Two New GPS Maps Added

We’ve added two new GPS maps of big area trail systems: Wilson Creek, in the Pisgah National Forest near Grandfather Mountain, and Panthertown, in the Nantahala National Forest near Lake Toxaway. Both of these trail systems, although very different, have two common types of destinations within them: waterfalls and trails cliff-top views. And both trail systems have trails open to both bikes and hikers!

Schoolhouse Falls in the Panthertown Valley
Schoolhouse Falls in the Panthertown Valley

Harper Creek Falls is in the Wilson Creek area and the centerpiece of a Best Hike in that area. Several other falls exist in the area as well. In Panthertown, choose from Schoolhouse Falls, Greenland Creek Falls, Wilderness Falls, and several more!

View from Big Lost Cove Cliffs in the Wilson Creek Area
View from Big Lost Cove Cliffs in the Wilson Creek Area

Cliff top views in the Wilson Creek Area include overlooks at Big and Little Lost Cove Cliffs, affording panoramas up to Grandfather Mountain. And in Panthertown, you get Big and Little Green Mountains, as well as the more subtle Salt Rock, among others. Both areas are prime destinations for hiking in the area, so we hope these maps will help you get out there and explore them! Links to the maps, where you can view and download to Google Earth or your GPS, are below.

GPS Map of the Wilson Creek Area

GPS Map of the Panthertown Valley

Map ToolTips

We’ve published a change to the GPS maps, which enables tool tips as you hover over trails and markers. It’s hard to label trails on a dynamic map like you would on a printed one, so we feel like this is a good alternative. Click the highlighted trail to open a window with all the trail details, and download it to your computer or GPS.

We hope you like it, and let us know what other things you’d like to see improved as we continue to build the new maps!

An example hovering over the Camp Alice trail,
in Mt. Mitchell State Park.


Representing the Internet Community to the Forest Service

On Thursday, January 19, I attended the Trails Strategy Workshop with the National Forests in North Carolina in Mars Hill. Overall, the event was very encouraging and informative. Thanks to Alice Cohen, Trails Strategy Coordinator; Diane Rubiaco, Acting Supervisor; Michael Hutchins, Acting Appalachian District Ranger; Erik Crews; Dispersed Recreation Program Manager; and all the others with National Forest in North Carolina for working late to give us the opportunity to be heard. This is a huge deal, and it’s obvious that the Forest Service is coming around to the idea of getting plenty of input before making big, long-lasting decisions that affect our trails.

It’s great to see the land managers reaching out for public involvement in this way, and they did a great job of bringing everyone onto the same page in understanding what they’re trying to do. Throughout the various sessions in the workshop, they were able to demonstrate what common goals disparate trail user groups all have when it comes to trail system planning. They also quashed the inevitable suspicion that the Forest Service is out to just close as many trails as they possibly can (it was repeatedly emphasized that this was not the case).  There were over 40 people in attendance by my count, representing a variety of groups such as the Carolina Mountain Club (hikers), Pisgah SORBA (mountain bikers), equestrians, private camps, eco-tourism outfits, and many more. They also did a good job outlining the next steps going forward

The upcoming Working Meetings take place from February to September and will focus more on the specifics of what needs to happen in the trail system. Their stated outcomes include pursuing sustainability; establishing links, connectors, and loops; realistically prioritizing maintenance; coming up with criteria for consideration of future trail system change requests by the public; increasing volunteer contributions and efficiency in the face of dwindling budgets; and monitoring progress in implementing the plan. Although the meetings are open to the public, the Forest Service has asked organizations to send one representative each to keep the groups at a reasonable size, which seems like a good idea given how energized people get about this topic (as they should).

So although I’m not with any established group of the kind mentioned above, what I’d like to do is ask to be a representative for and its users. I know a lot of our visitors are those who live in the area but perhaps aren’t affiliated with any particular group or can’t attend meetings, and also those who visit from outside the immediate area but have a stake in the future of the trails system here. Please send me email, leave comments on the blog or our Facebook or Google+ pages, tweet to us on Twitter - just send us your input as to what you’d like to see happen to the trails in the National Forests in NC! I’ll try to bring those considerations to the table and ensure that every angle is explored as this important strategy is developed.

