Late Risers Special: Wintergreen and Upper Grassy Falls

Once burned, twice shy, as the saying goes. Last fall, we had family visiting who wanted to hike to a waterfall. There are certainly plenty to choose from around here, but we needed an easy hike, and something on the way towards apple-picking in Hendersonville, so naturally DuPont State Forest came to mind. Despite our best intentions, though, we didn’t get out of the house until nearly 11 and had planned a hike to Hooker/Triple/High Falls – only one of the most popular spots in the area! Unsurprisingly, we got to the Hooker Falls parking lot and found it jam packed with cars circling hopelessly looking for a parking space. The parking lot up the road looked to be full as well, so we headed for the High Falls parking area, in case we might have better luck there. That was a hard NO, as we ended up stuck in a single-lane line of cars that crept around the road as people waited for others to pull out of the full lot so that they could swoop in and take their spot. We gave up on waterfalls that day.

Having learned that hard lesson, when I had friends visiting this spring who wanted to hike to waterfalls and who also were a bit draggy getting ready to leave in the morning, we opted for a couple of falls on the quieter side of DuPont — Wintergreen and Upper Grassy Falls.

Access to both these falls is from the Guion Farm parking area in the northeastern area of the Forest. The parking area is large and seems to be popular with horseback riders, as we saw a number of horse trailers parked there. Despite our late arrival though, there were plenty of parking spots open for us.

The trail to the falls is a pleasant one. From the parking area, we walked south through a grassy field along to the treeline where we picked up an old road. We followed this roadbed through the trees at a gentle downward slope, enjoying the a bit of sweetshrub in bloom. We were looking for Tarkiln Branch Road, but apparently missed that. Still, after about a mile whatever trail we were on came to the intersection with Wintergreen Falls trail on the left. From the intersection, the falls are on Grassy Creek, an easy half mile away.

Sweetshrub

The falls drop about 20 feet into a shallow pool surrounded by rhododendron and mountain laurel. The best view of the falls does require a bit of a rock-scramble but once there, there’s plenty of room to sit and enjoy.

After enjoying the view of the falls for a bit, we backtracked up Wintergreen Falls trail to an intersection with an unmarked trail on our right. This trail quickly led uphill and over a slanted rock then continued pretty steeply through the rhododendron. I’m not sure this is a trail that is maintained at all by the forest service. At least, I don’t remember seeing any blazes or other markings on the trail. It’s narrow, sometimes rutted, and pretty steep in places. There was at least one gully to navigate across and several downed trees, but within a quarter of a mile, the trail takes you to Upper Grassy Falls. This waterfall is not to be confused with the OTHER Grassy Falls that’s closer to High Falls. That one is called Grassy Creek Falls on most of the maps I’ve seen and is more of a long slide or cascade than what I think of as a traditional waterfall. Upper Grassy Falls, on the other hand, has two fifteen foot drops separated by a short slide and ending in a pretty little sandy bottomed pool.

Upper Grassy checked off the list, we retraced our steps back to the Wintergreen Falls trail, and this time spotted where Tarkiln Branch Road branched off to the right so we followed that more “official” route back to the parking lot. Tarkiln Branch Road had the best of the wildflowers – we spotted flame azalea, pink lady slippers and spotted cat’s ear in bloom.

All told, we hiked a little more than 3 miles. I unfortunately forgot to put in fresh batteries for our GPS, so I have no GPS track for this one. If you’re looking for a quieter waterfall hike, or like our family tend to get out too late to grab a parking spot at the hugely popular Hooker/Triple/High Falls, either of these two lovely waterfalls should fit the bill.

Ice Road Hikers

I subscribe to a number of hiking blogs from around the U.S. and even a few outside the country, to vicariously enjoy the adventures of other folks, to get suggestions for hikes if we travel away from home, and to get ideas and inspirations for Woodlands and Waters. In retirement, we’ve certainly cut back on the frequency of our postings, but we’re still getting out and about though we don’t blog about every hike we take.

Previously, we followed a relentless “post every week” schedule, which when combined with our work schedules meant that we’d hike on the weekend, then work on the blog for publication the following Wednesday. We rarely had hikes in the bag for the blog, so we were usually under deadline. Younger more spry outdoors bloggers often have a better strategy – hike now, blog later. As a result, some of them have a backlog of hikes that they document weeks or months afterwards. I offer a virtual tip of the hat to them for their feats of memory in recalling those adventures.

One result of these delayed posts is that as a reader I’d sometimes find myself inside in air-conditioned comfort, sheltering from a sweltering Southern summer, while the author was recalling his or her adventures in breaking trail through mountain snowdrifts, winds howling around summit cairns, being tracked by snow leopards (OK, I made that last one up). As a blogger in the southeastern U.S., this was doubly interesting reading since snow here is relatively sparse, and heavy snow is quite uncommon. Writers based in New England or Canada or the mountain West would discuss exotic gear like microspikes and snowshoes. Of course, for them it’s not exotic — it’s basic equipment for winter hiking.

For us Southern hikers, winter hiking is a different experience. Ruth and I both enjoy winter hiking. The views are often better, the risk of dehydration is lessened, there are fewer people on the trails, and we have clothing sufficient to keep us warm and dry. However, our winter hiking experience rarely includes hiking in the snow, for two reasons: (1) we don’t get much snow, and (2) if we do, there’s no way the roads will be clear enough to drive to the trailhead.

So, when we actually did get in a snowy hike, more or less by accident, I thought it was worth writing about, so I interrupt your spring in the guise of Old Man Winter. On January 15, 2022, parts of the southeastern U.S. had a significant snow event. We ended up with around a foot of snow in our area. Granted, we’re in the North Carolina mountains now so we expected more of the white stuff, but longer-term residents said this was an unusually heavy snowstorm. Turns out, there are these things called snowplows, and they have more than one of them (this would be a revelation to folks in our previous home in north Alabama), so the roads were scraped mostly clear in 2-3 days, though our neighborhood road had icy spots for two weeks afterwards. Even when we could get out of our neighborhood, many local trails in the higher elevations were closed due to snow so we were getting a little stir-crazy.

Twelve days after the snowfall, roads were fine though many trails were still closed. Brevard sits in a relatively low valley, so we thought that a portion of the Eastatoe Trail than runs from U.S. Highway 64 into the Pisgah National Forest would be an easy hike. We thought we might see a little snow, but it would be an easy flat hike along the Davidson River, just to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. Ruth had hiked part of this route in the fall and enjoyed it.

