Jones Gap is one of South Carolina’s most celebrated state parks. The park is situated near the North Carolina- South Carolina border and the Middle Saluda River and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Jones Gap is the perfect place for a long weekend trip, as it offers plenty of trails, streams, and rocks to conquer. If it’s been a while since you’ve escaped the city, this is your chance to get out and enjoy some of the best of the Appalachian foothills.

Gorgeous Waterfalls 

Jones Gap is home to Falls Creek Falls, Rainbow Falls, Jones Gap Falls, and Silver Steps Falls. Needless to say if you enjoy waterfalls, this is the place to come. Rainbow Falls in particular is an amazing sight to see. At 100 feet tall, you can hear the water rushing off of the cliff on Cox Camp Creek almost a mile away. If you plan your weekend right, you can easily visit all four and get to spend your day swimming in creeks and laying in the sun. The Middle section of the Saluda River also runs through the state park, and contains some of the state’s best trout fishing. This is a big destination for fishermen in the surrounding area, yet the river remains uncrowded and easily accessible.

Solid Bouldering 

Although Jones Gap isn’t necessarily considered a climbing destination, there are some problems to be found within the park, the most notable routes can be found a little ways down the Standington Mountain trail. The park’s limited amount of climbing routes is both a blessing and a curse. There may not be a multitude of problems, but you can almost count on having the established routes all to yourself. This will make for a great day hike during your trip, and who knows, you may discover the best bouldering problem in the park, so don’t forget your climbing shoes.

Great Hiking & Camping 

Jones Gap is full of awesome day hikes. There are a total of 8 different trails within the park, ranging from the 0.9 mile John Sloan trail to the 5.4-mile Jones Gap Falls trail. Each trail has its unique characteristics, whether it be a waterfall, vista, or shade-covered creek. It doesn’t get much better than cooling off in a freezing cold creek, and then ‘lizard-ing’ on a rock in the sun. Camping is also available within the park provided you get a permit from the ranger’s station. Information regarding reservations, permits, maps, and fishing licenses can be found at the Jones Gap webpage of the South Carolina State Parks site. Pack up your swimming, hiking, fishing, and climbing gear, and hit this outstanding destination as soon as possible.

Written by Logan Waddell for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Matthew Blouir

There are so many world class outdoor places to explore in the Carolinas, it’s easy to be overlooked. Even when you’re an 18,000 acre lake of amazingly clear water bordered by the Blue Ridge Mountains with easy access to dozens of noteworthy hiking trails.

Such is the fate of Lake Keowee in the western portion of South Carolina. While only 2-2.5 hours away from downtown Charlotte, this area is often overlooked by Queen City residents who are more familiar with the larger parks and higher peaks of North Carolina. But for easy access, diversity of activities, and stunning beauty, it’s hard to ignore this lake and its surroundings. Perfect for a fall weekend getaway.

The Campground

Campsite at Keowee-Toxaway SP
Campsite at Keowee-Toxaway SP

Rob Glover

Placed on the eastern short of Lake Keowee, Keowee-Toxaway State Park is right smack in the middle of an epicenter of outdoor activity. Easy access to the lake and several great blue-ridge mountain hikes make it the perfect launch pad for a weekend of fall exploration.

The modestly sized campground provides a surprising diversity of options and amenities. The main campground holds 10 RV and 14 tent sites. There’s also one, three-bedroom cabin for rent that includes its own boat dock. To get even farther away from it all, there are also 3 back country campsites on the lake shore accessible by hiking trail or canoe/kayak.

Running water, full bathrooms, and, get this, hot showers are all located in the main campground. There’s a gas station/convenience store about 7 miles away (in between the campground and Table Rock State Park) where you can grab firewood, ice, and the bacon cheese flavored pretzel bites.

The lake is accessible from the campground via a half mile foot path. Two other trails within park boundaries add a total of 5.5 miles of walking options. The park also provides a boat launch for non-motorized craft.

If you’ve gathered up a group to take with you try to get tent sites T1 – 3. They are very close together, T-3 being the more private one, tucked behind the others.

The Lake

An overhead map of Lake Keowee resembles a horribly failed attempt at a tree shaped Christmas cookie. The 300 mile jagged shoreline, however, provides countless little coves to duck in and explore.

Take a left out of the State Park launch and you can easily access several of these coves. Most are capped with a small, sandy beach area perfect for parking your ‘yak. These little hideaways are an awesome place for a bit of swimming in the surprisingly clear lake water.

Much of the lake shore near the launch is protected by the state park with several large houses and a golf course peeking out from the trees on the western shore. Tuck into a cove in the late afternoon for an ideal way to enjoy an autumn sunset.

