Yellow tent at night

The “What” and “When” of Camp the Falls:

If you’re a Greenville local, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Camp the Falls happening this September. If not don’t worry, this blog is here to answer all your questions! First up: what exactly is Camp the Falls? This event is an urban camping experience where 10 lucky winners will be chosen on September 8th for a chance to camp out in Falls Park the following week. This event has been coordinated by Rotary Charities, South Carolina’s largest and oldest club. The members of the Rotary Club work hard to help improve the South Carolina community through creative and unique fundraising events, such as this one. Through their affiliation with many different charities and programs, the Rotary Club has helped improve the lives of many. All profits from this year’s Camp the Falls event will go to various charities and causes including but not limited to:

  1. The Literacy Association of Greenville
  2. The “Service Above Self” Scholarships to help less fortunate individuals pay for college
  3. Mentors for Veterans struggling to re-integrate into society
  4. Assisting the students and teachers of the Rotary Charity’s 2019 partner school, Alexander Elementary

People camping and admiring the clear blue sky

The Details:

On September 8th, from 2-6 PM, don’t miss out on the free and family friendly outdoor festival and raffle event at Falls Park. Along with plenty of games, activities, and clinics focused on outdoor living, a total of 9 campsites (including 1 “glampsite”) will be raffled off. We are excited to be a sponsor for 1 of the 9 sites, so make sure to stop by our Frugal Backpacker tent that will be set up that day. In addition, another campsite will be donated to a family from Alexander Elementary (Rotary Charity’s partner school for 2019), for a total of 10 campsites all together. The winners of the campsites will receive:

  1. The chance to camp overnight in Falls Park from September 14th -15th.
  2. About $2,000 worth of camping gear, provided by Outdoor Sports Marketing, to not only use during the campout, but also take home and use in the future!
  3. Gift cards to eat out in downtown Greenville, as well as a free Sunday brunch after the campout. 

Campfire burning in the foreground with people camping in the background

For even more information, head over to the Camp the Falls website here . This event is perfect for families wanting to get into camping but don’t know where to start. Along with raffling off free gear, this event provides a safe and less-daunting environment for individuals wanting to dip their toes into the wonderful world of camping.

One of our core values is teaching and inspiring the next generation of outdoor stewards. So we’re always looking for ways to get more young explorers out on our trails. One of the ways we’re doing this is with our Kid’s Hiking Challenge – a fun program designed to reward kids for spending time outside.

It’s free to participate, and kids can hike whatever trails are at their personal level. Need suggestions to get started? Check out our favorite trails on our blog. We even have recommended hikes for those with limited mobility and fun hiking games to keep energetic kids busy.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Stop by Frugal Backpacker to pick up your free hiking passport.
  2. Hit the trail!
  3. Record where you hiked, the date, and have an adult sign your passport.
  4. For every 3 hikes you complete, you’ll reach a new level and earn a prize. Stop by Frugal Backpacker with your passport, and show us your adventures. We’ll stamp your passport and give you your prize.

Want to know what cool rewards you can earn for reaching new levels?

  • Chipmunk Level (3 hikes) – Score an awesome hand-drawn sticker pack.
  • Fox Level (6 hikes) – Earn a Nalgene water bottle to stay hydrated on the trail.
  • Wolf Level (9 hikes) – Get a sweet Frugal Backpacker custom multiway bandana.


Sunny spring days have us in the mood for some outside time. And when we say “outside time” we’re not talking about a quick lunch break or a short hike, we mean a full on day of frolicking, relaxing, and picnicking in the great outdoors. Here are 3 of our picks for spring picnic adventures.

For Animal Lovers

Goats at Carl Sandburg's Home

The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site has trails of various difficulties, beautiful views, and a goat barn that’s accessible to the public.

We recommend starting with a visit to see the newborn kids (currently 9 and counting).  If you’re a poetry buff or just need an escape from inclement weather, a 30 minute tour of the Sandburg home is well worth your time.  The grounds around the main home offer plenty of peaceful picnic locations. Alternately, you can head down the hill to one of the lakefront picnic tables or benches.

