Torreya State Park: Torreya Loop via Gregory House, Weeping Ridge Trail to Waterfall, and Rock Creek Loop (Torreya Challenge Trail), Bristol, Florida
Three thousand feet of elevation gain on a hike in the mountains is fairly common; three thousand feet of elevation gain on a hike in Florida is unheard of. Florida is well-known for its flat terrain, but exceptions do exist. Located on the east side of the Apalachicola River in the middle of nowhere, Torreya State Park - one of Florida's most interesting natural areas - features dozens of steephead ravines, limestone bluffs, sharp hills, and even a waterfall. In fact, it is safe to say that the park's hiking trails are the most rugged in Florida. Torreya State Park also boasts a collection of rare plants and animals, including the extremely rare Florida torreya tree, that are not typically found this far south. You'll get quite a workout on this hike, ascending dozens of hills and visiting many scenic mini-canyons carved out by small streams that feed the Apalachicola River. Also, you'll view the Apalachicola River from blufftop overlooks in several places. This hike occurred on Sunday, April 16th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Torreya Loop Trail counter-clockwise starting via the Gregory House east access trail. Along the way, I would make side trips to Weeping Ridge Falls and to Rock Bluff Overlook, and additionally, I would hike the Rock Creek Loop counter-clockwise.
The Darnell Creek area is known for its abundance of notable waterfalls. All of the waterfalls on Darnell Creek and Thomas Creek - one of its two headwater tributaries - are close to Darnell Creek Road and are reached via short and easy hikes. But what about Darnell Creek's other headwater tributary, Ramey Creek? This creek, which is in no way less scenic than Thomas Creek, flows considerably further south and is reached by the Darnell Creek Trail: a well-established trail that first follows Darnell Creek and then Ramey Creek. The Darnell Creek Trail's biggest highlight is a 45-foot waterfall on Ramey Creek. Situated at the head of a narrow gorge, Ramey Creek Falls is a photogenic waterfall featuring a cliff over which the waterfall initially plunges, followed by a series of cascades down a number of rock outcrops. Taking the waterfall aside though, the Darnell Creek Trail is still a very pretty trail that passes numerous cascades and small waterfalls on Darnell Creek and Ramey Creek, in addition to a panoramic wintertime view of the grand 100-foot Big Falls on Thomas Creek in the distance across the valley. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 25th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Darnell Creek Trail to Ramey Creek Falls. From Ramey Creek Falls, I would add variety to my hike by hiking the TR 61A Loop (Darnell Creek Loop), rejoining the Darnell Creek Trail at Pine Gap Branch and retracing my steps the rest of the way to the trailhead.
Chattahoochee National Forest: Big Creek Circuit from Highway 28 to Four Waterfalls of Big Creek, Three Forks, and Singley's Falls, Clayton, Georgia
Deep in Rabun County is a spot known as Three Forks, where three major mountain waterways - Big Creek, Overflow Creek, and Holcomb Creek - come together to form the West Fork of the Chattooga River. Three Forks is a unique and pristine location that can only be reached by foot, but while Three Forks alone would be a hiking destination as worthwhile as any, the three creeks that tie into Three Forks are loaded with waterfalls that come in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps the most incredible one of them all is Thunder Dome Falls on Big Creek, a monster waterfall that falls 70 feet in multiple tiers through a slot canyon and into a deep pool. It can safely be assumed that Thunder Dome Falls is among Georgia's most jaw-dropping natural sights. Thunder Dome Falls is not matched in size by the other waterfalls on this hike, but even though they're smaller, all of them are just as picturesque. This hike occurred Saturday, March 11th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Big Creek Circuit clockwise from Highway 28, hiking the Big Creek Trail first and then the Three Forks Trail. Along the way, I would make side trips to each of the four waterfalls on Big Creek, to Three Forks and the Holcomb Creek slot canyon, and to Singley's Falls on Overflow Creek.
