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 Jul 8, 2017, 5:35 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 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.  Then I hiked through the Subway.  I had to duck to get through.  Next I headed up to Pulpit Rock.  It was hot and humid and all the stairs were really strenuous.  After many stairs, I made it up to Chimney Rock.  With the US flag flying high, it was a great scene on the 4th of July.  There were also great views of Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge.  After some pictures, I headed up to the Opera Box, again with a very low ceiling.  But it was really pleasant in here as it seemed much cooler.  Next I headed up for a view of the Devil's Head.  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.  By the time I got back down, 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.  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 wildflowers were blooming.  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 Jul 8, 2017, 5:33 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).  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.  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.  I started heading back to the car, but at the first switchback on FR-97 and 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 waterfall.  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.  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.  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.  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.

Bear Creek & Chasteen Creek Falls

posted Jul 8, 2017, 5:32 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 8, 2017, 5:32 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 Lakeshore 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 goes through a long tunnel, nearly a quarter-mile in length.  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 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.  Back at the car, I was pretty tired, but wanted to get another waterfall, so 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 butterflies feeding on the horse waste.  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.  I took off my boots and waded in the creek for a bit, as much to cool down as to get pictures.  Then I headed back to the car and returned to the hotel for the evening.

Avery Creek Waterfalls

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

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.

Back on US-276, I continued driving north and made 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 and headed back, driving just a short ways further to the trailhead for Moore Cove Falls, another popular spot.  I made the short hike up to Moore Cove Falls, but there were a lot of people there.  So I crossed the creek at the base and made the short hike to Little Moore Cove Falls.  This waterfall is almost identical to Moore Cove Falls, but much smaller and no one else was here.  It's really close and easy to reach, yet no one seems to know about it.  I got a couple pictures and then headed back to the car.  It was starting to get late, but I wanted to get one more hike in, so I continued on US-276 up the Pink Beds Picnic Area and hiked the short loop trail here through a beautiful high-altitude bog.  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.

Wilson Creek Hike

posted Jun 24, 2017, 4:40 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 8, 2017, 3:38 PM ]

With the sweltering heat in Raleigh, we decided to head north for the weekend and try to stay cool.  We left Friday after work and headed to Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia.  It rained a bit on the way up, but was dry by the time we arrived.  After setting up our tent, we took Alex for a hike while we waited for Justine and Kristen to show up.  We started hiking down Seed Orchard Road along a wide old road.  In under a mile, we went right at a fork to get on Wilson Creek Trail and head down to the creek.  Where the trail met up with the creek, we continued upstream a short ways to a small waterfall.

The water level was too high to get across, but I think there would be a better view from the other side.  Then we got back on the main trail and followed the creek downstream.  In a short ways, we came to the main Waterfall on Wilson Creek.

There are several nice drops along the creek, but the state park mentions a 25-foot waterfall on the creek and I'm pretty sure that this is the one they're referring to.  In high water, it was really impressive.  A little further down was a nice cascading section.

And a little past that was another scenic drop.

I think all of these would have looked better from the other side, but it was getting late and crossing would have been tough in the high water.  We finished up the loop with a steep climb back up to the road and headed back to camp.  There were some flame azaleas blooming around the campground.

When we got back to our campsite, no one else had yet arrived.  Justine and Kristen ended up getting stuck in traffic and didn't arrive until well after dark.  We were all really tired by this point and went to bed early.

Tanasee Creek Gorge

posted Jun 8, 2017, 4:55 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 6, 2017, 4:16 PM ]

After checking out of the hotel, we started heading back east towards Charleys Creek Road where we had started our adventure.  We met up with Badger, Andy, and Spencer at the trailhead for Tanasee Creek Falls and carpooled to the lower trailhead along Tanasee Gap Road.  From here, we started hiking along an old logging road following Tanasee Creek upstream.  All along the trail, the mountain laurel were in full bloom and quite beautiful.

We had really lucked out this weekend in seeing these beautiful flowers at peak bloom.

There were also a few flame azaleas blooming as well.

In about a mile or so, we came to a small tributary.  We crossed the tributary and then started bushwhacking upstream along the tributary.  It was steep, but not too overgrown so wasn't real difficult.  Near the top, we had to navigate around some cliffs and then came to Horseshoe Falls.

The water flows over a horseshoe-shaped rock and free falls about 80 feet down, crashing onto the rocks below.

Even in high water, the flow wasn't real high, but this was a really nice waterfall.  I found a great spot on this one rock where the water was falling all around me but didn't get wet.

It appeared that the water was coming right out of the overhanging rock.