The Eastatoe trail, as a hiking trail, is kind of nebulous. Historically, the Eastatoe Path was a trading path used by the Cherokee linking mountain villages with the Cherokee town of Eastatoe in present-day South Carolina. The Eastatoe trail is a multi-use path with at least one section running indubitably for 0.68 miles in the Pisgah National Forest (PNF). However, its northern terminus is somewhat vague, though some sources state that it continues to a parking lot at the Davidson River Campground, which is also the eastern terminus of the Art Loeb trail. The southern terminus depends on who you ask. Some sources (and the actual trail signage) say the trail ends at Highway 64. However, Conserving Carolina refers to the trail continuing, still named the Eastatoe trail, as part of the city of Brevard greenway. The city of Brevard just calls these greenway segments; the local press and government officials seem to use the terms interchangeably. Frankly, it’s a mess. Descriptions of the trail variously list it as .68 miles, 1.2 miles, 1.68 miles, 5 miles … depends on who you ask. For our purposes, we’re using the definition on the HikeWNC website, which denotes the southern terminus at Highway 64 and the northern one at the Davidson River Campground parking lot.

Like many people, we began the hike at the parking lot of the Lowe’s, at the junction of Ecusta Road and Highway 64. There’s no parking at the actual trailhead. Assuming that you survive the traffic circle that you’ll have to navigate to get to the Lowe’s, your next challenge after parking is to cross Highway 64. Fortunately there’s a pedestrian crossing, so that’s no problem. After crossing Highway 64, we turned right and followed the paved trail a few yards to its end, at which point it became a gravel surface. In about 200 feet we arrived at a kiosk and a trail sign, which I believe marks the actual boundary of the PNF.

As you can see in the photos, 12 days after the snowfall there were still patches of snow on the trail and more substantial accumulations back in the shade of the trees. However, the now-graveled trail was mostly clear. This was to change very soon to a surface of compacted snow, hardened into ice, that completely covered the trail. Ironically, it would have been the perfect surface for microspikes, which I had received as a Christmas gift from Ruth, but I had left them at home, thinking, “Surely 12 days after a snow, the trail will be clear.” However, we weren’t complete maniacs: we both had two hiking poles, and other than a couple of very brief ice skating escapades, footing wasn’t a significant problem. If you don’t count moving at a snail’s pace on level ground as a problem.

This stretch of trail is generally heavily trafficked, and for good reason. It follows the south bank of the Davidson River from Brevard into the PNF, passing the Sycamore Flats Recreational Area and ending at the Davidson River Campground. It’s a wide and level gravel path, so it’s great for kids, dogs, runners, and cyclists. It’s scenic, running next to the river, but does suffer a little in the isolation department as U.S. Highway 276, a main artery through the PNF, runs along the other side of the river. On this particular hike, there weren’t many people on the trail or driving on Highway 276, so that contributed to this being a unique experience.

At about .55 miles from the kiosk, the Art Loeb trail peels off to the southwest. This is a popular long-distance trail in the PNF, running slightly over 30 miles. This National Recreation Trail is named for a local Carolina Mountain Club trail builder, and crosses through many very scenic areas of the Forest. We wanted to keep it simple, so we passed on the opportunity to cross an icy footbridge to go southwest on the Art Loeb trail, and instead continued straight ahead. It’s unclear as to whether the Eastatoe trail terminates at this junction (we didn’t see any signage to that effect), but it’s certain that the white-blazed Art Loeb trail continues northwest on to the Davidson River Campground parking lot. Almost immediately, the trail widened and the ice retreated.

The next segment of the hike was a simple matter of following the wide, open trail, with a couple of excursions for a closer look at the river, until crossing it on a substantial metal bridge about half a mile from the Eastatoe-Art Loeb intersection. A trail continues on the south side of the Davidson River, but signage indicates that the Art Loeb trail crosses at this point.

The final segment of the hike was more of the same — walking along a dirt road for about .25 miles to reach the parking lot at the Davidson River Campground.

From this point, we just retraced our route, going from the dirt, onto the ice sheet, and back onto pavement. Our GPS route started at the Lowe’s parking lot, for a total out-and-back of 3.045 miles.

Though this wasn’t a particularly long or challenging hike, it was a unique experience for us to get a taste of what our western and northern blogging compatriots routinely navigate for a few months of the year. For some of them, this hike is probably the equivalent of their walk down to the mailbox in October, but for these Southern hothouse flowers it was a confidence booster for tackling more challenging winter conditions.

Bucket List Check Off: John Rock Loop

When we first moved to this area and told people that we enjoy hiking, one of the places that was frequently recommended was John Rock. We were told it had great views, but could be a bit difficult. One of the great “problems” about living here is that there are just so many great hikes to take, so we put this one off until we felt like we were in a bit better shape. Then, Tropical Storm Fred came through and did lots of damage to Pisgah Forest, wiping out the Wildlife Education Center and damaging the fish hatchery right at the trailhead to this trail. That put us off of Pisgah entirely for awhile and we focused our hiking in DuPont, or Holmes Educational Forest, or Panthertown Valley, or Gorges, or any number of trails that Conserving Carolina maintains. We were spoiled for choice. However, we finally got this one on our schedule and it did not disappoint!

We drove to the Wildlife Education Center, which was so damaged by Fred that last I heard they had decided they would not ever reopen it. The building is all fenced off, but the parking area is still available. We found parking with no problem and headed for the kiosk to double check the route. The John Rock Loop is really more like a loop-within-a-loop. Most of the route is on Cat Gap Loop Trail, which forms a 4.4 mile loop around John Rock. It does not go up to the summit, though, so our plan was to take Cat Gap to the intersection with the John Rock Trail, which would take us up and over the summit, then take Cat Gap Bypass back to the other end of the Cat Gap Loop trail and back to the parking lot. It was a good thing we checked the kiosk though because the “normal” route that takes off from there is closed due to bridges over the Davidson River being out.

The trail has been rerouted to start from the still-intact bridge across Cedar Rock Creek at the other end of the parking lot. From there, you can make the choice to hike the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. We opted to go clockwise, so we continued on down Forest Service Road 475C until it intersected with Cat Gap Loop Trail beyond where all the bridges had been washed out. FS475C is a typical forest service road. It is broad and graveled and has a reasonably gentle incline. It’s a very easy walk. We had good views from there of all the log jams on the Davidson River. That Fred really did a number on this area!

