Even on otherwise temperate days, Grandfather can be frigid and frosty

The wind just always seems to be blowing at the top of MacCrea Peak. The bare rock that caps the roughly chimney-shaped precipice offers no protection from the frigid gusts of the season. Just below, a ring of alpine forest (a biome common only in the Southeast at elevations of a mile high or greater) is dusted with bright white snow and shimmers under a sheen of ice. Far beyond the southern Appalachian spruce trees, valleys, and blue-hazed mountains seem to extend for eternity.

At once beautiful and treacherous, this is winter hiking at Grandfather Mountain State Park. Rugged rock scrambles, nerve-wracking high-altitude ladder climbs, and ice-slick chutes highlight the 12-mile trail system which laces its 2,500 acres.

Constant wind gives spruce trees and odd appearance of forward motion
Constant wind gives spruce trees and odd appearance of forward motion

Paul Geist

Grandfather Mountain was, until 2008, a privately owned park. The state park system bought the land but many of the attractions—gift shop, restaurant, animal habitats—remain and are operated by a non-profit enterprise. The front gate at the main entrance to the park is a reminder of those private ownership days and continues to charge a per person fee. However, since taking over the trail system, the Park Service has stopped collecting fees at the two other trailheads. So beginning your exploration of Grandfather Mountain at the western trailhead allows you to avoid the entrance fee and puts you in position to enjoy one of the greatest treks in this amazing park.

Snow covered trails make traction and navigation a bit tricky
Snow covered trails make traction and navigation a bit tricky

Lisa Firullo

A Deceptive Start

A brown sign on NC 105, about ¾ mile from the junction of NC 184, locates the Profile Trail parking lot. During summer this lot can overflow with eager trekkers, many of whom take on the more intermediate 7-mile  trek to Calloway Peak  and back, but that’s rare on a cold winter day. Eventual updates, according to the Park System, will allow for more parking and a bathroom.

The first mile and half or so of the 3.1-mile Profile Trail doesn't hint at the rugged terrain ahead. Mostly gentle climbs through a hardwood forest provide a good warm up though. The trail turns abruptly steep and rocky but offers a well-protected lunch spot and water source at Shanty Springs just past the 2.5-mile mark.

The next bit of travel opens up to the first views of the day and may require a bit of bear crawling over exposed rock. Turn left onto the Danial Boone Boy Scout Trail for a half-mile (each way) out and back hike to the top of Calloway Peak. The path near the top can become icy, and trekking poles offer a huge advantage.

Fir trees, bent by the constant onslaught of wind and fringed with icicles, frame the views from one of the highest peaks in the park.

Expansive views of Southern Appalachian Alpine Forest make the trek worthwhile
Expansive views of Southern Appalachian Alpine Forest make the trek worthwhile

Lisa Furillo

Head back to the trail junction and continue straight to connect with the Grandfather Trail. Alpine Meadow, the open patch of grassy mountaintop about a half mile from the trail junction, is one of the best backcountry camping spots in North Carolina during warmer months.

Chutes and Ladders and “Batman-ing”

Another mile further on, the Underwood Trail splits to the right. Stay straight and you’ll soon come to a heavy wooden ladder, the first of several, which leads to the top of MacCrea Peak. Cresting the big rock is well worth the diversion to take in 360 degrees of Blue Ridge Mountain views.

Craggy rock faces create beautiful ice flows on the trail
Craggy rock faces create beautiful ice flows on the trail

Paul Geist

After a visit to MacCrea, the next stretch of trail includes the chutes and ladders that make this trek famous. Shimmying, a la Batman from the campy 1960’s TV show, down bare rock faces requires a light grip on attached cables. Several more ladders—needed to avoid free climbing steep dropoffs of exposed rock—make this section particularly troublesome for dogs, although many can complete it with a little help. These craggy overhangs also produce some crazy-cool ice structures perfect for your next profile picture.

Mile High Bridge

The final turnaround point is the large parking area on the top of Grandfather. As this is also the stopping point for those driving up from the main entrance, the lot is often bustling with families who’ve come for a picture on the mile high swinging bridge. While plenty sturdy, the sway of the 228-foot pedestrian suspension bridge—the longest of its kind in the U.S.—can cause shaky knees in even mild acrophobics. The gift shop, restaurant, and bathroom facilities are here as well. Once you’ve had your fill, head back the way you came to the Profile Trail parking lot.

A frosted sheen of snow and ice brings a different look to Grandfather
A frosted sheen of snow and ice brings a different look to Grandfather

Joe Giordano

Tips for your first winter hike at Grandfather

  • Plan plenty of time for your return hike. Grandfather is no place to be stuck after dark if you’re not camping.
  • The total hike to the main parking lot and back is 12 miles. Even experienced hikers rarely complete it during the reduced daylight hours of winter—many choosing to turn around at MacRae Peak or the Alpine Meadow. The shortened hike still offers an incredible variety of views and experiences.
  • While some hikers bring dogs to Grandfather, it’s probably a good idea to leave your four-legged pal at home on your first trip, especially in winter.
  • With the potential for slick ice spots and the guarantee of rugged rock, hiking poles are strongly suggested.
  • Wisteria Gastropub is conveniently located on the way back to Charlotte in Morganton. They offer a fantastic southern-spin on farm to table meals and a well-rounded beer list.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by NC Orchid

Spend less. Play more. Frugal Backpacker’s philosophy on outdoor gear sounds pretty appealing to price conscious shoppers, but there’s a lot more to this Asheville fixture than low prices. What makes Frugal so awesome? Here’s the deets as told by long time Frugal customer and staff member, Hannah.