If you’re feeling adventurous, the 3-mile hike to the top of Big Glassy Mountain and back offers unparalleled views. This trail is short but steep, so be sure to wear proper footwear and consider bringing a pair of trekking poles.

Not in the mood to pack your own lunch? Local favorite, Flat Rock Bakery makes exceptionally good wood-fired breads and pastries, and is a great place to pick up a sandwich to take with you.

The All-Day Hang

View on the Trail, Courtesy of

From trails to wide open spaces, Pink Bed’s Picnic Area in Pisgah National Forest has a little something for everyone. We recommend starting with a  hike of Pink Beds Loop – a rolling five mile trail featuring rare local flora.

Post-hike, the wide open field is the perfect place for throwing a frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, or just hanging out. There’s even a sizable picnic shelter, complete with grills. If you want to be sure you’ll have the place to yourself, be sure to reserve it for the day.

Unobstructed Views

View from Max Patch in Winter

If 360 degree views are your thing, it doesn’t get much better than a picnic on top of Max Patch. A quick half mile hike will take you to the top of this scenic bald that offers long range views of Tennessee and Western North Carolina. This trail is along the AT, so if you visit in the spring, think about bringing a few extra snacks to offer a little “trail magic” to tired thru-hikers.

If a hike up Max Patch doesn’t quench your thirst for adventure, head back through Hot Springs for another short hike up Lover’s Leap or a soak in the town’s namesake hot springs.


The sunny days and balmy temps that we’ve been enjoying this month have us itching for a relaxing day on the water. Fortunately, the Greenville area is full of beautiful lakes, rivers, and even has a fantastic blueway. Here are three of our favorite spots for paddling in the upstate.

Lake Jocassee

Location: Oconee County.

Why we love it: Lake Jocassee is inside Devils Fork State Park (perfect for add-0n adventures). This lake offers crystal clear, cool water even in August. There are also several hidden waterfalls accessible only by boat.

Access: Entrance fee is $5 for adults; $3.25 for SC seniors (age 65 & older); $3 for children ages 6-15; ages 5 and under, free. You can purchase maps of the lake at the park store.

Lake Blalock

Location: Spartanburg County.

Why we love it: Lake Blalock has horsepower limits on power boats, the highest allowed being 40 HP for pontoon boats. You never have to worry about heavy boat traffic which makes paddling peaceful.

Access: A boating permit is required to paddle the lake. The permit fee of $5 per boat can be purchased at the Lake Blalock Warden’s Office. 1925 Sandy Ford Rd, Chesnee, SC 29323

The Pacolet and Lawson’s Fork Blueway

Location: Spartanburg county.

Why we love it: This waterway includes easy to moderate skill and flow levels, so it’s perfect for everyone. It offers class I to class IV rapids only 15 minutes from downtown Spartanburg. After paddling take time to check out the picturesque Glendale Shoals Preserve. The best times to paddle are October through May when water levels are the highest.

Access: You can purchase a waterproof map at one of the Upstate Forever offices (GREENVILLE – 507 Pettigru St, Greenville, SC 29601 SPARTANBURG – 201 E. Broad St. Suite 1C, Spartanburg, SC 29306) or email Lee Brashier at

Wicked Weed

For many dog owners, an outdoor adventure just isn’t complete without their canine companion. Looking at those wishful eyes while backing out the front door as you’re all set for a day outdoors is tough enough. And once you’re out there, it’s hard not to imagine how much more fun you’d be having with your furry friend along for the fun, too.

But there’s good news for you both: More and more cities with active-minded populations are making it easier to travel with our faithful friends. Here we’ve curated a list of offerings from five dog-friendly Carolina cities: where to sleep, play, eat, and drink with your pup in tow. So next time you head out for an adventure around Charlotte, you’ll be able to pack up your pooch, too. (Wherever you go, however, be sure to abide by leash laws and local regulations.)

Columbia, S.C.