After a bit more than a mile, we arrived at the Cat Gap Loop intersection, and turned right to climb uphill towards the John Rock Trail. Here the trail becomes a normal, natural surface trail with at least one creeklet crossing on a small log footbridge. In only .2 miles, we arrived at the John Rock turn off. On some of the trail descriptions, this trail is marked as “very steep,” and that text is over this portion of the kiosk map for this end of the trail. We talked about how we’d much rather go steeply up than steeply down, which is why we opted to do the loop in this direction. The trail was steep and a bit rooty, but the most difficult part of it was a short section that took us up a sloping rock that doubled as both trail and creek bed. It was mostly just slippery and since the ankle-breaking incident many years ago now, I’m a bit paranoid about falling. We made it through just fine and were soon climbing uphill on a “normal” trail, then slightly downhill and over some nicely built boardwalks that safely carried us over a boggy area.

After one more steepish uphill section we came to the part of the trail where you could periodically see hints of a fantastic view off to your right. There was no signage to help us out, but lucky for us a group that had passed us on the trail earlier was coming back from one of the wildcat trails and told us it was a must see. Boy were they right! A small slightly overgrown trail led off the main trail and out onto a giant rock slab with fantastic views out towards the giant dome of Looking Glass Rock. We went on a day that actually turned out to be a bit rainy, but the views from there were still pretty stunning. We sat on the rock while we ate our lunch, enjoying the view and chatting with some ladies who had come up from South Carolina.

From there we made our way back to the main trail and on up to the summit. I was surprised to find that there weren’t really views of anything from the very top! I’m so glad we made our side trip. The trail from the summit did run along the top for a bit and provided some nice views off either side, but not the kind of views that translate well in a photo. Once the trail started heading down, though, we took no pictures at all because it was a very deeply rutted and steep trail. I wonder if the “steep” notation was in the wrong place on our map?

The John Rock Trail ends here at a 4-way intersection, with Cat Gap Loop Trail heading out in two directions, and the Cat Gap Bypass taking off to the right. We took the Bypass trail, and very much enjoyed it. It is an easy walk on a fairly gentle grade – a nice change from that steep section down John Rock trail! There are a couple of tiny creek crossings that were easy to rock-hop across. At the end of the Bypass, we turned right on Cat Gap Loop Trail again and headed downhill. Chet’s information indicated that there would be about 4 creek crossings in this section. I honestly didn’t count them, but that seems about right. They were either easy rock-hops or had sturdy-enough log footbridges to get us across. Right before we got to an intersection with the Butter Gap Trail, there is a gorgeous creek crossing over Cedar Rock Creek. This is a substantial creek, and the water rushes through the rocks in a small cascade.

Just a little less than half a mile from that crossing, we started hearing a waterfall off to our right. I guess I hadn’t done my research on this trail, because I hadn’t realized we’d get a waterfall as well as big views on this hike. We took a steep trail to the base of Cedar Rock Creek Falls for one more Transylvania County waterfall experience. We met a couple there as we were leaving who were trying to check off all the waterfalls in a waterfall book on the area. This was one of their last ones, if I remember right.

So far, we’d had great views from the top and a gorgeous waterfall, but for me, the most exciting part of the hike was yet to come. We hiked down the now wider and easier trail for just about .3 miles before we came to a hairpin turn. Chet spotted bald eagles in the trees ahead of us! Two of them were sitting in the trees. We tried to get photos – the one from my phone is so bad you can’t even tell there’s a bird in it – and then Chet went a tiny bit off trail to see if he could get a better one. He didn’t get the older birds with their white heads, but he was able to get close enough that by zooming in he got a pretty good shot of what we think is an immature bald eagle. I’ve tried for years to see bald eagles in the wild. Lake Guntersville in northern Alabama has a ton of nesting bald eagles, and since we lived nearby we used to head over there to hike hoping to spot them. Never did. I was very excited to finally see them!

Right past the bald eagles, there is a slightly tricky creek crossing. There is no footbridge, and the rocks were a bit slippery, but we made it across just fine. From there the trail goes beside a fenced off research area before coming out on FS475C again near the bridge to the parking area. We dropped our packs at the truck, and headed over to check out the bridge damage that caused the reroute. We found a jumble of lumber where the bridge used to be, and then noticed that somebody has laid a few logs across the creek there – I assume as a sort of makeshift bridge. We talked to several folks on the trail who didn’t realize the bridges were out, so we walked them over to the start of the reroute, then headed on home.

All told, we logged 5.7 miles according to our GPS track, got some great views, saw a beautiful waterfall, and finally saw bald eagles in the wild! I’d call that a good day.

Next on the Docket: Devil’s Courthouse

Now that we’re on the edge of spring here in western North Carolina, it seems a distant memory to recall a hike we did last fall. But it must be said that this was a spectacular autumn here in the Blue Ridge, and we tried to get on a trail when we could (though not often enough during the peak of the leaf season). In mid-October, though, the fall foliage was still a little patchy down in Brevard so we decided to try our luck at a higher elevation.

It’s not hard to find a higher elevation around here, as Brevard sits in a valley nearly surrounded by national and state forests and state parks, all of which feature mountains. In this case, we decided to go big and head north to the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 3,000 feet above us. There are many well-known jumping off points for trails in the area, so we thought we’d start with one of the most accessible — a hike to Devil’s Courthouse.

Devil’s Courthouse is a mountain, rising 5,720 feet above sea level, with a rocky summit and 360-degree views of surrounding peaks in four states (North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia). It’s not the highest peak in the immediate area, and not even in the top 20 for North Carolina, but the combination of accessibility with views high and low make this a good introduction to high-elevation (by our local standards) hiking.

The usual route to the top of Devil’s Courthouse involves driving to a parking area at milepost 422.4 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, then taking a 0.5 mile mostly paved trail to the top. It’s described as “short but strenuous.” Here at W&W, we go for the bonus points whenever we can, so we took a more scenic route suggested by the excellent HikeWNC website. Our route would instead take us up a section of the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), connecting to a spur that passes over the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), and eventually connecting to the trail from the parking lot near the summit.

Our driving route took us up the sinuous State Highway 215 north to its intersection with the BRP. Instead of turning onto the parkway, we continued north on 215 for about half a mile, parking at a large pullout on the west side of 215. About 250 feet north of the pullout, the Mountains to Sea Trail crosses 215, and that’s where we started our hike on the north side of the road, where steps led into the woods.

