Courthouse Creek Road closed through the summer

The US Forest Service has announced that Courthouse Creek Road, FS 140, will be closed until late October to replace a low-water crossing. This road has been the subject of extensive damage and repairs in the past thanks to flood events, and the Forest Service aims to build a bridge that can survive such occurrences unscathed. This road provides access to the popular Courthouse Creek Falls (seen below) and points nearby. The road will still be open to non-vehicular traffic, so visiting the falls will be possible – as long as you’re willing to trek a ways further on foot or bike.

For more information, see the official Forest Service press release: Courthouse Creek Road to Close for Construction.

2003-08-12_pisgah-upper-french-broad_courthouse-falls
Courthouse Falls will be a little harder to get to this summer with FS 140 closed for construction

Hike in to Graveyard Fields now to avoid the crowds

By now, you’ve probably heard the news that the Graveyard Fields parking area and trailhead along the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed for the next 11 weeks while the parking area is expanded and restroom facilities are added. It’s been on just about every news outlet repeatedly, which is why we haven’t rushed to post about it here. If you haven’t heard, the official news release from the Blue Ridge Parkway should convey all you need to know about that project.

However, one thing we haven’t seen mentioned is that this gives us a rare opportunity to hike into Graveyard Fields during the warm season without the usual oppressive crowds. The closure only affects the parking area and trailhead on National Park Service land. The trails within the valley itself are all on National Forest property, accessible by a hike even when the Parkway is completely closed (which I frequently recommend during the winter months). This time around, the Parkway itself past the Graveyard Fields valley won’t be closed like it is in winter, but the access point into the National Forest will be.

There are a few good routes hikers can use to get into the area, which is connected to the rest of the trail network in the Pisgah Ranger District via the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). The shortest route starts at the Looking Glass Rock overlook and heads west on the MST. This hike is about 1.7 miles, past Skinny Dip Falls, and up the ridge to the Second Falls trail connector. From that junction, turn left; it’s about 0.2 miles farther to the steps leading down to the falls, with the rest of the valley’s trails straight ahead. (Continuing straight on the MST at the junction would bring you to the Graveyard Ridge trail in just over 0.4 miles, making loop options possible). This route does involve a fairly stiff climb up from Skinny Dip Falls, which should deter 90% of potential fellow hikers from venturing into the valley with you.

The other option would be to start where the MST crosses Black Balsam Road (FS 816), which turns off the Parkway 3.2 miles south past the Looking Glass Rock overlook mentioned above (or 1.4 miles past the closure at the Graveyard Fields overlook). Follow the MST northeast, over a somewhat rugged but beautiful segment of the path, for about 1.5 miles to the junction with the Graveyard Ridge trail. From there you have two options: turn right onto Graveyard Ridge and go just under a mile on a level route to the Graveyard Ridge Connector which descends into the valley, or go straight on the MST for 1.2 miles to the other end of the Graveyard Ridge trail. (The connector to Second Falls is 0.4 miles ahead from there). There are also numerous loop options if coming from this direction, including ones that take you over Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam Knob if you’re up for a longer hike.

Either route provides its own set of attractions along the MST in addition to the usual goodies in Graveyard fields (like the open areas and waterfalls), so the connections are a great part of the overall experience. Keep in mind that both alternate parking areas can also become very crowded on popular summer weekends, although most people don’t hike very far from their cars.

See the Graveyard Fields Map to explore these options in more detail.

So while everyone else is grousing about the parking area being closed, hike in to Graveyard Fields the proper way and enjoy a (somewhat less) crowded version of this beautiful mountain valley!

Graveyard Fields in spring, as seen from the (now closed) parking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Graveyard Fields in spring, as seen from the (now closed) parking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Santeetlah Lake Trail Now Open

Tucked away near Robbinsville, NC in Graham County is Santeetlah Lake, a gem of a reservoir with a name I’ve yet figured out how to pronounce correctly. The lake is fed by clear, cold-water streams such as Snowbird Creek and one with the same name as the lake, flowing out of the Cheoah Ranger District of the Nantahala National Forest near popular recreation sites such as the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the Cherohala Skyway.