Frugal finds – Yes, there’s more to Frugal Backpacker than the prices, but the truth is we all love to feel like we’re getting value for our money. From samples (more about those in a sec) to close outs, to really cool brands with accessible prices, we work really hard to make sure that our customers can find the product that they’re looking for at a reasonable price. Offering outdoor gear at good prices isn’t just about a bargain, it’s about working to make outdoor activities and high quality apparel accessible to everyone, regardless of age or income.

Seriously good customer service – My very first Frugal Backpacker experience was as a teenager, setting out for my first backpacking trip. I had a limited budget and zero idea what I was doing or what I was looking for, but a very helpful employee (thanks, Dan) set me up with a great fitting pack, boots, socks, and insoles for under $200. Everything performed well, and I’ve had serious love for backpacking and Frugal Backpacker ever since.

With the rise of discount websites, you can find a deal almost anywhere, but there’s no replacement for helpful advice from friendly outdoorspeople. Our staff includes thru-hikers, class V paddlers, and gear junkies who know and use our gear and can help you find exactly what you need for your next adventure.

High quality gear – Anyone who’s ever purchased outdoor gear from a big box retailer can tell you that there’s a lot of truth to the phrase “you get what you pay for”. At Frugal Backpacker, our goal isn’t just to get you “cheap” outdoor gear. We know that value comes from getting a great product at a price you can feel good about. We work with respected brands to get samples, closeouts, and items from previous seasons at discounted prices, and we pass the savings on to you. The result is high quality gear that we can stand behind, if you ever have a problem with your gear, let us know and we’ll work to make it right.

Cool stuff you can’t find anywhere else – Here’s where the gear head in me comes out – I love a cool piece of tech that no one else has. Want a sweet Arc’teryx jacket prototype that never made it into production? A Patagonia shell that has some really cool technology, but is only available online? A Mountain Hardwear suit for extreme mountaineering? A basecamp tent from The North Face? These are all examples of really cool items that I’ve seen come through Frugal over the years. At MSRP, they’re way too expensive for normal retailers to sell, so you’re not likely to find them in your local gear shop. Fortunately for you, when these pieces make it to us, they’re available at a discounted sample price, so you can snag an exceptional piece of gear for a song.

Lovin’ local – Did you know that 48% of every dollar spend at a locally owned business feeds back into the community, versus 14% of every dollar spent at a large national retailer? When you shop at Frugal Backpacker, you get to support your local community while snagging some sweet deals. What’s not to love?

Image for Green River

Intro

The Green River is a place that has had a large influence on the world of whitewater paddling and on many boaters’ lives. It is a highly convenient run because of its proximity to several cities (Asheville, Greenville, Charlotte, and Atlanta) and also because it is dam-released, so it runs 300+ days a year.

Add in the fact that it has three sections of varying difficulties, and probably the most famous and prestigious extreme race on the planet, and you start to see why it is beloved by so many. But the truly beautiful thing about the Green is the fact that it combines all of these conveniences with an authentic wilderness experience. As soon as paddlers slip into her waters and around the corner, the Green has a way of softening the sharp corners in life, and re-centering the soul.

What Makes It Great

Sections:

Upper:The Upper Green is a fantastic run for the class III paddler who is looking to dip their toes in the realm of vertical drops. Paddlers are treated to several miles of nice winding class II and III rapids, and two borderline class IV drops. Notable named rapids are Bayless Boof, Wanda’s Hole, and Pinball. Take out just before Big Hungry Creek enters on the left, and hike the ½ mile uphill to civilization.Narrows:The Narrows is arguably the most famous steep creek in the world. With a nice combination of boulder garden and bedrock rapids, this section will challenge and push the most elite kayaker, but is also accessible (with a few portages) to the class IV+ boater. Go Left and Die, Gorilla, and Sunshine are the three major class V rapids, and there are many more drops that aren’t to be trifled with. The majority of the gradient is concentrated within the “monster mile,” which drops at a rate of 300+ feet per mile. This section lends itself well to multi-lap days.Lower:The Lower Green is the perfect beginner run. As if bipolar, the river lets go of its furious descent, and meanders out into a beautiful rural valley. This is a perfect section for the beginner paddler or a summer tube trip. It is completely roadside, so choose how much of the 7 miles you’d like to bite off.

Who is Going to Love It

Unique Experiences:

Here are a few local tips that I would suggest experiencing….Dawn Patrol:Set shuttle in the dark and put on at first light for an unforgettable experience… and great start to the work day!Heron Viewing:There are several Great Blue Herons that enjoy fishing the Green. On lucky days, you can quietly follow them down the river as they fly from one fishing spot to another.Racing:The Green Race is an experience unlike any other. For those with the skills, paddling down that incredibly challenging course and into a 1000 spectator amphitheater at Gorilla is something that belongs on the bucket list. This event always occurs the 1st Saturday in November. The Narrows get much more intense during the weeks before the race, and this is not a good time for a first-time paddler.Disclaimer:Please paddle within your abilities. Paddlers who step above their abilities are very easy to spot and actually endanger river access for all.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Access Directions:

Upper Takeout(From AVL):I-26 S to Exit 22 (Hendersonville/Upward Rd)L Upward Rd, Drive 1.5 MilesR Big Hungry Rd.L Big Hungry Rd.R Big Hungry Rd.R Gallimore RoadPark in gated lot (see below for key info) Upper Put In(From Gallimore/takeout):Return to I-26 SExit 23 (Greenvill/225/176/25), drive 1.8 milesExit at 176 (Saluda, E. Flat Rock), turn L onto 176 and drive 2 milesL Pot Shoals Rd.Park on downstream side of Pot Shoals bridge Narrows Takeout (From AVL):I-26 S to Exit 59 (Saluda)L at bottom of rampL onto Green River Cove RoadFishtop Access is large gravel lot at bottom of hillNarrows Put In (see Upper Takeout above):Lower Takeout (From AVL):I-26 S to Exit 59 (Saluda)L at bottom of rampL onto Green River Cove RoadNote Fishtop gravel lot on left at bottom of hillDrive 6 additional miles to gravel lot on left (Big Rock Take-Out)Lower PutIn (see Narrows Takeout above)