The trail quickly turned east and gradually gained elevation. Blazed with round white metal disks, the well-maintained footbed climbed easily through mixed hardwoods and occasional rhododendron tunnels. It was a cool morning, with lots of little subtle things to enjoy along the way: mossy trees, brick cap mushrooms, and ground pine, for example. A very noisy squirrel chided us from a branch overhead. I didn’t get a good photo, but given its size I think it might have been a fox squirrel. They’re not common in the area, but there have been sightings. I’ve included the photo in case there are any squirrel experts who come across this post.

The trail climbs a little more steeply, but still at a moderate rate, after the first 0.2 miles, and soon reaches a tributary of Bubbling Spring Branch. The trail follows the tributary upstream, at one point making a sharp turn uphill at a point where it seems you might need to cross the water. You will have to cross the water, but not here. Instead, at about .5 miles a footlog crosses the creek. A fire ring is just off the trail after you make the crossing. This is the only significant water crossing on this hike.

After crossing on the footlog, the trail continues to climb through a briefly rocky section, passing a large rock outcrop on the right at 0.65 miles. Shortly afterwards, the trail levels out and offers a view to the west, with Fork Ridge in the foreground and mountains of the Middle Prong Wilderness Area in the background.

The MST then winds around a low peak of the Pisgah Ridge, curling around to the north and then east. The understory opens up a little here before transitioning to a glorious spruce grove on the east side of the peak at about 1.33 miles. This damp, balsam-scented, ferny section of the trail was our favorite stretch of this hike.

The trail becomes a little boggy here, and bog bridges span most of the dampest spots. At 1.75 miles after a relatively long section of bog bridge, the MST turns to the left and a blue-blazed spur trail heads right (south).

This short spur trail, only 0.1 miles, is a surprise. It gradually declines then rises at the end, passing through the woods and over the top of the Devil’s Courthouse tunnel of the Blue Ridge Parkway. You absolutely can’t tell by looking that you’re crossing the road – the only clue would be road noise, which we didn’t notice either. The spur trail intersects the Devil’s Courthouse trail (the one that starts at the parking lot on the BRP) at a curve. The Devil’s Courthouse trail is paved at this point. We turned uphill, and the pavement quickly gave way to a steep gravel path to the summit, culminating at a rock-walled observation area at 2.0 miles.

The autumn views were outstanding, as expected. A mottled green and yellow blanket, with swatches of red, spread over the surrounding peaks and valleys. The Devil’s Courthouse parking lot was visible below us to the northwest, with glimpses of the BRP undulating along the nearby ridges. To the north, Little Sam Knob and Sam Knob rose in the middle distance. To the south, rock faces were framed by the foliage. To the southeast, Courthouse Ridge and Chestnut Ridge sloped downward into the bowl that forms the North Fork of the French Broad River. Sighting aids helped identify distant peaks.

Even though it was leaf season, we were there on a weekday and only a handful of folks joined us at the top. I’m happy to report that everyone was well-behaved, staying inside the walled overlook area, since it’s illegal to step beyond the walls where peregrine falcon nests and rare plants are protected. After a short stay, we retraced our steps to return to the MST and our parking area off Highway 215. The final mileage tally was 4.18 miles according to our GPS track.

We couldn’t resist a short trip eastward on the BRP to check out Devil’s Courthouse from the parking lot. That’s a pretty impressive profile! The clouds were beginning to roll in, so it looks like we had perfect timing.

It seems a bit contradictory to have such heavenly views from a diabolically-named peak. One legend holds that the Devil held court in a cave below the rock. A Cherokee legend claims this as the dwelling-place of the giant Judaculla (or Tsu’kalu), though other tellings place the giant’s home on a bald 1.5 miles to the southwest. Either way, you’re well advised to keep a sharp lookout!

Quiet Beauty: DuPont Lakes Hike

As we have mentioned before, Chet and I set ourselves the task of completing Conserving Carolina’s White Squirrel Challenge by October 2022. By this point, we’ve been to DuPont State Recreational Forest many times, but I’ll be honest – we’ve usually gone to enjoy the waterfalls. The waterfalls are wonderful, but there’s so much more to enjoy in the quieter areas of this state forest. That’s one of the points, I think, about Conserving Carolina’s choice to include a “lakes” hike in their challenge this year. Conserving Carolina has a special tie to DuPont. It got its start as a land trust when the group that was then called “the Natural Heritage Trust of Henderson County” joined forces with The Conservation Fund to buy and preserve 7600 acres of land when DuPont Corporation closed down their local plant. We will be forever grateful to them for preserving this treasure! The hike for the challenge takes in two of the lakes on the property, Fawn Lake and Lake Julia, and visits the now unused airstrip as well. We drove over on a gorgeous fall day to the Fawn Lake parking area, off Reasonover Road. This parking area is a large gravel lot, with an informative kiosk and port-a-potty on one end. From the kiosk, we turned left and went uphill along a wide gravel track. Soon we came to a sign warning us about wearing orange during hunting season. We’re not hunters, so we never really know when “hunting season” is, and besides it seems like any time we’ve checked, it’s hunting season for something, so Chet trekked back to the car to snag our orange blaze. Better safe than sorry. It was a pleasant walk on a fairly gentle grade. After about .5 mile we arrived at pretty little Fawn Lake. This small lake was built as part of a planned housing development that (thankfully) never got built. It has a small dock with a covered gazebo area. The day was perfect for getting photos of fall leaves reflecting in the still water. After we took about a million pictures (hoping to capture just the right one) we headed on down the gravel road across the earthen dam that forms the lake and through a powerline cut to a tee intersection with Conservation Road. Here, we turned left to climb up to the airstrip, where the route mapped out by Conserving Carolina had us simply crossing the airstrip to continue on down Conservation Road, but who can resist walking down an airstrip in the middle of nowhere? Besides, we could tell that the views from the end of the half mile runway looked pretty spectacular and they were. The airstrip was built by Bert Camp, owner of the Summit Camps that once ran on this land, and was later used by DuPont executives to fly private planes in and out. Today, it’s only used for emergencies and Forest Service training. We tried out a new app that identified the mountains and hills we were looking at, then retraced our steps to the “real” route. The walk from the airstrip is downhill past what I assume is a ranger’s house, then right at Lake Julia Road to a building that one trail description calls the main park office. It wasn’t marked in any way, and seems to be undergoing some renovation. There are steps down to the lake on the far side of the building that lead down to a dock with a great view of Lake Julia, which is a 100 acre lake built for the Summit Camps. After enjoying the view from there, we continued on down the road to the Lake Julia Pier and picnic area, which we thought made an ideal place to have our lunch and enjoy even more pretty lake views. After our picnic, we took Camp Summit Road back up past the ranger’s house and from there retraced our steps back to the intersection with Fawn Lake Road. To change things up, we decided to take Conservation Road all the way back to the parking lot instead of going past Fawn Lake again. Honestly, there wasn’t a lot to see going that way. Next time, I’d go past Fawn Lake again! 46camp_summit_rd All in all, our GPS track put us at 4.3 miles. These are easy miles on mostly wide gravel roads, and though I hear the lakes are frequently used for swimming in the summer, we had the area almost entirely to ourselves on our trip. Thank you Conserving Carolina for helping to preserve this beautiful area, and thanks for this suggestion of a hike in the quieter parts of the forest!

