Journal/Blog

Kuykendall Falls

posted Aug 29, 2017, 4:52 PM by Justin P   [ updated Sep 13, 2017, 2:05 PM ]

It rained overnight, but mostly stopped by daybreak.  We woke up early, had breakfast, and broke camp.  Alex was a little disappointed as he really enjoyed his time camping.  After packing the car, we checked out and headed to Cathys Creek Road (FR-471) in the forest.  Just past Cathys Creek Falls, we parked at the gated FR-5361.  From here, we began a long hike on this forest road.  Not many people travel this road as we ran through spider webs almost the entire time.  In about 2 miles, we passed FR-5361A and then FR-5361B in about another mile.  After about 4.5 miles, we got off the road and bushwhacked down to Kuykendall Creek.  It was very steep, but fortunately very open.  At least we didn't have to wade through rhododendron.  We came out near the base of the falls, but a lot of rhododendron were blocking the view.

So I took off my boots and waded, climbing up a small cascade to get past the rhodos and get a clear shot of the waterfall.  It's a really scenic waterfall, but there's not really anywhere to sit and relax.

So we made the steep climb back out and had a break back on the road.  Then it was just a rather easy forest road hike back to the car.  Having cleared out the spider webs on the way in, the hike back out was a lot easier.

Headwaters Forest Waterfalls

posted Aug 29, 2017, 4:41 PM by Justin P   [ updated Sep 11, 2017, 3:45 PM ]

Saturday morning, we woke up and had breakfast and then left camp.  We drove west on US-64 to Rosman and then south on US-178.  Just past town, we turned on East Fork Road and headed into the future Headwaters State Forest.  The NC Forest Service plans to open the newest forest in 2018 or 2019.  But we couldn't wait that long.  Our first stop was a quick one.  We pulled off along the road at East Fork Falls.  It was just a very short ways down to the creek for a very scenic waterfall.

I scrambled around a bit on the rocks to get pictures from different angles.  And the view from the top was great as well.

Then we continued down East Fork Road, turning right on the barely-a-road Busted Rock Road and parked near where the road crossed Big Branch.  We picked up an old road that followed East Fork French Broad River upstream to its headwaters.  In less than a mile, the road ended and we followed a path a short ways towards the waterfall.  I first stopped at some nice cascades below the waterfall, but I knew this wasn't right.

Just a little further was the spectacular Reece Place Falls.  This waterfall is a real beauty.  The lighting wasn't great, but we really enjoyed our time here.

After a snack and enjoying the waterfall a bit, we headed back.  There was a lot of thistle blooming along the trail here.

Beautiful to look at, but don't want to brush up against it.  Driving back on East Fork Road, we turned on Glady Fork Road and parked at the trailhead for Graveley Falls.  The trail is another old road and was a really pleasant hike.  In less than a mile, we could see Graveley Falls from the trail, but the view was partially obscured.

It was a steep scramble down and more rhododendron were blocking the view down here.  So I took off my boots to wade in the pool and get a clear view of the waterfall.

It's not nearly as big as Reece Place, but quite scenic nonetheless.  After some pictures, we headed back.  We drove back to US-64 and took NC-215 to Tanasee Gap Road, parking about 4.5 miles down at the gated FR-9999.  We followed the road a short ways to a clearing with a trashy campsite and from here bushwhacked through dense dog hobble down the ridgeline towards Double Branch.  We came out above the waterfall and continued down to where it cleared out a little.  From here, it was easy to get to a spot about three-quarters of the way down the falls.  A huge tree had fallen at the base, so couldn't get a picture from down there anywhere.

The water level was pretty low but the rocks were really cool.  I think this one would like nice in higher water.  From here, we followed the creek downstream to Parker Creek and crossed to pick up an old logging road.  The old road followed the creek down, crossing several times.  There were plenty of trees fallen over the road, but it was pretty easy to follow.  One downed tree had a lot of sulphur shelf fungi growing out of it.

Near where Parker Creek enters private property, we crossed once more and followed a tributary upstream to John Neal Falls.  The water level was low, but I think this would be a gorgeous waterfall in high water.

