A Guide to 15 of the South’s Best Places to Paddle

Southern author Eugene F. Walter once wrote, “summer in the deep South is not only a season, a climate, it’s a dimension. Floating in it, one must be either proud or submerged.” Perhaps this explains why the waters here are so well-explored and appreciated by paddlers from all over the United States. Despite the fact that proud locals would likely prefer their rivers uncrowded, the word is out: the South has epic rivers.

The rivers and creeks of this region have a very distinctive character. Most of the waterways originate from the Southernmost reaches of the old Appalachian Mountains and plateaus, moving towards the east or the west with rushing speed. Starting off as small streams beneath a canopy of lush deciduous forests, round boulders and well-worn bedrock shape their rapids and hidden waterfalls. They join together and course through gorges, until the gradient subsides as they drop closer to sea level, flattening their waters and encouraging a variety of paddle sports.

With so many options, mild year-round temperatures, and generous annual rainfall, the South is a coveted destination for paddlers of all abilities and passions. In this guide, we’ll work our way through the absolute best Southern rivers for paddling, from beginner to expert level.

The Easiest: Flatwater to Beginner Whitewater (Class I-II+)

Great day on the river with quality people. Highly recommend taking a two man kayak! #GoPro

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1.Chipola River, Florida

Starting down in Florida, a novice paddler can find many opportunities to explore freshwater springs and riverside caves while viewing swamp wildlife and historical artifacts. The enchanting Chipola River in Western Florida is a great way to see the best of what the area has to offer. As part of the Dead Lakes State Recreation Area, there are two sections: the 51-mile Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail and the 4.5-mile Upper Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail, separated where the river disappears underground. Fed by 63 springs, the Chipola has a set of small rapids and is also home to the unique shoal bass.

2. Wateree River Blue Trail, North and South Carolina

Weaving 75 miles through the Carolina countryside, the Wateree River Blue Trail has several sections of gentle rapids and flatwater that are both accessible and worthy of interest. Draining a natural wooded floodplain, the waterway is a haven for wildlife such as bald eagles, otters, and kingfishers. This river basin is one of the few precious places that remain in the Southeast where populations of white shoals spider-lily thrive in decent numbers.

3. Hiwassee River Blueway, Tennessee

Heading West to Tennessee’s Hiwassee River Blueway** **gives you the option to step up to class II if desired. The upper section of the river in the mountains of the Cherokee National Forest is where you’ll find these rapids, and while they appear steep, they are not overwhelmingly difficult. Once you get past the town of Reliance, the river mellows, and floating peacefully past the trees can be a serene experience. The cool water flows year round, downstream of the TVA Apalachia powerhouse.

4. Nantahala River, North Carolina

The Nantahala Gorge is nestled between the North Carolina mountains just outside Bryson City. The walls are so steep here that the sunlight can only make it to the valley floor at high noon, hence the name Nantahala, which is Cherokee for “land of the noonday sun.” At the bottom of the gorge, you’ll find eight miles of mostly class II (+) rapids, with a finale of the class III Nantahala Falls, an optional portage. Cold, reliable water flows year round from a nearby powerhouse, making this a very popular and accessible river.

5. Clear Creek, Tennessee

From a solid perch high on the Cumberland Plateau, the upper stretches of Clear Creek meander downhill through numerous shoals and class II rapids that require precise maneuvering. Adventurous, overnight paddlers will pass caves and unique rock formations along the 20-mile waterway before encountering a class III rapid towards the end. Portage is certainly an easy option for those who aren’t up for the challenge.

The In-Between: Intermediate to Advanced (Class III-IV)

6. Obed Wild and Scenic River, Tennessee

Following Clear Creek downstream will eventually lead to the unspoiled, rugged terrain of the Obed Wild and Scenic River near Wartburg, Tennessee. The longest free-flowing, roadless river in Tennessee looks mostly the same today as it did to settlers in the 1700s. The bottom 10 miles from Obed Junction to Nemo are cradled between 500-foot tall canyon walls and are full of class II-III, with some light class IV rapids. Both the Obed and Clear Creek are remote and will be flowing mostly in the winter and spring, so be sure to dress accordingly.

