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.
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.
Pisgah National Forest: Rhapsodie Falls, Dismal Falls, and Cold Mountain via West Fork Way and Shelton-Pisgah Trail, Rosman, North Carolina
Just off NC 281 is a lesser-known entrance to the backcountry of Panthertown Valley: the West Fork Way trailhead. The unofficial West Fork Way ascends through the West Fork French Broad River watershed for several miles, passing the extremely steep access trail to three spectacular waterfalls: Rhapsodie Falls, Dismal Falls, and Lower Dismal Falls. West Fork Way then connects to another unofficial trail on the fringes of Panthertown Valley called the Shelton-Pisgah Trail, which follows a seldom-hiked pathway along the ridge of Shelton-Pisgah Mountain to Cold Mountain. A cliff on the west side of Cold Mountain, nicknamed the High Bethel View features an outstanding vista of Panthertown Valley spread out to the west - arguably the best of the valley's five views. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 12th, 2018. My plan was to hike West Fork Way and Shelton-Pisgah Trail out and back to Cold Mountain. Along the way, I would take the side trails to Rhapsodie Falls, Dismal Falls, and Lower Dismal Falls. I would also stop by two other small falls - Aunt Sally's Falls and Lower Rhapsodie Falls.
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness: The Hangover via Naked Ground/Jenkins Meadow Loop, Robbinsville, North Carolina
Right on the doorstep of the quaint town of Robbinsville is the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, a massive wild area covering over 17,000 acres between the Cherohala Skyway and US 129. The area is known best for the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest - an area of virgin forest in the Little Santeetlah Creek watershed, featuring numerous old, grand trees. The wilderness area's central destination, however, is an inconspicuous rock outcropping on a lead below Haoe Bald called The Hangover. The Hangover features a breathtaking 360-degree view of the wilderness, with little in sight but endless mountain ridges and several lakes. The panoramic vista atop The Hangover encompasses Santeetlah Lake, Calderwood Lake, and the Little Tennessee River. This hike loops several trails from the Joyce Kilmer Recreation Area to visit The Hangover via the Memorial Forest. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 21st, 2018. My plan was to hike a clockwise loop with the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest Poplar Cove Trail, Naked Ground Trail, Haoe Lead Trail, and Jenkins Meadow Trail. I would of course take a side trip along the Hangover Lead Trail to The Hangover.
Nantahala National Forest: Panthertown Valley West End Loop to Wilderness Falls and Big Green Mountain and Deep Gap Trail to Laurel Knob, Cashiers, North Carolina
The trails at the west end of Panthertown Valley feature several popular waterfalls: Wilderness Falls, Frolictown Falls, and Granny Burrell Falls, as well as a spectacular well-known cliff line on the south side of Big Green Mountain called the Great Wall. This hike visits all of these destinations, in addition to lesser-known views atop Big Green Mountain itself. This hike also follows the Deep Gap Trail out of Panthertown Valley onto the seldom-hiked Laurel Knob Trail, a climbers' access trail that leads to the base of the 1200-foot cliffs of Laurel Knob. Laurel Knob boasts of the tallest uninterrupted cliff face in the entire Eastern United States! This hike occurred on Saturday, March 31st, 2018. My plan was to start out at the Salt Rock Gap Trailhead, where I'd take the Wilderness Falls Trail past Wilderness Falls to the Deep Gap Trail at Frolictown Falls. I'd then hike the Deep Gap Trail and Laurel Knob Trail out and back to the base of the Laurel Knob cliffs. Next, I'd return to Frolictown Falls, and I'd take the Great Wall Trail toward the top of Big Green Mountain, making a side trip to Granny Burrell Falls along the way. I would then follow the Big Green Trail past several views and continue down an unofficial connector to Macs Gap Trail. Finally, I'd follow the Macs Gap Trail and Panthertown Valley Trail back out to Salt Rock Gap.
Protecting a small gulch on the east side of Lake Guntersville, Bucks Pocket State Park is one of Alabama's most underrated state parks. Bucks Pocket features a small slice of beautiful, wild scenery typical to the Cumberland Plateau. Two scenic, cliff-lined gorges are found in the park: those of Little Sauty Creek and South Sauty Creek. The park's best-known trail, the Point Rock Trail, follows Little Sauty Creek through numerous mossy boulder fields and woods that feature an abundance of wildflowers in spring, passing a small but very scenic waterfall on the stream. The Point Rock Trail then ascends to the rim of the gorge and ends at its namesake rock outcrop, which features panoramic views from a point on the rim high above the confluence of Little Sauty Creek and South Sauty Creek. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 17th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Point Rock Trail out and back to Point Rock from the Bucks Pocket Campground.