Likewise, I look forward to sharing more information back with everyone about what we learn might come out of this. I’ll also be encouraging the Forest Service to continue to be transparent and consistent in disseminating official information (such as potential new trails, change of trail designations, trail closures, and trail map data) as quickly as possible. They’ve been doing a great job at this so far, especially with their new web site (and the Trail Strategy Page), but we want to ensure that this continues so we can pass the information along to you in a way that matters most: boiled down to just the information you need to plan your next hike or ride!

Spring Hiking at Connemara

You don’t have to be a great appreciator of the arts, poetry, or even Carl Sandburg to enjoy a visit to Connemara – the poet’s historic homestead at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. From the moment you start down the path to Front Lake, it’s hard not to feel the peacefulness that pervades the land that the Sandburg’s called home.

A View of the Home from Front Lake

To the right of Front Lake, there’s a wonderful picnic area where you can enjoy a meal with family or friends before beginning a tour of the vast grounds. Kids are welcome to feed the fish in the lake, as they travel over an idyllic white bridge and up an easy trail to the main house. In early spring, there’s bold yellow forsythia to stroke along the way, and lusty pink and white magnolia blossoms beckon you close to the house like a spell.

The bridge over the dam at Front Lake

It’s likely that young children won’t yet have much interest in taking a tour of the home itself. That’s okay, because there is a simple, circular pond directly out front that is full of music making toads. You can also take the kids down to Lilian Sandburg’s famous goat dairy (they breed the same varieties that she once did).

One of the biggest surprises at Connemara is the intricate network of trails that start at the main entrance and end at the top of Glassy Mountain. Both the Memminger (named after the 1st Confederate States Secretary of the Treasury, Charles Memminger) and the Glassy Trail climb gently and smoothly and are in good condition. There are several signed detours along the Glassy Trail that lead back to the main house if you don’t want to climb to the top of the mountain. There’s even one sign that simply reads, “home”.

The Trail Home

It’s easy to spend the entire day at Connemara. I recommend reading some of Sandburg’s poems to your kids in the car, so that they arrive with their imaginations full. It really is a magical place that you’ll want to visit over and over again.

We’ll be adding the trails at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site as a new Trailhead to, so look for more details there before you plan your very own trip to the Carl Sandburg Home! Here are a few more pictures from around the area to get you started.

Article by guest blogger Tasha Mitchell

Trails at Carl Sandburg Home are great for kids!
The View from Glassy Mountain
The Memminger Trailhead
S. Trailhead for Little Glassy Mountain
March 20, 2011Permalink 1 Comment

Visit to Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls is located just off of I-40 in the Pisgah National Forest, near Old Fort, in McDowell County. Despite its’ being on National Forest property, however, the falls has long since been off-limits to the general public due to the only reasonable access trail being on private property. But good news! Recently, the Foothills Conservancy bought the 23-acre tract over which the access trail passes for $400,000.00, on a loan. A temporary access agreement with the County was put in place, and since then the public has been allowed to access the fails simply by parking at the end of the road and walking up the trail.

More recently, a Federal house bill has been passed that will allocate the funds for the US Forest Service to acquire the land from the Nature Conservancy, thereby paying off the loan, and possibly develop a larger parking area for public access. Since this news was released mid and late last year, I’ve put the falls high on my list for a visit – and it was well worth the wait. Catawba Falls is a beautiful, multi-charactered falls with two distinct sections – a wonderful addition to the selection of trails and hikes available in Western North Carolina.

The trail begins at the end of Catawba River Road off of I-40, at the bottom of the Old Fort grade (directions on Google Maps). On the day of my most recent hike, there was still a good 6″ of ice and snow on the ground from two recent winter storms in late 2009 (the major snow of December 18th and the big ice storm Christmas morning). The trail was muddy where there was no snow, and it was actually easier to walk on the crunchy snow than the places where the trail was clear!

The trail is mostly level at first, and I noticed that it followed an old power line (which is down in places). The trail starts on the left side of the creek but eventually you must cross to the right side where it continues. There is one place where it is possible to rock-hop, but it was above boot level with the high water. Upstream from that, at the old powerhouse, was a slippery log which I was able to use as a makeshift bridge. It still had snow and ice on it, so it was tricky at best. Expect to get wet on this crossing if you come after wet weather!