7. Big South Fork, Tennessee

The northeastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau opens up to the towering cliffs and massive boulders of the Big South Fork, yet another remote Tennessee classic. In the vicinity of O’Neida, this river is the centerpiece of a national recreation area, with class III & IV rapids that significantly step up in difficulty with rising water levels. The waters here are elusive to summer, so cold weather gear is again required.

8. Chattanooga River, Georgia

Known as the filming site of the movie Deliverance, the Chattooga River is located near the Georgia town of Clayton, near the Georgia/South Carolina border. Whether paddling the Narrows (class III) or the Five Falls (class IV), the Chattooga is a Deep South Appalachian wilderness classic with year-round water. Summer on the Chattooga is a welcome introduction to running tight lines and slots with precision, a pool/drop contrast to the fluffy, continuous higher flows of winter and spring. Beware of the dangerous siphons that exist within the pot-hole strewn rocks native to this wild and scenic river.

9. Tellico River, Tennessee

The place where the Cherokee once gathered in great numbers is known today as the Tellico River. Just off the Cherohala Skyway in southeastern Tennessee, a small, paved road to a trout hatchery follows the river closely and offers easy access to the scattered waterfalls (from 5-14 feet tall) and continuous rapids along the way. After any decent rainfall, the Tellico will be teeming with paddlers boofing (and plopping) their way down the class III and IV drops. It’s by far the most popular and appropriate place to run a waterfall for the first time.

Getting Tougher: Advanced to Expert (Class IV-V)

Fall Rafting

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10. Watauga River, North Carolina

Most of the solid class IV rapids and drops of the Watauga River lie in North Carolina, but the class V Stateline Falls marks the border of Tennessee. While once regarded as some of the most difficult whitewater in the South, the Watauga remains a classic due to the quality of it’s distinctive rapids. For five glorious miles, paddlers will boof and punch their way downstream, finding clean vertical lines and honing their skills to move forward in creek boating expertise.

11. Little River Canyon, Alabama

You might not expect to find a massive canyon in the corner of Alabama, yet high atop Lookout Mountain near Fort Payne is exactly what skilled paddlers descend into the depths of. At Little River Canyon, the put in is aesthetically marked with a wide cascade of 33 feet, most commonly run on the left, where it is divided into two tiers. It is also common to put in below, where the river begins a complicated route through boulder sieves and sluices known as the ‘Suicide Section.’ The scenery from the bottom is top-notch as Little River gains the volume of many side creeks that appear suddenly from both steep sides.

12. Tallulah Gorge, Georgia

The mighty Tallulah Gorge in Georgia was dry for a very long time before, in the 1990s, Georgia Power began releasing water every spring and fall from the upstream dam. Packing a big punch of 20 class IV-V rapids and no less than six waterfalls in a single mile, the Tallulah’s signature drop is a monster slide called Oceana. Set within an impressive gorge with limited access, the put in requires descending almost 600 steps with your boat while viewing (and bypassing) several large unrunnable waterfalls. Taking out requires paddling across Lake Tugaloo.

For Extreme Experts Only (Class V+)

13. Raven Fork, North Carolina

Once quietly hidden at the southern tip of the Smoky Mountains on the border of the Cherokee Reservation, a little stream called the Raven Fork demands attention. This creek, within its notorious gorge, yields no forgiveness to the ambitious experts who penetrate and plunge the numerous steep descending drops. Rapid names like ‘Mike Tyson’s Punchout’ should clarify this point. Dropping nearly 600 feet per mile, it’s a scary, mysterious place for paddling for most, but for the experienced paddlers out there, it’s a challenging favorite destination when the rain hits.

14. Bear Creek, Georgia

Among the very best of Chattanooga’s steep creek offerings is the dramatic Bear Creek of Cloudland Canyon. ‘The Hair of the Bear’ flings itself from atop Lookout Mountain in Georgia, over many tall, distinctive bedrock drops—the most remarkable being a 50-foot, three-tiered hit called ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Towards the bottom, after merging with Daniel Creek, the ‘Boulder Garden’ begins it’s relentless and powerful tumble to the take out. Eddies and scouting are possible, but the best lines through this maze are behind those who already know the way. Being good enough to run this means you’ll be in the loop when it rains hard enough.