We got some pictures and took a rest here for a bit before heading back.  Rather than bushwhacking, we continued on the old road until it met up with FR-9999.  Turning right, it was about a mile back - a little longer, but much easier than bushwhacking again.  Alex certainly appreciated it.  We stopped in Brevard for dinner at Rocky's Drive-In.  They have outdoor seating so we could eat with Alex.  He even got his own hot dog!

After that we stopped at Ecusta Brewery for a drink before heading back to camp.  It started raining so we couldn't start a campfire and just went to bed.

Birthday Waterfalls in Pisgah Forest

posted Aug 29, 2017, 4:26 PM by Justin P   [ updated Sep 6, 2017, 4:04 PM ]

Friday was Sandy's birthday and we celebrated by taking Alex camping in the mountains.  We left Raleigh around 530 and got to Pisgah Forest around 10.  Just before 276, we turned on Old NC-280 and then made a left on Turkey Creek Road and followed to the end.  There was a fork here and we took the right split and immediately rock-hopped across South Prong Turkey Creek.  Right after the crossing, we turned left on a more overgrown path following South Prong upstream.  From here, it was just a short ways further to Laughing Falls.  We could see it from the path, but it was a steep scramble down to the base.  We initially went down to far downstream to see the actual waterfall.


There were some nice cascades here, but couldn't see the falls.  So we climbed back up to the trail and went a little further then steeply down to the base.  According to legend, the Cherokee named this waterfall because it sounds like laughter.  I really didn't think it sounded any different than other falls.


After some pictures, we headed back.  Driving into Pisgah National Forest on US-276, we turned left on FR-475.  Right after the fish hatchery,  we went right on FR-475B and drove to the trailhead for Slick Rock Falls.  We could hear the waterfall from the parking area and so it was a very short hike.


The water level was a little low, but this was still a nice waterfall.


We had a little snack here and I scrambled behind the waterfall.  It was cool looking up at the thin veil of water pouring over the rock face.


Since it was such a short hike, we decided to continue on the trail.  It leads about a mile to the base of Looking Glass Rock.  I've seen it from a distance along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but never so close.  The scale of the massive cliffs is really amazing.


I got some pictures, then started heading back.  I spotted some cute little red mushrooms along the trail.


Back at the car, we got back on US-276 and drove a little further to Sliding Rock Recreation Area.  This area is usually so crowded that I've never visited before, but today being a weekday and it wasn't too hot, Sliding Rock wasn't that crowded.


I changed into a batching suit and we headed over to the waterfall.  The water was really cold, but I had to slide down the falls a couple times.  It was too cold for Sandy so she waited with Alex and watched.  The first time down, I could barely breathe after hitting the water, it was so cold.


But getting out, I warmed up quick.  I slid down the falls four times before I had enough.  After drying out, we headed back and continued up US-276 a little further and turned left on FR-475B (the other end).  It was about a mile and a half to the gated FR-5043 where we parked.  A family with two dogs was hiking out and Alex enjoyed getting to sniff a couple other dogs.  We followed the forest road for about a half a mile to the first tributary and took a worn path upstream to Discovery Falls.


This tributary is small so the waterfall didn't have much flow.  There were some flowers blooming up near the top of the falls.


Continuing on the forest road, we next came to the crossing of Log Hollow Branch.  Log Hollow Falls is just upstream of the road.


Even in low water, it's still quite scenic.  And with low water, we it was easier to see the beautiful rocks that the stream flows over.


Form here, we followed a path upstream to Upper Log Hollow Falls, just a short ways from the lower falls.  From the trail, I could see it was quite high, but from the base, only part of the falls was visible.


There was too much vegetation around the base for any view of the entire waterfall, but I could get a profile shot from part of the ways up.


Back at the forest road, we spotted a lot of wildflowers blooming along the road.


The clearing for the road provides enough sunlight for the flowers to bloom in summer.  Butterflies knew where to come as well - we spotted a hoary edge along here.


We continued up the road another half mile or so to Logging Road Falls.  This waterfall is roadside; it really wouldn't be worth any more effort to see.


It is very low flow and mostly obscured by vegetation.  There were more flowers here; a much better photo subject than the waterfall.


