Location: Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest, Purlear, NC Distance from Hubs:Raleigh (170 miles – 2 hours and 44 minutes) Charlotte (98 miles – 1 hour and 41 minutes) Asheville (109 miles – 2 hours and 8 minutes)Trail Access:From U.S. 421 west of Wilkesboro take NC-16 north for 4.3-mi and turn left onto Charity Church Rd. There should be large brown signs directing you to Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest. Drive 1.3-mi and continue slight left onto Shingle Gap Rd. Drive 1.7-mi and then turn right onto Rendezvous Mountain Rd. The main ranger station is 1.8-mi up this steep gravel road. You should see the fire tower just above the ranger station.Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHiking Trails: Fire Tower Trail – Talking Tree TrailHike Configuration: Out-and-back with 1 small loop Elevation Gain:318 feet Hike Distance:~1.1 miles Hiking Time: 30 minutes Date of Hike: 04-12-15, Sunday at 2:40 PMTrail Condition:Excellent — The Talking Tree Trail was very well-builtHike Difficulty: Moderately Easy — The summit tower is within a few hundred feet of the parking area but the Talking Tree Trail was much steeper and longer than I expected.Isolation: High — I was the only person in the park. I’m not sure how many people even know about this place but the picnic areas might be more popular on summer weekends Highlights:Peakbagging another North Carolina historic lookout tower Lowlights:Limited views from the mountain, not an elaborate trail system to explore Google Photos album link
Since I had a short hike along Mt. Jefferson, I had enough time to check out another short hike in the region. Debating between E.B. Jeffries Park and Rendezvous Mountain, I chose the latter. Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest is a small state unit northwest of Wilkesboro, NC. The park contains the namesake Rendezvous Mountain, historically considered a rendezvous point for the Overmountain Men during the Revolutionary War. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the march of militiamen southward from East Tennessee who eventually prevailed in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Rendezvous Mountain isn’t on the national historic trail, but it was supposedly a rallying point for the militiamen of Wilkes County to join the larger force. In more recent times the mountain was/is the location of one of the 26 lookout towers listed in Peter Barr’s excellent book Hiking North Carolina’s Lookout Towers. This is why I chose the hike, to check off another lookout tower on the Carolina Mountain Club’s Lookout Tower Challenge list. To summarize, that’s about all this hike amounted to, a check on a list. There’s not much to the park, but I did not have ample time to explore the other trails that caught my eye.
Location: Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, West Jefferson, NC Distance from Hubs:Raleigh (189 miles – 3 hours and 2 minutes) Charlotte (118 miles – 1 hour and 59 minutes) Asheville (110 miles – 2 hours and 15 minutes)Trail Access:On U.S. 221 north 1.3 miles after the intersection with NC 163 turn right onto Mt Jefferson St Park Rd. Drive 2.0 miles to the Sunset Overlook. After you pass the park office the Sunset Overlook is the first large parking area on the left at a U-turn. The Mountain Ridge Trail Extension begins at the end of the parking lot.Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails: Mountain Ridge Trail Extension – Mountain Ridge Trail – Mt Jefferson St Park Rd – Summit Trail – Rhododendron Trail – Lost Province Trail – Rhododendron Trail – Summit Trail – Mt Jefferson St Park Rd – Mountain Ridge Trail – Mountain Ridge Trail ExtensionHike Configuration: Out-and-back with 2 small loops Elevation Gain:1,416 feet Hike Distance:~4.3 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes Date of Hike: 04-12-15, Sunday at 11:10 AMTrail Condition:Excellent and Incomplete — The portions of the Mountain Ridge Trail I hiked were not completed, they were scheduled to be finished by the end of 2015. Otherwise the short trails at the summit are excellent. Hike Difficulty: Moderately Easy — The summit trails are very easy and the incomplete trails require a little moderate climbing but nothing to pant about.Isolation: Below Average — This is a small state park where all the trails are easy and road accessible Highlights:Outstanding views from the two overlooks and Luther Rock Lowlights:Did not feel like a wilderness experience because most of it resembled the worst of state park trails due to proximity to road and picnic areas Google Photos album link
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is a place I always kept in the back of my mind. It is usually mentioned in North Carolina hiking guides, which generally means it is a worthy hiking destination. However, this park is very small and in the past only offered 2.2 miles of hiking trails. That is typically not enough for me to warrant a full trip. I frequently check the North Carolina State Park website for updates and pictures, and happened to check the trail map for Mt. Jefferson before I planned this hike. To my surprise there were brand new trails, the Mountain Ridge Trail and Track Trail, and they incorporate the park office and two road overlooks. Perfect I thought, here’s a trail that adds length and difficulty to what is otherwise a really easy, short hike. Instead of 2.2 miles, I figured it would be around 7 miles. (The state park map, trail naming, and mileage aren’t clear). It was supposed to be a clear, crisp mid-April Sunday so I was excited to check out a state park unit I’ve never visited. Keep reading to check out the great views in Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area.