A Lovely Bit of Squirrel

Back in our 2021 year in review post, I mentioned that we had finished the Conserving Carolina Flying Squirrel outdoor challenge, and were working on the White Squirrel hiking challenge. Our last completed hiking challenge was one we set ourselves back in 2012 — to hike all of the official trails on Land Trust of North Alabama preserves. At the time, there were around 50 linear miles of trails, and it took us 74.9 miles to cover the distance, what with backtracking on out-and-back trails or having to cover some stretches more than once. I see that the Land Trust has made a checklist for folks who want to try the same thing in 2022. In those ten years, the linear mileage has increased to now over 70, so it’s amazing to see that in 20 years the Land Trust has upped their trail mileage by around 40%. Having worked on a few of those new and old trails, I’m not totally surprised at this, but it’s terrific to see how much progress has been made, most of it clawed out of the landscape by dint of loppers, pulaskis, and McLeods wielded by volunteers.

I thought that we might elaborate a little on the Flying Squirrel challenge, since it’s a relatively easy way to familiarize yourself with the efforts of Conserving Carolina. This organization serves parts of western North Carolina and a little bit of the upstate South Carolina, with most of their land preservation activities centered in Transylvania, Henderson, and Polk counties in North Carolina. To date, they have protected nearly 46,000 acres in this region, and developed numerous trails and preserves, as well as spearheading efforts to add to existing state forests and parks and assisting in the creation of community parks and greenways.

Conserving Carolina has been holding hiking challenges for a while now, with the White Squirrel challenge as number six in that series. The hiking challenges usually require you to hike a fixed list of trails, scattered across Conserving Carolina’s service area. And of course, being hiking challenges, you must hike to complete them.

The Flying Squirrel Outdoor Challenge is a little different. First, there’s that crucial difference in its name — “outdoor” vs. “hiking.” The idea behind the Flying Squirrel challenge is to highlight properties that may be more easily accessed – shorter and flatter routes that are more ADA-friendly. Think greenway trails instead of summiting mountains. These activities are accessible to a wider range of age and fitness levels.

The second difference is that you have flexibility in which activities you complete. For the Flying Squirrel challenge, completing any 8 of 13 potential activities will make you a Flying Squirrel champion.

The third difference is that the Flying Squirrel allows for different types of activities. Some of the destinations can be enjoyed by bicycle. Several of them are easy walks of 1-3 miles on paved trails or even a boardwalk. One option involves floating on the French Broad River. There are a couple of options that include Conserving Carolina events — serving on an outdoor volunteer day or going on a guided forest bathing walk. So there are a number of ways to complete the challenge.

However, like the hiking challenges, the Flying Squirrel outdoor challenge must be completed in a specific time range. Though I haven’t seen an end date defined yet, only activities completed after January 1, 2021 can be counted. Because we got kind of a late start, we jumped on this and finished our eight activities between August-December 2021. With a little prior planning, you could probably knock off the entire challenge in 2-3 days.

Claiming your prize for completing the challenge is on the honor system. There’s a page on the Conserving Carolina website where you log your activities as you complete them, and an online roster that shows your progress to date. As of publication date, on that roster there are 31 Flying Squirrel champions, with 90 folks posting at least one completed activity. Shortly after we completed our eighth activity, since we are Conserving Carolina members we got our official certificates and a nifty patch in the mail!

In summary, this is a terrific little challenge well within the capabilities of most folks, even if your fitness isn’t great. It is also a solid introduction to the variety of projects completed or in progress by Conserving Carolina.

In our case, we selected the following eight activities. More details about each destination and directions can be found at the Flying Squirrel Outdoor Challenge page.

Sassafras Mountain

We hiked to the top of Sassafras Mountain, the highest peak in South Carolina, and right on the border of the Carolinas. It’s just a few minutes from our house, and is an easy walk to some amazing views. One route to the top is paved but perhaps a little steep for wheelchairs. A second trail has a more gradual incline, though most of it is not paved so it could be challenging for wheelchairs.

The Park at Flat Rock

We walked the longest single trail (about 1.3 miles), which winds around the perimeter of The Park at Flat Rock, a former golf course turned into a community park. Additional trails wander into the interior of the park, with King Creek running along the north boundary and several ponds dotted throughout. The trails are all easy, flat, and graveled.

Connestee Falls

We walked the very short boardwalk to view Connestee Falls in Brevard. To be fair, the best views of this 85-foot waterfall are from the other side, but from the boardwalk you can see the top of Connestee Falls and get a decent view of Batson Creek Falls.

The French Broad River

We had been looking for a chance to do some kayaking on the French Broad River, which originates just down the road from us in Rosman and runs 218 miles to its confluence with the Holston River in Knoxville, TN. We did our own shuttling, dropping a car at Westfeldt Park, right by the Asheville Airport, and put in at Lazy Otter Outfitters in Mills River. The nice folks at Lazy Otter had a reasonable parking fee, and their launch site made it easy to get on the water. The stretch to Westfeldt Park is about seven miles, with only a few minor rapids, easily handled. Along the way we passed Conserving Carolina’s Mud Creek project, where a floodplain restoration is underway.

Vaughn Creek Greenway

The Vaughn Creek Greenway is a 0.8 mile unpaved greenway near Tryon that winds along Vaughn Creek, passing Siller’s Falls and a marker tree along the way, until it ends at a tunnel under a railroad grade.