Then we headed back to the car and drove down 276 to Davidson River Campground.  After setting up our tent, we got takeout from Hawg Wild and had dinner at the campsite and built a campfire.  It had been a long day and we didn't stay up late.

Sunflowers on the Neuse

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:38 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 8, 2017, 5:38 PM ]

Saturday, it was really hot in Raleigh, so I tried to get an early start for a hike on the Capital Area Greenway to see the sunflowers.  I drove to the Auburn-Knightdale Road parking for Neuse River Trail and headed eastbound.  Neuse River Trail starts right along the river but then heads away.  The trail came to Brown Field Road and I went right and followed to the intersection with Old Baucom Road and went left.  The trail followed this road for over half a mile to the sunflowers, which were in peak bloom.


This area is the site of Raleigh's Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant.  To dispose of biosolids, the solid waste residual from wastewater treatment, the city applies them to the land.  As they are rich in nitrogen, the sunflowers are planted to prevent run-off into nearby streams and creeks.  The sunflowers are certainly beautiful to look at, but they serve another purpose - the seeds will be harvested to produce biofuels.


I got a few pictures here and then continued on the trail.  It headed back into the woods, which was a relief as it was getting really hot.  The trail crossed Mial Plantation Road, where the parking lot was already full.  I went about a half-mile into Johnston County and then turned back.  It was really packed by the sunflowers on the return hike - I guess everybody knows about this now.

Independence Day at Hickory Nut Gorge

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:35 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 16, 2017, 4:18 PM ]

For Independence Day, I headed to the Hickory Nut Gorge area for a few more waterfalls before heading home.  After checking out, I took I-40 east to Asheville and then took US-74 Alt towards Lake Lure.  My first stop was at Chimney Rock State Park.  Being a holiday, I knew the park would be crowded, so I got there shortly after opening.  When I arrived, the Hickory Nut Falls Trail was closed due to a downed tree on the trail.  Fortunately, park staff were working to clear it, so I headed up towards Chimney Rock first.

I first took the Outcroppings Trail up to Vista Point with nice views of Lake Lure and the gorge.

Then I headed over to the grotto.

Next, I went through the Subway.  It was very low clearance and I had to duck to get through.

My next stop was Pulpit Rock, another nice overlook below Chimney Rock.

There were real nice views of Hickory Nut Gorge with the morning clouds still lingering.

From here, I had the bulk of the stairs to climb to get up to Chimney Rock.  The elevator has been out for a while, but I would have hiked anyway.  It was hot and humid and so all the stairs were really strenuous.  Finally, I made it up to Chimney Rock, the park's namesake with great views of Lake Lure.

Just across, I could see the Opera Box inside the cliff face.

And with the US flag flying high, it was a great scene on the 4th of July.  After some pictures, I headed up to the Opera Box, that had a very low ceiling.

But it was really pleasant in here as it seemed much cooler.  It also provided really great views of Chimney Rock.

Next I headed up for a view of the Devil's Head, and balanced rock that really resembles a face from the viewpoint.

Then it was just one more spot up to go.  I followed Exclamation Point Trail to its namesake overlook.  This spot has the best views looking west into the Hickory Nut Gorge.

Later this year, I think they're going to open Skyline Trail, which continues to the top of Hickory Nut Falls, but it wasn't open yet.  So I started heading back, stopping by Vista Rock for a nice view of Lake Lure.

By the time I got down to the parking area, Hickory Nut Falls Trail was re-opened, so I hiked to the spectacular waterfall.

The water level was up and this was a really nice waterfall.

The park claims the waterfall is over 400 feet, but from the viewing deck to the top is around 250 feet.  But it's a big waterfall no matter the height.

After some pictures, I started heading back.  I figured I'd go ahead and hike the rest of the park trails, so I turned on Four Seasons Trail and hiked down to the lower parking area.  There were some big rocks along the trail.  At the lower area, I hiked the interpretive Great Woodlands Adventure Trail and then back up.  It was quite steep and strenuous hiking back up.  Since I had hit all the park's trails, I departed and headed back into Hickory Nut Gorge to Florence Nature Preserve.  There's a nice parking area on US-74 Alt near Genton.  I crossed the street and got on Little Bearwallow Trail.  The trail headed down to the creek where some beautiful hostas were blooming.