The Trail

Keowee-Toxaway State Park is an easy drive to loads of hiking opportunities. One of the closest, Table Rock State Park , is 12 miles from the campground, and it features a trail system with about 15 miles of trails. The favorite option here is of course the hike up to Table Rock itself, where you and your hiking partners can enjoy sweeping views of the Blue Ridge mountains sprawling out before you. And in the fall, the changing leaves put on a magically colorful show.

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Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Teresa Burton

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

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, barbershop, 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 be 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.

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Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by woodleywonderworks

The French Broad River provides plenty of fun through the heart of Asheville.

With school back in session and the days becoming noticeably shorter, there isn’t always time to hit the road and head out to Pisgah, DuPont or the Parkway. Maybe you’re actively striving to lessen your carbon footprint, or you’re just plain sick of driving. Lucky for us, there are plenty of outdoor adventures to help get your fix of adrenaline and fun within Asheville’s city limits. Here are five ways to get moving without getting out of town.

1. Kolo Bike Park

Experiencing "kolo flow."
Experiencing “kolo flow.”

Emily Mills

Kolo Bike Park provides a great opportunity to squeeze a fun and dynamic ride into your work day without having to get on the highway. The park features four miles of expertly designed mountain bike trails, including berms, log bridges, tight turns and a pump track. Kolo is perfect for beginners who want to coast on rolling terrain (you can rent a bike on-site), experts looking to hone their technical skills…or any rider who just needs a break from the Pisgah commute.

 

2. ClimbMax Climbing Center

A bouldering session is one of the best workouts you can possibly get.
A bouldering session is one of the best workouts you can possibly get.

Andrew Oberhardt

ClimbMax indoor climbing center is conveniently located on historic Wall Street, right in the heart of bustling downtown Asheville. Spend the day checking out the boutiques, cafes, drum circles, and street performers for which this mountain town is so famous, then duck in for a bouldering session in the ClimbMax cave, or get a powerhouse workout on one of the multi-colored walls. Regardless of your strength, skill or experience, the rock gym will provide you with a space to hone your technique and have a good time, as well as the opportunity to connect with others in the climbing community.

3. Richmond Hill Disc Golf

Richmond Hill Park features a challenging 18-hole disc golf course.
Richmond Hill Park features a challenging 18-hole disc golf course.

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Richmond Hill Park, which overlooks a bend in the French Broad River, is one of the best places in the city to find solitude and serenity within a lush natural environment. Five miles of multi-use trails twist through a rolling hardwood forest, criss-crossing through clear streams along the way. The park also features an 18-hole disc golf course, well known for its rugged terrain, steep hillsides and long-distance shots. The course was built with serious players in mind (none of the baskets are easy!) but anyone will enjoy spending an afternoon immersed in the quiet, sun-dappled forest of Richmond Hill.

4. The French Broad River

Floating on the French Broad River.
Floating on the French Broad River.

Melina Cooper

One of the most defining features of Asheville is the wide, silty  French Broad River —the third oldest river in the world—which flows between the River Arts District and the neighborhoods of West Asheville. For many people, its friendly and forgiving rapids are the “gateway drug” for all the incredible whitewater in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

At Ledges Park, you’ll find brand-new paddlers navigating the class II+ holes and micro-eddies alongside world-class athletes battling their way upstream at the weekly attainment race. For something a little more languid, sink into an inner tube and float your way to a riverside bar. Hop on a stand-up paddleboard with Mind Body Paddle, or try out a SUP yoga class and for a unique experience of strength, grace and balance. With ample opportunity to float and swim, there is no need to drive out of town to spend a beautiful day on the river.

5. South Slope Brewery Tour

The South Slope neighborhood features no fewer than seven craft breweries.
The South Slope neighborhood features no fewer than seven craft breweries.

Andrew May photography

Within just a couple of city blocks, this industrial section of town boasts no fewer than seven craft breweries, with more slated to open in the near future. “Walking the ale trail” is a quintessential Asheville experience, and the perfect conclusion to a day exploring the adventurous side of the city.

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Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Melina Cooper

Image for Lake Junaluska
Dog Friendly: Yes
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter
Distance: 2.6 miles
Time To Complete: Around 30 minutes.

In the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Plott Balsam Range lies the beautiful Lake Junaluska. Circumnavigating the lake is a 2.6 mile trail that is adorned with historical buildings and lavish landscaping. Whether you are looking for a casual stroll or an intense run Lake Junaluska provides a striking venue to exercise amongst the mountains.

What Makes It Great

Lake Junaluska’s banks are lined with an abundance of plant life and historically beautiful buildings. Traveling counterclockwise from the Aquatic Center, the smoothly paved trail will first take you to an ornate colonnade. The Romanesque architecture and charming view of the lake make this a popular place for relaxation and events. After passing the Colonnade you will step onto the stunningly beautiful rose walk. A pungent array of rose bushes line this half mile section of trail and make for a fragrant and visually captivating stroll along the water.