Chattahoochee National Forest: Hemlock Falls Trail to Hemlock Falls and Upper Moccasin Creek Falls, Clayton, Georgia
The Hemlock Falls Trail is one of Georgia's most popular streamside trails, and for good reason: the trail follows beautiful Moccasin Creek, which is a constant run of whitewater nearly all of its length, culminating in Hemlock Falls, a pretty 15-foot waterfall with a pool. Above Hemlock Falls, however, lies a much less-visited world. Above Hemlock Falls, a remote and unmaintained footpath crosses the creek and continues through a picturesque gorge with many cascades and slides, before terminating at Upper Moccasin Creek Falls, a 40-foot waterfall that is widely considered to be one of Georgia's most beautiful waterfalls. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 4th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Hemlock Falls Trail and the unmaintained footpath that follows from the Moccasin Creek Trailhead to Upper Moccasin Creek Falls and back, passing Hemlock Falls on the way.
Appalachian Trail: Byron Herbert Reece Trailhead to Neels Gap and to Hogpen Gap via Levelland Mountain and Cowrock Mountain, Suches, Georgia
One of Georgia's most scenic hikes is along the Appalachian Trail from Neels Gap to Hogpen Gap. Along this section of the AT, the famed long-distance footpath passes over several summits that offer outstanding long-range vistas. Along the way, you will first walk along the only piece of the AT that passes under a building, at the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center. Afterwards, you will hike across Levelland Mountain, Wolf Laurel Top, Cowrock Mountain, and Wildcat Mountain, each of which has its own breathtaking view (or several). This hike occurred on Saturday, February 11th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Byron Herbert Reece Trail from US 129 to the Appalachian Trail. There, I would pick up the Appalachian Trail and follow it through Neels Gap and to Hogpen Gap. Along the way, I would make side trips to views on Levelland Mountain and Cowrock Mountain. I arranged to have two cars for this point-to-point hike: one car was placed at the Byron Herbert Reece Trailhead and another car was placed at the Hogpen Gap Trailhead.
Florida Caverns State Park: Beech-Magnolia Trail, Floodplain Trail, and Tunnel Cave, Marianna, Florida
Florida Caverns State Park might be Florida's most famous state park, as it is the only state park with a show tour cave. Nestled in some of Florida's taller hills near the Chipola River, the park has a lot to offer in terms of outdoor recreation besides a public cave tour. The park is home to two trail systems: a smaller nature trail system east of the Chipola River and a longer trail system west of the river, and most people who visit the park to be guided through the cave are not aware of the beauty that awaits a short distance away on the park's trails. Along the short nature trail system, you will pass several limestone bluffs with great views of the Chipola River floodplain, and you will even hike through Tunnel Cave on Florida's only trail that passes through a cave. This hike occurred on Monday, January 2nd, 2017. My plan was to hike counter-clockwise the outermost loop in Florida Caverns State Park's nature trail system, by first hiking the Beech-Magnolia Trail, followed by the Floodplain Trail and Tunnel Cave.
The Roaring Run gorge in Virginia's Blue Ridge sports several slides and cascades, in addition to 35-foot Roaring Run Falls. Several short nature trails provide easy access to this pristine location. The area also has an interesting history, as iron ore was mined a long time ago here. Today, all that remains of the area's past is the historic Roaring Run Furnace, which can be observed along this short loop hike in the vicinity of Roaring Run. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 26th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Roaring Run Falls Loop clockwise, by first following the Streamside Trail and then returning along the Woodland Trail, after hiking the side trail to Roaring Run Falls. This hike was the sixth of seven hikes that I did during a four-day Thanksgiving trip to the mountains of western Virginia.