We played around here for a while and then headed back down to the old logging road.  In another mile or so, we had to wade across Tanasee Creek and then another crossing in another half-mile.  At this point, Sandy and I decided to head back as it was starting to get late and we had a very long drive home.  After saying good-bye to our friends, we started making the trek back.  I found an old cooler near tributary with Horseshoe Falls and carried it back to dispose of it properly.  After carrying it about a mile, my arms were getting quite sore, but at least one less piece of garbage in the woods.  Driving home, we stopped at Las Salsas for dinner and made it home around 9.

Murphy Area Waterfalls

posted Jun 6, 2017, 5:40 PM by Justin P   [ updated Jun 30, 2017, 10:39 AM ]

Sunday, we headed to the far western part of North Carolina to visit some waterfalls in the area.  We headed west from Franklin on US-64 to Hayesville and headed into the Fires Creek area of Nantahala National Forest.  Our first stop was at the picnic area, where we could see Leatherwood Falls across Fires Creek.  The view from across the creek was rather poor as there was a lot of foliage in the way.

The water level was way up, so no safe way to cross.  There was a bridge across the creek that led to a picnic area, but no way to get to the base of Leatherwood Falls.  So we continued down FR-340 following Fires Creek upstream to the split with FR-340C where the road was gated.  After parking, we continued hiking down FR-340 past the gate, crossing a bridge over Long Branch and continuing about a mile to the point where Bald Springs Branch flows into Fires Creek.  It was a steep, but short scramble down to Fires Creek.  Since the water level was up, there was no dry way to cross, but the crossing wasn't too bad.  At this point, the hike got really difficult.  Lower Bald Springs Falls was just a short was upstream and it was easiest to creek walk to this one.  It's a real scenic waterfall even with a lot of deadfall covering it.

Then we had to make an excruciating bushwhack up the side through dense rhododendron to get above the waterfall and then headed back down to creek level to get to Bald Springs Falls.

This is a really cool waterfall with a lot steps.  We climbed up a little ways along the waterfall until it got to steep and overgrown with rhododendron and then bushwhack up the side.  It was just a short ways further to the last waterfall on this creek, but incredibly difficult.  We could hear the waterfall from high above, but it was very tough to get back down to creek level.  Backtracking a bit, we finally found a safe way to get back down to the base of Rain Forest Falls.

At only 15 feet, it's the smallest falls on Bald Springs Branch, but really scenic, even with much several huge trees fallen down on it.  After a couple pictures, we bushwhacked back up and found some semblance of an old logging road that we could follow back down to Fires Creek.  After crossing the creek and climbing back up to the forest road, it was just a mile back to the car.  Hiking back on the road, I spotted two trees near Fires Creek with shelf fungi growing out of them.

The one tree had purple fungi and the other had orange fungi. Back at the car, we continued driving west past Murphy and Hiwassee Dam to Appalachia Lake.  We turned on the unpaved Prospect Road and drove to the property line to park on National Forest property and made an easy bushwhack down to lake level.  From here, there was a trail following North Shoal Creek up to the beautiful North Shoal Creek Falls.

In high water, this was a really beautiful waterfall.

There were also some really nice cascades on the creek downstream of the waterfall.

After a few pictures, we headed back.  We had planned to go to Tellico Falls as well while we were way out here, but with the high water level, we knew we'd never make it so headed back towards Franklin.  As we got towards Standing Indian, we got off the highway and took FR-67 past the campground for about 6 miles to the trailhead for Mooney Falls.  After the really tough hikes today, it was nice to visit an easy waterfall. Mooney Falls is in two sections, though you can't see both from one point. 

First we went to the upper section which is a long cascade with some mountain laurels blooming near the top.

Then we went down to the lower main section, a 20-foot drop.

Throughout the area, there were a lot of mountain laurel blooming.  So before heading back to Franklin, we made a quick stop at Big Laurel Falls, just a short ways back on FR-67.  From the parking area, we got on Big Laurel Falls Trail (#29) and crossed Mooney Creek on a footbridge.

Across the creek, we turned right to stay on Big Laurel Falls Trail.  We soon entered Southern Nantahala Wilderness and followed Nantahala River upstream towards its headwaters.

The Nantahala is formed at the confluence of Big Laurel Branch, Gulf Fork, and Kilby Creek.  We followed Big Laurel Branch just a short ways to the falls.

A better name would be Big Rhodo Falls as there were no mountain laurel here, just rhododendron.  It's still a beautiful waterfall and worth the easy hike since we were in the area.

After a couple pictures, we quickly hiked back as it was getting late.  After that, we headed back to Franklin.  Since it was getting late on a Sunday, most places were closed so we had dinner at Fatz before heading back to the hotel.

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