The next section of the paved path takes you past the historic Stuart Auditorium and the architectural wonders of the Memorial Chapel. This ornate stone building is surrounded by intricately planned landscaping which captivates visitors throughout the year. After passing the chapel, continue following the trail along the water’s edge towards the entrance of the Francis Asbury Trail. This memorial trail features a peaceful waterfall, a gazebo and numerous resting points to soak in the beauty of Lake Junaluska. After the Asbury Trail walkers and joggers will cross the foot bridge atop the Lake Junaluska Dam. An overlook in the middle of the Dam provides one of the better views of the lake and its facilities. After crossing the Dam the path winds along the water’s edge and underneath several noble weeping willows.

At roughly 2 miles from your start, you can choose to cross the Turbeville footbridge – to complete a 2.6 mile loop – or continue on the walking path to add another 1.1 miles to your trip. The footbridge crosses the narrowest part of the lake and skirts the surface of the water back to Aquatic Center. The longer loop will take you around the southern end of the lake by the Golf Course and welcome center before returning back to the Aquatic Center.

Who is Going to Love It

Most enjoy a peaceful stroll along the banks of Lake Junaluska, but some come for a workout! In many spots steep terrain funnels down into the lake. If you are training for adventure, add some of these inclines into your routine to boost its intensity level. The amphitheater located below the Lake’s famous cross has a picturesque view and enough stairs to really amp up your training regimen!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

A 35 minute drive from Asheville brings you to the edge of the waters of Lake Junaluska. Parking can be found all around the lake but we suggest beginning your journey at the Lake Junaluska Aquatic Center.

This area has ample parking, restroom facilities and access to the lake’s recreation facilities.

Download Lake Junaluska’s Walking Trail Guide before you go for a detailed map of the trail system.

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Written by Steven Reinhold for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Steven Reinhold

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.

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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.

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Featured image provided by North Carolina State Parks

Image for French Broad Paddle Trail

Intro

The French Broad Paddle Trail is a series of campsites along the French Broad River connecting over 140 miles of river. It was created by the Western North Carolina Alliance, a non-profit in Asheville that houses the French Broad Riverkeeper, who works to protect and promote the quality of the French Broad River and its tributaries. The paddle trail begins in Rosman, NC, taking paddlers over flat and whitewater. It passes through an incredibly beautiful geographical region of the Southeast.

What Makes It Great

The Cherokee used to call it the “Long Man,” and its tributaries, “Chattering Children.” Later, European settlers deemed it the “French Broad.” The world’s 3rd oldest river has a majestic and ancient appeal. Flatwater and whitewater paddlers alike will love the adventure the French Broad Paddle Trail provides. You can now paddle over 140 miles of the river from Rosman, NC to Douglas Lake, TN staying at campsites all along the way.

The river begins in an area of rolling, shaded farmland, where the North and West Forks come together. As the river plunges through Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, it eventually opens up to reveal mountains rising out of the water’s edge. The river is perfect for all skill levels, with the first 75 miles consisting of mainly flat water paddling and the rest offering a mix of class I, II, and III rapids.  And you can spend one night or even several weeks exploring one of the world’s oldest rivers.

Starting in Rosman, NC, the FB runs northwest through the funky and quaint North Carolinian towns of Brevard, Asheville, Weaverville, Marshall, Hot Springs, Del Rio and Newport (Tennessee). What’s great about this part of the country is the small town feel, with the eclectic charm of mountain culture. It also is the beer capital of the eastern US. Pull off the river to some of the coolest bars and breweries in the country, all along your river adventure.

Who is Going to Love It

History and nature buffs. Some sections of the FB make you feel like you’re in a prehistoric time. Other times, you’ll see a bald eagle and feel like singing the National Anthem. Still other times, you’ll float through a town and wonder how that place has been shaped by the river…and vice versa.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Visit French Broad River Paddle’s website for all your logistical needs. At the website, you can make a reservation, look at a map, find access points, or read about the campsites. Campsites are $25/night, with no limit on the number of your entourage. Plan your trip ahead of time, and know your river. There are 3 dams on the FB, and we discourage portaging all of them. These portages are very time-consuming and oftentimes dangerous. Try to plan your trip where you take out before these dams. To help plan your FB adventure, visit www.frenchbroadpaddle.com. They also have great, water-proof maps for sale ($15).

The FB Paddle Trail is open 365 days a year. Campsites are strategically placed so that paddlers can reach their sites within a single day. The longest distance between sites is 15 miles. The campsites are paddle-in only, meaning you’ll be far away from car-camping glampers. Remember these campsites are paddle-in sites, so don’t leave a bunch of litter after your stay. It makes it very difficult for volunteers and French Broad River Paddle employees to clean up after when they’re already carrying lawn mowers and weed-eaters to do maintenance. So, practice leave-no-trace principles wherever you go and have a great paddle.

Written by Anna Alsobrook for RootsRated.

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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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Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks