WNC Waterfalls App for Android Released

We’re happy to announce that our new WNC Waterfalls App for Android phones and tablets is ready for download!

WNC Waterfalls App for Android

Starting today, you can visit 50 of the area’s popular waterfalls using this guide on your Android device. It’s packed with the same information we provide here on the web – but with no data connection needed after installation.

Photos are provided to help you decide which of Western North Carolina’s beautiful waterfalls you’d like to visit. Search for waterfalls by name, hike difficulty, and distance from your location.

Each waterfall is described in detail, with comprehensive hike descriptions, along with full driving directions. Several waterfalls in the app are wheelchair accessible, many are family friendly, and others are perfect for adventurers, requiring a longer, more strenuous hike through the backcountry to reach.

Each waterfall also has a detailed topo map that can be used with your device’s GPS to track your location while hiking.

Made to complement our long running waterfall web site, the app represents the next stage in WNCOutdoors.info’s quest to provide comprehensive, guidebook-quality information about the outdoors in Western North Carolina.


Download the app now in the Google Play Store!

The WNC Waterfalls App for Android is compatible with Android devices running version 2.3.3 Gingerbread with 106 MB free space. We hope you enjoy using the app, and look forward to hearing your feedback as you use it during your own waterfall exploration!

If you have an Apple iOS device instead of Android, you may want to check out Todd Ransom’s Waterfalls of Western North Carolina app in the iTunes store.

September 30, 2014Permalink 1 Comment

No, the Forest Service is Not Planning to Charge You $1500 to Photograph the Wilderness

Put away the pitchforks, folks. After reading some of the recent horribly misleading media coverage of a proposal by the US Forest Service, you might think that members of the media (down to – and yes, including! – us lowly bloggers) are about to be banned from all National Forest lands. You might even be forgiven for thinking wildlife, landscape, or casual photographers selling their prints online or at a local art show or gallery are about to be hit with an onerous fine. Just take a look at some of the articles that have popped up today, in order of increasing fearmongering:

There are plenty more where those came from, but fortunately, most of that is simply false.

We don’t like to really get political on this blog, but this round of mainstream media ineptitude starts to expose why they might legitimately need a permit to do some of the stuff they try to get away with on a regular basis.

So here’s the actual story. The Forest Service has long required a permit for some types of commercial photography and most commercial video production on National Forest lands, and, when you stop and read the rules, they’re actually fairly reasonable. The permitting requirement is clearly designed to prevent gross misuse of public land for profit – not to blast a bird watcher into bankruptcy for documenting her latest find.

The rules for what requires a permit are pretty clear, but every news article I’ve seen has failed to incorporate those into its story. So here it is, outlined clearly in 36 CFR §251.51:

  • Still photography—use of still photographic equipment on National Forest System lands that takes place at a location where members of the public generally are not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely, or uses models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.
  • Commercial filming—use of motion picture, videotaping, sound recording, or any other moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, or the use of models, actors, sets, or props, but not including activities associated with broadcasting breaking news, as defined in FSH 2709.11, chapter 40.

We’ve researched this before, since part of what we do involves photographing and filming on National Forest lands for what might be construed as “commercial purposes”. (Our original question was, does it count as “commercial” if you put it on a blog or web site that is ad supported?) But when you read those definitions, it’s clearly not, and none of that applies to the individual photographer, taking pictures of the wilderness, from a generally accessible area – even if they plan on directly selling those in the future. (Videos are an exception, even for an individual, if they are an ad or offered for sale directly. We don’t do that.)

And most importantly, this still does not apply to media covering a breaking news story – only to those making documentary-style videos for sale, and it is not an attempt at silencing anyone from legitimate news gathering.

What’s changing is not what kind of photography or filming requires a permit, but the guidelines by which the agency will even approve or deny a permit. The definitions above are not changing. Not all Forest Service land is designated wilderness, and not much is changing outside the wilderness areas. The real changes come only when someone actually applies for a permit for commercial filming in federally designated Wilderness areas. They’re trying to clarify under what conditions they will approve or deny the permit. And that’s all.