Riverfront Park offers a history lesson for you and a long stretch of running room for your four-legged buddy. Rob Glover
Riverfront Park offers a history lesson for you and a long stretch of running room for your four-legged buddy.
Rob Glover

South Carolina’s center of education, business, and the legislature has a playful side and an obvious love of its canine companions. Whether you’re in the capital for a day trip or overnight, you’ll find plenty of dog-friendly options.

The Dog House: The Aloft Columbia Downtown is the place for visitors and their pooches to hang their hat (and collar) for the night. This pet-friendly hotel is a short walk to the riverfront and the Five Points entertainment district. Plus, the property’s regular adoption events allow guests to interact with rescue pups during their stay.

Where to Play: Just a few blocks from Aloft, the wide trail at Columbia’s Riverfront Park meanders in and out of shade trees as it follows a scenic canal. The dog-friendly trail has ample space for exploration of the area, which encompasses the city’s original waterworks and its oldest (and still operating) hydroelectric plant. A little farther out of town, Saluda Shoals Park offers several dog-friendly experiences. More than 10 miles of trail wind through the facility, and a 2-acre dog park, the Barking Lot, allows your pal to run free without a leash (an annual fee of $40, which covers two dogs per household, applies, plus a parking fee.)

Best for Kibble: Publico Kitchen & Tap doesn’t just offer a space for dogs; they offer a whole menu. Designed with your dog’s size in mind, the Puppy Plate has several proteins, snacks, and even dog-friendly desserts. Of course, there’s a fantastic human food menu as well, featuring creative tacos and an extensive beer list. The nearby Jake’s Bar & Grill is home to a local favorite Yappy Hour. After an active day romping around, take your pup here for a relaxed afternoon on Jake’s back deck.

Hair of the Dog: A brewery with its own backyard seems like a dream come true, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at River Rat Brewery. Grab one of their creative brews and have a game of fetch in River Rat’s fenced-in, grassy outdoor space.

Beaufort, S.C.

A charming riverfront and manicured greenspaces make the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park an excellent place to enjoy the outdoors in Beaufort, SC.
A charming riverfront and manicured green spaces make the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park an excellent place to enjoy the outdoors in Beaufort, SC.

Steve Rich

This laid-back seaside town is full of all sorts of water-based adventures catered to you and your pup.

The Dog House: A stone’s throw from the Harbor River and within an easy walking distance of the easygoing heart of Beaufort, The City Loft Hotel is a modern, comfortable base camp, with thoughtfully designed rooms complete with walk-in showers and memory foam-topped beds. Five rooms are set aside for pets and their humans.

Where To Play: For three miles, the soft sand of Hunting Island State Park stretches along the Atlantic, which is the perfect setting for a brisk morning walk as the sky ignites in the brilliant shades of sunrise. The park is also well equipped with showers, bathrooms, and fresh water.

Best for Kibble: At Plums, you can expect to find the simple pleasures of a Low Country feast. Of course, that means starting things off with a plate of oysters fresh from the boat and pile of wild-caught shrimp. Grab a seat on the porch or open-air patio for a view of the water and a breeze from the coast.

Hair of the Dog: Though named for its burgers—and rightfully so; they’re huge and delicious—Fat Patties is also a beer lover’s destination. A huge list of craft brews, including their own from Salt Marsh Brewing, is well organized to make trying a new style easy. Ice cream is equally awesome, with housemade, small-batch flavors available year round. The outdoor patio is one of the best in town, and best of all, there’s plenty of room for your canine companion, too.

Hendersonville, N.C.

This low-key but upscale mountain town knows how to treat visitors of both the two and four-legged persuasion.

The Dog House: The Cascades Mountain Resort recently underwent an amazing renovation, with beautiful stonework, a giant fireplace, and heavy wood accents that sync seamlessly with its mountainous setting. And pet-friendly rooms mean your pup can join for the adventure.

Where to Play: With so many incredible nearby waterfalls to discover, you’ll want to plan a full day of exploration at DuPont State Recreational Forest. High Falls, Triple Falls, and Hooker Falls are all accessible on a moderate hike from the main parking lot on Staton Road. The trails are open to dogs on leashes no longer than 6 feet.

