where In The Blue Blazes?

A snail slithering along the blue blazed Long Branch Trail.

Even snails use blue blaze trails.

To find your GAME* you can follow a blaze
that leads from south to north.
Or turn it around for a MEGA* trip
and follow it back to forth.

For this blaze of white makes one long line
for hikers of all types;
through tunnels of green, past waterfalls
and many beautiful sights.

But veer from the path, and you often will,
for water, rest, or ride,
there’s another blaze that you will need
whose importance we cannot hide

Nature encroaching on a blue blaze along Park Creek Trail.

Nature attempting to turn a blue blaze green.

Though not as famous as the white
this blue one is your friend.
It’ll be there in your hour of need
and follow you ‘til the end.

It’ll guide you to a warm, dry shelter
whenever you need to rest.
Or on a tangent to a view
that’s arguably the best.

And there for you when weather gets bad
an alternate route’s okay;
to lead you ‘round a mountain top
and safe from danger’s way

A source of information, this double blue blaze indicates a right turn in the trail.

This double blue blaze is indicating a right turn in the trail.

So never discount the power of blue
when hiking on the trail.
It’s just as important as the white
though certainly not as pale.

~Michael Byrd

See ya’ on the trail!

*GAME is an acronym for an AT thru-hike that goes from Georgia to Maine or Northbound and MEGA is for a Southbound trip from Maine to Georgia.

You’ve Gotta Hike Kimsey Creek Trail

One of the many waterfalls on Kimsey Creek.

One of the many waterfalls on Kimsey Creek.

I really am fortunate. Living so close to Standing Indian – and all the wonderful trails it has to offer – is, well, the best thing in the world. Really! It’s a hiker’s paradise!

I could write thousands of blog posts about it and post umpteen million beautiful photos, but it’s not the same as seeing this place for yourself.

I suppose I could – or should – leave it at that. Visit Standing Indian – period! But then this would become a very dull blog. And besides, you’d never get to read about Kimsey Creek Trail…which…you’d be better off experiencing personally rather than reading about it. But…then…well…oh!

Ok! Enough. You get the picture. You’re here. You might as well read about Kimsey Creek Trail. Then you can decide if you’d like to see it for yourself…or not. I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It’s, by far, one of my favorite trails in the Standing Indian Basin.

And like many of the the trails in Standing Indian, you can pick up the Kimsey Creek Trail at the Backcountry Information Center. Just follow the signs to the junction of Kimsey Creek Trail and the Park Ridge/Park Creek loop and turn left. You’re ready to hike Kimsey Creek.

Trail sign at the Backcountry INfo Center.Another trail sign after passing through Standing Indian Campground.Trail marker for the blue blazed Kimsey Creek Trail.

The Magic Begins

There are only a couple of steep, short inclines on the Kimsey Creek Trail and you’ll be glad to know you’re getting one of them out of the way right at the beginning. It’s not a long incline but it will elevate your heart rate, depending on what kind of shape you’re in.

As it switches back on itself and winds up the hill, you will soon find yourself walking along the Standing Indian Campground and past the outdoor amphitheater. Further on, the path descends to an old forest service road, where you’ll look down on the large group campsites, a great place for groups up to 50 campers (reservations required).

Old Forest Service Road that doubles as the path for Kimsey Creek Trail.One of the many wild flowers found along Kimsey Creek Trail.A blue blazed tree next to one of the many gates in Standing Indian, used to keep vehicles off footpaths.

 

 

 

 

In my opinion, this old forest service road, which you’ll be on for a couple of miles, is one of the many things that makes Kimsey Creek Trail so enjoyable. This wide, scenic walk along Kimsey Creek is rather deceiving. You don’t even realize you’re gradually going uphill the whole way.

Many people will follow this section out until the path narrows again and then turn around for a short, 4 mile, out and back hike. And if this is all you end up doing, it’ll still be one of the most memorable hikes you’ve ever taken.

This section is punctuated by many water crossings, springs, and feeder streams for Kimsey Creek. So many, in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the creek and the trail. But don’t let this dissuade you! Yes. Kimsey Creek Trail is a wet trail. But it’s fun hopping from rock to rock – especially with hiking poles – or you can tramp right through the wet spots like an old pro if you want. And kids LOVE this section because of all the water.