A new trail has been built – which shares its name with the lake – and it was opened to the public on Saturday, April 12 2014. This multi-use trail is open to hikers, mountain bikers, and horses and extends about 9 miles, with parts of it on the lakeshore. Portions of the trail are on old forest service roads (some open to vehicles), while a short section is purpose-built singletrack.

Check out the press release and maps (attached) and be sure to enjoy this new recreation opportunity in a beautiful part of Western North Carolina this year!

Santeetlah Lake at sunset.
Santeetlah Lake at sunset. Image by flickr user anoldent.

Maps And Information

Santeetlah Lake Trail – Vicinity Map

Santeetlah Lake Trail – Topo Map

Santeetlah Lake Trail – Simpler Map

Santeetlah Lake Trail Opening Press Release
(with more statistics and information)

April 17, 2014Permalink 1 Comment

Wash Creek Road added to the list of closures for the Brushy Ridge Project

Some bad news about the road and trail closures in the North Mills River area this morning: Wash Creek Road, which is the main road leading from the Campground up to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Bent Creek Gap, has been added to the “Closed” list. It is, however, still open to non-motorized traffic. We were encouraged by earlier reports that this road was going to be left open, but apparently cars and logging trucks still don’t blend.

You can read the full details on the Forest Service’s web site.

Road Closed
Road Closed

New multi-use trails open near Lake Lure, NC

We’ve been hearing tidbits about the development of the new trails near the Hickory Nut Gorge and Chimney Rock State Park for the last few years. Now it looks like the first trail openings are happening, starting at Lake Lure’s Buffalo Creek Park. According to the Town of Lake Lure, there are a few miles of trail completed now, with some finishing touches to bring the first-phase total to 5 miles by this summer. Beautifully constructed by the folks at Trail Dynamics in Pisgah Forest, NC, the trails will be open to mountain biking and foot travel.

Beyond this first phase, an additional 5-7 miles of trail could connect the park to NC State Park property. Chimney Rock State Park’s master plan calls for even more multi-use trail mileage to be built in the years to come, and farther into the future these trails will form part of a much longer, hiking-only trail circumnavigating the Hickory Nut Gorge.

We get lots of questions regarding outdoor activities in this part of the region and, until now, there were limited options we could recommend. This is great news, as there aren’t really any other mountain biking opportunities in the vicinity of Chimney Rock. Even places to hike are kind of sparse.

We can’t wait to visit the new trails and see what they’re like, and when we do we’ll add all the info about them onto our own sites! Until then, here’s some links to help you plan your own exploration of the latest addition to WNC’s great trail networks.

Full article about the opening

A “behind the scenes” look at the creation of the park

Photo gallery of trail construction

More photos of trail construction, including some beautiful fall color shots and some shots that really show the interesting rock features and views from along the trail.

February 27, 2014Permalink 2 Comments

Forest Service to close N. Mills River Area for 6 Months

It looks like the Brushy Ridge logging project will be getting underway soon, and during that time, the entire North Mills River area will be closed to public access. A post on the NC Wildlife Resource Commission’s web site alludes to the closure and that they won’t be stocking fish.

Edit Feb. 4: the Asheville Citizen-Times has articles this week about the closure, and the official Forest Service press release was also sent out. It’s below.

Edit Feb. 22: the Forest Service has released a handy map of the closure areas. It’s at the bottom of this post.

National Forests in North Carolina
160A Zillicoa St.

Asheville, N.C. 28801

News Release

Media Contact: Stevin Westcott, 828-257-4215

  

Ecosystem Improvement Project to Begin in Pisgah Ranger District

Some Trails and Roads to Close from February – May

PISGAH FOREST, N.C., Feb. 3, 2014 - The U.S. Forest Service will soon begin the first phase of an ecosystem improvement project in the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, that includes 64 acres of timber harvesting. The effort, called the Brushy Ridge project, will provide a number of environmental benefits such as controlling non-native species, improving fish habitat and promoting wildlife habitat.