Important Info:

River Gauge:A few rapids below the Narrows putin, you will find a stick gauge. A good minimum on this gauge is 6.” A healthy 100% flow is 9” and 17” is 200%. Paddlers have ventured into the Narrows at up to around 36 inches, but the consequence factor becomes exponentially larger as the water goes up. Also, please note that there is no alcohol within 50 feet of the river. Water Schedule (Since this river is dam-released, it’s important to understand water schedules.)Water to Upper Takeout/Narrows Putin (2.5 hours)Water to Narrows Takeout/Lower Putin (4.25 hours)Water to Lower Takeout (6.5 hours)**Water empties faster than it fills. Don’t put in at the Narrows more than 1.25 hours after the dam shuts off.

Written by Chris Gragtmans for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

Image for Nantahala River White Water Paddling
Dog Friendly: No
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter
Time To Complete: Cascades- 10 – 30 mins; Upper- 1 – 2 hours; Gorge- 1.5 – 5 hours
Difficulty: 3

The Nantahala Gorge is ideally set up for intermediate paddlers. It has myriad small surf waves, forgiving eddy lines, and rapids with just enough power to challenge and entertain. There is also the capability to set up elite slalom courses through Nantahala Falls, and the playhole near NOC has been tweaked through the years, hosting the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships in 2013. Combine those resources with the class IV-V options upstream, and it’s easy to see why this area continues to be such a strong paddling destination.

What Makes It Great

Sections

Cascades | 0.7 miles | Class IV-V 

The Cascades are a very high quality and easily-lapped series of drops. The river channels well, allowing for a wide range of runnable flows (and some big holes at high water). Since this is a dewatered section of the Nantahala, the Cascades run only when Whiteoak Creek is high from a rain event, or during one of a few scheduled releases per year.

Upper Nantahala | 3.1 miles | Class III+ 

This is a scenic and busy section of river that provides a great cool down from the Cascades upstream, or a way for aspiring advanced paddlers to get accustomed to more continuous whitewater. The entire section is road-scoutable- watch out for wood. As far as flows go, the same thing applies as the Cascades… there needs to be rain or a scheduled release.

Nantahala Gorge | 7.5 miles | Class II-III 

The gorge section is also road-scoutable nearly from top to bottom, and provides a beautiful and stress-free way to get into the world of whitewater. Notable rapids include Patton’s Run (right off the bat), Delebar’s Rock, Whirlpool, Quarry, Surfing Rapid, The Bump, and Nantahala Falls. The Falls represents an intimidating class III benchmark for many intermediate paddlers, and the rocks are always lined with photographers and throwbags on a summer day.

 

Who is Going to Love It

Unique Experiences

Jump Rock 

About 5.5 miles into the run, you’ll see a very obvious large rock on river right (about 10 feet out of the water). It’s a great pit stop to jump or launch boats off of into the invigorating Nantahala water.

SUP Surfing 

There are several great SUP surf waves on the Nantahala. The two best include one directly below the pedestrian bridge on NOC campus, and another about two miles upstream at Surfer’s Rapid.

Eat at River’s End 

This restaurant is right next to the takeout, and provides a nice après atmosphere to grab food and reflect on the day.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Access

Gorge Take Out

Nantahala Outdoor Center
13077 W. Hwy 19, Bryson City, NC 28713 

Gorge Put In 

Drive upstream on Hwy 19 ~7 miles
Turn L onto SR 1442/Wayah Rd.
Large USFS paved lot on left.

Upper Take Out 

(see Gorge Putin above).

Upper Put In 

Continue on SR 1442/Wayah Rd. upstream for 3.3 miles.
Park at the 5th Bridge (if you hit Cascades, you’ve gone too far).

Cascades Take Out 

(see Upper Putin above).

Cascades Put In

Continue on SR 1442/Wayah Rd. upstream for <1 mile.
You will see all of the drops; park at the top of the action (if you hit Whiteoak Creek, you’ve gone too far).

Important Info

Nantahala Gorge Releases 
Nantahala Cascades/Upper Releases 
Nantahala Cascades/Upper Gauge 

-Cascades optimum level = 350-500 cfs

-Upper optimum level = 400-700 cfs

-It’s necessary to pay the $1 daily or $5 season pass USFS use fee (buy at NOC).

-Even in the middle of summer, the water is cold! Plan gear accordingly….

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Written by Chris Gragtmans for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Malcolm Smith

Asheville sits in a valley that’s surrounded by so many mountains it’s hard to keep track of which ones you’re looking at. Collectively, they’re the Southern Appalachians, but there are different ranges in every direction: the Black Mountains to the East, Black Balsams and Smoky Mountains to the West, Bald Mountains to the North and many, many more. Visitors to Western North Carolina are often looking for that million-dollar mountain view, and it’s definitely out there… you just have to know where to look. It’s true: the hiking scene in Asheville is about as good as it gets. But here are 5 great spots (with spectacular views) to get you started:

1. Craggy Gardens

One of the closest hikes to Asheville with the best long-range views is Craggy Gardens at Milemarker 364.4 off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Because of its easy access, this is a popular spot and although its never exactly ‘crowded,’ you won’t be alone during the summer or fall. Come at sunset for unobstructed views over the Black Mountains. It’s a moderate 30-minute hike, so it’s family friendly.