Hooker Falls

The most difficult part of this 0.3 mile trail in the DuPont State Recreational Forest is finding parking. There are a couple of intersecting large parking lots for Triple Falls and Hooker Falls, and another large lot to the north for Lake Imaging. If you’re there on a weekend during prime hiking times or at any time during the summer, odds are very slim that you’ll be able to park in any of them. But if you get an early or late start, or go on a weekday, the walk from the Triple Falls/Hooker Falls parking lot is an easy amble on an old road, with only a little bit of elevation change. The waterfall is only 12 feet tall, but the Little River is relatively wide at this point so the waterfall has quite a nice flow. There’s a popular swimming area at the base of the falls, though swimming is at your own risk. Incidentally, Conserving Carolina echoes an incorrect statement found on one page in the Friends of DuPont Forest website when it says the waterfall has an observation deck. This is simply not true. But you can observe it quite easily from the base and walk right up to the ledge.

Carolina Memorial Sanctuary

This was perhaps the most surprising of our outings. Usually when we’re thinking of a hiking destination, cemeteries don’t normally come to mind. But the Carolina Memorial Sanctuary in Mills River is an 11-acre conservation burial ground, forever preserved in a natural state, with a meandering stream, wooded patches, and wildflower meadows. Though we didn’t visit the sanctuary during one of its peak seasons, it was peaceful and tasteful, and has given us much to think about. The gravel walkways are accessible, though the natural topography of the sanctuary has some gentle grades.

Brevard Bike Path

This was an easy one for us, as it was right in town. The Brevard bike path is nearly 6 miles, mostly paved, and mostly on the north side of town, with plans to expand through the downtown area and stretching south to Brevard High School. We’ve hiked most of the segments at one time or another, with one highlight being the 0.8 miles that run next to the Davidson River into Pisgah National Forest. The segment, also known as the Eastatoe Trail, links with the eastern trailhead of the 30-mile Art Loeb trail. For purposes of the challenge, we walked a segment from near Highway 280, behind the hospital, past the athletic fields, past the dog park, and along Ecusta Road. This stretch notably has a spur that heads over to the Oskar Blues taproom, marked with a simple handmade sign that says “Beer,” with an arrow pointing the way. Later, we walked the Eastatoe Trail a couple of weeks after a huge snowfall, and it was pretty much solid ice for the shaded stretches.

Local Color: Bracken Mountain Preserve

Sometimes, the most challenging thing about writing these posts is to pick just a few of Chet’s glorious pictures to share. That is the case with this post, when both Chet’s pictures and the stunning fall colors seemed to have conspired to make that task all but impossible. But let me back up a bit. Now that we’re fully retired people, it does seem as if keeping a schedule of any sort is just too much like work, so I have not been driven to put up a post every week like we used to do. I write when I feel like it, and during the holiday season I mostly felt like decorating, baking, buying and wrapping presents – not writing. Now that the holidays are behind me, though, I’m feeling the urge to write again, so here we go.

In early November, Chet and I decided to tackle a hike on the Bracken Mountain Preserve, a 395 acre property owned by the City of Brevard. This gem of a preserve has long been on my radar, but it’s one of those places where it seemed hard to put together a short hike, so we waited until we felt we were in shape enough to pretty much do the whole thing at once. We were also encouraged to check out this preserve by our determination to complete our first “White Squirrel Challenge.” Conserving Carolina issues a challenge every year for hikers to complete eight hikes on lands that they have helped protect, enhance, or open to the public. At Bracken Mountain, volunteers from Conserving Carolina helped build the new 1.5 mile Pinnacle Trail in 2019, so a hike that included the new trail was among the options for the current recent challenge. As brand new Conserving Carolina members, we are eager to participate, so off we went.

Though downtown Brevard is only a mile and a half due east from the Preserve, getting there did require a bit more of a four wheel drive than I was expecting for a city park. The last stretch up Pinnacle Road was a steep and bumpy gravel climb! We made it just fine though and found ample parking for Chet’s big ol’ pickup truck, which we were very glad we decided to take this day. We’d picked out a loop that would take us on almost all of the trails in the park, including the Pinnacle Trail, which we discovered is so new that it isn’t even on the online map on the website, much less on any of the signage in the park. All trips to Bracken Mountain start out on a stretch of the Bracken Mountain Trail – a 3.6 mile blue blazed trail that slashes diagonally through the the middle of the property. The first quarter-mile is one of the steeper trail segments in the park, climbing 200 feet in elevation, but it quickly moderates a bit. I have to take a minute now to rave over the signs in the park; not only are the trails well marked and frequently blazed, there are also these wonderful informational signs scattered along the trails. On one, we learned about the Pinnacle community – initially settled by a freed slave, this small but thriving community once clung to these steep slopes. Other signs in the park teach about biodiversity, the so-called “splash zone,” the violinist Carlo Renzulli, bear evidence, and just so much more! I like to walk in the woods anyway, but learning something new and interesting makes this hiking experience even more fun.

After a short .71 miles, we came to the junction with our next trail: Brushy Creek Trail. This 2.95 mile red-blazed trail winds down and then back up the eastern part of the park, crossing several sturdy footbridges, over Renzulli Falls, and, on this day at least, through some of the most gorgeous fall color around.

Towards the end of the trail, but before it connects back with Bracken Mountain Trail, the Pinnacle Trail meets Brushy Creek Trail at an acute angle from the right. If we thought the leaves were spectacular before, the pink-blazed Pinnacle Trail seemed determined to prove that the “new guy” was even more fabulous. This trail is steeper than some of the others in the park – the sign post called it “most difficult” – but trust me, the climb is worth it. Near the top, there are views both towards Brevard and into Pisgah National Forest.

Pinnacle Trail connects to Bracken Mountain Trail just at the northern edge of the property, where Bracken Mountain Trail crosses into Pisgah National Forest to ultimately connect to FS-475C. We didn’t go that way, though, but instead stayed inside the Preserve to walk back down towards the entrance. We hiked a mile and a quarter downhill, admiring views out towards Brevard and a few more patches of splashy fall color before we came to the intersection with Mackey Ridge Trail. This short .16 mile yellow-blazed trail is a shortcut from one part of Bracken Mountain Trail to another, cutting off about half a mile. We were pushing our limits a bit with this nearly 7 mile outing, and besides we wanted to say we’d walked on some of every trail in the Preserve, so we opted to take this one. As the name implies, the trail runs along a ridge top, so it’s pretty easy walking.

Once back on Bracken Mountain Trail, we had almost another mile of new-to-us trail to walk before we came to the junction with Brushy Creek Trail again – this time from the other direction. We passed one more educational sign along the way – this one about how rhododendron leaves curl in on themselves at specific temperatures. From the junction we retraced our steps the .71 miles back to the parking lot.