After you cross, the trail follows the creek upstream on a gentle grade at first, then a moderate climb. You will pass by the ruins of the dam that supplied the old power house (seen here). The trail drops off steeply to a cascade below the dam, so be careful. This creek used to be the sole power source for the town of Old Fort.

Beyond the dam, the trail climbs a bit more steeply before making another creek crossing. That crossing is an easy rockhop. Next, the trail comes out in a dry wash. Cross to a rocky “island” in between the wash and another creek crossing, and cross that as well. This second crossing was tricky again on my last hike – a big hemlock log makes a good bridge but it too was snow and ice covered.

The trail then continues uphill a short distance through an area of very large boulders to the lower falls, seen below (from a prior trip with no snow). There is a good bit of room for hanging out an enjoying the scenery. The uppermost parts of the falls might be obscured from view when the leaves are on the trees, so I’d recommend going before the winter is over. In very cold weather, I bet lots of ice forms on and around the falls:

Lower Catawba Falls

Now from here, there is a scramble path that leads up the right side of the falls. There is a sign warning you not to go that way and let me tell you – heed the sign. It starts out steep, gets steeper, and eventually gets so steep up some rocks that there is a rope in place to help numbskulls (like me) who go up there anyways keep from getting killed. Because that’s what will happen if you slip – you’ll tumble down the path and off the falls. Not only is it steep, but it’s narrow, with a sheer drop-off into the creek.

So why would anyone even bother climbing this path? There are some pretty neat (scary?) views of the lower falls from up there, but the real reason is to reach the upper falls – which are about 5 minutes upstream from the top of the lower falls. The upper falls is really nice, but until a better path is established, I can’t recommend anyone attempting to reach them. So I got a photo for you:

Upper Catawba Falls

So from the photo you can probably see why people would want to haul themselves up the mountain. It is such a beautiful waterfall, but the trail up there is so bad that I’m torn as to whether I’d even go back that way to reach them.

I’ve added Catawba Falls to, and I’m considering adding it to as a Best Hike also. But for that, I’ll probably wait until the Forest Service buys the land near the trailhead, making the “temporary” access more permanent.

December 27, 2009Permalink 1 Comment

A New Battle Between Mt. Mitchell and Clingman’s Dome?

In response to my post about the new observation platform atop Mt. Mitchell, Allen said:

“Now that the old 45 tower has been replaced by the observation deck on Mt. Mitchell, is a person standing on the Clingmans Dome tower in the Smokies at a higher elevation, or does the Mt. Mitchell deck still put you at a higher level? In other words, how tall is the deck above the mountain top?”

Good question! I figured this one was worth a little bit of research.

The summit elevation at Mt. Mitchell is 6,684 ft. and the deck of the new Mt. Mitchell platform is 12 ft. above the mountaintop (according to the Asheville Citizen-Times), so the elevation of your feet when standing on the platform would be 6,696 ft. Now the summit of Clingman’s Dome is said to be 6,643 ft. According to Brittanica, the deck of that tower is 54 ft. high. So if the base of the tower is right at summit elevation, that puts the deck at 6697 ft. Which means that you’re now standing 1 foot higher on the Clingman’s Dome tower than the Mt. Mitchell observation platform!


Clingman's Dome tower on a snowy day

Are these folks now standing higher than people on the platform atop Mt. Mitchell?

That would be a bit of justice finally to Mr. Clingman, I guess, considering the famous dispute between he and Dr. Mitchell regarding which mountain in the region was higher. But of course, the figures above might be just a hair off. In fact, I recently read that one new satellite-based measurement of Mt. Mitchell put the actual summit elevation at closer to 6,710 feet. (I need to find that article again, so don’t quote me on it).

Now these figures are so close, in the age of data and technology I think we need a better way to come up with a winner than just adding up numbers that “The Officials” have told us to be true. So let the new quest to find the highest tower begin! If anyone cares to get some GPS or altimeter readings on both towers, I’d be interested in seeing what they said. The more readings, the better. Both barometric altimeters, and actual GPS measurements. Make sure the unit is on the deck of the tower (the part you stand on, not the railing) when getting the reading. Come back and post it in the comments here, along with as much info as you can – device used, date, time, and other information such as calibration point. If we could get multiple readings by multiple people that we could average together, that’d help correct any aberration in any given unit at the time the measurement was taken. And use the same device for both readings, calibrated to the closest USGS benchmark or known elevation you can find. And if anyone wants to pull a tape up there and confirm the heights of the decks, that’d help too. We’ll collect the readings and start to see which one looks like it’s coming out the winner!