15. Horsepasture and Toxaway Rivers, North Carolina

The finale of this list is shared by the breathtaking Horsepasture and Toxaway Rivers, which could be called the Southern cousins of the Sierra Nevada. The incessant, plummeting gradient of the California-esque Toxaway is unmatched by any other Southern river, while the Horsepasture follows closely behind it. Both rivers are equally inviting, with a sizable picturesque drop starting off the day.

Toxaway is characterized by clean lines over fast slides cradled in smooth bedrock, while Horsepasture is all about linking clean waterfalls in succession. On both of these streams, there are sizable drops that result in nerve-wracking moments. In addition to maximizing the limits of runnable whitewater, paddlers must expect strenuous hike out access, persistent scouting on sketchy terrain, and steep portage routes. For a dose of adventure with quality paddling that demands fitness, experience, and confident class V skills, these rivers are the best practice platform for whitewater expedition paddling in more remote areas around the globe.

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Originally written by RootsRated for Outdoor Sports Marketing.

Featured image provided by Angela Greenwell

8 of the Best Waterfall Hikes in the Smokies

The Great Smoky Mountains may be known for their enchanting mist and spectacular views, but these rounded peaks have another claim to fame: they are home to waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. There’s nothing quite like kicking off your shoes and cooling down next to a beautiful waterfall in the heat of a Southeastern summer, and with more than 20 waterfalls in the park, the Smoky Mountains are the perfect place to do just that.

Whether you’re looking for a flowing cascade or an impressive chute, a drive-by photo opp or a strenuous all-day hike, the Smokies have something for you. We narrowed the full list down to eight of the best waterfall hikes in the Smokies to try out the next time you visit the Southeast.

1.Indian Creek and Tom Branch Falls

Distance: 1.6 miles **Difficulty: Easy

The hike to Tom Branch Falls is great for families.
The hike to Tom Branch Falls is great for families.
Photo by Bob Carr

This easy hike on Deep Creek Trail is a two for one: the 1.6-mile round trip gives you views of both Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls. After just one-third of a mile, you’ll come across the splendid 60-foot Tom Branch Falls, a perfect spot to stop for photos or rest on one of the many benches provided by the National Park Service. Just a bit farther down the path, hikers will catch a glimpse the 25-foot Indian Creek Falls, which cascades water slide-style into Deep Creek.

2. Mouse Creek Falls

Distance: 4.2 miles** Difficulty: Easy**

The hike to Mouse Creek Falls is easy, with a beautiful payoff.
The hike to Mouse Creek Falls is easy, with a beautiful payoff.
Photo by Bob Carr

Perfect for novice hikers, the trail to the lesser-known Mouse Creek Falls is wide and smooth, climbing gently over the first two miles. The 45-foot falls can be accessed from Big Creek Trail, which follows along an old logging railroad. After about a mile, the trail meets Big Creek, and a little farther, you’ll get a view of the emerald green waters of Midnight Hole and it’s six-foot waterfall. If you are visiting in the warmer months, expect to see plenty of wildflowers bursting into color as well. With a modest elevation gain of 600 feet and a round-trip distance of just over four miles, Mouse Creek Falls is the perfect destination for beginner hikers or those looking for a beautiful waterfall without too much hassle.

3. Baskins Creek Falls

Distance: 3 miles** Difficulty: Easy overall, but with a couple fun challenges**

Baskins Creek Falls is a short walk with a big reward.
Baskins Creek Falls is a short walk with a big reward.
Photo by Brian Greer

While the round trip to Baskins Creek Falls is only three miles, you’ll face your share of exciting obstacles in reaching this 40-foot waterfall. You may get your feet wet on the walk, especially after a heavy rain, as the trail crosses Falls Branch with no footbridge. The final stretch leading to the waterfall is a fairly steep descent that will become a fun, rugged scramble on the return trip. Whatever your experience level, the hike the beautiful two-tiered falls is well worth the challenges of getting there.

4. Hen Wallow Falls

Distance: 4.4 miles** Difficulty: Moderate**

Look carefully for salamanders at the base of Hen Wallow Falls.
Look carefully for salamanders at the base of Hen Wallow Falls.
Photo by Cody Myers Photography

At a towering 90 feet, this waterfall will have you craning your neck to see its sky-high origins. Only two feet wide at the top, the waterfall broadens to nearly 20 feet on its lengthy descent. The 4.4-mile round-trip hike can be accessed from Gabes Mountain Trail. On a steady climb, the rugged trail winds through a lush forest before descending steeply to the falls. If you brave the hike in cold winter weather, you could be rewarded with a view of Hen Wallow Falls frozen into an impressive icy column.