Kimsey Creek Trail is well marked with blue blazes and rustic signs.Fallen trees look like bridges over Kimsey Creek.Besides hiking, fishing for trout is another favorite pastime on Kimsey Creek.There are also many places along Kimsey Creek where you can stop to rest, sit on a rock, or even fish for trout (though the old timers may not like me giving away their secret spots).

Waterfalls and Falling Waters

As you follow the well marked blue blazed trail, you’ll come to a small bridge where the road ends and the single lane path picks up again. The first thing you’ll see when you cross the bridge is one of many backcountry campsites along Kimsey Creek Trail. You can’t reserve these, and sometimes they’re overgrown with raspberry canes, but if you do decide to camp in one of these places remember to practice the Leave No Trace principles.

Kimsey Creek Trail narrows as it approaches a backcountry campsite.There are many creek and stream crossings on Kimsey Creek - some have bridges, some don't.One of several open meadows often used for backcountry camping along Kimsey Creek Trail.

 

 

 

 

I love this section of the trail! It passes through a narrow ravine as it continues to meander along Kimsey Creek. There are several small, picturesque waterfalls, a rickety, but safe, bridge, and great places to meditate with the sound of running water dominating your senses.

And, the temperature?! Wow! Is it cool through this section – anytime of year. It’s like being in an air conditioned forest in the summer. It can be 80 degrees in Franklin, but only 65 degrees along this part of the creek. In the winter and through early spring, it’s not uncommon to see huge icicles hanging from the rock faces along the creek. And, with full leaf coverage, it almost appears to be dusk most of the day throughout this section.

It's very calming to rest at one of the water falls on Kimsey Creek Trail.This section of Kimsey Creek Trail is full of wonderful waterfalls.Sit and meditate and see where the magic of the waterfalls on Kimsey Creek take you.

 

 

 

 

It really is magical! And if you don’t go any farther than this on the trail, you’ve had a great hike. Seriously!

The second distinct incline in the trail marks the end of this section. The path climbs up and away from the creek, winding around small swales and ridges, hopping feeder streams, and past some rather large trees. Dappled sunlight makes another appearance as the ridge rises and though the canopy is thick in the summer, you may get a glimpse of blue sky letting you know it’s still daylight.

Kimsey Creek Canyon – Unofficially Speaking

Eventually you’ll come to a blue blazed tree, which looks like it has very long legs. It reminds me of the Tree Ents from Lord of the Rings. You get the feeling like it just might walk through the fern-carpeted forest at night and return to the exact same spot as the sun rises. Haha! I’m sure it doesn’t, but, then again, I haven’t spent the night at this spot to know for certain.

The trail drops sharply here and rejoins Kimsey Creek. I call this section of the trail Kimsey Creek Canyon. Oh, no! That’s not its official name. I made it up. It’s not on any cartographer’s maps. But you’re deep…well below the canopy, surrounded by steeply rising ridges, and dwarfed by the mountain tops. Often times, though you don’t feel it before or after this section, the wind roars through here as if it were the only passage it has through the mountains.

Kimsey Creek Trail meanders away from the creek as it crosses this boulder.Besides being interesting tree, this blue blazed tree marks a new section of the Kimsey Creek trail.Carpeted in ferns, this section of the Kimsey Creek trail climbs towards Deep Gap.

 

 

 

 

It’s not like the Grand Canyon, mind you, with sheer cliffs on either side. No. These mountains are much older, softer, worn down by time and weather. In the winter, when the leaves are gone and you can see the contour of the land around you, the canyon-like quality really shows. And the way the land opens up as you come out of this section, heading toward Deep Gap, almost gives the impression, geologically speaking, that there may have been a land bridge or ice dam many thousands of years ago, which eventually gave way to what is now Kimsey Creek, forming the Kimsey Creek Canyon.

Who knows?! But it sure is fun looking at the land and speculating on the history and the forces of nature that shape it.

The Final Accent

As the trail continues, it’s time to say goodbye to Kimsey Creek. The path begins its last ascent towards Deep Gap. There are a couple of short climbs, but overall the trail still has a fairly gradual grade, compared to other trails in Standing Indian.