To help ensure public safety during timber harvesting activities the Forest Service will close trails and roads in the Trace Ridge Area of Henderson County in the Pisgah Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, beginning in early February 2014 and continuing through May 2014. The following trails and roads will be closed during this time:

  • Hendersonville Reservoir Road (FS 142);
  • Fletcher Creek Road (FS 5097), to intersection with Spencer Gap Trail (Trail 600);
  • Wash Creek (Trail 606);
  • Trace Ridge (Trail 354);
  • North Mills River (Trail 353); and
  • Yellow Gap Trail (Trail 611).

Trace Ridge Trailhead will not be accessible and the use of the trails and roads is prohibited. Please use caution while traveling in the area, particularly Wash Creek Road as logging truck will be on the area roads.

The Forest Service designed the Brushy Ridge project to fulfill management objectives in the current Nantahala and Pisgah National Forest management plan. This project allows the agency to implement a variety of management activities to improve ecological diversity, as well as promote forest health and sustainability.

The Forest Service’s management practices will:

  • Regenerate favorable tree species such as oaks and hickories and maintain a variety of hardwood tree species;
  • Improve the growth and health of remaining trees through thinning treatments;
  • Improve habitat for aquatic species, including trout, by replacing culverts and bridges that are restricting flow and causing erosion issues;
  • Improve habitat for wildlife, including game species such as turkeys and non-game species;
  • Control non-native invasive species;
  • Plant hybrid American Chestnut trees as a first step toward restoring them to Southern Appalachian forests and plant blight resistant butternut seedlings; and
  • Designate an additional 231 acres of old growth forest areas.

The Forest Service will implement the second phase of this project, which involves an additional 63 acres, this spring or summer. Seniard Mountain Road (FS 5001) and Bear Branch Trail (Trail 328) will be closed during this phase. The agency will issue a news alert to announce the closures.

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 USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users). 

Brushy-ridge-timber-map

Looking for Android Beta Testers

Android users! We’re ready to begin alpha testing of our upcoming North Carolina Waterfalls android app! Being a tester means a few things: early access to the app at the lowest price allowable, the chance to shape new features and provide feedback, and experiencing our bugs in all their glory! (All testers will be upgraded to the release version for free when it comes out).

If you’re interested, head over to our App Testers Google+ Community and request to join!
https://plus.google.com/communities/101711094735312460376

North Carolina Waterfalls Android App Screenshot
North Carolina Waterfalls Android App Screenshot

Tsali’s Left Loop Closed Temporarily

The US Forest Service announced a closure of Tsali’s Left Loop trail due to a landslide today. Full press release is below.

Edit 3/1/2014: The Forest Service has reopened the trail now. Enjoy it!

National Forests in North Carolina
U.S. Forest Service
160A Zillicoa St.
Asheville, N.C. 28801
Online: www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc

FOREST SERVICE ALERT

Jan. 2, 2014

Left Loop of Tsali Trail System Closed

ROBBINSVILLE, N.C. - The Left Loop of the Tsali Trail system is currently closed due to a slide along the trail. The other 3 loops in the trail system remain open. The Forest Service will work to evaluate and repair damage to the trail and issue an alert when the trail is reopened.

Located near Fontana Lake, Tsali Recreation Area is nationally known for its 42-mile trail system. The four-loop network is open to hikers and horses, but the system is best known as a challenging mountain bike course.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).

New DuPont State Forest Map by Pisgah Map Company

Earlier this year, Pisgah Map Company released another map in the Western North Carolina Trail Guide series, this one of DuPont State (Recreational) Forest. Like the Pisgah Ranger District map published in 2011 (which we also reviewed), this is another fantastic publication made by locals who are not only trail experts, but whose award-winning company is leading the entire industry in the outdoor recreation map space.