5. Abrams Falls

Distance: 5.2 miles** Difficulty: Moderate**

Abrams Falls is a popular hike in the Cades Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Abrams Falls is a popular hike in the Cades Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Photo by Bob Carr

The trail to Abrams Falls is well-traveled, and for good reason. At roughly five miles out-and-back, this hike is the perfect place to stop and stretch your legs on a scenic drive through Cades Cove. The immense volume of water rushing over Abrams Falls will make you forget that it’s only 20 feet tall. The trail is considered moderately difficult and runs parallel to Abrams Creek. The base of the falls offers plenty of room for a riverside picnic or a shady rest before the return hike.

6. Rainbow Falls

Distance: 5.4 miles** Difficulty: Moderate**

Rainbow Falls is known for misty rainbows on a sunny afternoon.
Rainbow Falls is known for misty rainbows on a sunny afternoon.
Photo by Ed Ogle

Visit this waterfall on a sunny afternoon to catch glimpses of the misty rainbows for which the falls is named. Best viewed after heavy rain, the 80-foot falls has the longest single drop waterfall in the Smokies and is great for a day hike. The trail gains 1,500 feet in elevation en route to the falls, while offering plenty of rest spots along the way. If you’re looking for a heftier challenge, you can tack on another four miles by going all the way to the summit of Mt. LeConte.

7. The Sinks and Meigs Creek Cascades

Distance: 7 miles** Difficulty: Moderate**

This waterfall is especially pretty in the fall.
This waterfall is especially pretty in the fall.
Photo by Kevin Stewart Photography

For a fantastic view of the Sinks, a short but powerful waterfall, you need not walk more than twenty steps from your car. Named for the swirling motion of the water as it pools at the base of the 15-foot falls, the Sinks is a popular roadside attraction in the Smokies.

But if you want to go beyond the parking lot, jump on the Meigs Creek Trail, which you can follow to a variety of destinations. The trail is aptly named: it follows the creek all the way to its headwaters at Meigs Mountain. On your way up, you’ll get to practice your rock hopping skills as you cross Meigs Creek multiple times (with no footbridges). There are several small waterfalls on the trail, including the 18-foot Meigs Creek Cascades. This trail is best hiked in the summer and fall months, as there can be dangerously high water at other times of the year.

8. Ramsey Cascades

Distance: 8 miles** Difficulty: Strenuous**

Ramsey Cascades is a frequently photographed waterfall in the Smokies.
Ramsey Cascades is a frequently photographed waterfall in the Smokies.
Photo by Peter Ciro

If you want to take a gander at the tallest waterfall in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll have to work for it. At 100 feet tall, Ramsey Cascades is a picturesque and popular destination for day hikers. Gaining 2,200 feet over four miles, this trail is considered strenuous and has some pretty rugged terrain just before reaching the falls. With a round-trip distance of eight miles, Ramsey Cascades Trail meanders through the largest old growth forest in the Smokies while offering views of countless mini-waterfalls in the Little Pigeon River.

Note: The trail to Ramsey Cascades is temporarily closed due to storm damage.

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Originally written by RootsRated for Outdoor Sports Marketing.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

An Insider’s Guide to Panthertown Valley: The Yosemite of the East

Although big cats no longer prowl the 6,295-acre swath of the Nantahala National Forest dubbed Panthertown Valley, it’s still easy to imagine the namesake predators roaming the sylvan trails. One of the most stunning and ruggedly wild tracts of the massive national forest is Panthertown Valley—a place that has been referred to as the Yosemite of the East and one that is home to an unimaginably varied backcountry loaded with craggy granite cliffs, plunging ravines, soaring 4,000-foot peaks, and waterfalls spilling into private plunge pools. The recreation area is open to hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, and horseback riding—and despite increase popularity in recent years, Panthertown’s rugged trails are still steeped in solitude.