There were also more rosebay rhododendron along Hickory Creek here.

Across the creek, the trail started to head up the mountain.  In three-quarters of a mile, it started to get real steep.  In a bit, I got to Little Bearwallow Falls.  Even in a weekend of high water, this was pretty much a wet rock.

I got a picture or two and continued up the trail.  In another half-mile or so, there was a spur trail up to Wildcat Rock.  I climbed up here and relaxed for a bit enjoying the great view of the gorge.

But it was a long drive home, so soon I started heading back down the mountain.  Fortunately, the traffic was really light coming home; surprising for a holiday weekend.

Middle Prong Waterfalls

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:33 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 10, 2017, 4:40 PM ]

Monday, I headed to Middle Prong Wilderness for some waterfalls.  I took NC-215 south past Lake Logan and right after Sunburst Campground, I turned onto Forest Road 97.  It was gated right after the ford on Right Hand Prong so I parked before the gate.  It was just under 1.5 miles, in the second switchback where I got on FR-97H, which is more of a trail than a road and becomes Haywood Gap Trail (#142) as it enters the wilderness.  In a short distance the trail passed over the middle of Little Beartrap Falls, but the view from the trail is not great.  After crossing the creek, I bushwhacked up the river right side of Little Beartrap Branch to get to the upper section of the waterfall.  It was quite tricky to get out on the rocks for a good view, but it was a pretty nice waterfall.

Back on the trail, I continued about a half-mile and got off the trail again.  The spot to get off the trail is not obvious at all, but its between two big dirt mounds and I thought I could hear Middle Prong Falls from there.  At first, it was an easy bushwhack through a relatively open area.  Then it got real steep and I had to hold on to rhododendron going down.  I kept climbing down and eventually came out at the top of Middle Prong Falls.

I could tell it was a great waterfall, but there was no way down from here.  So I went back up just a little and followed the cliff downstream until I could make my way down to the creek.

Middle Prong Falls was a really impressive waterfall and I spent some time enjoying the view.  The powerful water flowing generated a nice breeze that kept the bugs away and it was a bit cooler.

But I had a rough climb back up so I didn't linger too long.  I continued on FR-97H into Middle Prong Wilderness to where the trail crosses Middle Prong.

There's a real scenic but smaller waterfall on the river at the crossing where Haywood Gap Trail picks up on the other side.

But my destination was Big Beartrap Branch, so I had to backtrack a bit and pick up a side path that led to the creek.  From here, I needed to bushwhack up to the waterfall, but after going almost a half-mile, I couldn't find it and gave up.  I was alone and didn't want to press my luck, so I started heading back to the car.  Along the way, I spotted some beebalm blooming along the trail.

And I ran into a nice couple who gave me an Off Wipe to repel the pesky bugs.  They were really bad in here.  At the first switchback on FR-97, I followed a path to the base of the lower section of Little Beartrap Falls.  I couldn't find a good spot for that waterfall, but the next tributary over - Berry Branch - had a nice little waterfall flowing over a rock in two streams.

There were some nice cascades downstream on Little Beartrap Branch as well.

Then I headed back to the car.  Back on NC-215, I headed south for about 2 miles and pulled off where the road crosses Green Creek.  A small path on river left led a short ways to Little Bird Falls, a small, but scenic waterfall.

It was such a lush, green setting; even though the waterfall is small, the mossy rocks and vegetation made it feel like a rain forest.

I got a couple pictures and then drove a little further to the pull-off for Sunburst Falls.  First, I headed to the upper sections upstream of the road.

The rocks were wet from recent rain so I didn't scramble too high.  Then, I scrambled down below the road to see the lower cascading section below the bridge.  Usually, I don't like man-made stuff in waterfall pictures - it distracts from the natural setting.  But this bridge is so scenic, it really brings out the scene.

