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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with fantastic access to the outdoors, top restaurants, and every type of art there is, for something romantic that’s different from your weekly routine is easy: take a hike!

Melina Coogan

A winter hike offers many rewards for you and your favorite explorer. You’ll appreciate the refreshing temperatures as you climb a mountainside. Many times, you’ll have the trail all to yourself since there are fewer fellow hikers. The best views of the year are on display thanks to leafless trees and deep blue skies. While the higher peaks see snow, valleys have mild winter days perfect to get outdoors. Plus, no bugs mean you’re free to hold hands or snuggle.

Here are five great winter hikes that are close to home:

Lover’s Leap

While most of the Appalachian Trail is too remote for winter hikes, you can easily take a “walk in the woods” in this section in Hot Springs. The trail runs along Main Street, so just park and start your hike there. Cross the French Broad River and climb the ridge up to several outcrops for views across the valley and river. On the way back on the 1.5-mile round trip hike, stop for a soak in the hot mineral springs or enjoy one of the restaurants in this charming mountain town.

Deep Creek Waterfalls

One of the busiest camping and tubing areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the summer, Deep Creek is a lower elevation trail that receives little snow. To see three frozen waterfalls, you have the option of 2.4-mile or 5-mile roundtrip hiking routes. Plenty of seating means you can take your time on this hike that’s just three miles from downtown Bryson City.

Rattlesnake Lodge

While the name may cause hesitation, this 3-mile roundtrip hike is a local favorite on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Hike the former carriage road up the ridge to the ruins of an early 1900s summer retreat. February is the perfect time to visit since you can more easily find the stone foundations of many buildings.

Bearwallow Mountain

Just 19 miles from Asheville is a short hike that rewards with 360-degree views from a treeless summit on the western rim of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Cattle often graze on top, but they will gladly share the meadow with you for a picnic by the historic lookout tower. Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy recently protected the mountain and built the 1-mile trail for all to enjoy. The uphill climb will quickly warm you up!

Mountains-to-Sea Trail at the Folk Art Center

You don’t even have to leave the city of this one! Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow the signs to the Visitor Center or the Folk Art Center (the trail starts at one and ends at the other). If you want a walk of 5.5 miles, then make it an out and back. If you want a shorter walk, just park a car at each end. This walk is a perfect blend of urban and rural coexistence with lots of features: two tunnels, a bridge over the Swannanoa River, steps, an overpass over US 70, walk under a BRP viaduct, an open field with a picturesque barn, and maybe cows.

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Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

Your opportunity to experience a rare total solar eclipse in western North Carolina arrives on Monday, August 21. To make sure you’re prepared and packed for totality, the experts at Frugal Backpacker have assembled this helpful checklist. For more on what to expect, check out Everything You Need to Know About August’s Total Solar Eclipse.

Click here for a printer-friendly PDF version of this checklist.

What to Do Now for the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Select the best location and route for viewing the eclipse based on accessibility, weather forecast, and the time of day the path of totality will pass through the area. Many prime viewing spots require tickets or have a capacity cap in place for the day, so do your homework.
  • Select an alternate location and route. 64,000 tourists are expected to visit the mountains for the eclipse.
  • Book lodging close to your primary viewing location. Hotel rooms, campsites, and cabins are going fast!
  • Build your total solar eclipse viewing kit. (See the bottom of this post for a checklist.)
  • Purchase your eclipse viewing glasses at Diamond Brand Outdoors. We’ve ordered a lot, but they’re going fast!
  • Use an app, website, or book to find out which bright stars and planets you can expect to see during the totality, impressing your friends and kids!

What to Do the Week of the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Test all of your equipment by doing a “dry run.” Nothing’s worse than having a faulty camera when the big event gets underway!
  • Pack your total solar eclipse viewing kit and camping kit.
  • Review the eclipse timing and weather forecasts for your primary and alternate viewing locations.

What to Do the Day of the Total Solar Eclipse

  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Leave early for your viewing location.
  • Claim your spot by setting up chairs and viewing equipment, but remember to be a good neighbor so others may enjoy the experience.
  • Test your equipment.
  • Enjoy the day with your friends and family. The time of totality will be brief, but the experience leading up and following the first total solar eclipse in western North Carolina since 1506 will lead to storied memories for years to come.

