There's the touristy side of the Horsepasture River. There's the monster Rainbow Falls and its sidekicks, Stairway Falls, Turtleback Falls, and Drift Falls, all some of Gorges State Park's most popular and highly-regarded destinations. And then there's Windy Falls... the Horsepasture's truly wild side, tackled only by the most hardcore waterfallers and rock climbers. The Horsepasture's other waterfalls pale in comparison in the mighty shadow of Windy Falls, which crashes over 200 vertical feet through a conglomerate of boulders the sizes of two-story houses and slanted cliffs the sizes of small football fields. Those who reach this monster waterfall's base will be rewarded with a first-rate view of raw, breathtaking power, dwarfed by the even more majestic rocky surroundings. Yet reaching the base is an adventure not to be taken lightly, involving two rock scrambles with ropes and a squeeze through a keyhole perfect for getting stuck if you're larger than the average person. Gorges State Park neither sanctions nor recommends the trip to Windy Falls, and neither do I. Only people with substantial experience in cross-country rock scrambling with ropes must attempt to reach the base; those who don't could get injured or even fall to their deaths. Proceed at your own risk. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 8th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to the base of Windy Falls using a steep, unofficial trail from Chestnut Mountain Road concluding in a series of technical and potentially dangerous rock scrambles.
Citico Creek Wilderness: North Fork Trail/Benton MacKaye Trail/South Fork Trail Loop and Old Goat Falls, Tellico Plains, Tennessee
Nestled between the Little Tennessee River and the Cherohala Skyway, the 16,226-acre Citico Creek Wilderness features some of East Tennessee's most remote hiking trails. The primary focus points of the wilderness are its two major waterways: the North and South Forks of Citico Creek. Seldom-traveled trails follow both streams, crisscrossing them many times along the way, and providing numerous views of the creeks' many scenic cascades and pristine banks. Even better, a short scramble off the North Fork Trail is the spectacular Old Goat Falls, crashing 40 feet through a cleft amidst ferny cliffs. This hike, an ambitious loop along both forks of Citico Creek all the way to their headwaters, is among the best creek hikes in Cherokee National Forest. This hike occurred on Saturday, September 1st, 2018. My plan was to initially follow the South Fork Trail from Citico Creek Road to the North Fork Trail junction. There, I would pick up the North Fork Trail and climb it to Cherry Log Gap, scrambling down to Old Goat Falls along the way. I would then follow the Benton MacKaye Trail from Cherry Log Gap to Cold Spring Gap, from where I would take the South Fork Trail back to Citico Creek Road.
Ocala National Forest: Silver Glen Springs, Springs Boil Trail to Jody's Spring, and Lake George Trail, Eustis, Florida
Silver Glen Springs is an oasis in the middle of Ocala National Forest, Florida's "big scrub". One of the forest's most scenic springs, Silver Glen Springs features strikingly transparent aquamarine waters that form a vivid contrast with the lush, tropical vegetation found along the shoreline. Not only is the spring a wonderful place to cool off on a scorching summer day, but it's also a natural aquarium, often housing hundreds of fish and even other species like the Atlantic stingray. A couple of nature trails branch out from the Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area. The Springs Boil Trail leads to a secondary spring called Jody's Spring, known for its many unique sand boils, nestled in the deep shade of a tropical hammock. The Lake George Trail meanders through uplands near Silver Glen Springs Run for a mile before reaching the shoreline of Lake George, Florida's second largest freshwater lake, so massive that it almost seems to be a sea. This hike occurred on Tuesday, August 28th, 2018. My plan was to hike both the Springs Boil Trail and Lake George Trail after exploring Silver Glen Springs.
One of Florida's most attractive rivers valleys, the Suwannee River Valley has got it all: majestic bluffs, sandy beaches, tight and intricate tributaries, colorful springs, a surprising variety in elevation, and best of all, a 75-mile segment of the Florida Trail. The FT section between Camp Branch and Swift Creek - two special Suwannee feeder streams - is a true North Florida classic, showcasing most of the sights that make hiking along the Suwannee so wonderful. Even before you reach the Suwannee, you'll submerge into an unusual landscape, where the clear-bottomed Camp Branch (also known as Disappearing Creek) twists through a limestone chasm before vanishing into a dark sink, only to pop out at the Suwannee itself. From there, you'll pick up the Florida Trail, passing one gorgeous vista after another of the Suwannee River, crossing numerous scenic side streams like Jerry Branch, and scrambling through surprisingly deep ravines and up pointed hills. After close to 9 miles of hiking, you'll finally reach the hike's destination: Swift Creek, a lovely, cascading stream that dashes through Florida's version of the Grand Canyon before emptying into the Suwannee by an imposing limestone bluff. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 25th, 2018. My plan was to hike the blue-blazed FT access trail from the Camp Branch Trailhead to the Suwannee River (tracing the short Camp Branch Loop along the way), where I'd pick up the Florida Trail and follow it all the way to Swift Creek.