Back at the car, I drove a little further a pulled off on the left.  I donned water shoes and found a super steep and overgrown path down to West Fork Pigeon River.  There was some flagging tape to indicate the best way down.  At the river, I scrambled upstream a short ways to get past a cascade and then crossed the river to the base of Lower Wildcat Falls.  Although short, it's rather difficult with the steep scramble down to the river and then creek-walking up to the waterfall.

But it looked really nice, especially in high water.  On the way back, it was easier to get past the cascades on West Fork Pigeon River on the river-right side.

When I had visited Wildcat Falls, the water level was really low, so I figured I'd try to hit that one up as well.  I drove further up NC-215, almost to the Blue Ridge Parkway and pulled off at the big MST parking area on the right.  From here, I got on the MST going westbound into Middle Prong Wilderness.  The trail paralleled the road for a ways then headed west through the woods and then a field.  It continued through a muddy area and then started switchbacking up the mountain.  After the second switchback, I found a spot to get a nice view of Mount Hardy Falls from a distance.

This one is on a very small stream, but in high water like today, it was quite impressive - more like a waterfall out west.

I went a little further on the MST and then turned back.  It rained a little here and there on the hike back, but not much.  The field part of the hike was overgrown and I got really wet hiking through here.  Back at the car, I started back down NC-215, making one more stop at the trailhead for Wildcat Falls.  After parking, I hiked past the campground and rock-hopped Bubbling Spring Branch and got on Flat Laurel Creek Trail (#346).  Right away, there were some small cascades just off the trail.

With the recent rains, they looked pretty nice.  It was another half-mile or so to Wildcat Falls.

It's a small tributary, but looked a lot better than my previous visit when it was just a wet rock.  After a couple pictures, I headed back and packed up to depart in the morning.

Bear Creek & Chasteen Creek Falls

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:32 PM by Justin P   [ updated Aug 3, 2017, 5:01 PM ]

Sunday morning, I had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then drove west to Bryson City and into Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  I followed Lakeview Drive, the "Road to Nowhere", to the end and parked at the trailhead for Lakeshore Trail.  The trail starts out on the road past the barricades and towards a tunnel.

The tunnel is really big; it's straight so I could see right through, but it was deceptively long hiking through it, close to a quarter-mile.

Beyond the tunnel, the road becomes a trail and gradually headed down towards Fontana Lake.  This is a pretty remote section of the park so I didn't see too many other people along my hike.  It was about 2.5 miles from the tunnel to where the trail headed down to Forney Creek where it flows into Fontana Lake.  There was a big campsite here (#74) and a footbridge over the creek.

I got some pictures from the bridge, but then headed the other way, picking up Forney Creek Trail.  In less than half a mile, I turned left on Bear Creek Trail and crossed Forney Creek on a wide footbridge.  After crossing Bear Creek on another bridge, the trail headed towards Welch Branch and then turned sharply back towards Bear Creek.  In just under a half-mile from Welch Branch, I got off the trail and started bushwhacking down towards the creek.  I could hear the waterfall from here, but it was hard to discern as Bear Creek has many cascades and drops.  There were also some steep cliffs to navigate around and as I could close to the waterfall, it was a brutal wade through rhododendron to get out to the base of Bear Creek Falls.  But despite the difficult bushwhack down (and equally bad going back up), the waterfall was worth the effort - it was a real beauty.

I relaxed down here for a while, taking some pictures and eating a snack.  But it would be a nasty climb back out, so I didn't linger too long.  Once back at the trail, the hike back wasn't too bad, though it was mostly uphill.  Near the tunnel, I took a detour on Goldmine Loop Trail that headed steeply down to Goldmine Branch and then to Fontana Lake.

There was a nice spot to get out and view the lake here.  I saw a couple on jet skis cruise through the little cove.  Then it was all uphill back to the tunnel.  There were a lot of Rosebay Rhododendron blooming along the trail and made for a welcome break to stop and take a picture.

Eventually, the trail leveled off and I turned on Tunnel Bypass Trail to head back. Back at the car, I was pretty tired from the, but wanted to get another waterfall.  On the way out of the park, I stopped at the Fontana Lake Overlook for a view of the lake where Tuckaseegee River flows in.