House Mountain Preserve: Big House Mountain Trail to Goat Point Overlook & Tabletop Rock and Little House Mountain Trail, Lexington, Virginia
Driving through the vicinity of the town of Lexington, Virginia, one cannot fail to notice two twin summits rising up sharply to the northwest of town. The distant peaks tower out of the valley farmlands as you drive along US Route 11 near Lexington, and when you drive on I-64, the peaks are still there, although their character has changed as you see them from a different angle. The peaks are none other than Big and Little House Mountain, two mountains with outstanding 180-degree to 270-degree views. The House Mountain area was preserved by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and there are now established hiking trails to viewpoints on both mountains. In addition to the grand views that you'll see, you'll also get to visit a Big House Mountain boulder field that is home to a unique rock formation known as Tabletop Rock. This hike occurred on Thursday, November 24th, 2016. My plan was to hike to along a gated forest road to the saddle between Big House Mountain and Little House Mountain. Once there, I would hike out and back along the Big House Mountain Trail to Goat Point Overlook and Tabletop Rock on Big House Mountain. Then, I would return to the saddle and hike out and back to the vista on Little House Mountain. I would finish the hike by retracing my steps back down along the gated forest road. This hike was the second of seven hikes that I did during a four-day Thanksgiving trip to the mountains of western Virginia.
Bartram Trail: Wilson Gap Road to Flint Gap via Double Knob & Flat Top Mountain and Flint Knob Trail to Flint Knob and Alex Mountain, Clayton, Georgia
The Bartram Trail, which is a lesser-used footpath that stretches across portions of Georgia and North Carolina, stays close to the Tennessee Valley Divide for a number of miles in Georgia's Rabun County, passing over Rabun Bald, which is the second highest mountain in Georgia. In the vicinity, several other mountains provide noteworthy views, such as Double Knob, Flat Top Mountain, and Flint Knob. While the views from Rabun Bald are arguably better than some of these views, the other overlooks in the area are certainly worth visit as well. On this hike, you'll follow the Bartram Trail and then a side trail to three or four mountains with views in different directions. If you're feeling up to it, you will have the opportunity to tackle Rabun Bald and experience the 360-degree view from the top as well. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 12th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Bartram Trail out and back from Wilson Gap Road to Rabun Bald. Along the way, I would make the side trip to Flint Knob and possibly Alex Mountain, and I would also bushwhack up to Double Knob, in addition to seeing the view from Flat Top Mountain. Unfortunately, due to the length of the side trips, I was not able to hike the Bartram Trail from Flint Gap to Rabun Bald.
The Southern Nantahala Wilderness is a large wilderness area that stretches across portions of far northeast Georgia and southwest North Carolina. The Georgia side of the wilderness has a distinct lack of trails (other than a short section of the Appalachian Trail), which is unusual for Georgia wilderness areas. However, the lack of official trails does not mean that there are less points of interest. The Georgia side of the Southern Nantahala Wilderness is home to a number of tall peaks, including Hightower Bald and Eagle Mountain. On this hike, you will follow various old logging roads to the summit of Eagle Mountain, a 4000-foot mountain where a fantastic vista awaits. In my opinion, the view from the top of Eagle Mountain is one of the best - if not the best - vista in Georgia. This hike occurred on Saturday, October 22nd, 2016. My plan was to use several old logging roads, which appear to receive horse use and ATV use, to hike out and back to the summit of Eagle Mountain from the gate at the end of the drivable portion of Bell Gap Road.
Raven Cliffs Wilderness: Logan Turnpike Trail and Appalachian Trail from Tesnatee Gap to Wildcat Mountain and Cowrock Mountain, Cleveland, Georgia
The Appalachian Trail in Georgia passes through some of the state's highest terrain, passing many different views. Some are very popular, such as Springer Mountain, Blood Mountain, and Tray Mountain. But the best and perhaps underrated view lies on Cowrock Mountain: a 3800-foot peak that lies in the Raven Cliffs Wilderness on the Blue Ridge Valley Divide. The Appalachian Trail passes right over the summit of the mountain, and just to the south of the AT, a pair of magnificent vistas await. To the east of Cowrock Mountain, the Appalachian Trail passes over a second mountain - Wildcat Mountain - where another rock slab gives additional views. Furthermore, a lesser-used access trail, known as the Logan Turnpike Trail, joins the AT between the two mountains via the picturesque Town Creek valley along the route of an old toll road. On this hike, you will use the Logan Turnpike Trail to reach the Appalachian Trail and visit both Cowrock Mountain and Wildcat Mountain. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 17th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Logan Turnpike Trail up to Tesnatee Gap, where it joins the Appalachian Trail. From there, I would first hike the AT northbound over Wildcat Mountain and to Hogpen Gap. Then, I would return to Tesnatee Gap, and I would hike the AT southbound to Cowrock Mountain. I would finish the hike by retracing my steps to Tesnatee Gap and down the Logan Turnpike Trail.