2. Lookout Trail

Montreat is a private Presbyterian retreat center, but its 20 trails are open to all. The Lookout Trail is a steep, at times rocky .5 miles to the top, but the view is worth the effort. From the top, you can see what’s called the Seven Sisters of the Black Mountains. When you get to the top, there’s an optional loop that will take an additional 45 minutes. The nearby Graybeard Trail, also in Montreat, has amazing views of Mount Mitchell , the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

3. Max Patch

“Balds” are a unique feature of the Southern Appalachians: the climate is too warm for alpine growth but the elevation is too high for the trees that normally grow in the area. So instead of forest, there’s a big “bald” patch of grass like a high meadow. Max Patch is the best known bald near Asheville, about 20 minutes outside of Hot Springs: an easy mile roundtrip from the parking lot with 365-degree views. Plus, the Appalachian Trail traverses the top of it.

4. Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob

These are two more balds with amazing views. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, go to Mile Marker 420.2 (Black Balsam Road), you’ve got access to two unforgettable views along the Art Loeb Trail , both on top of scenic balds. Both hikes are at over 6000 feet in elevation. From the parking lot, take the Sam Knob Summit Trail (behind the signboard). It’s a 2.2 mile trail of moderate difficulty. The Black Balsam Trail is really just part of the Art Loeb trail that leads to Black Balsam Knob, and it’s also part of the Mountains to Sea Trail. So, follow the Mountains to Sea marker to the Art Loeb Trail and you’re on track. It’s about a 2.5-mile round-trip but you can add on by taking the Ivestor Gap Trail at Tennant Mountain to make it a five-mile loop.

5. Hawksbill Trail

A summer storm rolling in over Hawksbill Mountain
A summer storm rolling in over Hawksbill Mountain

Frank Kehren

Linville Wilderness is one of the most rugged areas Western North Carolina, encompassing around 12,000 acres around the Linville River and Linville Gorge, all of which is part of Pisgah National Forest. This area is known as one of the South’s premier climbing destinations, Table Rock and Little Table Rock in particular being big draws. From the Hawksbill Trail, the views of the gorge and Table Rock are phenomenal. It’s a three-mile loop trail, steep on the way up, with a more gradual slope on the way down.

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Written by Joanne O’Sullivan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by James Lautzenheiser

20170428_Virginia Staunton River State Park

When you live near a city it can be easy to forget just how many stars are in the night sky. But if you take the time to get away from the light pollution, spread out a blanket, and look up, there are more to see than you can imagine. It’s relatively easy to find a dark sky out west—what about in the southeast? Where can you escape the city lights and find a truly dark sky for stargazing? Here are six of the best places in the southeast to take in the majesty of the night sky.

Before you head out, read this quick guide so you know what to expect and what to look for up there.

1. Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg, Virginia

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Find your favorite constellations at Staunton River State Park.

Virginia State Parks

Designated a Dark Sky Park in 2015, Staunton River State Park is just 25 miles from the North Carolina border and sits between the Dan River and the John H. Kerr Reservoir. There are plenty of opportunities for fishing, swimming, and hiking, but the real draw is once the sun goes down. The park rangers host interpretive programs and there are telescopes available to rent—or you can just show up with your blanket. Bring a tent and spend the night at the park’s campground or rent one of the historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

2. Blue Ridge Observatory and Star Park in North Carolina

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The Milky Way blazing from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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If you’ve ever driven along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you know it’s some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. But if you haven’t seen it at night, you’re missing out on the real magic! The Star Park is located in the Appalachian Mountains in Burnsville, North Carolina, and is managed by Maryland Community College. Surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, it’s an experience that you won’t soon forget.

Note: there is no camping allowed in this park.

3. Portsmouth Island, North Carolina

The Outer Banks in North Carolina is already a decent spot for stargazing, but if you’re serious about checking out the Big Dipper, head to Portsmouth Island. The 13-mile-long island is just south of Ocracoke Island, making it the southernmost in the chain of barrier islands. The only way to get there is by boat and there is plenty of fishing, shelling, and exploring to keep you busy during the day. Set up camp pretty much anywhere you want, and enjoy the peace and tranquility of one of the wildest islands in the Outer Banks. Facilities and amenities are very limited so make sure you are prepared before taking a trip out to Portsmouth.

4. Obed Wild & Scenic River in Wartburg, Tennessee

You might be familiar with the Obed Wild & Scenic River because of all the outdoor adventures to be had here, but what you may not know is that it’s also a newly-designated (2017) Dark Sky Park. The National Park Service regularly hosts night sky outings and the Knoxville Observers and ORION Astronomy Clubs also host astronomy programs in the area. The park service offers a Junior Ranger Night Explorer program, making this spot particularly family-friendly.

The park staff is also working to keep the sky around the Obed dark by prohibiting any permanent outdoor lighting.

5. Stephen C. Foster State Park in Fargo, Georgia

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Star trails at Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Alan Cressler

This 80-acre park might not cover a large space, but it does offer the unique opportunity to go stargazing in the Okefenokee Swamp, the country’s largest blackwater swamp. Stephen C. Foster State Park is part of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, so you can’t stay overnight, but the park is open until 10 p.m., which gives you plenty of time to get your stargazing fix. Sign up for the Swamper’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Constellation Cruise, or a Paddle Under the Stars to learn more about what you can see in the sky—and in the swamp!

6. Pickett CCC State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area in Jamestown, Tennessee

This state park lies within the Pickett State Forest in the Cumberland Mountains and is very close to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. This means there’s a whole lot of nature and not a lot of light pollution. The area earned its Dark Sky Park designation in 2015, and the staff host several night sky programs in the summer. The park has regular campsites, group campsites, and cabins you can rent and stay for a whole weekend of stargazing.

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Written by Abbie Mood for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

20170906-Smoky Mountains-Clingmans Dome

Across Great Smoky Mountains National Park, miles of interconnected trails meander through lush, green valleys, hug the banks of moss-laden, rocky creeks, and climb through thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron to the blue-tinged mountain peaks.

You could spend weeks backpacking through this rich landscape, but a weekend trip will also allow you to experience the best of the Smokies. To help you plan your visit, we’ve highlighted three backpacking loops that give you the Appalachian Trail, streamside and ridgeline campsites, killer views, and enough distance and elevation to satisfy your inner weekend warrior.

Big Creek Loop

Combining the best of frontcountry and backcountry camping, the Big Creek area on the northeastern tip of the park off I-40 offers something for every level of hiker. Tackle a 21.5-mile loop over big peaks or lower your mileage and elevation with a night at one of the sweetest creekside campsites in the park. Either way, you’ll hike the AT through some of the most scenic terrain in the Smokies.

You will be in constant awe of the beauty on Big Creek Loop.
You will be in constant awe of the beauty on Big Creek Loop.

Rock/Creek

Roll into Big Creek Friday night to enjoy campground amenities like restrooms, dinner at a picnic table, and campsites with fire rings. You’ll be up early on Saturday to climb the Chestnut Branch Trail 2 miles to the Appalachian Trail. One of the shortest AT access points, the trail passes the remains of homesteads that pre-date the national park.

Turn south on the AT and continue climbing 3.3 miles to the 0.6-mile Mt. Cammerer fire tower spur trail. At 4,928 feet, the tower overlooks the Pigeon River Gorge to the north and Mt. Sterling to the south. From the fire tower, it’s a moderate descent 2.1 miles to the Low Gap Trail. Take Low Gap 2.5 miles to campsite #37 at the Big Creek Trail junction. Right on the banks of Big Creek, you’d be hard pressed to find a more spacious backcountry site in the park.

On Sunday, you can go big or go home, as they say. Going big means a hike up the Swallow Falls Trail 4 miles to the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail. It’s another 1.4 miles and more climbing to an elevation of 5,842 feet on Mt. Sterling. Climb Sterling’s 60-foot steel fire tower for panoramic views of Cataloochee Valley, the Black Mountains, and the Southern Appalachians. Now, the downhill endurance test begins, with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail. If you opt to go home, you can sleep in, savor your coffee by the campfire, and still have plenty of time to hike the moderate, 5-mile descent along Big Creek back to the campground, passing two stunning waterfalls and plenty of swimming holes along the way.

Big Creek loop ends with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail.
Big Creek loop ends with a 4,000-foot elevation loss over 6 miles on the Baxter Creek Trail.

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Big Creek Campground is open from April through October and makes a great base camp for groups by serving a wide variety of abilities and interests. On your way home, make sure you leave enough time to refuel at Carver’s Apple Orchard in Cosby, Tenn. At Carver’s you can shop for fresh produce at the farmers market, nab awesome treats at an old-time candy shop, and feast at a homestyle restaurant, where the apple fritters are not to be missed.

Twentymile Loop

In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find a lesser-used trailhead that leads to the AT and one of the most scenic balds in the park. From this trailhead, you’ll log 17.6 miles on the way to Gregory Bald, sleeping one night on the AT and camping the other night on the bald.

Start off Friday afternoon at the Twentymile Ranger Station off Highway 28 near the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. A non-technical climb takes you 4.5 miles to meet the AT at Sassafras Gap. Campsite #113, at Birch Spring Gap, is less than 1 mile north of the trail junction. If time allows late Friday or early Saturday morning, head south on the AT for 360-degree views at sunset or sunrise from the top of Shuckstack Fire Tower. The historic lookout isn’t regularly maintained, so watch your step on the 200-foot climb to the top.

In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find the lesser-used Twentymile Loop trailhead.
In the southwest corner of the Smokies you’ll find the lesser-used Twentymile Loop trailhead.

Chris M Morris

You’ll resume your northward journey on the AT, traveling 2 miles over Doe Knob to the next trail junction. Next, take Gregory Bald Trail west a little more than 3 miles to campsite #13 on the bald. Known for spectacular flame azalea blooms each year in mid to late June, the grassy high-elevation meadow offers stunning views of Cades Cove, Fontana Lake, and Clingmans Dome.

On Sunday, make the final 6.3-mile descent to the trailhead on the wide, non-technical Wolf Ridge Trail. Refuel at Fontana Village, just over 6 miles down Highway 28, before heading home. Burgers and brews will hit the spot at Wildwood Grill, while the Mountainview Restaurant highlights seasonal produce, along with fresh, local rainbow trout.

Deep Creek Loop

Along Deep Creek loop you’ll pass Indian Creek Falls.
Along Deep Creek loop you’ll pass Indian Creek Falls.

Alan Cressler

Enjoy the streams and waterfalls of the Deep Creek area in the south-central region of the Smokies on this 28.2-mile loop. You’ll also spend a night in an AT shelter and exit on one of the longest continuously descending trails in the Smokies.

You’ve barely left the Deep Creek Ranger Station before you come across Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls. Once you pass these Instagram-worthy stops, it’s a slight uphill grade for 4 miles along the moderately rocky Deep Creek Trail to campsites 54-59. Claim a site for Friday evening (all but one are non-reservable) to enjoy the refreshing waters of Deep Creek and thickly wooded campsites.