Leaving Bryson City, I headed to Cherokee and the Smokemont area of the park.  Parking at the far end of the campground, I picked up the Bradley Fork Trail and followed its namesake upstream.  This trail is for hikers and equestrians; I saw a number of pipevine swallowtail butterflies feeding on horse waste along the trail.

In a mile or so, I turned right on Chasteen Creek Trail and went about three-quarters of a mile to a fork.  Chasteen Creek Trail went to the right, while left headed to a horse hitching post.  Just past the post, a short path led to Chasteen Creek Falls.

It's not a big waterfall, but rather scenic.  And despite being close to the Smokemont Campground, I had it all to myself.  I took off my boots and waded in the creek for a bit, as much to cool down as to get pictures.

After a little while, I headed back.  I didn't want to get stuck in Cherokee traffic again, so leaving the park, I got on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  And I couldn't help, but stop at an overlook along the way.  I pulled over at Lickstone Ridge Overlook for a nice view of Cherokee down below.

Then I returned to the hotel for the evening after a long and strenuous day.

Avery Creek Waterfalls

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:31 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 29, 2017, 3:18 PM ]

For the Independence Day long weekend, I headed out to the mountains to get some waterfalls.  I headed towards Brevard and took US-276 into Pisgah National Forest.  I turned right on the gravel Avery Creek Road (FR-477) and drove about 2.5 miles to a small pull-off and parked.  From here, I got on the Avery Creek Trail (#327) and headed down to the creek.  After crossing a footbridge, I turned left to stay on Avery Creek Trail and follow its namesake upstream.  There were several little cascades along the creek and I reached the top of Avery Creek Falls after about a quarter-mile.

It's a small but scenic waterfall.  I climbed down the bank to get some pictures from the base and then continued on.

In another quarter-mile or so, the trail merged with Buckhorn Gap Trail (#103) and I followed the combined trails a short ways to the split, where I crossed Avery Creek to stay on Buckhorn Gap Trail.  In about a half-mile, I went left at the fork to get on Twin Falls Trail (#604).  It was less than half a mile to the two waterfalls that make up Twin Falls - one on Henry Branch and the other on a tributary.  I had visited this one before, but today there was a huge amount of downfall on the left waterfall.  It would have been very difficult to climb up to the base so I settled for a picture from a distance.

I continued on to the right waterfall and climbed up the river-left side of the creek to the main drop.  There are more drops and cascades above but I couldn't get to a good position for a picture.

So I started making my way back.  After passing the left waterfall, a small path led upstream on the next tributary over.  I could hear something so I followed this path up to another small waterfall on a tributary of Henry Branch.

There wasn't much water flowing, but it was a nice little spot.  I guess a better name for the waterfall would be Triplet Falls.  Continuing back, at the intersection with Avery Creek Trail, I turned right on this trail to continue following the creek upstream.  In just over half a mile, a side path led down to the base of Upper Avery Creek Falls.  In the high water, I thought this was a really nice waterfall.

After a couple pictures, I rested and had a snack here, enjoying the view.  Then I started heading back.  There were a lot of rosebay rhododendron blooming in the area, their white flowers in contrast to the pink flowers of the Catawba rhododendron.

I also spotted some pretty summer wildflowers blooming along the trail.

At the very first footbridge over Avery Creek, I went straight to get on on Clawhammer Cove Trail (#342).  This trail followed Avery Creek downstream to near the confluence with Clawhammer Cove Creek and then followed this creek upstream for a little under a mile.  After crossing the creek, the trail led away from the creek upstream towards a gated road.  I got off the trail here and bushwhacked a short ways upstream to Clawhammer Falls.

It's only about 10 feet high, but pretty for a small waterfall.  After a couple pictures, I starting heading back to the car.  There were some white bergamot blooming in Clawhammer Cove.

The white flowers have tiny little pink spots.  Heading back up to the road on Avery Creek Trail, there were lots of rosebay rhododendron blooming.

I took FSR-477 back to US-276 and went north, making a quick stop at Looking Glass Falls.  Being roadside, this is a super popular waterfall and many people were swimming at the base.  I got a couple pictures but didn't stay long as it was too crowded.