Now, it is true that the guidelines used for approving or rejecting your permit are going to get pretty strict. Your commercial filming (because – media or not – that’s what it is) won’t be able to cause resource damage, disrupt the public’s ability to use the area, be a risk to public health, or involve pornography. And if it’s inside a designated Wilderness area, it must be about the wilderness. It must be necessary that the filming take place on wilderness land (as opposed to other suitable locations that are not federally designated wilderness). And it must not require motorized or mechanical travel, which is already prohibited in the Wilderness.

That’s pretty strict, and I can see how first amendment concerns might be raised, but the assertion that there will be some sort of a “pay-to-play” system where $1500 grants you filming rights is particularly egregious. The funny thing is, if anything, these new strict requirements will ensure that even fewer people have the opportunity to pay such a fee than do now. Regardless, this is not some sort of a money making ploy by an under-funded federal agency, nor an attempt at squashing Sasquatch-in-the-wilderness photos from making the rounds on social media and stock photography sites.

There are legitimate concerns raised by this rather high level of restriction on filming in wilderness areas, but as a supporter of wilderness, I’m in favor of the spirit of this overall. I think the media does a disservice to its customers to mis-report the facts the way it’s being done here – and ultimately, to itself.

You still have time (until November 3rd, 2014) to submit your comments regarding this proposed change. I certainly will be. But if you’re thinking about writing to plead for permission to take pictures with your iPhone next time you go hiking, don’t bother, because that’s already allowed – and nothing about this proposal is going to change that.

Edit 9/26: here’s a link to the Forest Service’s Special Uses handbook, which is what this whole proposal is about amending. Here’s a link to a Q&A document about the proposed changes from way back in July 2013, where it is stated “The Proposed Directive makes no changes to the policy on still photography. No permit is required for most still photography, including still photography in wilderness areas.”. The US Forest Service has also issued its official response to this whole debacle.

September 25, 2014Permalink 25 Comments

15 Miles of Multi-Use Trails Open Saturday at Lake James State Park

Western North Carolina is about to have yet another trail system for mountain biking at one of its beautiful mountain destinations!

Lake James State Park will soon be open to bikes with 15 miles of new multi-use trail on the north side of the lake, which are in the park’s Paddy’s Creek area. The park has been steadily expanding its recreational trail opportunities over the years, but these represent the first purpose-built singletrack trails open to bikes – not only at Lake James, but in any state park in the mountain region.

Other state parks in the area abound with hiking opportunities, but aside from a couple of old service roads open to bikes in Gorges State Park, North Carolina’s flagship lands have been decidedly off-limits to wheeled recreation until now. The new trails, in combination with a master plan in Chimney Rock which calls for mountain bike access, shows that the State’s commitment to listening to what park users are asking for has started to pay off. We can only hope that the trend continues, with new riding opportunities opening up across an ever-increasing inventory of lands owned by the State and designated in part for public recreation.

The full press release is below. Or for more information, visit the North Carolina State Parks’ web site.

North Shore of Lake James from Linville Gorge.
North Shore of Lake James from Linville Gorge. Image by flickr user msprague