Total Solar Eclipse Viewing Kit Checklist

  • WNC + NATIONAL PARK MAPS: Cell towers will likely be overloaded, so don’t rely on an app.
  • ECLIPSE VIEWING GLASSES: You must have these for direct solar viewing. They’re inexpensive and available now.
  • HAT: To protect your head from the sun while you wait for the main event.
  • SUNGLASSES: NOT to look at the sun, but to cut down on the glare when you’re looking everywhere else.
  • PORTABLE PHONE CHARGER: Make sure you’ll be able to document the day through photos and videos.
  • CAMPING CHAIRS + TABLES: Get yourself a chance to stake your claim to watch and rest after the excitement!
  • BLANKETS: No matter where you’re watching, blankets keep things cleaner. Bring more than you think you need.
  • COOLER: You’ll likely get to your viewing area hours before the eclipse. Drinks, lunch, and snacks are a must!
  • DRINKWARE + WATER BOTTLES: Insulated cups and tumblers keep your drinks cold (or hot), don’t sweat, and are reusable.
  • HEADLAMP OR FLASHLIGHT: Since you’ll be looking up, this is primarily for emergencies. Use the red setting instead of white.
  • COMPASS: There’s plenty of information online that will tell you exactly where to look as totality begins.
  • CAMERA: This is one of the times you may want a nicer camera than you’ll find on your phone.
  • CELL PHONE: Coverage may be too spotty for weather and GPS, but your clock and camera will still work.
  • WATER: Always stay hydrated, whether the sun is shining or not.
  • SUNSCREEN: Always a good idea when you’ll be outside for any period of time.
  • INSECT REPELLENT: Another good idea anytime you’re heading into the outdoors.
  • OUTDOOR GAMES: Help pass the time and enjoy some relaxation with friends and family.
  • HAMMOCK: If you’ve got space to set up an ENO hammock or WindPouch, laying down is a great way to watch.
  • ELECTRICAL TAPE: Some folks don’t know how to turn off their camera’s flash. Be prepared to help them out.
  • CAMPING KIT (OPTIONAL): Traveling the day before or staying overnight after the eclipse helps avoid traffic and can be fun!
    • TENT
    • SLEEPING BAG FOR EACH CAMPER
    • LANTERN
    • SLEEPING PAD FOR EACH CAMPER
    • PILLOWS
    • TARPS
    • STOVE + FUEL
    • MATCHES
    • FRYING PAN + POT
    • CUTTING BOARD + KNIFE
    • SPONGE, SOAP, + BIN FOR WASHING DISHES
    • PAPER TOWELS
    • FIREWOOD (IF ALLOWED)
    • ROASTING STICKS FOR S’MORES + HOT DOGS
    • BEAR KEG
    • ICE
    • TRASH BAGS
    • FIRST AID KIT
    • CORKSCREW

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Photo: Jack Schroeder

Western North Carolina is renowned as a haven of outdoor beauty. Our night skies are no exception; Asheville’s relatively low level of light pollution and easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway make it an ideal spot for seeking fantastic views of the night sky.

If you’re looking to expand your outdoor hobbies, give stargazing a go. It’s a low-key way to enjoy our outdoor paradise, is equally fun solo or with a group, can be enjoyed regardless of your fitness level, and doesn’t require a large investment to try.

Get started frugally. You don’t have to shell out big bucks for a fancy telescope to enjoy stargazing. In fact, you can see objects up to 2.5 million lightyears away without any equipment at all. To get started with minimal investment, purchase a star chart (great options are available for under $20) and head to a dark spot on the Parkway (check out some of our fav spots below). You’ll be surprised at what you can see!

Get help from experts. Most amateur astronomers are enthusiastic about their passion and happy to help new comers. Join one of the group star gazes hosted by Astronomy Club of Asheville or one of the many public events hosted by UNCA at the Lookout Observatory. This can be a great way to learn more about what you’re observing and make connections.

Ready for a better view? You can purchase an excellent pair of binoculars for a much smaller investment than a mediocre telescope and their versatility and ease of operation make them ideal for beginners. Added bonus, they’re a breeze to throw in your pack for incredible views on a nighttime hike.

Great Places to Go:

Blue Ridge Star Park and Observatory– Spruce Pine, NC Recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as a dark-sky place.

Mt. Pisgah Trailhead (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 407.6)

Stoney Bald Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 402.6)

Tanbark Ridge Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 376.7)

Craggy Dome Overlook (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 364.1)

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We’ve partnered with our friends at Asheville Trails and Diamond Brand Outdoors for the WNC Trail Triple Crown Challenge.

Visit Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to check out the awesome new Asheville Trails kiosks with dozens of local trails. We believe the outdoors are for everyone of all abilities, so you’ll find lots of good stuff at the kiosk, like directions and insider tips on easy, moderate, and difficult hikes of varying distance. Find a trail you like, and then snap a picture of the info sheet with your phone. And then visit the Asheville Trails website to get driving directions and more trail info.

Hit any three trails from the displays during April and we’ll give you 20% off up to five items, plus a free Asheville Trails sticker! Just post a pic to Instagram while you’re on the trail, tag both @frugal_backpacker and @ashevilletrails, and use the hashtag #WNC3C.

Once you’ve hiked three of the trails, return to Frugal Backpacker or any Diamond Brand Outdoors location to receive your discount. A team member will take a look a look at your tagged photos — which we’d probably like to share on our feed if you give us permission!

Discount cannot be used for gift cards, boats, or special orders. See store for any other exclusions.

On August 25, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates an important milestone: 100 years of the National Park Service Organic Act. Today, the NPS manages 401 park units and attendance hit a peak last year. While we’ve got easy access to two of the most visited units – the Blue Ridge Parkway (#1) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (#4) – day hikes are only the beginning of adventures that can be had when you venture just beyond our community. Grab the car and the kids and head out for these weekend trips this spring or summer.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” meanders for 469 miles and provides plenty of scenic driving, biking, and hiking in Buncombe County. Head over the Virginia border for a weekend and check out what The Commonwealth State has to offer.

Stop off at the Blue Ridge Music Center near the town of Galax for music demonstrations, concerts, and a museum dedicated to old-time mountain music. It’s set apart by focusing on local artists who best show the history of Appalachian music and not “the stars.”

Plan an overnight stay in Roanoke for shopping at City Market and dining at local favorites Local Roots or Billy’s. Make your way to Sherando Lake in George Washington National Forest for some hiking and camping the next day. You can spend your final day exploring the Shenandoah Valley, Humpback Rock, and Shenandoah National Park before heading back home.

Half Tank Getaways highlights some of our favorite places just outside of Buncombe County and is powered by our pals at Prestige Subaru.

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