Driving just a short ways further, I stopped at the trailhead for Moore Cove, another popular spot.  Moore Cove Trail (#318) is a pleasant 3/4 of a mile hike to Moore Cove Falls.

Just before, the waterfall, I turned left and crossed Moore Creek and crossed a small tributary just past the campsite.  Turning right, I followed a path upstream a short ways to Little Moore Cove Falls.

This waterfall is nearly identical, but half the size of Moore Cove Falls.  It's also a lot less well known - there were at least a dozen people at Moore Cove Falls, but I had this one to myself.

After a couple pictures, I headed back to Moore Cove Falls for a couple pictures, but it was quite crowded so I didn't stay long.

It was starting to get late, but I wanted to get one more hike in, so I continued on US-276 up to the Pink Beds Picnic Area.  After parking, I got on the Pink Beds Loop Trail (#118) and began hiking the loop.  The entire loop is 7 miles and it was getting late, so about half-way through, I turned on Barnett Branch Trail (#618) to bisect the loop.  There were a lot of rosebay rhododendron along here and it was a very pleasant hike.

As I got closer to the picnic area, the land became more swampy along the South Fork Mills River - a unique high-altitude Appalachian bog.  There were several boardwalks through the swampy area.

With cutting the loop in half, it was just over three miles for the loop and I made it back to the car a little after 6.  After my hike, I continued on US-276 past the Blue Ridge Parkway and then back down the mountain to Canton and checked into the Quality Inn.  I had fast food for dinner and took a shower and then pretty much passed out as I was exhausted from the day's adventures.

Ponies & Waterfalls

posted Jun 24, 2017, 4:42 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 22, 2017, 3:17 PM ]

Sunday, we woke up early and broke camp and then headed up to Massie Gap for a hike before leaving Grayson Highlands State Park.  Right at the trailhead, beautiful flame azalea were blooming fiery orange flowers.

Hiking the Rhododendron Trail, we started heading up, passing more beautiful azaleas and wildflowers, including ragwort.

The mountain laurel were starting to bloom here and we had a nice view of Twin Pinnacles in the distance.

The mountain laurel were not quite at peak, but the pink buds were very colorful.

A little further there was some flame azaleas with really deep red-orange flowers.

In a short ways, where the Rhododendron Trail and North Horse Trail met up, we saw our first wild ponies of the day - two adults and a little boy.

The mother pony used a trail sign as a scratching post and the little boy came over to emulate his mother.

Continuing on the trail we came to a larger group of ponies grazing just before the trail leaves the park.

There were several adults and three little babies, alternating between nursing and grazing for food.

We spent some time here getting pictures as the babies were really cute.

One was taking a little nap without a care in the world.

Sandy and I alternated between holding Alex and viewing the ponies.  He was very excited about the ponies, but not sure what he'd do, so we kept him a safe distance a way.  Continuing on, we entered Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and took the Rhododendron Gap Trail towards its namesake.  Another smaller herd of ponies were right along the trail and it was tricky maneuvering Alex around them as he really wanted to play.

There were some babies here too.

We definitely picked a good time to visit and see the baby ponies.

Continuing on, the trail crosses the AT and then finally intersects with the Crest Trail near Rhododendron Gap. We went right on Crest Trail for a quarter-mile to Rhododendron Gap.  Unfortunately, the rhododendron were all past peak - recent storms had knocked off any remaining flowers, though I did find one flower.

We climbed up the rock outcrop here for a snack and to enjoy the views of Mount Rogers and the surrounding mountains.

Even without the rhododendron flowers, it's still a beautiful spot with views that seem endless.

After our break, we took the AT back Grayson Highlands.  Back in the park, we stopped again at the larger herd of ponies.  One of the babies came up and starting rubbing himself on my pants.

I try not to get too close or approach the ponies, but this one approached me and I didn't want to make any sudden movements.  I scratched his itchy spot until he seemed satisfied and then continued on.  At the intersection, we went right on Rhododendron Trail to head back towards Massie Gap.

Getting close to the cars, we weren't quite ready to leave, so we got on the Cabin Creek Trail at Massie Gap, and went left at the split to hike the loop in the clockwise direction.  The trail descends steeply along a tributary to Cabin Creek and then follows the creek upstream.  We stopped at Lower Waterfall on Cabin Creek for a couple of pictures.

It was kind of warm so I took off my boots and waded in the shallow pool with Alex.  Above enjoying the main drop, I rock-hopped to the small island for a view of the upper drop of the waterfall.

Continuing on, where the trail cuts back to the right to finish up the loop, we continued upstream to the Upper Waterfall on Cabin Creek.  It's a long series of steep cascades but there's no good viewing spot.  I bushwhacked up a ways and then made a difficult climb down to see the upper most drops, but there was a lot of downfall so hard to get a decent picture.

Then we finished up the loop back to Massie Gap.  On the way home, we stopped at Foothills Brewpub in Winston-Salem for dinner and drinks before finishing the drive home.

The Great Channels of Virginia

posted Jun 24, 2017, 4:41 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 14, 2017, 3:14 PM ]

Saturday, we woke up and left the park, heading northwest.  We stopped for breakfast and gas in Chilhowie and continued past Saltville to Channels State Forest and the Brumley Mountain Trailhead off VA-80.  The parking area was nearly full as this is a popular hike.  After getting our stuff together, we started hiking down the trail, which is a private road at this point.  In about a mile, the trail leaves private property and heads into The Channels State Natural Area Preserve and became steeper.  There were a number of wildflowers blooming along the trail that made for a welcome break.

The lilies were just beautiful - not sure if they're native or invasive species.  There was also some bright red fire pink blooming along the trail.

It was about another 2 miles, mostly uphill, to a split where a short spur trail leads to the Channels.  There were some flame azalea blooming up here.

Just before the lookout tower, we went left on a short path that came out at the "Hidden Channels", a smaller version of the Channels.

The views from up top were great and it was cool peering down into the narrow crevasses, so we had lunch up here - much less crowded than the main Channels.

After lunch I went around the other side, but couldn't find a way to get in the Hidden Channels.

So we headed back towards the lookout tower.

Before heading into the Channels, we climbed up to get views above.

Peering down into the crevasses below, I could hear people walking around down there.

We then headed down into the Channels.  Being almost like a cave, it was noticeably cooler in here, a nice relief from the heat and humidity.

We wandered around up and down the narrow passageways.  Set up like a grid, it would be difficult to get lost in here.

Alex found a spot where he tried furiously to dig a hole in the sand - not sure what got into him, but he really wanted to dig and didn't care who was standing behind him.  At the far end of the Channels, I found a huge rock that looked like a bone!

After thoroughly exploring the Channels up and down, we started heading back, passing the mountain laurel near the summit.

At Brumley Mountain Trail, we turned left to continue down the mountain a short ways and then turned left on the Channels Trail that led steeply down.  The first mile or so was extremely overgrown with stinging nettle and not a particularly nice hike, though a few wildflowers were blooming along the trail.

We were going to take a left turn on a Forest Trail to start heading back, but couldn't find it.  The Channels Trail picked up North-South Road and became a little easier to follow thought it was still steep.  We spotted a huge wolf spider along the road at one spot.

After passing an area where they appeared to be doing some construction work, we turned left on Clinch Mountain Road immediately before a gate and followed this road back towards the start.  Along this road we saw a cute baby box turtle.

At the third creek crossing, which was Eddington Branch, we followed a Forest Path back up to Brumley Mountain Trail near the private property boundary.  Our detour to make the hike a loop was longer than expected so we hiked quickly back to the car.  Along the way, we saw a large black snake right long the road.

At least it was all downhill from here and soon we made it back.  Back at the car, we started making our way back to Grayson Highlands, stopping to eat at Buck's Drive-In in Saltville.  We had Alex so this seemed like a good spot and the food was really good and inexpensive.  We even got Alex his own hot dog for doing so well on the trail and he really enjoyed it.  Heading back to the park, we stopped at Sugarlands Overlook for nice evening views and then headed back to camp.

After taking a shower, we built a nice campfire and had some drinks before retiring for the evening.

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