Best for Kibble: The aroma of slow-smoked brisket emanating from Hubba Hubba Smokehouse is sure to lure you in. Tucked behind the colorful “rainbow row” of shops in nearby Flat Rock, N.C., Hubba Hubba plates up hearty helpings of pulled pork, brisket, and chicken. You and your pup will find plenty of room to enjoy the carnivorous feast on the spacious stone patio.

Hair of the Dog: Sitting among the patchwork of grapevines, green spaces, and wooded plots, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards offers a total immersion into the beautiful countryside of western N.C. From the cozy confines of the dog-friendly tasting room, they poor a range of varietals. If cider is more your thing, travel 20 minutes west to the edge of the Pisgah National Forest and the newest Bold Rock Cidery location. The cidery serves products made from local Henderson County apples in their huge taproom and outdoor patio. Both are welcoming to guests of the four- and two-legged persuasion.

Greenville, S.C

A modern city with a heart for the outdoors, Greenville is a must-visit locale for adventurers and their pups.
A modern city with a heart for the outdoors, Greenville is a must-visit locale for adventurers and their pups.

Timothy J

The Dog House: The Aloft Greenville is ideally situated to explore downtown Greenville. The clean, modern design is energetic but welcoming, and the Aloft team go above and beyond for their canine guests. Each stay includes an optional puppy package which includes a bowl, treats, toys, and even a bed for your four-legged buddy.

Where to Play: The Greenville Healthcare Systems Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is nearly 20 miles of multi-use trail built on a former railway line, is becoming famous around the Southeast as a destination for recreational cyclists. It conveniently travels through downtown and is very welcoming for dogs. For a little more “get lost in the woods” experience, head for the dozen miles of trail at Paris Mountain State Park. Paths here connect several small lakes and often run adjacent to streams, making for a convenient spot for Spot to cool off on a hot day. Many of these trails are also used by mountain bikers, so the 6-foot leash rule is a good one to follow. There is a $5 day-use fee at Paris Mountain.

Best for Kibble: One of the most surprising aspects of Greenville to first-time visitors is the alfresco dining culture. Eclectic cafes, ranging from pub grub to Thai to pizza, line downtown’s Main Street. Street-side tables are all welcoming spots for you and your pup to refuel. For hearty plates of well-crafted fare that straddles the line between fine dining and comfort food, The Green Room is a recommended choice.

Hair of the Dog: With a spacious taproom and plenty of outdoor space, Brewery 85 just outside of downtown Greenville has enough room to spread out while sampling their range of brews. The brewery is especially welcoming to dogs and hosts occasional Yappy Hours.

Asheville, N.C.

Craggy Gardens is a must-do hike for active dogs and their owners.
Craggy Gardens is a must-do hike for active dogs and their owners.

Explore Asheville

Last but definitely not least, our beloved mountain town Asheville, NC, where a trusty four-legged companion is almost as requisite as a Subaru and Chacos.

The Dog House: The Omni Grove Park Inn exists at the intersection of mountain-cozy and ultra-luxe. Close to Asheville and its mecca of mountain adventures, the sprawling property is an ideal launch pad for a weekend of exploration. The resort shows its affinity for pups with dog-friendly accommodations complete with canine-centric room services like treats, water, and food bowls.

Where to Play: The mountains surrounding Asheville hold a cornucopia of outdoor experiences, and almost all of them are suitable for you and your favorite canine. For a great payoff with relatively minimal effort, take a hike up to Craggy Gardens. After just a 15-minute drive and 1.5-mile hike, you’ll be taking in 360-degree views that seem to stretch forever.

Best for Kibble: Yes, it’s a brewery. But Asheville Brewing Company is also home to some of the highest quality pub grub in town (try the fries, you won’t be disappointed). And after a long day of exploring, the dog-friendly outdoor patio is the perfect spot to savor a beer.

Hair of the Dog: If your pal enjoys the finer things in life, then a visit to the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar might be in order. Dogs are well taken care of in this used bookstore/wine bar as are their humans, with a full espresso bar and a wine list that includes 80+ selections of wines and Champagne.