Although there isn’t a National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of DuPont like there is of Pisgah, there has been another map of DuPont State Forest available. It’s produced by the Forest Service in conjunction with the Friends of DuPont Forest group, last revised in 2012. While I like both, I think the newer one edges it out when taken head to head. Read on to find out why!

Size & Form Factor

The Trail Guide map is larger, making more room for detail necessary in a dense trail network like this one. Without measuring, I’d say it has more than twice as much area as the smaller one.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Both maps unfolded. The Friends map is on top.

However, it folds up into a narrower size than the older map – which fits better in my packs which tend to have narrower compartments, or even a large pants pocket. The Friends map is more square, while the Trail Guide is shaped more like a tri-fold brochure.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
The two maps folded

More than just a map, both publications feature the main map on one side, with a variety of other information and map insets on the reverse.

Detail & Style

Both maps provide adequate detail for navigating Dupont State Forest’s trails, especially since the trails are well-signed on the ground and easy to follow, so it’s hard to miss a turn.

Style wise, I prefer the Trail Guide when considering text, graphics, and symbology. It feels more like a modern digital version of many government maps – like, for instance, the National Park maps – which in turn are inspired by our old go-to recreational maps: the USGS quads. In keeping with the Pisgah Trail Guide, this one also labels each trail with its name directly on the map.

map_trailguide
Pisgah Map Company’s Trail Guide map sample

Contours are subtle yet crisp; hill shading is provided to give a slightly 3D appearance. Property boundaries are clearly visible without having a thick, distracting border. This is ultimately easier on the eyes and provides more information in the same space.

Meanwhile, some of the symbols and labels on the Friends map are so large that they sometimes cover up nearby details. The trails – which are now more standard dashed lines on the 2012 edition as opposed to the thick solid lines on the 2008 edition – are color-coded and only numbered on the Friends map. This means you have to cross-reference the index each time to find out a trail’s name.

map_fodf
Friends of DuPont’s map sample. You’ll have to reference the index to know what those trails are called.

The contours stand out a bit more on the Friends map, and the elevation labels are unusually large.

On the other hand, those with difficulty reading fine print or seeing fine detail might choose to opt for the Friends map for the reasons above, since the labels are much larger. The descriptive text is in a somewhat larger font, too – handy for casual reading.

Both maps provide insets showing a close-up of the very popular waterfall areas. But the Friends map’s inset is devoid of topographic info, making it a little harder to judge difficulty of the trails.

fodf_inset
Inset in the Friends of DuPont map. It’s a bit devoid of details, but then again, it shows only what you need to get around.

The Trail Guide uses the same styles in its insets as it uses on the main map.

Neither yet shows the new trail completed this year to High Falls, but it’s easy to follow and I suspect future revisions of both maps will include it.

Extras

Both maps feature an attractive cover, full-color photographs, and details about area attractions on the reverse. Either map will guide you to all the major attractions – lakes, waterfalls, summits – within DuPont.

But with more space, the Trail Guide is also able to provide several smaller guides highlighting some great popular mountain bike routes within the larger trail network. These include basic stats, GPS coordinates, a turn-by-turn/cue sheet as well as an elevation profile. If you’re from out-of-town and just want to pick up one map before you go out to ride, this makes it pretty compelling and worth the extra price (see below).

Price and Availability

The Friends map is becoming difficult to find in many stores (especially in the Asheville area), while the Trail Guide is now available nearly everywhere. However, the Friends map does run a good bit less than the Trail Guide if you can find it.

At Mast Store – one of the last places that stocks them in Asheville – the Friends map was $8, while the Trail Guide was $14. A portion of the proceeds from both goes toward trail maintenance and other projects in Dupont.