Creek crossings and easy bushwacking are on the agenda Saturday, as you hike another 4 miles to the Fork Ridge Trail. Fork Ridge ascends 5 miles to Clingmans Dome Road and the AT. A short hike north takes you to the Mount Collins shelter, where you’ll spend the night in a high-elevation spruce-fir forest and dramatically cooler, drier conditions. Enjoy the shelter amenities, like cozy bunks and a fireplace inside.

Hike down from Clingmans Dome Road to start your final 11.4-mile descent.
Hike down from Clingmans Dome Road to start your final 11.4-mile descent.

Kevin Stewart Photography

The pre-dawn hike south to Clingmans Dome is highly recommended for 360 degrees of sunrise from the highest point in the Smokies. Hike 2 miles down Clingmans Dome Road to the Noland Divide Trailhead to start your final 11.4-mile descent. The trail slopes gently for the first 5 miles before making a steeper drop into Deep Creek, but there are few roots and rocks to slow you down. Make sure you stop to enjoy the views at Lonesome Pine Overlook along the way.

After logging all those miles, nothing’s going to taste more satisfying than a meal and craft beer at The Warehouse at Nantahala Brewing Co. Wrap up your Smokies adventure on the outdoor patio in downtown Bryson City with specialties like the slow-cooked brisket noodle bowl, apple bourbon pork chops, or Bryson City Brown Ale chicken along with a flagship or seasonal draft.

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Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Kevin Stewart Photography

Glen Falls

Western North Carolina is a land of waterfalls. Countless cascades punctuate the waterways braiding the vast expanses of forest and lofty Appalachian peaks dominating the western corner of the state, lending the landscape an undeniably enchanting quality. Some of the falls are accessible only after delving into wild pockets of backcountry, while others are just steps from the state’s tree-lined byways. With the abundance of waterfalls, narrowing down a short list is a formidable of challenge, but these are among the most stunning cascades adorning the western part of the state.

Whitewater Falls

The towering Whitewater Falls.
The towering Whitewater Falls.

Photo Courtesy of JCTDA

Located just outside the town of Cashiers, in the Nantahala National Forest, Whitewater Falls is one of the most awe-inspiring cascades in waterfall-laden western North Carolina—and it has the notable distinction of being the loftiest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. The mighty cascade announces itself in rushing roar audible from the trailhead for the half-mile path to the overlook for the 411-foot waterfall. A second, lower view platform, accessible after a descending a steep set of stairs, provides another perspective of the falls, highlighting the sheer scope of the towering flume.

Schoolhouse Falls

Schoolhouse Falls are accessible via a 1.4-mile hike.
Schoolhouse Falls are accessible via a 1.4-mile hike.

Nick Breedlove

Schoolhouse Falls is located in a stunningly wild corner of the Nantahala National Forest known as Panthertown Valley. Even though the hike is fairly brief, stumbling upon Schoolhouse Falls feels like a foray deep into the backcountry. The 25-foot waterfall spills in a broad flume, pouring into a tannin-tainted plunge pool turned swimming hole during spring and summer. The falls are accessible along the Panthertown Valley Trail via a 1.4-mile hike from either the Cold Mountain trailhead, on the eastern side of Panthertown Valley, or a 2.4-mile hike from the Salt Rock Gap trailhead, on the western edge. Be sure to be prepared for the rugged hiking in the area with a reliable map.

Silver Run Falls

Silver Run Falls is near the town of Cashiers.
Silver Run Falls is near the town of Cashiers.

Jared

South of the town of Cashiers, in the Nantahala National Forest, Silver Run Falls is a popular summer retreat. Compared to some of western North Carolina’s lofty cascades, the 25-foot drop of Silver Run Falls may sound uninspiring. But the broadly spread wall of water spills into an idyllic swimming hole that’s bordered by sizeable stepping stones, providing a unique access to view the falls. The trek to Silver Run is equally restorative—the falls are accessible courtesy of a quarter-mile trail beginning along North Carolina Highway 107.

Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls descends 120 feet in a narrow cascade.
Mingo Falls descends 120 feet in a narrow cascade.

Doug Kerr

Just outside the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park within the confines of the Qualla Boundary (and not far from the town of Cherokee), Mingo Falls is a thin but lofty flume. The nearly 120-foot cascade consists of a series of slender strands of water, all of which funnel together just before tumbling into a pint-sized pool in Mingo Creek. The falls are accessible courtesy of a brief but stair-filled climb of about a half a mile to a footbridge at the base of the cascade, accessible from a trailhead located on Big Cove Road.

Glen Falls

A tiered trio of cascades, Glen Falls tumbles over a broad, rocky section of the east fork of aptly named Overflow Creek, which is located in the Nantahala National Forest just outside the town of Highlands. A scenic but strenuous round-trip hike of about 2 miles on the Glen Falls Trail leads to the collection of cascades, with views of Blue Valley early in the trip. The top tier of the falls, which tumbles nearly 70-feet, is visible from an observation area just half a mile down the trail, and the second significant portion of a falls, a wide, 60-foot flume, appears another quarter mile down the trail.

Rufus Morgan Falls

The 60-foot Rufus Morgan Falls is located just outside the town of Franklin. Alan Cressler
The 60-foot Rufus Morgan Falls is located just outside the town of Franklin.
Alan Cressler

Tucked away in a wooded cove in the Nantahala National Forest just a few miles outside the town of Franklin, Rufus Morgan Falls seems much farther removed from any traces of civilization. The 60-foot partially rhododendron-shrouded flume falls flatly over a craggy cliff face and seems to tumble almost unexpectedly out of the thickly grown forest. Despite the isolated feel, the falls are easily accessible after a leisurely, half-mile hike on the Rufus Morgan Trail.