The Florida Trail section in the Rice Creek Conservation Area a few miles outside Palatka is short but truly unique and special. This hike dives right into the Rice Creek Swamp, the headwaters of Rice Creek - a major tributary of the St. Johns River. Back in the 19th century, the Rice Creek headwaters were actually a rice and indigo plantation. But today, the area is heavily wooded, and the only remaining traces of the past are the numerous levees crisscrossing the swamp. The Florida Trail loop utilizes several of these levees to provide a first-hand swamp experience. At the same time, the levees and an extraordinary system of boardwalks and footlogs allows you to keep your feet dry onto your journey into the swamp. You might even see a few gators or otters if you're lucky. A particularly remarkable point of interest along the Rice Creek section of the Florida Trail is Hoffman's Crossing - a slim boardwalk, 1,886 feet long, that crosses a branch of the swamp. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018. My plan was to hike the Rice Creek Loop from the Highway 100 Trailhead. Along the way, I'd extend my hike along the Florida Trail to see Hoffman's Crossing.
GTM Research Reserve Trail System to South Point and Shell Point and Guana River WMA Trail System to Capo Tower & Lake Tower, St. Augustine, Florida
Just northeast of St. Augustine is a unique sliver of land stretching out between two estuarine bodies of water: the Tolomato River and the Guana River. The southern tip of the peninsula is occupied by the Guana Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) National Research Reserve, while the rest of it is protected by state-owned Guana River WMA. These two public land tracts are interconnected, both featuring an abundance of hiking trails surprisingly known little outside of the local community. The GTM Reserve trail system explores fairly dense woods with primarily oaks and pines, occasionally passing views of the Tolomato River. The character of the Guana River WMA trail system is vastly different. The west side of the WMA is uninteresting pine flatwoods, but it has a significant highlight: the Capo Creek observation tower. This tower provides breathtaking views of salt marshes along Capo Creek - a tidal creek feeding into the Tolomato River. The east side of the WMA features scenic hammocks along the shoreline of Guana Lake/River. The views from the Guana Lake observation tower don't quite match those of the Capo tower, but they're quite scenic as well. Regardless of whether visitors explore GTM Reserve, Guana River WMA, or both, they're likely to have a well-rounded hike with several scenic stops. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 18th, 2018. My plan was to hike a loop with the Purple Trail, Red Trail, and Blue Trail in GTM Reserve, followed by a loop to Capo Tower and Lake Tower in Guana River WMA.
Bulow Creek State Park: Bulow Woods Trail from Fairchild Oak to Boardman Pond, Bulow Creek, and Bulow Plantation Ruins, Ormond Beach, Florida
A slice of wilderness along Florida's Atlantic coastline, Bulow Creek State Park conserves several thousand acres of salt marshes and old-growth tropical hammocks in the Bulow Creek watershed between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach. Traversing the park is the linear Bulow Woods Trail, a linear pathway over 6 miles long that takes you past several salt marsh views and through a tropical jungle with many old-growth palms and oaks. One of the hike's bigger highlights is a gorgeous palm-lined stream flowing toward Bulow Creek encountered along the north part of the trail. Between the magnificent 400-year old Fairchild Oak at the south end and the ruins of the largest sugar mill ever operated in Florida (the Bulow Sugar Mill & Plantation Ruins) at the north end, the Bulow Woods Trail has attractions even at its edges. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 11th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back from the Fairchild Oak to the Bulow Plantation Ruins, hiking the Bulow Creek Loop counter-clockwise along the way. I would also stop at Boardman Pond.