Location:Mitchell River Game Lands, , NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (138 miles – 2 hr 20 min) Raleigh (164 miles – 2 hr 43 min) Trail Access:From I-74 take exit 6 NC-89 west for 13.7-mi. At an intersection with NC-18 go left for 0.8-mi and take a right to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway. Go south on the BRP for 4.6-mi and after milepost 221 look for Saddle Mountain Rd on left. Take a left going east and an immediate right on the unsigned gravel road (Mountain Lake Rd) before the church. In 200 ft go left on the first unmarked forest road and head 0.5-mi to its terminus. There will be a gate closing the road and a trail sign indicating the Saddle Mountain area.Trail information can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Saddle Mountain Trail Hike Configuration:Out-and-back with middle loop Hike Distance:~3.2 miles Elevation Gain: 860 feetHiking Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes Date of Hike: 9-14-14, Sunday at 4:10 PM Trail Condition:Average – Although the trail is on forest roads most are completely overgrown with grassHike Difficulty:Moderately easy – The trail was mostly flat except for steep ascent up Saddle Mountain Isolation:Very high – I saw no cars or people or animals in this area Highlights:None Lowlights:Highly overgrown trail, most trail were old forest roads, no views anywhere Google+ photo album link
Here’s a hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway you’ll want to pass right by. As I left Fox Hunter’s Paradise Overlook fresh off my hike at Cumberland Knob I was galvanized to start the second hike of the day, regardless of the cloud cover. The possibility of finding an awesome view on a trail no one hikes was enticing, but proved to be just the opposite. I had learned about Saddle Mountain through a news link on Meanderthals. It was part of Stanback Trails of Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and conveniently located near a lot of other places I hike. The most enticing thing about it was on the website it declares the Horn of Saddle Mountain is a dramatic point rising 2,000 feet above the Piedmont. That sounds like a great view to me. It wasn’t. There are no views on this hike, there’s barely anything of note.
Location:Cumberland Knob Recreation Area, Lowgap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (133 miles – 2 hr 12 min) Raleigh (160 miles – 2 hr 36 min) Trail Access:From I-74 take exit 6 NC-89 west for 13.7-mi. At an intersection with NC-18 go left for 0.8-mi and take a right to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway. Go south on the BRP for 0.3-mi and Cumberland Knob parking is on the left.Trail information can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Gully Creek Trail – Cumberland Knob Trail Hike Configuration:Loop Hike Distance:~2.8 miles Elevation Gain: 981 feetHiking Time: 1 hour and 25 minutes Date of Hike: 9-14-14, Sunday at 2:15 PM Trail Condition:Good – The dirt trail is well graded in the steep sections and easy to follow along the creekHike Difficulty:Moderately easy – For a short trail this loop has a steep downhill and uphill section Significant Stream Crossings:There are 8 crossings but only 2-3 would be tricky in high waterIsolation:Very high – Although there was a large group of people at the picnic area I saw no one on the trail Highlights:Small picturesque waterfall on Gully Creek, lots of nice cascades along creek Lowlights:No views at Cumberland Knob summit Google+ photo album link
The persistent cloud cover and intermittent rain scuppered my plans of doing any long hike with great views. When I saw the forecast Sunday morning, I went back to sleep. Around 11:00 AM I started looking of possibilities of places I could go that wouldn’t be a terribly far drive. I settled on the remote northeastern corner of the Blue Ridge Parkway. My first destination would be Cumberland Knob Recreation Area to hike the short loop trail down Gully Creek and up to Cumberland Knob. This is one of those recreation areas on the parkway that doesn’t offer much in the way of hiking and scenery, so usually people skip right over it. After checking this park out, I was going to head south to a little known trail on Saddle Mountain. I’m dividing these hikes up into two separate posts, so check out the Saddle Mountain Trail here.
