Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spectacular Hikes in Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the most spectacular hikes in Western North Carolina is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, beginning off the spur road that goes into the Black Balsam and Sam's Knob parking area at mile post marker 420.
View of Looking Glass Rock from atop Tennent Mountain
The trail section referenced here follows along part of the Art Loeb trail and into the Shining Rock Wilderness area.  The trail as we talk about it here is out and back so may be as long or as short as one wishes to make it or has time for.  Spectacular scenery begins soon after the hike begins, about 1/4 mile up the trail.

For those hiking with pets,  there is not a lot of water along the trail, but small springs are scattered here and there every few miles.  There are also several springs that are obviously used by hikers to filter or treat as a water source, especially around the actual Shining Rock area.  Once on this part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, elevations begin around 5000 feet above sea level, so bring extra clothes, layers and hats, even in many summer months.  You will notice a big difference in the flora and fauna at this elevation as well, making the area and hike all the more striking, interesting and beautiful.


There are two places to start this section of the Art Loeb Trail.  I prefer starting at the obvious trail head about 1/4 mile in on the paved spur road (off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MPM 420) on the right side of the road. This is such a popular section, there are almost always other cars parked there.  There is also a larger parking area another 1/2 mile further down this spur road and where the Ivester Gap Trail and old fire road merges.  There is a pit toilet at this parking area and several other fantastic hikes begin from this parking area as well.

From the first trailhead referenced above, you will climb up and turn left hiking up through a forest of Black Balsam trees.  After a fairly short hike, you will break through the trees, continuing up hill to the first bald and quickly out into the open at high elevation to take in breathtaking 360 degree views.

The trail is open and very exposed most of the way, so watch the weather and bring sunscreen.  There are rough and rocky sections, but because the start of the hike is at a fairly high elevation point to begin with (especially for the Eastern US), there are little ups and downs from mountain top to gap, but really not that much elevation change, especially compared to other hikes.  Balds you will cross include Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain and more.  We hiked 5 miles out to The Shining Rock and back for a 10 plus mile roundtrip hike, all day for us.   And the hike can take you all the way to Cold Mountain (yes, the Cold Mountain referenced in the book "Cold Mountain") for a longer adventure.  Make it as short or as long as you like, turning around at whatever point you reach.  This is a popular place to hike into for even just a mile and watch the sunset.  There are amazing views of Looking Glass Rock, Graveyard Fields and parts of the ribbon of The Blue Ridge Parkway.  All breathtaking with sweeping views!

lunch on "The Shining Rock" - a giant outcropping of Quartz boulders

Giant quartz vein is "The Shining Rock"

So white - it looks like salt hunks

If you need a place to stay, Asheville is about 30 miles away via the Blue Ridge Parkway and host to many bed and breakfast and vacation rental and cabin rental lodging options.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Navitat Canopy Adventures near Asheville NC

Navitat Canopy Adventures are a lot of fun and the one near Asheville, NC is a top notch operation.  It is just shy of an easy 30 minute drive from Oakland Cottage B&B and Asheville, NC.  Wonderful staff, extremely professional and in a beautiful setting; from start to finish, allow for a 4 hour adventure in the beautiful hardwood forests of the Western North Carolina Appalachian Mountains.

To begin the adventure, settle in for your 15 minute safety briefing and harness fitting with your guides for the day.  You and up to 7 other participants will then be driven up the side of the mountain via a Gator where you will be dropped off for your first lesson on how to brake and steady yourself as you zip from tree to tree, platform to platform.

Once up in the trees, the setting is completely in the wilderness - no other buildings or construction are within view during the entire event -  and groups are spaced evenly over the 10 ziplines, 2 bridges, 2 rappels and 3 short hikes.    And while it is scary at times, it is also wonderfully relaxing to be in and among the trees.  The ziplines are of varying length, the longest ones are quite amazing, the construction of the decks, views, people you meet, beautiful trees in which all is built and the wonderful guides, all add to the amazing experience of Navitat, Asheville NC.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Waterfall Hikes Along the Blue Ridge Parkway - Skinny Dip Falls

There are many wonderful waterfall hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway - and Skinny Dip Falls is one of my favorites, with easy access from Asheville, NC, just 1/2 mile or less off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MPM 417.

You won't likely find any skinny dippers and you might get some funny looks if you skinny dip, but that's what this delightful swimming hole is named.  And what a wonderful and sweet little spot.

How to get there.  From Asheville, NC, take the Blue Ridge Parkway - get on at the NC Arboretum (MPM 393) and 191 junction.  11 tunnels between this junction and the trail head to Skinny Dip Falls, make this section of the Parkway quite fun and interesting to drive along.   At MPM 417 and the Looking Glass Rock overlook, pull off and park here.  From this pullout, first, take in the impressive view of Looking Glass Rock, a prominent and special feature of the area - one of the many granite domes that bubbled up who knows how many millions of years ago and created the many similar & unique granite features of the Western NC mountains.  Then you'll notice a trail head across the road - access to the "White Dot" or Mountains to Sea Trail.  Take this trail and shortly, go up a few rough steps and take a left - the White Dot trail will branch off to the right.  The trail is rough but easy going and fairly short to the overlook of Skinny Dip Falls - a quarter to half mile distance total from the parking area to the falls.  You'll find a set of steps down a serious set of wooden stairs to a bridge across the creek, which allows for easy access to this great swimming hole, complete with jumping rock.  The pool is small but probably 5 feet deep - enough to enjoy a good jump or two (or three!).  There is another swimming hole below the first with a very cool channel between the rocks.  Swim up this channel to a cascade for a little spa treatment in the woods (haha)!  The water is cold and quite refreshing on a hot summer day.   Exploring up the creek is fun and interesting with lots of cascading a - just watch your footing and be careful in your explorations.