The upper meadow along Kimsey Creek Trail and USFS 71.USFS Road 71 connecting HWY 64 with Deep Gap.The end of Kimsey Creek Trail- or the beginning if you're coming down from the Appalachian Trail.When you average the elevation gain over the entire distance of the trail it’s only about 250 feet per mile. Very easy! I think the reason why the trail is listed as “moderately difficult” is because of all the water crossings, rocks, and roots you have to contend with – not the elevation gain.

Anyway, soon you will come to a large meadow adjacent to a gravel parking lot, which is accessed by US Forest Service Road 71. (Please note: USFS 71 is only open spring through fall. Check with the local Nantahal Ranger Station (nantahalard@fs.fed.us) for opening and closing dates.)

USFS 71, a six mile long, one lane, gravel road with turnouts, connects U.S. Hwy 64 with Deep Gap. Deep Gap (elev 4341) is the terminus of the Kimsey Creek Trail, trailhead for the Deep Gap Branch Trail, and a popular waypoint on the Appalachian Trail for weekenders and AT section hikers.

The Appalachian Trail heading northbound from Deep Gap to Standing Indian Mtn.The Appalachian Trail heading southbound from Deep Gap to Chunky Gal Trail.The trailhead for Deep Gap Branch Trail that leads to GA.You’ll always find cars in the various parking lots at the end of Kimsey Creek Trail. In fact, certain times of the year this area gets quite crowded. For example, in April you’ll be hard pressed finding solitude amongst all the section hikers, thru-hikers, and the people gathering ramps, a pungent, wild onion,considered a delicacy by many, that grows rampant in this area. And, of course, again in the fall when all the leaf lookers come out for our colorful fall display.

A map showing Kimsey Creek Trail, the Appalachian Trail and Lower Ridge Trail.

Kimsey Creek Trail is marked as 23 and Lower Ridge Trail is marked as 28. The dotted line highlighted in orange is the Appalachian Trail. (Trails Illustrated Map, National Geographic)

How’s It Go Again? Oh, Right? Just Do It!

Kimsey Creek Trail is a great out-and-back hike that’s available year round from the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian. It’s also part of a very popular loop trail (Kimsey Creek Trail/Appalachian Trail/Lower Ridge Trail – 11 miles in total) that makes for a great, but long, day hike or a wonderful weekend backpacking trip.

BUT – and this is a big but since this is a very important Public Service Announcement – if you decide to do the loop, I strongly recommend starting with Kimsey Creek Trail first. The Lower Ridge Trail, beautiful and scenic as it may be, is quite steep in parts and is MUCH better to come down, than to go up. Believe me!

So! If you’ve made it this far, after reading all these words, I hope you realize that you really need to experience this trail for yourself – more than once and at different times of the year.

My trail buddy, Phyto, gives his seal of approval for Kimsey Creek Trail.There’s magic in discovering the beauty of a trail for the first time and Kimsey Creek Trail will easily feel like a new experience every time you hike it. So…hike it! And let me know what you think about it in the comments section.

Trail at a glance
Mileage: 4.1 miles one way to Deep Gap
Elevation change: Approx 1000ft from Backcountry Info Center to Deep Gap
Water sources: Springs/Streams
Trailhead: Park at the Backcountry Info Center at Standing Indian and follow the signs for Kimsey Creek Trail.

A Stroll Through The Tessentee Bottomland Preserve And Photo Essay

Off the beaten path. A hidden gem. An historical homestead preserved by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee.

The Southern Nantahala Mountains towering over Tessentee Creek.

Tessentee Creek just before it flows into the Little Tennessee River.

Call it what you like. I call it one of the most relaxing strolls through history you’ll find in Macon County, NC.

A large stand of native river can in the Tessentee Bottomlands.

One of the trails passing through some Native River Cane, which grows abundantly in the Bottomlands.

The Tessentee Bottomland Preserve is 64 acres, bordered by Tessentee Creek and the Little Tennessee River. With extraordinary educational and historical value and rich biodiversity, the public is invited to walk around this family-friendly preserve and learn more about the history and natural habits, flora, and fauna native to the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina.