Florida Trail: Scott Road to Devil's Hole Recreation Area (Econfina Creek Segment) and Trap Pond Spur Trail, Panama City, Florida
Traverse dozens of ravines, view fast streams and tumbling cascades, visit bluffs with excellent views of a a creek gorge - sounds like a perfect hike for your mountain vacation, right? Oh wait! It's right in Florida. The Econfina Creek segment of the Florida Trail is as unique as a hike could get in Florida, and you would barely be able to tell that you're in Florida, if the palmetto wasn't there. This spectacular section of the FT first descends into the Econfina Creek valley, passing some rapids on the creek, before following this waterway for many miles with a number of scenic sights along the way. This hike occurred on Friday, August 19th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Florida Trail out and back from Scott Road to Devil's Hole Recreation Area. Along the way, I would also hike the side trail to Trap Pond.
In many cases, a long hike through a swamp is a challenging hike that is not for the light-hearted. But the twelve-mile balloon loop through Bird Rookery Swamp is a mostly dry hike along old logging tramways that leads into the heart of the wild swamp without the hiker expending a lot of effort. On this hike, you will make a large loop through this remote corner of the Corkscrew Swamp Land and Water Trust, where alligators abound in great numbers, and hawks look down upon you from the dry canopy above the water. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 9th, 2016. My plan was to hike the Bird Rookery Swamp balloon loop counter-clockwise from the trailhead on Shady Hollow Boulevard.
Anhingas. Egrets. Alligators. You'll see them all on this spectacular hike through a ranch-turned-preserve near the shores of Lake Hancock and just outside of the Lakeland city limits. Circle B Bar Reserve, renowned throughout Florida for its spectacular photo opportunities, attracts flocks of hikers every day to see the wildlife on its trails. The hike begins in a hammock with huge live oaks, before following the shore of Lake Hancock, where alligators shuffle into the water to the left and right. The hike then passes through wetlands where wading birds are in abundance (as well as more alligators) before passing an old windmill and returning to the trailhead. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 2nd, 2016. My plan was to make an outer loop through Circle B Bar Reserve's Trail System, as follows. First, I would take the Shady Oak Trail to Lake Hancock, where I would follow the Alligator Alley Trail past a lake observation area and along the shores of the lake. Then, after leaving the lake, I would take the Eagle Roost Trail along the southwest boundary of the preserve. There, I accidentally did the out and back along the Circle B Bar Connector Trail, although I didn't regret it. Lastly, I would take the Wading Bird Way to the Windmill Whisper Trail, before using the Treefrog Trail to finish the hike.
What are some of the tallest waterfalls in north Georgia? You probably have the names "Amicalola Falls" and "Anna Ruby Falls" somewhere in your head. But what about Cochrans Falls? There is a possibility that you haven't heard that name before, and for good reason. This 600-foot waterfall is only around 130 feet lower than Amicalola Falls, but it is one of the most secluded waterfalls in the entire state and has nowhere near the fame of its taller neighbor to the west. On this hike, you'll follow a jeep road into the depth of the Cochrans Creek valley, before taking a rugged and steep goat path to Cochrans Falls and the head of this remote and very scenic area. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 21st, 2016. My plan was to follow a jeep road from Blackhawk Road along Cochrans Creek. At the terminus of the road, I would take an unofficial trail that would scramble along the creek and past the numerous lower cascades and drops of Cochrans Falls all the way to the uppermost and highest drop.
Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 105.3 Miles