Grand Opening of Mountain Bike Trail System – June 7, 2014

Nebo, NC – The North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation has slated Saturday, June 7, 2014 for the official opening of a new, 15-mile mountain bike trail system at Lake James State Park’s Paddy’s Creek Area in Burke County. The trail dedication will take place at 9 a.m.
Included in the new layout are a 4-mile beginner loop and an 11-and-1/4-mile intermediate loop. A 30-vehicle parking area has been constructed to provide direct access to the loops via short connector trails.
According to Tim Johnson, regional trails specialist for NCDPR West District, the mountain bike trails at Lake James State Park have been constructed to provide a “back-country” experience to riders and an eye toward sustainability. “The trails are purpose built to use the natural rolling contours of the terrain to shed water and dry quickly,” said Johnson. “This protects the state’s investment by greatly reducing the effects of erosion and minimizing closures necessitated by heavy rains.”
The trail system was constructed by Benchmark Trails Inc. and Long Cane Trails L.L.C., with significant support from park staff and volunteers.
Members of the Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance will assist park staff in maintaining the new trails. “The Alliance is excited to partner with Lake James State Park on these trails,” said Northwest NC MTBA president Paul Stahlschmidt. “We are looking forward to working with the park staff on keeping the trails in good shape and also planning for the future of mountain biking at Lake James.”
Lake James State Park Superintendent Nora Coffey said the opening of the mountain bike trails will fill a void for local enthusiasts. “The nearest mountain bike trails in Boone, Lake Lure and Lake Norman are at least an hour away,” she said. “The trail system at Lake James State Park is a first-class project that we hope everyone will come and enjoy. Mountain biking is a tremendously popular sport with passionate participants. We look forward to welcoming those people to the park and introducing them to all of the other recreational opportunities that are available here.”
The project, funded through the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, is a high priority within the master plan for Lake James State Park and represents a significant addition to the recreational activities already available there; including hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, swimming, boating, fishing and environmental education.The swim beach, concession stand, and canoe/kayak rentals are now open for the season.
Updated: 2014-06-05 08:15:43

Black Mountain Trail Needs Your Help!

The lower section of the Black Mountain trail – below its northern intersection with the Thrift Cove trail – will be closed for at least two weeks while the “Big Dig 2014″ trail work project gets underway. The project, which is being headed up by the Forest Service in conjunction with Pisgah Area SORBA, aims to revamp this popular, multi-use trail to make it more fun, more sustainable, and less susceptible to erosion than it currently is.

The trail – which, like many others in Pisgah, follows an old logging road bed – currently suffers from severe erosion in places. Previous efforts to stop the erosion using grade dips have largely failed due the trail’s heavy usage and steep gradient. This project will be an official road-to-trail conversion, which was never done on this corridor when the old road became a designated trail.

The conversion process takes the alignment of the actively-used tread out of the ruts near the center of the road, and pushes it out toward the edges where water can more effectively be diverted off the trail. Segments of the trail will be rock-armored (especially near streams), and some new bridges will be built. The trail will wind across the road in places, making it twistier and reducing user speed, while also improving sight lines, which will serve to reduce the possibility of user conflict along this popular stretch of trail. Vegetation cut and soil moved during the project will be used to rehabilitate the eroded areas and keep sediment out of the streams which run nearby.

The trail needs your help! The Forest Service is allowing anyone to volunteer on any of 10 public trail workdays to be held from May 29 – June 8. Volunteers are needed to help haul materials for rock armoring and bridge building, help do finish work after machines roll through, and help with final touches to ensure a timely re-opening of the trail. And if the conversion is successful over time, it will also serve as a model that can be used on other, less-than-sustainable trails in Pisgah – of which there are plenty, helping to ensure we keep these trails open to multiple uses as they are now.

Please check out the schedule on Pisgah Area SORBA’s web site (listed below) and see if there’s a day you can come out. We hope to see you there!

Project Notice on the National Forest in NC’s Web Site

Lower Black Mountain “Big Dig” 2014 on Pisgah Area SORBA’s Web Site (with workday schedule)

Eroded section of the upper Black Mountain trail
Eroded section of the upper Black Mountain trail. Not the section being worked on for this project, but illustrative of the problem along the entire trail nonetheless!

Edit June 10, 2014: And it’s back! I had fun digging Sunday, even though there wasn’t much left to do, but I did get to see the finished product and even see some of the volunteers make first tracks. The trail has been officially reopened as of today and is ready for use!

Here’s a short clip of the first “compaction” rides on Sunday:

And here’s a great video showing the new dirt from a rider’s perspective – Pisgah Area SORBA president Chris Strout’s perspective, to be exact!

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.

Courthouse Falls will be a little harder to get to this summer with FS 140 closed for construction
April 24, 2014Permalink 2 Comments

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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