Inside the city limits of the quaint town of Pisgah in northeast Alabama is one of the area's most under-appreciated pieces of public land: the Pisgah Civitan Park. This small community park protects a section of the course of Little Bryant Creek through Pisgah Gorge that features three notable waterfalls - two of which are significant - and an extraordinary natural bridge. An easy trail follows the rim of the gorge, accessing several clifftop perches with sweeping birds-eye views of the gorge and its waterfalls. More adventurous hikers will find a faint, rugged pathway that drops into the gorge, accessing the base of Middle Little Bryant Creek Falls and the natural bridge. Pisgah Gorge features a sampling of some of Northeast Alabama's finest natural scenery and must not be missed! This hike occurred on Saturday, March 17th, 2018. My plan was to first hike the rim trail out and back to views of Upper Little Bryant Creek Falls, Middle Little Bryant Creek Falls, and the Pisgah Gorge downstream. I would then descend the trail into the gorge to get up-close and personal with the middle falls and the arch. In addition, I would check out a side trail leading to an old mill site at the top of the upper falls.
South Cumberland State Park: Collins Gulf Loop to Suter Falls, Horsepound Falls, Schwoon Spring, and Skinny Falls, Gruetli-Laager, Tennessee
One of three rocky gorges in the Savage Gulf State Natural Area sector of South Cumberland State Park, Collins Gulf features some of the most spectacular, wild scenery on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. The true star of the Collins Gulf hike is Suter Falls, a majestic 40-foot waterfall on Rocky Mountain Creek (a tributary of the Collins River) surrounded by cliffs in an awe-inspiring setting. Beside Suter Falls, the hike features as many as four other waterfalls (two are largely ephemeral). As the Collins Gulf Trail treks through the rugged gorge carved out by the Collins River, it passes a small but powerful block-type waterfall on the river called Horsepound Falls, as well as set of remarkable sinks on Collins River and Fall Creek. The second part of the hike follows the Collins Rim Trail, where the trail provides nice seasonal views into the gorge as it crosses countless tumbling streams before re-entering the gorge and crossing the Collins River on a mighty suspension bridge at a particularly gorgeous boulder-strewn section of the river. This hike occurred on Sunday, February 18th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Collins Gulf Loop clockwise from the 55th Avenue Trailhead.
Pinnacle Park: West Fork/East Fork Loop to Gina Falls, The Pinnacle, Blackrock Mountain, and Fisher Falls, Sylva, North Carolina
The Pinnacle, a famous rock outcrop that stands sentinel over the town of Sylva, is known well throughout the hiking community for its breathtaking views. The Pinnacle and Blackrock Mountain - a nearby peak with another stunning view - are part of the Plott Balsam Mountains, which are among the highest mountains in the Southeast. The area around The Pinnacle and Blackrock used to be a watershed that provided all of Sylva's drinking water and was strictly off-limits. However, as Sylva became in need of a better water supply, the watershed was transformed into Pinnacle Park. Later, the Blackrock Ridge Tract - an area of previously-private land that included Blackrock Mountain - was purchased, and today, a well-used network of trails connects The Pinnacle and Blackrock to the park's entrance off Fisher Creek Road and to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 3rd, 2018. My plan was to hike the West Fork/East Fork Loop clockwise. Along the way, I would make side trips to The Pinnacle and Blackrock, and I would also bushwhack to Gina Falls and Fisher Falls.
Caesars Head State Park/Mountain Bridge Wilderness: Naturaland Trust Loop, Cleveland, South Carolina
The west half of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness is encompassed by Caesars Head State Park, named for a prominent rock outcrop with striking views of the South Carolina Upstate. One of the area's main highlights is Raven Cliff Falls, a majestic waterfall on Matthews Creek that is cited to be 420 feet high. Among the wilderness's most scenic trails, the Naturaland Trust Trail provides direct access into the Matthew Creek gorge, passing views of Raven Cliff Falls after crossing an elegant suspension bridge at the waterfall's top. Several other trails in the park can be used to create the 12-mile loop Naturaland Trust Loop, which is not only among South Carolina's top hikes but also a very strenuous one. An added bonus for hiking the full loop, however, is optional access to two more gorgeous waterfalls on the property of Asbury Hills Camp: Moonshine Falls and Confusion Falls. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 20th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Naturaland Trust Loop clockwise from the Raven Cliff Falls parking area, although I came away with the feeling that hiking the loop counter-clockwise is better.
Pigeon-Crockford Mountain Wildlife Management Area: Chamberlain Trail to Nash Pit Falls and High Point, LaFayette, Georgia
Chamberlain Trail is one of only two trails that ascends the east side of Pigeon Mountain from base to top. This lesser-known trail climbs at an easy to moderate pace through Atwood Gulf before meeting up with the Atwood Trail atop the mountain. While there aren't any notable attractions along the trail itself, a fantastic natural sight lies off-trail in Atwood Gulf: Nash Pit Falls. Have you ever heard the words pit and waterfall in one sentence? At Nash Pit Falls, a small stream flows out of a cave and instantly drops over 70 feet into the Nash Pit, a small but deep hole in the ground. In addition to the stunning Nash Pit Falls, this hike also visits a pair of McLemore Cove vistas on High Point - the highest point on Pigeon Mountain. This hike occurred on Saturday, January 13th, 2018. My plan was to hike the Chamberlain Trail from Chamberlain Road to Atwood Trail, making the bushwhack to Nash Pit Falls along the way. Next, I would follow the Atwood Trail to the Pocket/Bluff Trail. I would then follow the Pocket Trail and Bluff Trail in conjunction to the views on High Point. I would retrace my steps the same way.