Tom’s Branch, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls

These three waterfalls are In a southern corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not far from the Deep Creek entrance. Tom’s Branch and Indian Creek Falls are easily linked on a brief out-and-back hike. Tom’s Branch, the loftier of two flumes, falls 60-feet, stair stepping a weathered rock face. It will emerge after only about a half a mile hike on the Deep Creek Trail, one of the first pathways in the national park constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Barely a quarter of a mile later, after the junction the Indian Creek Trail, the second cascade appears—the 25-foot Indian Creek Falls.

After taking in the first two falls, tack on a trip of Juney Whank Falls. The trailhead for the Juney Whank Trail is also located in the Deep Creek area of the park, adjacent to the starting point for the Deep Creek Trail. Juney Whank Falls, a slender shimmering ribboning falling for nearly 90-feet in two distinct sections, appears after just half a mile on the Juney Whank Falls Trail.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is outside of Highlands, N.C.
Bridal Veil Falls is outside of Highlands, N.C.

William McKeehan

Just a couple miles outside Highlands, Bridal Veil Falls is one of the few waterfalls in western North Carolina visitors can drive to—and even behind. The cascade is accessible directly from U.S. Highway 64 along a stretch North Carolina’s 98-mile Waterfall Byway. Created by a drop in the Cullasaja River, the falls thin out while spilling over a prominent rock ledge, which juts out far enough people—and even vehicles—to perch behind the plunging flume and admire the tumbling water from underneath.

A note on safety: Heed posted warning signs indicating danger and stay on established trails. Never climb on or around waterfalls and never play in the water above a waterfall. Rocks can be slippery and it’s easy to lose your balance especially with bare feet. Currents near waterfalls can be extremely swift even in areas further upstream.

Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools at the base of waterfalls. Rocks and logs can be hidden beneath the surface of the water. Often waterfall pools have swirling water or currents that can drag and keep you underwater. Even if you have seen other people enjoy playing around waterfalls, be aware they have been lucky to escape unharmed.

Waterfalls are constantly changing with varying water flows and erosion of the rocks around them. The current from one place to the next may be faster than you anticipate and the arrangement of rocks or other debris such as logs in the plunge pool is ever-changing.

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Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Alan Cressler

High Falls
Seasonality: Spring, Fall, and Winter
The South Mills runs regularly from fall through spring but it does require rain. Look for 500 to 2000 cfs on the USGS gage Mills River at Mills River, NC. One to two inches of rain will provide a runnable water level.
Distance: 12.0 miles
The distance from the put in on Yellow Gap Road to the first available takeout at Turkeypen is 12 miles. Downstream of Turkeypen, the river maintains its scenic character, but the whitewater ends. An additional 10 miles of flatwater can be added below Turkeypen. The takeout for the lower section is where 280 crosses the Mills.
Time To Complete: 6.0 hours
The South Mills from Yellow Gap Road near Pink Beds to Turkeypen Gap can be done in as little as three hours by motivated experts. Class III paddlers should plan on a full day as there are many ledge type rapids and blind turns that require scouting.
Difficulty: 3
The whitewater on the South Mills is not particularly difficult. It is predominantly class II-III. However, it is long and it flows through one of the most remote areas of Pisgah National Forest. Cell phones do not work there. Evacuation is complicated due to flooding of the South Mills Trail when there is enough water to paddle.

The South Fork of the Mills is a rarely run gem in the heart of Pisgah National Forest. It features classic Western North Carolina scenery and good whitewater. It is the only stream around that lacks difficult and dangerous whitewater while draining a remote gorge. The area is also steeped in history. The put in is only a few miles from George Vanderbilt’s Cradle of Forestry.

What Makes It Great

Paddlers will immediately notice the fantastic water quality of the South Mills due to the lack of development in the watershed. Drifting downstream, surprisingly good, pool-drop whitewater leads to an obvious horizon line. This is the sliding entrance to High Falls, an un-run twenty foot cascade that lands on rock. Expert paddlers will find this waterfall intriguing at high flows, when the landing is padded.

Below High Falls, South Mills continues to deliver fun ledges, never exceeding class III. Some scouting may be necessary, primarily to look for wood.

A spectacular rock wall on river right drops straight to the water about six miles into the trip. After the wall, the river slowly mellows out as it meanders toward Turkeypen, where most boaters will take out.

If the twelve mile paddle leaves you hungry for more, consider the car-less shuttle. Run back to your car on the South Mills Trail, and then climb the Cantrell Creek Trail to Horse Cove Gap. Forest Road 5018 will bring you back to the put in. The twelve mile run climbs significantly and will take a couple of hours.

Don’t try to run or bike back up the entirety of the South Mills Trail. It will be flooded during good paddling conditions.

Who is Going to Love It

Strong class III boaters are going to have the most fun on the South Mills. The whitewater is reminiscent of Spring Creek in Madison County but the river is longer and more exposed due to the isolation of the valley. Class IV paddlers will not find the river particularly challenging , but will still enjoy the solitude and beauty of the drainage. High Falls will provide entertainment for even the most jaded hair boater. The multisport athlete is going to get the most out of this run. The trail run shuttle eliminates the need to spend several hours in the car. The running will be soggy, but the trails are some of the best in Pisgah.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville take 280 South to FS 297 (Turkeypen Rd). This is the Turkeypen Trailhead and it is the South Mills takeout. Walk the half mile trail down to the river to ensure you don’t miss the takeout. Return to 280 and turn south toward Brevard. In five miles turn right on 276 North and follow it 11.5 miles to FS 1206 (Yellow Gap Rd). In 3.5 miles bear right on FS 476. Follow it to the dead end where you will see the river.