All in all, we hiked 6.71 miles by my calculation. ( Our GPS track only has 6 miles, but that’s because I apparently didn’t get the thing turned on at the start – our track doesn’t start until the Brushy Mountain Trail.) The Preserve certainly was showing off the fall colors the day we went, but there’s plenty to see even if you don’t go during peak leaf season. The trails vary from fairly moderate (once you get up the first steepish stretch) to fairly difficult – there’s something for everybody. We did pass a woman out biking with a tiny dog and noted that the dog didn’t seem to have any problems racing up the trails. We saw them coming back down, too, and that pup was still perky as ever, despite having very short little legs. If you do need to stop, there are all those informational signs to read while you pretend not to have to catch your breath. This city park is only about 2.5 miles from our house, but it felt like we were a world away. Go check it out!

So Long, 2021

It’s time for our annual look back at the previous year for Woodlands and Waters. 2021 was a big year for us in terms of life changes, and that is reflected in the blog, which like us, underwent some changes over the past 12 months.

We started Woodlands and Waters in 2015, so we’ve completed 6+ years now. As we built a body of work with weekly posts, our viewership stats grew to reflect that people were finding our posts, though we’ve rarely done anything special to promote them. The overall pattern of viewership stats has been a steady increase year over year, with 2020 being a bonkers year due to folks being locked down and looking for outdoor escapes. We had a whopping 54,557 views in 2020, with 29,531 visitors. However, 2021 was more of a return to form, with only 37,669 views and 20,283 visitors. We expected that viewership would be down as people resumed their normal activities, but if you ignore the statistical outlier of 2020 and look at our 2019 stats, we’re actually up almost 80%.

There were two significant changes to Woodlands and Waters in 2021, driven by changes in real life. We both retired at the end of 2020, which you’d think would give us time to hike and blog even more. But we were both crazy busy at work during those last few months trying to get things wrapped up, so when January 2021 rolled around we were finally able to focus on the next part of the life plan — to sell our house in Alabama and move to North Carolina. This led to a frenzy of repairing and painting and power washing and evaluating/tossing/selling/packing 28 years of accreted possessions. And finding a new place to live … and working out the logistics for the move … and unpacking and reassembling a smaller amount of that stuff into a significantly smaller house and a significantly bigger storage unit. So suffice it to say, some demands on our time had to be sacrificed, so we stopped making weekly posts.

Now that we’ve settled in (somewhat) in western North Carolina (WNC), and we have a year’s worth of retirement under our belts, our motto has become, “that sounds like work!” We’ve been active in the community, and we’re getting out and enjoying the reasons we moved here in the first place – visits with family and hikes in and around the mountains. Blogging weekly, however, sounds like work, so we’re being intentional and not blogging about every walk we take. Ruth made an important structural change to the site, as future posts will be WNC-centric. The posts still appear in chronological order, but our Trails page has been split into two pages, one for Alabama trails and one for North Carolina. We need to make similar changes to the Waterfalls page, and maybe I’ll finally get around to fleshing out the Wildflowers pages. I don’t know … that sounds like work.

Nonetheless, we did manage to put up 25 posts in 2021. 14 of them are new content based in the Tennessee Valley, 4 of them are quick looks (short recaps of previous blog posts), and 7 are new content from hikes in WNC. This is in marked comparison to our 53 posts in 2020. However, this is a more sustainable level of effort for a couple of retired folks who are finally turning to projects put off until retirement (genealogy; music lessons; and digitizing a multi-generational collection of family movies, slides, documents, and photographs, just to name a few).

As is the custom in this year in review post, here are a few other stats we thought you might find interesting.

  • Of our 37,669 views in 2021, 36,546 were from the U.S., as you’d expect. We had views from 82 different countries.
  • Our top performing post for the year was the old standby, Marker Trees and Indian Tomb Hollow, first published in 2015, with 1,463 views. The second best was A Comparison of Three Southeastern Hike-in Lodges, also from 2015, with 1,106 views. Obviously these are still of interest to our readers, though their performance is probably related to their age (i.e., the opportunity to have been linked to by other people) and likely their search rankings.
  • Our top performing new post from 2021 was Knocked for a Loop: Booker T. Washington State Park, a post from January on our visit to this historic Tennessee State Park, with 182 views.
  • January 2021 was our busiest month, with over 6,000 views of various pages on the site.
  • We hiked 62.6 miles as documented in the blog posts. We actually hiked farther than this during the calendar year, since we’ve completed some hikes in WNC that we’ve not blogged about. Some will be covered in posts in 2022; some won’t. This is the first time that we’ve had hikes “on the hook” for us to write about later.
  • Our shortest hike of the year was 1.16 miles, a round-trip on the Land Trust of North Alabama‘s Wildflower trail.
  • Our longest hike of the year, at least as recorded in the blog, was 6.31 miles on a ramble in WNC’s Panthertown Valley.
  • We hiked in three states this year: Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
  • We hiked in various types of recreation spaces: state parks in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama; two private reserves; National Forests in Alabama and North Carolina; state forests in Tennessee and North Carolina; and properties owned by one land trust.
  • Ruth’s favorite hike from 2021 was a multi-waterfall trek at Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve. Chet’s favorite was our loop in the Panthertown Valley (linked above).

2021 was a year of transition for us. However, for many people it was a year of sacrifices and losses. We’ve been fortunate, as we’ve stayed COVID-free (as far as we know), and though we’ve had some family members who weren’t so lucky, all have recovered. Sadly, we did have one loss in 2021: our beloved Casey The Hound, our erstwhile hiking companion until he became a Retired Dog.

So what’s up for 2022? More hiking, of course. We haven’t blogged about it, but we recently completed the Conserving Carolina Flying Squirrel challenge, in which we had to complete eight visits to properties saved or developed by this excellent land trust. (For long-time readers, Conserving Carolina is the local equivalent of the Land Trust of North Alabama, so it’s natural that we would gravitate toward them.) We completed a float trip on the French Broad River as part of this challenge, and made a visit to the highest point in South Carolina. We’re also working on Conserving Carolina’s White Squirrel hiking challenge, which requires eight hikes to specific locations (three down and five to go). We’ve barely dented the 1,000 miles of trail just in our county, and the same is true of the purported 250 waterfalls.

Here are a few of our favorite photos from Woodlands and Waters in 2021, plus sneak previews from future posts and a few bonus ones from hikes that won’t get their own blog posts. Though we’re not posting as often, we’re still trying to get out on a more or less weekly basis. For us, at least for now, hiking does not sound like work.