Digital Version

The Trail Guide map is also available in the Avenza PDF Maps Store as a digital download for your iPhone (and soon, Android phones & tablets as well). It’s the same map as the printed version, without the ride guides on the map (and with some collar information rearranged). We’ve been testing the Avenza app beta on Android and it’s very nice, and allows you to track your position on the map in real-time using GPS. It also allows you to add your own annotations and export them as a KML file for sharing. This is a compelling new development, and I think having access to a digital map consistent with the printed version makes the Trail Guide even more attractive.

Keep checking back for more specific reviews of the digital map offerings including this one!

Bottom Line

Both maps are worth the money, and both will get you around just fine within DuPont State Forest. But the WNC Trail Guide has a more comfortable size, nicer style, and a few extras that make it my recommendation if you’re looking to make a choice between the two to buy.

For more information, visit the publisher’s web sites:
Pisgah Map Company
Friends of DuPont Forest

A quick note in the interest of full disclosure: Pisgah Map Company used some of our own photos on the Trail Guide. They were provided free of charge – and anyone else is also welcome to use them as such :)

New Trail Opens in DuPont State Forest

In celebration of National Trails day on June 1, 2013, several new trails were officially opened in DuPont State Recreational Forest, including a new connector between the end of Turkey Knob Road at Pinnacle Mountain Road and Little Briery trail. This new segment of trail, which was built by Long Cane Trails and funded by Friends of DuPont Forest, is an important connector and completes a “missing link” needed to make longer loops around the south side of DuPont, including a loop all the way around Lake Julia, without using some boring gravel roads. Designed with all users in mind, it’s not a difficult trail but does include some nice features along the way to make it more interesting – including vast areas of Galax and beautiful forests, rock slabs and rock outcrops, a creek crossing, and a sturdy bridge. With some switchbacks, frequent rolling grade reversals, and a gentle grade, the trail should remain in good condition for years to come!

We weren’t able to make the opening on June 1, but I did make it out Saturday to check out the new trail on foot. Here’s some pics and a report from that hike.

Starting at Pinnacle Mountain Road (where we parked), the new extension to Turkey Knob trail begins heading downhill. Right now, it’s still signed Turkey Knob Road at this junction, but word is that the road portion is going to be allowed to revert back to trail, and the whole thing will be labeled as a trail in the future.

Riders at the beginning of the new extension to Turkey Knob Road (Trail).

As the trail starts descending the ridge, it passes through vast beds of Galax, an evergreen plant common to DuPont and popular for greenery around the holidays. In June, it flowers with straight, white stalks – an amazing sight if you hit it at the right time.

Galax flowers beside the new portion of Turkey Knob trail.
Galax and mountain laurel flowering beside the new stretch of trail.

The trail passes several nice rock outcrops and over a few rock slabs near the top, spicing it up just a little. There are several rock slabs along the way, actually, but nothing like the vast expanses of rock on Big Rock or Cedar Rock trails.

Rock outcrop beside the new section of Turkey Knob trail.
Rock slab along the new Turkey Knob trail. 

The trail descends through some switchbacks, across a creek, and over another tributary on this new, sturdy bridge.

Sturdy new bridge along the Turkey Knob trail.

As you approach the bottom intersection with Briery Fork trail, you’ll see more ferns along rolling sections of the trail, before entering a forest of white pines – probably an old plantation. Here are a few more shots from the lower 1/3 of the trail.

Winding section of trail.
Rolling grade dips along the new Turkey Knob trail.
Ferns grow beside the trail near the bottom.
The trail winds up in a white pine plantation.
Trail sign at the bottom – it looks temporary.

At the intersection of Briery Fork trail, you can go left or right up to Joanna Road to make some nice loops. The trail here is signed as Turkey Knob Trail (not road), so that lends some support to the idea that it may be re-designated a trail from end to end. Whatever it’s called, we definitely thing this one’s worth hiking or riding. Here are some links to the trail pages with maps and GPS data:

Turkey Knob Road (Trail) on HikeWNC
Turkey Knob Road (Trail) on MTB WNC

Enjoy!