Location:Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (138 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Durham (141 miles – 2 hr 14 min) Raleigh (164 miles – 2 hr 37 min) Park Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 4.4-mi, turn right on John P. Frank Parkway and follow the road into the park for 3.3-mi. Turn left into the upper parking lot. Trail head begins on the left side of the bathrooms. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Wolf Rock Trail – Cedar Rock Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail – Middle/Lower Falls Trail – Stone Mountain Loop Trail Hike Configuration: Double loop with one out-and-back Elevation Gain:1,550 feetTrail Condition: Excellent — all trails are gravel or well maintained dirt paths Hike Distance:~9.0 miles Hiking Time: 4.25 hours Date of Hike: 7-20-14, Sunday at 1:00 PMHike Difficulty:Moderate — There are only a few steep sections with lots of flat hiking in between Significant Stream Crossings:2 big rock hops along Lower Falls TrailIsolation: None — This is a very popular state park. The waterfalls, homestead, and Stone Mountain were crowded Highlights:Stone Mountain, Wolf Rock isolation, Cedar Rock, views from Hutchinson Homestead, Lower Falls and Stone Mountain Falls Lowlights:Droves of people around Hutchinson Homestead and Stone Mountain Falls, Middle Falls had no apparent access for views Google+ photo album link
I was raring to go on a hike this Sunday but the weather and my sleep patterns were not cooperating. Most of the mountains were cloudy with a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Instead of my planned Linville Gorge hike I went to Stone Mountain State Park because of its convenience and its views are still abundant regardless of weather. I have hiked here multiple times, but wanted to get a GPS track of the big loop for Hiking Upward. My plan was to see all the sites in the main portion of the park by taking the Stone Mountain Loop and visiting Wolf Rock and Lower Falls as well. This is arguably the best loop offered in any state park in North Carolina because of all the rock summits and waterfalls
Location:Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (141 miles – 2 hr 26 min) Durham (144 miles – 2 hr 26 min) Raleigh (167 miles – 2 hr 50 min) Trail Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 4.4-mi, turn right on John P. Frank Parkway and follow the road around the north side of the park for 6.4-mi. Park at the backpack parking registration area. Trail head begins on the right side of the parking lot.Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Widow’s Creek Trail – Mountains-to-Sea Trail Hike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain:3,185 feetTrail Condition: Very good — Trail was mostly wide dirt road bed except near the parkway Hike Distance:~12.8 miles Hiking Time:5.25 hours Date of Hike: 7-3-14, Thursday at 12:50 PMHike Difficulty:Strenuous — The ascent of the MST leaving Widow’s Creek is steep and long for 2+ miles Isolation: Very high — I did not see anyone on this hike, the waterfall was crowded however Highlights:First mile along Widow’s Creek, foundation of aerial tramway Lowlights:Very steep trail up Scott Ridge, below average views at the top Google+ photo album link
I didn’t have a plan for my hike. It was the day before 4th of July, and I felt like taking the day off and exploring. Unfortunately the forecast was clouds and possibility of storms all afternoon. I set off in the direction of Stone Mountain State Park and had two options in mind – try the Mountains-to-Sea Trail to the Blue Ridge Parkway or do the full Stone Mountain loop. Both hikes are not dependent on clear skies for the views, and they both have creeks and waterfalls. Darkening skies and sprinkles prompted me to try the MST, I knew it was mostly in the forest and there was the shorter bail out option of the Widow’s Creek Trail. Despite the thunder and intermittent rain, I hiked the MST to Devil’s Garden Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped by Widow’s Creek Falls at the end. This is a brutal hike without much to see at the top, the best part is the section along Widow’s Creek.