Here are some tidbits about the Tessentee Bottomland Preserve:

  • Home to 115 species of birds and part of the NC Birding Trail
  • Home to 42 species of butterflies
  • Amazing long range views of Albert Mountain, Fishhawk Mountain and, on a clear day, Clingmans Dome in The Great Smoky Mountains
  • An historical farmhouse, with several outbuildings, built around 1890
  • An overnight stop for famed naturalist, William Bartram in 1775
  • And possibly the site of the first battle of the “Cherokee Wars” in 1760 and the beginning of the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War in 1776
Rustic Farmhouse on the Tessentee Bottomlands Preserve.

The original farmhouse which was built around 1890.

You can learn more about the Tessentee Bottomland Preserve, find directions, and download a trail map and brochure at the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee. And while you’re there, find out about all the amazing things the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee does for our neck of the woods.

Enjoy the rest of the pics!

A quaint trail sign on the Tessentee Bottomlands Preserve.

Well marked trails make it easy to follow multiple loops around the Preserve.

See ya on the trail!

A dainty evergreen ground cover found all over western North Carolina.

One of the unique plants found in western North Carolina, this evergreen ground cover can be found along the wooded banks of Tessentee Creek.

An historic farmhouse build in 1890.

Though it doesn't look very scientific, this Snake Study site is very important to the Bottomlands habitat.

Various field studies are carried out all over the Bottomlands. It’s advised you stay on the trail and avoid interfering with the research.

Here's the author perfoming a headstand on the front porch of the farmhouse.

And there’s always time for a new perspective on life.

 

 

Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock in Ravenel Park

You want a view! Have we got views for you. Everywhere you turn in the mountains of western North Carolina you’re treated to another outstanding vista.

Breathtaking. Majestic. Awe inspiring. The sort of views that keep life in perspective; a glimpse which offers so much more than our usual hustle and bustle.

Seriously! Take your pick. BUT if you should find yourself in Highlands, NC, then you’ll want to visit the gorgeous long range, mountain views from Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock.

Blue sky over Sunset Rock.

This is looking north from the bottom of Sunset Rock. It’s much bigger than it looks in the photo.

And, if you time your visit perfectly, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing mountain sunrise or sunset, and you’ll swear you’ve just witnessed the soul – and grandeur – of life itself.

Sunset Rock and Sunrise Rock sit at the top of Ravenel Park, a tract of land given to the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust in 1914. That’s right – 1914!

And you’ve guessed it. This year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of Ravenel Park – or what the mayor of Highlands, NC has declared as the “Sunsetennial: 100 Years of Sunsets and Sunrises Together.”

It’s a big to do. You can learn more about the Sunsetennial, it’s history and special events, and the great work of the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust by visiting their website.

Like with any outing, it’s always best to plan ahead.

Taking in the gorgeous view from Sunrise Rock in Ravenel Park.

Looking east from Sunrise Rock.

There are two parking lots for Sunset Rock. Each one offering very few spaces, so it would be in your best interest to plan ahead and time your visit so you have a decent place to park. Of course, there’s always the option of staying at the Old Edward’s Inn and walking to the park from there.

Located off of Horse Cove Road, which is a continuation of Main Street heading east out of Highlands, and on the right hand side just past the Highlands Nature Center is Sunset Road, a one-lane gravel drive.

You can park in a small lot just before Sunset Road and walk two miles up to the top or, if you get there early enough, drive up to the top and walk about a tenth of a mile to either Sunset or Sunrise Rock.

If you plan on seeing a sunrise or sunset, make sure you have flashlights or headlamps, a jacket, blankets to sit on and some water (you might get thirsty after the walk up or down). And if you happen to take any food, be sure to practice “Leave No Trace” principles and pack out ALL of your garbage.

Taking in the long views of the Natahala Mountains from Sunset Rock.

OK! So you’ll have to imagine a sunset, but this is the dramatic view from Sunset Rock.

You can visit Sunset Rock any time of year, weather permitting, but I would imagine fall would be particularly special with the autumn colors at their peak.

Oh! One last thing. Take a camera. You’ll want to show all of your friends the beautiful sunrise or sunset.

Do you have a favorite place to watch the sun rise or set? Share it with us in the comments.

See ya’ on the trail,
Michael (aka Tastelikchickn)

Happy Trails

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until the end.
Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, ’til we meet again.”

Dale Evans & Roy Rogers

A happy trail blaze found along the Cullowhee Connector trail at Western Carolina University.

A happy trail blaze found along the Cullowhee Connector trail at Western Carolina University.

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