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.

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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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :)

Crabtree Falls Trail Open, but Campground to Remain Closed

Due to the 5% decrease in the Park Service’s budget this year, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Crabtree Falls campground near Spruce Pine & Little Switzerland, NC will remain closed throughout the 2013 season. This is in addition to several other closures along the road, and the cancellation of all of the Park’s normal seasonal interpretive programs. The Balsam Mountain campground, as well as Balsam Mountain Road and Heintooga Road near the Great Smoky Mountains, will also remain closed this year.

Visitors can still access the Crabtree Falls trail by parking at the visitor center parking area, and hiking up the road to the trailhead. You can find more information on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s official web site.

Edit: please note that this does not affect Crabtree Falls Campground in Virginia, which is privately owned and still open.

March 16, 2013Permalink 2 Comments

Forest Service Trail Strategy Document Completed

The US Forest Service has released the draft final Non-Motorized Trail Strategy document, which is available on their web site for review. The final Trail Strategy collaborative meeting for Pisgah is to be held tomorrow, Thursday Feb. 14, 6:00-8:00 p.m., at the UNCA Sherrill Center, Mountain View Conference Room in Asheville. Agency employees will present key elements of the draft Trail Strategy document during the meeting. I will be attending the meeting to see what they have to say, and I’ll be sure to post any news from that meeting to this blog.

I haven’t had time to review the document, but keep in mind that the Forest Service touts this as an evolving plan that is still subject to change. There is still time for collaboration from the public on the trails on National Forests in NC. As the Forest Service starts the process of revising its Forest Plan, it is expected that the final Trail Strategy will contribute to that analysis as well.

February 13, 2013Permalink Leave a comment

Forest Service Closes Shining Rock to Camping

The National Forests in NC just announced a camping ban, until further notice, in the Shining Rock Wilderness and Graveyard Fields areas, due to bear activity (trying to get food inside campers’ tents). The news release is below:

Date(s): Oct 17, 2012
Pisgah Forest, N.C. — The U.S. Forest Service is closing the Shining Rock Wilderness and Graveyard Fields areas to overnight camping because of ongoing bear encounters with humans.

The areas will be closed to dispersed camping until further notice. The agency will monitor conditions to determine when it is safe to reopen the areas.

On Monday night, a bear damaged a tent and food bag. Two people were in the ent at the time of the encounter, but no injuries were sustained. The encounter is the latest in a series of bear encounters in recent weeks

Questions regarding the camping closure can be directed to the Pisgah Ranger District, 828-877-3265.

October 17, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Forest Service Reminder: Linville Gorge Camping Permits

The Forest Service reminded Linville Gorge Wilderness visitors about weekend and holiday camping permits this summer. Permitting is in place from May 1 thru October 31 to ensure a good visitor experience in the gorge. The full press release is below.

Number of Permitted Users Limited for Weekend Camping in Linville Gorge

NEBO, N.C. — The U.S. Forest Service Grandfather Ranger District reminds visitors that there are a limited number of permitted users allowed for weekend camping in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area of Pisgah National Forest. A total of 50 users per night can be permitted for weekend camping.

A permit is required for camping on weekends (Friday and Saturday) and on holidays from May 1 through October 31. Permits are not required for Sunday night camping, except when the following Monday is a holiday. No permit is needed for weekday camping. All campers are limited to a two-night and three-day stay at Linville Gorge. Day use permits are not required.

Forest staff will be in the gorge throughout the summer checking for compliance with permit requirements.

Permits are issued from the district ranger’s office by mail or in person. District offices can permit 35 users per night by reservation or walk-in. For permits, contact Grandfather Ranger District, 109 East Lawing Drive, Nebo, N.C. 28761, phone 828-652-2144.

The Linville Gorge Information Cabin can permit fifteen (15) users per night by walk-in only. The information cabin is located just off of Kistler Memorial Highway.