Location:Doughton Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (144 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Durham (147 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Raleigh (170 miles – 2 hr 47 min) Trail Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 5.2-mi, turn right on Longbottom Rd for 8.1-mi and gravel parking on left just before bridge over Basin Creek. Trail head begins across the bridge on the left of Basin CreekPark information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Grassy Gap Fire Road – Basin Creek Trail Hike Configuration: Out and back Trail Condition: Good — All trails were well graded and not rocky, mostly single file paths Hike Distance:~11.0 miles Elevation Gain:1,815 feet Hiking Time:5.5 hours Date of Hike: 6-29-14, Sunday at 1:00 PMHike Difficulty:Moderate — No significant uphill sections, many tricky creek crossings Significant Stream Crossings:15 or less depending on the water levelsIsolation: High — I passed one group of campers. The only other hikers on the trail I ended up hiking with the whole way Highlights:Beautiful mountain streams, historical remnants, small picturesque waterfall, Caudill Cabin Lowlights:Many creek crossings slow you down, no obvious path to the first waterfall, lots of stinging nettles Google+ photo album link
If you’re looking for a hike with few people, history, water, and more water, then the Basin Creek Trail is a perfect fit. I’ve been saving this trail for a rainy day. Although I’ve been to Doughton Park multiple times, never have I ventured into the remote watershed of Basin Creek. Since it is a creek hike, I assumed there would be no views and it would be best to try when it is cloudy. The weather forecast called for 60% chance of thunderstorms, I drove to the trail head anyways. It was cloudy and sometimes misty, but it never rained and was cooler than a typical June day. The Basin Creek Trail is the only trail from Longbottom Road that does not climb to the ridge. Instead, the trail follows Basin Creek all the way upstream to its origin while passing by remnants of the Basin Cove community that was wiped away by a flood in 1916. At 11 miles round trip the trail isn’t difficult but requires many stream crossings. The trail ends at the Caudill Cabin in a clearing that is visible 900+ feet below from the Wildcat Rocks Overlook. This cabin is the only house that was not destroyed by a great flood in 1916.
Location:Doughton Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (144 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Durham (147 miles – 2 hr 23 min) Raleigh (170 miles – 2 hr 47 min) Trail Access:Follow US 21 north from Elkin for 10.7-mi, turn left on Traphill Rd for 5.2-mi, turn right on Longbottom Rd for 8.1-mi and gravel parking on left just before bridge over Basin Creek. Trail head begins across the bridge on the left of Basin CreekPark information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHiking Trails:Flat Rock Ridge Trail – Bluff Mountain Trail (MST) – Cedar Ridge TrailHike Configuration: Loop Hike Distance:~17.0 miles Hiking Time:7.75 hours Date of Hike: 05-11-14, Sunday at 11:20 AMTrail Condition:Very Good — All trails were well graded and not rocky, mostly single file paths
Hike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — Mostly due to length, Flat Rock Ridge Trail is moderately strenuous and there is a short steep climb up Bluff Mountain, combined with total mileage of hike makes this a long day Isolation: Very High — I saw no one on Flat Rock Ridge and Cedar Ridge, and one hiker on the MST. I passed multiple groups of people at overlooks along the BRP and Brinegar Cabin, but considering how beautiful this Sunday was the lack of people was astounding Highlights:View of Bluff Mountain from Flat Rock Knob, continuous views of Bluff Mountain from MST, Bluff Mountain summit, beautiful open balds along north side of Bluff Mountain for miles Lowlights:MST north of visitor’s center goes through campgrounds and lacks views, Cedar Ridge Trail has only 2 average views and is steep, Flat Rock Ridge Trail is long with multiple tough uphill sections Google+ photo album link
Finally, a current hike from this year and not an archived one from years past. I decided to start off the 2014 summer months with a whopper of a hike at Doughton Park. I’ve hiked here twice before, one time easy with many views, another time difficult with eventual payoff. This time I had my mind set on doing the longest possible loop hike in the park, 17+ miles. Doughton Park is the largest recreation area on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) and one of those unknown gems in North Carolina that doesn’t have the crowds because it isn’t a state park and isn’t close to Asheville. The park boundaries resemble a triangle, and all hikes from the base of the park conveniently start at the same spot then climb up ridges to meet the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) along the parkway. My loop started with the Flat Rock Ridge Trail (5.0-mi), then traversed the crest of the park along the Bluff Mountain Trail/MST (7.3-mi) before diving back down to the bottom on the Cedar Ridge Trail (4.3-mi).