Featured image provided by Explore Asheville


Imagine unloading your kayak or canoe and setting up camp on an island in the middle of a mountain lake. A brilliant Carolina sunset reflects on crystal clear water as you finish tying off your hammock. Or maybe you’ve reached a coastal oasis accessible only by your own paddle power. At night, you fall asleep in your tent to the relaxing sound of waves.

From the cool waters of Lake Jocassee to the brackish tidal swamps out east, the Carolinas are home to a huge variety of flat water paddling experiences. While many are accessible by day trip, some require a little more time. Here are seven of the best paddle-in campground adventures from the mountains to coast in the Carolinas.

Cheraw State Park

Several trails offer an on-land option to explore Cheraw State Park.
Several trails offer an on-land option to explore Cheraw State Park.

South Carolina State Parks

through the cypress wetlands of Lake Juniper is an experience every flatwater boater should have, and at Cheraw State Park the experience couldn’t be easier. The $21 per night camping fee for the paddle-in sites comes complete with boat rental and the park even participates in a fishing tackle loaner program. All you need is your standard camping gear. If possible, time your trip during one of the park’s moonlight paddle outings and see the lake in a whole new light.

Devils Fork State Park

The crystal clear waters and minimally developed shoreline of Lake Jocassee has become a popular retreat in all seasons. Leave it all behind and paddle out to the seclusion of an island campground at Devils Fork State Park. Thirteen sites line the western edge of the island, providing an incredible sunset experience. Basic toilets are available but you’ll need to bring all the other comforts of camping with you—which is a small price to pay for such serenity.

Keowee-Toxaway State Park

Paddle-in campsites at Lake Keowee-Toxaway State Park offer amazing sunset views. Rob Glover
Paddle-in campsites at Lake Keowee-Toxaway State Park offer amazing sunset views.
Rob Glover

Lake Keowee is an oft-overlooked gem in South Carolina. Just a few miles from its larger cousin Lake Jocassee, the gorgeous surrounds and cool, calm waters of Keowee offer an amazing respite after a long work week. All the sites at the small and quiet campground of Keowee-Toxaway State Park are a pleasant stroll from the lake, but three sit right on the shoreline. You can walk to these sites, but the two-ish mile trek can create a logistics problem when toting all the trappings of a great camping weekend. Instead, load up your canoe and paddle to the site just short distance away from the park’s boat launch.

Hammocks Beach

Tucked between huge dunes, Hammocks Beach State Park’s paddle-in campground feels both hidden and open to the entire universe.
Tucked between huge dunes, Hammocks Beach State Park&rsquo’s paddle-in campground feels both hidden and open to the entire universe.

North Carolina State Parks

Reaching the row of waterfront campsites on Bear Island requires a paddle across the intercoastal waterway and through the reedy waters of a coastal swamp. What awaits is a pristine, white sand beach buffeted by large dunes and an unfettered view of ocean and sky. Hammocks Beach State Park, which encompasses Bear Island, offers a convenient launch site as well as boat rentals. The campground is rugged but includes showers and bathroom facilities.

Lake James

Perhaps known more for its super flowy singletrack or uber popular lakeside picnic facilities, Lake James State Park is also home to 30 boat-in campsites. These simple sites include only the basics: fire ring, tent pad, and picnic table. While you’ll have to bring in everything you need, including your water supply, a sunrise paddle on the tree-lined lake is well worth the effort. The closest launch to these sites is at the main visitor center in the Paddy’s Creek section of the park. Here they rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards—but they go fast. Call ahead to check for availability or bring your own.

Merchants Millpond State Park

Weaving through immense cypress trees at Merchants Millpond is an experience every paddler should have.
Weaving through immense cypress trees at Merchants Millpond is an experience every paddler should have.

North Carolina State Parks

Designated paddle trails in Merchants Millpond State Park flow alongside dense hardwood forests and through stands of immense bald cypress trees. Just beyond the millpond, Bennett’s Creek runs slow and shallow through the low-lying Lassiter Swamp. A water-level exploration of these fascinating biomes is best begun from one of the state park’s paddle-in campsites. The sites are primitive, with only pit toilets available, but the park does offer canoe rentals.