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Written by Adam Herzog for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Adam Herzog

The lush and timeless beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains has appealed to movie producers and location scouts for the last 90 years. In fact, North Carolina has more sound stages and production complexes than any other state outside of California. Many of the movies shot in Western North Carolina were filmed on public lands, and can be explored by hiking, mountain biking, and paddling. Unlike Hollywood studio tours, visiting these wild and remote locations requires no tickets or tour guides–but packing a box of sour patch kids is always a good idea.

Lake Fontana

Lake Fontana
Lake Fontana

TimothyJ

The deep and placid waters of Lake Fontana lie on the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This reservoir and the surrounding forest was the location for the 1998 drama Nell , staring Jodi Foster as a feral young woman raised in isolation in rural North Carolina.

Much like the haunted and beautiful Nell, the landscape itself feels wild and secretive. The winding, seventeen mile lake is filled with hidden coves and tiny islands that provide a beautiful day of exploration by kayak or paddleboard. A motor boat ride can deliver you to the Hazel Creek Trailhead, one of the most remote areas in the Smoky Mountains National park.

Fishing is another popular activity on Lake Fontana. Because of its frigid temperature, the emerald waters are home to a number of species of fish more typical to Northern lakes.

One of the best ways to explore the area is to ride trails of Tsali, etched into the steep hillside that borders the lake. Two pairs of looping trails are open to mountain bikers on alternating days throughout the week. Rolling, smooth, and zippy, this flowing singletrack is guaranteed to unleash your inner wild child.

Lake Lure

A recreation of the iconic 'dramatic lift' scene from Dirty Dancing.
A recreation of the iconic ‘dramatic lift’ scene from Dirty Dancing.

Ken Heine

With its venerated soundtrack and dance moves that started a nation-wide craze, Dirty Dancing is one of the most beloved and enduring cult hits of all time. Everybody knows you don’t put Baby in the corner, but did you know that the movie was filmed on Lake Lure in Rutherford County, in the shadow of Chimney Rock State Park ?

All 80’s pop and overwrought romance aside, this is one of the best natural areas to explore in the Southeast. Lake Lure and Chimney Rock are situated in the Hickory Nut Gorge Wilderness, which features hundreds of trail miles winding through one of the most biodiverse regions in the nation. Climbers can have the time of their life, pun intended, by tackling some of the hundreds of high quality bouldering lines at Rumbling Bald. To cool off, The Beach at Lake Lure offers all types of summer fun, including side by side waterslides that will deposit you right into the lake.

Fanatics of the film can attend the weekend long Dirty Dancing Festival at Lake Lure, where you can participate in such movie-inspired events as ballroom dancing, a watermelon toss, walking tours, and even a “dramatic lift competition” to recreate the iconic dance scene.

DuPont State Forest

DuPont State Recreational Forest is an expansive, 10,000 acre tract of wooded land, famous for its abundance of spectacular waterfalls. Many scenes from the 1992 historical epic The Last of the Mohicans were filmed here, as well as portions of the 2012 smash hit The Hunger Games . Both movies are renowned for the eerie and evocative beauty of their natural setting, which you can explore via 80 miles of multi use trails that zig-zag through the forest.

Hike an easy half mile to the base of Triple Falls to see where Peeta Mellark disguised himself as part of the murky landscape of the fearsome Arena. (Visit on a dark and rainy day to experience the full effect.)

Behind the veil at Bridal Veil Falls
Behind the veil at Bridal Veil Falls

David Clarke

One of the most famous scenes in Last of the Mohicans was filmed at the top of Bridal Veil Falls. It was behind the ten-foot free fall of pounding water that Hawkeye begs Cora to surrender should she be caught, promising to return and find her, “No matter how long it takes, no matter how far.”

You can relive this impossibly dramatic scene by ducking behind the falls and exploring the cave for yourself. Just don’t try leaping out the way Daniel Day Lewis did–that famous plunge was shot in a studio.

Henry River Mill Village

The historical Henry River Mill Village was the location for The Hunger Game ‘s impoverished coal mining hamlet of District 12. The poorest district in Panem is actually the remains of a tiny textile village in Burke County. The houses are decaying but remain otherwise unaltered, creating a haunting vision of the past, and, if we are to believe the movie, our apocalyptic future.

Although the town is now under private ownership, you can see it by driving the Henry River Road off the Hildebran exit on I-40. Die hard fans of the Hunger Games trilogy, and anyone with an interest in the state’s human and industrial history, will not want to miss this opportunity, a riveting addition to a day of exploring “The Arena” in DuPont State Forest.

Cold Mountain

The view from the summit of Cold Mountain.
The view from the summit of Cold Mountain.

CutOffTies

In the 2003 epic war drama Cold Mountain , a beleaguered Jude Law journeys home through the Appalachian Mountains after deserting from the Confederate Army. Although it was filmed primarily in Romania with a handful of shots in the American Southeast, you can visit the movie’s namesake mountain, located in the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest.

Follow an 11-mile (roundtrip) section of the rugged Art Loeb Trail to the summit of Cold Mountain for an all day epic. This 2,800 foot climb through densely forested wilderness will give you a taste of the ubiquitous challenges that faced W.P Inman on his journey back to Ada. Make sure and bring a map and compass, and, if you’re striving to be authentic to the movie, a small herd of goats.

The Biltmore

The ornate grounds of the venerable Biltmore Estate has been the setting for an enormous of array of movies. Ritchie Ritch, Patch Adams, Forest Gump, The Swan, Being There, Mr. Destiny, and Hannibal are only a few of the films that made use of the anachronistic grandeur of the Biltmore Mansion and the 8,000 acres of sprawling, manicured landscape that surround it.

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Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Fran Trudeau