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest: Arbuckle Tract North Loop to Lake Arbuckle, Reedy Creek, and Lake Godwin, Frostproof, Florida
Hiking in Florida typically means looking for certain highlights such as interesting woods, creeks, lakes, or historic sites. But what if you could fit all of that into one hike? That's something the north loop at the Arbuckle Tract of Lake Wales Ridge State Forest manages to accomplish. In under just 14 miles, this trail visits the shorelines of Lake Arbuckle and Lake Godwin, affords numerous views of both Reedy Creek and Livingston Creek, and passes through a variety of different woods and ecosystems that range from unique pine flatwoods full of cutthroat seep grass to open, sandy scrub areas. This hike is easily among the most scenic I've done in Central Florida. Not often do you find such a mix of beautiful scenery on a single trail in Florida, keeping your interest piqued and letting the miles roll by faster. This hike occurred on Saturday, August 4th, 2018. My plan was to hike the North Loop in the Arbuckle Tract counter-clockwise from McLean Cabin Trailhead.
7000-acre Wekiwa Springs State Park is part of a ribbon of wild lands surrounding the St. Johns River on the northwest side of Orlando. The park's centerpoint is Wekiwa Springs, a second-magnitude spring that discharges 45 million gallons of water a day. However, there's a lot more to see in this park, which is crisscrossed by a series of single-track trails maintained by the Florida Trail Association. This hike follows the outermost White Trail all the way from Wekiwa Springs to the park's remote northern reaches. In the first half of the hike, you'll follow an elevated tramway through the wild Mill Creek Swamp and then immerse yourself into the palm hammocks of the Rock Springs Run floodplain, where you'll occasionally get your feet wet (particularly in the rainy season). A stark difference is found in the hike's second half, where you'll cruise through dry sandhills and pass sinkholes. Around the hike's midpoint, an inconspicuous connector path leads into Kelly park, where you can dip your toes in the refreshingly cool waters of the breathtaking, must-see Rock Springs before resuming your hike. This hike occurred on Wednesday, August 1st, 2018. My plan was to hike the White Trail counter-clockwise, starting out along the Wet-to-Dry Boardwalk by Wekiwa Springs.
Shining Rock Wilderness: Cold Mountain, The Narrows, and Shining Rock via Daniel Boone Scout Camp/Little East Fork Loop, Waynesville, North Carolina
The Shining Rock Wilderness is Southwest North Carolina's high country - an area crowned by numerous 6000-foot peaks with stunning mountain views. Deep in the Little East Fork Pigeon River valley is the Daniel Boone Scout Camp, a convenient entry point to the Shining Rock Wilderness near its northern end. Two trails, Little East Fork Trail and Art Loeb Trail, leave the camp and make for a long, scenic loop visiting a number of the wilderness's highlights in its north sector. Climbing steeply out of the valley, the Art Loeb Trail's first stop is Deep Gap, where a 1.5-mile side trail leads to several panoramic overlooks atop Cold Mountain. The Art Loeb then embarks on an exciting journey through The Narrows, where a series of ups and downs along a knife-edge ridge take you past two great views and numerous rock outcrops. After a gradual climb up Stairs Mountain through gorgeous mossy spruce-fir forest, the Art Loeb approaches the wilderness's center point: Shining Rock. Featuring its own panoramic views, Shining Rock is a huge outcropping of brilliant white quartz amidst a sea of evergreen. Backpackers will find Shining Rock to be a great sunset-viewing location. Your exit route from the wilderness is the Little East Fork Trail, which descends an old roadbed along the countless pleasant cascades of Little East Fork's scenic run. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 9th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Scout Camp Loop clockwise, first hiking the Art Loeb Trail and then Little East Fork Trail. Along the way, I took side trips to Cold Mountain and Shining Rock.
Nantahala National Forest: Thompson River Waterfalls - Big Falls, Rich Falls, Simon Falls, and High Falls, Cashiers, North Carolina
The Thompson River is one of several great rivers in the Jocassee Gorges region on the south side of Lake Toxaway. Although the Thompson River isn't as well-known as the nearby Whitewater River (due to Whitewater Falls) or Horsepasture River (due to Rainbow Falls), the Thompson features a collection of gorgeous waterfalls, including a 200-foot monster called Big Falls. Big Falls on Thompson River is an awesome, massive waterfall that crashes down through an enormous open area full of cliffs and borders. This spectacular waterfall should be on every experienced waterfaller's must-see list. Much of the hike to Big Falls follow an unofficial moderate trail along an old logging road that meanders near the Thompson River. However, the final section of the Big Falls hike is an extreme descent into the gorge, including several short rock scrambles. Along the Big Falls hike, you'll pass side trails to three other beautiful waterfalls that are all unique in their own ways and are worth seeing. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 26th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Big Falls from Brewer Road. On my way in, I would make a side trip to Simon Falls. On my return trip, I would make side trips to Rich Falls and High Falls. Unfortunately, a series of heavy thunderstorms messed up my plans slightly, but it was still a great day.