Cumberland Trail: Edwards Point Loop via Mushroom Rock, Blue Trail, Orange Trail, and Bee Branch Trail, Signal Mountain, Tennessee
The Cumberland Trail, a work in progress that will be a 300-mile trail when completed, has its southern terminus at Signal Point in the Chattanooga metro area. One of the Cumberland Trail's most spectacular sections is its very first one as it traces the rim of the Tennessee River Gorge, visiting outstanding views at Signal Point and Edwards Point as well as a unique geological formation known as Mushroom Rock at the edge of the Suck Creek Gorge. Beside the Cumberland Trail, several lesser-used trails give hikers the option to turn a hike to Edwards Point into a full-day loop with additional sights. Most notable is a spectacular half-mile section of the Orange Trail as it follows a remote and rugged bluff line in the Middle Creek Gorge. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 25th, 2017. My plan was to hike a loop from Signal Point that would follow the Cumberland Trail past Edwards Point all the way to Mushroom Rock, from where I would follow the Mushroom Rock Trail, Blue Trail, Orange Trail, and Bee Branch Trail back to Signal Mountain. After coming out at Ohio Avenue, I would conclude the hike with a short roadwalk through the town of Signal Mountain to Signal Point.
Chattahoochee National Forest: Duncan Ridge Trail from Mulky Gap to Rhodes Mountain View, Blairsville, Georgia
There's something about the Duncan Ridge Trail that sets it apart from most other trails in Georgia: its sheer difficulty. This unique trail constantly follows Duncan Ridge with its sharp knobs and deep gaps that present constant obstacles along the trail. The rollercoaster fashion of the Duncan Ridge Trail will give you a tough workout, and that's exactly why most people hike it - for there are no spectacular waterfalls anywhere on the trail. The trail is best hiked in the winter when bare trees allow continuous views in both directions from the ridge. Even though there is only one year-round view - on Rhodes Mountain - of any significance along the west part of the trail, seasoned hikers will still find it an enjoyable peaceful hike. This hike occurred on Thursday, November 23rd, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back along the Duncan Ridge Trail from Mulky Gap to the Benton Mackaye Trail Junction just past the view from Rhodes Mountain.
The Valley and Ridge area of Northwest Georgia is not known for waterfalls, unlike almost every other mountainous section of the state. Most of the available hikes in this area simply follow low ridges like Horn Mountain, Johns Mountain, and Taylor Ridge that separate similar valleys. The Keown Falls Scenic Area is unique to the region, as it is home to the area's two only publicly-accessible waterfalls: South Keown Falls and Keown Falls. Both waterfalls are accessed easily by the Keown Falls Trail, but it's worth extending the hike along the Johns Mountain Trail, which has great winter views from Johns Mountain. There are some other opportunities to extend the hike, such as following the Pinhoti Trail along Johns Mountain Road and past Pilchers Pond - although hikers may not find that part of the trail particularly exciting. This hike occurred on Saturday, November 11th, 2017. My plan was to hike a loop with the Keown Falls Trail, Johns Mountain Trail, FS 208, and the Pinhoti Trail past Pilchers Pond, starting at the end of FS 702. Unfortunately, the quality of this longer loop hike was degraded by a rather ugly logged area on the north side of Johns Mountain Road.
Blood Mountain Wilderness: Steeltrap Knob Vista Trail, Appalachian Trail to Preachers Rock, and Dockery Lake Trail to Twin Falls and Martha's Falls, Suches, Georgia
Preachers Rock is a well-known destination along the Appalachian Trail on Big Cedar Mountain that features a great view of the Blood Mountain Wilderness. A couple of other trails in the area can be utilized to create a loop hike from either Chestatee Overlook (on Highway 60) or Dockery Lake, visiting one other vista as well as up to three waterfalls. The unofficial Steeltrap Knob Trail provides a useful connection between Chestatee Overlook and Woody Gap, at the same visiting a spectacular view of the Georgia Piedmont from little-known cliffs on the side of Steeltrap Knob. Meanwhile, the Dockery Lake Trail travels through the Pigeon Roost Creek Valley between Dockery Lake and the Appalachian Trail. While no waterfalls are right on the trail, visiting Martha's Falls, Twin Falls, and Dockery Lake Falls will require only short off-trail diversions. This hike occurred on Sunday, October 29th, 2017. My plan was to hike a loop from Chestatee Overlook, starting with the Steeltrap Knob Trail and stopping by the Steeltrap Knob Vista along the way. I would then take the Appalachian Trail over Big Cedar Mountain and to the Dockery Lake Trail, stopping by several views from Big Cedar Mountain along the way, including Preachers Rock. Next, I would take the Dockery Lake Trail to Dockery Lake, visiting Twin Falls, Martha's Falls, and Dockery Lake Falls along the way. I would conclude the hike with a walk up Dockery Lake Road back to Highway 60 and Chestatee Overlook.
Late 2019/Early 2020
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