Regardless, of the exact measurements, they’re both literally within a stone’s throw of each other in height (as is Mt. Craig at 6,645′, and it has *no* tower at its top, making it my favorite).  Best to go to each one and enjoy them all so no matter what, you can say you were standing at the highest possible (albeit man-made) point in the Appalachians!

March 26, 2009Permalink 4 Comments

How a Bear Made Me Sick

One fine Saturday in June, 2007, I decided to take a short hike up to the waterfall on Hickey Fork Creek. It’s a fairly easy hike, and I decided to leave my water in the car for this one. After 20 minutes on the trail I arrived at the falls, soaked in the scene for a few minutes, and then started heading back to the trailhead. Only a few hundred yards down the trail on a very steep downhill section, I was stopped dead in my tracks: there, ahead of me and shooting rapidly up a tree, was a young bear cub. Down below, on the trail itself, was the mother.

Now, normally, one does not simply walk past a mother black bear and her cubs. She took a curious stance, and looked in my direction, but didn’t move very much. I made a little noise and slowly retreated, feeling the adrenaline, while the bear watched me moving away. After a short time, I was back at the falls and what I felt was a safe distance from her and her cub.

But was my biggest concern at that point being attacked by the bear? Apparently not, seeing as she didn’t even move. I was much more likely to see her disappearing away from me through the rhododendron than to get attacked. Even if she did charge my way, the chances of an actual attack are pretty low. Not absent, but low. But this encounter left me with another dilemma.

Between me and my vehicle was a family of bears that I did not want to disturb any further. The falls is located in a steep, rugged valley, making the possibility of finding a safe bypass a slim one. Looking at the map (which I thankfully did bring) and weighing my options as afternoon wore on, I spied another trail that joined with the one I was on further up the mountain and looped back down the next valley to reach the trailhead where I was parked. I quickly decided to take this route. But not until I was on the dry ridgeline searching for the connecting trail, after climbing 1500′ up an insanely steep ridge on a windy, hot day, did I realize that I had no water, and was quite thirsty – dehydrated, even.

The connecting trail did not appear soon, and when I finally found it, it was not heading in the right direction. It was wildly overgrown and difficult to follow. I was beginning to think I might have to spend the night on the mountain. With…no…water.

So, you see, the bear gave me a much bigger problem without so much as making a move. My only choice at this point was to return the way I came and hope that the bear had gone on her way, which I did, and she had. However, by the time I reached the falls again I was completely parched,  had stopped sweating and was feeling nauseous (classic signs of dehydration).

To make it the rest of the way back to the car, I was forced to take a nice, long, refreshing drink out of the creek. After all, bad water is better than no water when it’s getting dark, you still have a mile and a half to hike, and it’s getting dark. This water wasn’t so bad – it was cold, clear, and tasted great, even – but drinking straight from a stream is not really a good idea due to the various bacteria and flagellated protozoa which may inhabit the waters. These nasty bugs can do a number on a human digestive system, which is why purification is always recommended.

Luckily, I only came down with a mild upset stomach which lasted about 3 days. But it could have been worse. For me, it was a lesson learned and proves that the most dangerous animals in the woods might be the ones you can’t even see.

March 21, 2008Permalink 3 Comments

A Call To Action: Hemlocks Threatened by Tiny Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

Majestic hemlock forest at Linville Falls. This was taken several years ago. Today, the forest is much thinner and less healthy looking. But new growth was spotted on many trees as of September, 2006!

Update 8/7/07: Hemlocks which still appear to be healthy along the Parkway and Linville Falls are likely ones which have been chemically treated, rather than helped by the predator beetles. Hemlocks are dying rapidly where untreated or treated only by the predator beetles, and it appears that the biological control method will be ineffective. Since chemical treatment is difficult to do large-scale, it looks like we’re losing the war. Article originally posted Sept. 11, 2004.

Original article (edits marked in red):

Spears of morning light shoot through the forest as tiny, winged seeds spin down through the beams like flying insects, or a light snowfall. Continue reading

August 7, 2007Permalink 8 Comments