New River State Park

Not only is the ironically named New River one of the oldest in the world, it is among the most natural and interesting to explore. In recognition of these properties, the New, which runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwest corner of North Carolina, is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River. A multi-day exploration of this tree-lined waterway can be done Deliverance-style (minus the, well, you know) by way of multiple canoe-in campsites managed by New River State Park. The paddle trip to these primitive campsites is a serene and scenic experience. Although the flow is calm here, it’s important to either know the river; less experienced paddlers should contact Ashe County for a list of local river guides.


Featured image provided by North Carolina State Parks

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

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

The Milky Way blazing from the Blue Ridge Parkway.


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

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.


Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks

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


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.


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 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 surrounding it.


Featured image provided by Fran Trudeau

It’s no secret that the wilderness of Western North Carolina is brimming with swimming holes, staggering mountain views, and thousands of miles of trails. But there is also a wealth of fascinating places that lie far off the beaten path—the sites of abandoned infrastructure, forgotten art, and the crumbling ruins of old towns—where human history and the natural world have become enmeshed. For those of us craving an unusual outdoor experience, here are four strange and obscure destinations to check out this summer in Asheville.

1. The Abandoned Runways of DuPont

Mountain bikers in DuPont State Forest are accustomed to the land’s unusual offerings, from plunging torrents of water around every turn, to a bald ridge of rare eastern Slickrock. But riders on the Airstrip Trail may be surprised to come across a bizarre and unexpected feature within the 10,000-acre tract of wilderness: an abandoned and overgrown runway.

Although the airstrip, a relic from the days when the land was owned by the DuPont Chemical Company, is slowly being reclaimed by grass and shrubs around the edges, the enormous slab of concrete, still brightly painted with directionals, certainly makes for a startling and somewhat eerie site.

To be gliding through a cool, shaded forest and suddenly find yourself bumping across a band of exposed pavement, empty and long abandoned, is a unique experience, to say the least. Photographers will be delighted—not only with the unusual scene but also the long-range views of the Blue Ridge and Pisgah National Forest afforded from the runway. As an added bonus, the trail continues with a rolling descent of hairpin turns and dead-ends at the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls.

2. The Back Alley Murals of the River Arts District

A mid-run ramble through the secret murals of the River Arts District.
A mid-run ramble through the secret murals of the River Arts District.

David Clarke

The River Arts District is the epicenter of Asheville’s quirky and artistic culture. Pottery studios, art galleries, and outdoor breweries inhabit the shabby brick buildings and slick new facilities that border an active railroad track and the French Broad River. Between the Greenway, the shady paths of Carrier park, and the community initiatives of the  Asheville Running Company, its no wonder that this neighborhood is a popular place to explore on foot or by bike.

While there are plenty of colorful walls and art displays to be found on the main streets of the River Arts District, many people are surprised to learn that there is an entire block of murals and street art, painted on the sides of several old warehouses- secluded, mostly abandoned, and hidden away like a brilliantly colorful ghost town.

This lurid alleyway is located on Old Lyman Street, behind Riverview Station, a multi-use building of art studios and community spaces. You’ll also find a hand-built skate park, created by local skateboard enthusiasts. Pay a visit to this bizarre and forgotten urban art space to spice up your after-work running route.

3. The Lost Society of Hazel Creek

Fly fishermen in Hazel Creek, great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Fly fishermen in Hazel Creek, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

John Coley

Intrepid visitors to the  Great Smoky Mountain National Park can get a taste of the area’s deep-seated and somewhat sordid social history by traveling to a virtually deserted section of the park, known as The Lost Society of Hazel Creek. The area is home to the fascinating ruins of what was once the bustling mill town of Proctor, and its few small neighboring townships.

The communities were settled on the banks of Hazel Creek, which flows down from Thunderhead Mountain and Silers Bald in the southernmost corner of the park. At the beginning of the 20th century, Proctor was a booming valley town, complete with a post office, train depot, cafe, barber shop, and even a movie theater. Its heyday ended abruptly in 1928 when the logging mill shut down after depleting the resources in surrounding mountains, and residents began to drain from the town in search of livelihood.