January

February

March

April

May-July

August

September

October

November

December

Waterfall Royalty: Upper Whitewater Falls

We knew when we moved to Brevard that we were going to be surrounded by waterfalls, but didn’t know that we would be in the same county as waterfall royalty. I was a little surprised to find that a contender for the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies is less than 30 miles from our house, so of course we had to check it out!

Whitewater Falls is a series of drops and cascades that spans the North Carolina-South Carolina border. The Whitewater River is the smaller of two rivers draining the Cashiers area of North Carolina, flowing generally southeast to drain into Lake Jocassee in South Carolina. The other river is the mighty Chattooga, a wild and scenic river notorious for its beauty and dangerous rapids (whitewater scenes for the movie Deliverance were filmed on it).

By contrast, the Whitewater River is only 14.6 miles long, and not generally navigable. I suppose you could try (you can try anything once), but a 411-foot total drop at Upper Whitewater Falls would tend to discourage boaters. A few miles downstream, Lower Whitewater Falls drops another 200 feet in a steep cascade, then another 200 in a single plunge.

I should note that waterfall measurement is not an exact science, especially for waterfalls that aren’t a single plunge. Height estimates vary depending on where you start to measure a series of drops. The U.S. Forest Service says the Upper Whitewater is 411 feet tall, with Lower Whitewater coming in at another 400 feet, but in both cases there are multiple plunges and cascades, and by one measurement the combination of elevation changes between the two waterfalls is 1500 feet. Crabtree Falls in Virginia also measures around 400 feet over a series of drops, and also lays claim to being the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee is a contender for the tallest single plunge in the east, at 256 feet. This is sort of like arguing over who is your favorite child – each is special and unique and to be treasured.

Upper and Lower Whitewater Falls are not accessible from the same parking area — they are about two river miles apart, and much longer by road. We planned to hike to observation points for Upper Whitewater Falls, then to take a segment of the Foothills Trail to the bottom of the gorge to the Whitewater River itself, then cross the river and get a look at nearby Corbin Creek Falls before backtracking to the parking area at Upper Whitewater. It’s an easy drive from Brevard, heading west on U.S. Highway 64, then turning south on NC 281, passing Gorges State Park along the way, and turning into a well-paved parking lot about .25 miles before the South Carolina border.

There was plenty of parking available at the time of our visit on a weekday, but this can be a very busy destination on weekends. There’s a restroom on the south end of the parking lot in case you need to take care of any business beforehand. We walked to the kiosk on the north end of the parking area to pay our user fee ($3 for vehicles with 7 passengers or less) and were soon walking along the paved path to the right of the kiosk. This effectively level .25 mile path passes a picnic shelter, then enters the woods. Off to the southeast, a glimpse of Lake Jocassee is visible through the foliage. Wildflowers grow in the shade — spotted jewelweed, yellow leafcup, and white wood aster, to name a few. At the end of the paved trail, split rail fencing marks the upper overlook.

For some folks, this is as far you need to go, for Upper Whitewater Falls is roaring through the gorge straight ahead of you.

The Whitewater River tumbles through multiple drops and cascades, widening and narrowing along the way before disappearing behind the trees and the west side of the gorge. However, there is a better view available down a 154-step wooden staircase on the right side of the upper overlook. This leads to another wooden platform with a less-obstructed view of Upper Whitewater Falls.

At this point, if all you wanted to do was see Upper Whitewater Falls, turn around and head back to the parking lot, for there are no better views farther down into the gorge, and there is no trail to the bottom of the waterfall. However, there is a trail that goes to the bottom of the gorge and meets up with the Foothills Trail, and we were in the mood for a challenge. We took the stairs from the second overlook, and immediately began a descent into the gorge. After only about 350 feet the spur trail teed into the junction with the white-blazed Foothills Trail. To the left (north) the trail continued downhill. To the right (south) the trail headed more or less level before climbing back up to the south end of the Upper Whitewater Falls parking lot. This would be for our return route from the gorge, so for now we turned north and continued downhill.

From the junction, it’s about half a mile downhill to the Whitewater River. This is on a natural surface, with a staircase early on, gradually winding around a 470-foot descent. The trail was in good shape though close to the river the footbed became rockier. Patches of southern lobelia were in bloom, as well as silverleaf hydrangea and white turtlehead. Other flowers were in their fruiting phase, such as hearts-a-bustin, partridgeberry, false Solomon’s seal, and Indian cucumber root.

As we neared the river, we could see a sturdy bridge ahead of us, so we knew we’d have an easy river crossing. However, that turned out not to be the case. Recent flooding in the area did a lot of damage on nearby trails. This bridge is anchored onto large boulders on either side of the river, and apparently flood waters have swept away a ladder that eased the climb onto the boulders on the west side of the river. We pondered our route for a while, clambering onto one boulder which would require a two-foot jump across rushing water onto a small landing area, before choosing another option that required scrambling up a sloping boulder. The photos don’t really give an accurate impression of how daunting both options appeared, as the river is relatively deep and rapid here and a fall would likely be disastrous.

Once we had scooted our way up to the bridge, the views of the river were worth the uncertainty.

The east side of the bridge is much easier to navigate. We continued eastward on the Foothills Trail, quickly entering the woods. The trail was wide and level, and in only about 400 feet we came to a bridge over Corbin Creek. The creek cascaded under the bridge from the left, with Corbin Creek Falls barely visible through the trees. There’s no trail to the base of Corbin Creek Falls, so we contented ourselves with the obstructed view.

This was the turnaround point for our hike, so we backtracked to the Whitewater River and paused for a quick lunch. Other than the expected sketchy scramble down the boulder on the west side of the river, the hike back up to the junction with the spur trail to the second overlook was uneventful. Instead of completely retracing our route, we continued on the Foothills Trail. Our reward for this decision was a few more wildflowers — late purple aster, white baneberry, spotted wintergreen, rattlesnake plantain, and the ever-present galax, to be specific. This portion of the trail had some minor ups and downs, including an impressive staircase, and in .45 miles arrived at a junction with a spur trail to the Upper Whitewater Falls parking lot. This spur led past the restrooms and back to the parking area, where we closed the loop on our roughly 2.5 mile hike.

So in our little morning loop hike we saw arguably the tallest waterfall in the eastern U.S., walked a tiny portion of the 77-mile-long Foothills Trail (a National Recreation Trail), and checked off two more Transylvania County waterfalls. Not bad for a morning’s work!