Nearly every tributary of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River has waterfalls of some sort. 40-foot Long Creek Falls is a particularly spectacular drop only 100 feet above the Chattooga River. Long Creek Falls is accessed by a lesser-known yet easy unofficial trail from Turkey Ridge Road (FS 755), about 1.7 miles long. The great swimming hole and large flat rocks around Long Creek Falls make it an excellent summertime destination. The Long Creek Falls Trail additionally passes a steep side path to a seldom-visited cascading waterfall on Pinckney Branch called Homer's Falls. Flowing only in wet weather, Homer's Falls flows 20 feet through an incredibly lush and mossy rock grotto before emptying into the Chattooga River. Hikers who go to Long Creek Falls even have the option of making a side trip to the top of Raven Rock Cliff, a 100-foot cliff that towers over the Chattooga River and features great gorge views. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Long Creek Falls from the end of FS 755, making the side trip to Homer's Falls along the way.
Yellow Branch Falls is an absolutely phenomenal waterfall in Oconee County, South Carolina (although it needs a lot of water to look its best). Over 50 feet high, Yellow Branch Falls features a stunning clamshell-shaped drop that spreads out in countless mini-trickles across a jagged rock face. From the Yellow Branch Recreation Area off Highway 28, an easy-to-moderate hiking trail leads 1.65 miles down the Yellow Branch valley past several smaller cascades to the falls. In addition, an unnamed tributary of Yellow Branch features a 35-foot cascading waterfall called Lohr's Falls. Lohr's Falls is only for experienced waterfallers, as there's no trail whatsoever to it. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike the trail out and back to Yellow Branch Falls. Along the way back, I would bushwhack to Lohr's Falls.
Lee Falls is often cited as one of Upstate South Carolina's top ten most beautiful waterfalls. Over 80 feet high, Lee Falls is an absolutely stunning free-falling drop in a 'tropical paradise' setting, surrounded by lush greenery on all sides. Although the moderate trail to Lee Falls isn't official, it's easily followed for 1.5 miles all the way to the falls. Along the way, you'll pass through several overgrown wildlife clearings and make six creek crossings as you scramble up the Tamassee Creek valley to Lee Falls. The best time of year to visit Lee Falls is during late spring after a good rain, when all the lush green growth around Lee Falls is particularly eye-popping and beautiful. Just be sure to go when the water levels are high. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 19th, 2018. My plan was to hike out and back to Lee Falls.
Appalachian Trail: Jones Meadow to Whiterock Cliff, Blackstack Cliffs, and Big Firescald Knob Views, Greeneville, Tennessee
The scenic crest of the Bald Mountains that straddles the Tennessee/North Carolina border south of Greeneville, TN, features a set of spectacular vistas in the vicinity of the Appalachian Trail. The views actually begin even before you leave your car as you arrive at the beautiful Jones Meadow with a panoramic vista of Camp Creek Bald and Blackstack Cliffs. Two excellent vistas are accessed by a very short, easy walk from the parking area: Whiterock Cliff facing south into North Carolina and Blackstack Cliffs facing north into Tennessee. The Appalachian Trail then continues onto a new section, which scrambles along the knife-edge ridge-crest for over a mile across Big Firescald Knob, affording several outstanding 360-degree panoramic vistas. On your return trip, you may choose to follow the alternate bad-weather AT route, a little-used pathway on the north flanks of Big Firescald Knob that adds variety to the hike. This hike occurred on Friday, April 27th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Appalachian Trail from Jones Meadow over Big Firescald Knob, taking side trails to Whiterock Cliff and Blackstack Cliffs along the way. Rather than retracing my steps along the Big Firescald Knob ridge-crest, I would return along the AT bad-weather bypass. This hike was the third of six hikes that I did during a four-day trip to the mountains of northeast Tennessee and northwest North Carolina.
Late 2019/Early 2020
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Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 482.4 Miles
Year 5: 250.2 Miles