What remains today is acres of creek-side wilderness, strewn with the crumbling remains of cabins and mill facilities. Only one structure still stands, the ghostly and condemned Calhoun House, built in the same year that the mill shut down. The ruins are accessible only by hiring a boat ride across Fontana Lake, or via a rugged, twelve-mile trek. A number of local outfitters can help arrange transportation.

Every year, a handful of backpackers and fly fishermen are drawn to this remote section of America’s most visited national park, either by the promise of seclusion, the historical ruins, or the trout that are found in abundance in Hazel Creek.

 4. The Road to Nowhere

Another history-steeped obscurity in the Smoky Mountain National Park is North Shore Drive and tunnel, best known as “The Road to Nowhere.” This short but scenic route offers a view of the Smoky Mountains, Little Tennessee River, and Fontana Lake as it heads Northwest out of Bryson City, North Carolina. But the road dead ends inside the park boundaries, evidence of a federal promise to local residents that was never fulfilled.

The creation of Fontana Lake and the Fontana Dam in the 1940s displaced homes, farms, and entire townships, including one of the main roads at the time, North Carolina Highway 288. The former residents of these now deserted communities demanded that a new route is built on the north side of the new lake, connecting them with their old homesteads and cemeteries. Construction began on a two-lane road, but because of environmental concerns and funding that quickly dissolved, it ground to a halt in 1972, after a mere 7.2 miles of road had been completed. After a few starts and stops in the years that followed, the project was permanently put to rest in 2010, and Swain County accepted 52 million dollars from the federal government as a settlement.

Today, a dark, looming, 600-foot tunnel marks the terminus of Long Shore Drive. Crumbling and colorful with graffiti, it makes for a fascinating ‘off the beaten path’ adventure. The road peters out just a few hundred meters after the tunnel, but it does offer access to one of Fontana’s beautiful finger lakes and a particularly secluded section of the park. Locals warn against passing through the tunnel at night, as it is haunted by the ghosts of those laid to rest in the old burial grounds within the park’s boundaries, still searching for their displaced relatives.


Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by woodleywonderworks

The Asheville Outdoor Show returns to Salvage Station on the banks of the French Broad River on Sunday, September 23. The fourth annual iteration of the festival celebrating all things outdoors promises big changes. The one-of-a-kind community driven event will still feature plenty of local gear makers and national innovators showcasing the latest trend in outdoor recreation, but you’ll find far more diverse offerings of interactive demos, educational workshops, and informative speakers — including the event’s first keynote speaker.

Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker produce the Asheville Outdoor Show and we spent a lot of time looking at timely topics of interest to our community from supply chain sustainability to environmental protections. We’re proud to announce Teresa Baker, Founder of the African-American Parks & Nature Experience., will close out the show with a candid presentation and discussion.

Growing up as the only sister to eight brothers in her hometown of Richmond, California, Teresa was determined not to be outdone; spending time in the outdoors became her passion. Fast-forward 30 years later and the outdoors is still her passion; the only difference is the stakes are higher. Now she spends time outdoors with the purpose of engaging communities of color in outdoor spaces, in hopes of fostering a shared sense of responsibility for environmental protection.

Teresa spends the majority of her time working with outdoor agencies, organizations, and retailers, on ways to welcome a more diverse audience to their boards, staff and programs. She does this through outdoor events and speaking engagements across the country.

All too often outdoor organizations, agencies, and retailers miss the opportunity to speak to the relevant role culture plays in our outdoor experiences. Teresa works to change this by connecting underrepresented communities with outdoor opportunities, knowing that the long term effect will be a new generation of nature stewards.

Want more info about what to expect at the Asheville Outdoor Show? Find details as they’re announced on the Facebook page or sign up for our newsletter. In addition to the keynote speaker, you’ll have the opportunity to explore what’s new in outdoor clothing and gear, chat with industry professionals, explore the Family Adventure Zone presented by KEEN, jam to good music on the Columbia Music Stage, and enjoy the food, drinks, and hospitality of the Salvage Station crew.