Classic Adventures

The rugged Panthertown Valley offers some amazing backcountry experiences.
The rugged Panthertown Valley offers some amazing backcountry experiences.
Photo by Nick Breedlove

Get a taste of both the scope and the ruggedness of Panthertown Valley—without having to stray far from the trailhead—at Salt Rock Gap, with prime views of Big Green and Little Green mountains, just a quarter mile from the valley’s Salt Rock Gap parking area.

Although the Panthertown is teeming with stunningly secluded waterfalls, Schoolhouse Falls is undoubtedly one of the area’s most iconic landmarks—and also one of the most easily accessible. The highly photogenic 25-foot cascade tumbles into a stunning, tannin-tinted pool, ideal for restorative soaks on steamy summer days. While Schoolhouse Falls is easily added to a multi-day Panthertown itinerary, the flume is also accessible from the trailheads dotting the eastern and western parts of the valley, requiring a 1.4-mile hike from the Cold Mountain Gap trailhead or a 2.4-mile trip from the Salt Rock Gap trailhead.

Another of Panthertown Valley’s most inviting hangouts is the aptly named Sandbar Pool, a generous swath of sand dotting Panthertown Creek, reachable from the east or the west side of the valley, on the Panthertown Valley trail, a 3.3-mile thoroughfare splintered with foot paths, linking the Salt Rock Gap and Cold Mountain Gap trailheads.

From sunken stream valleys to looming peaks, explore Panthertown’s diversity of landscapes with a trip to another of the wilderness area’s more stunning features—the Great Wall of Panthertown, a massive 300-foot granite face that extends for nearly a mile. Explore the looming wall along the 1.6-mile Great Wall Trail, or get a bird’s eye view from the soaring cliff face atop 4,200-foot Big Green Mountain, courtesy of a slender footpath accessible from the thickly forested summit.

Immerse Yourself

Those willing to explore will discover several excellent waterfalls in Panthertown Valley.
Those willing to explore will discover several excellent waterfalls in Panthertown Valley.
Photo by Nick Breedlove

Less than a century ago, Panthertown’s thickly forested backcountry looked far different—the landscape had largely been converted to pastureland and the ruggedly wild valley was cleared out by loggers. In the 1960s, the area was replanted with pine trees in an attempt to convert the area into mountain resort. However, after changing hands several times, the sizeable tract of land was ultimately purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1989 and handed over to the U.S. Forest Service.

While much of the wilderness is new growth, some of the Panthertown’s primary forest remains, including groves of eastern hemlock and yellow birch. The area remains a hub for endemic flora and fauna, designated as a Blue Ridge Natural Heritage Area. While the namesake panthers may have disappeared, black bears, bobcats, and coyotes still roam the extensive backcountry. The protected area also harbors rare reclusive species, like hellbenders, which are massive salamanders which can grow up two-feet in size.

There is extensive backcountry for hikers to explore in the Panthertown Valley.
There is extensive backcountry for hikers to explore in the Panthertown Valley.
Photo by Nick Breedlove

Some of Panthertown Valley’s most stunning natural wonders are well removed from the beaten track—literally—and are accessible only along secondary footpaths, or after a little bushwhacking. Backcountry beauties like Pothole Falls, Mac’s Falls, and Hogback Mountain are reachable only after deviating onto less well-established forest thoroughfares.

Aside from being embellished by tumbling waterfalls, the waterways lacing Panthertown are also loaded with native brook trout. The Eastern Fork of the Tuckaseigee River originates in Panthertown, and the massive tract of wilderness is also overlaid by the Panthertown, Greenland, and Flat creeks—adding up to 20 miles worth of fishable waters. Panthertown Creek is also one of the stops highlighted on the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail, the country’s first and only fly-fishing trail.

Getting the Most Out of Your Trip

Camping in Panthertown Valley.
Camping in Panthertown Valley.
Photo by Nick Breedlove

Although there is a conscious effort to minimize human impact on Panthertown Valley, there are nearly 30-miles of backcountry trails designated by the Forest Service and maintained by the nonprofit Friends of Panthertown. However, beyond the official trails identified by the Forest Service, Panthertown Valley is also laced with secondary footpaths, which can easily become maze-like and undiscernible to first-time visitors. Signage in Panthertown is also minimal, so the best bet for minimizing chances of getting lost is with a reliable guide. The definitive map to the area is Burt Kornegay’s A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown, and detailed trail information is also available from the Friends of Panthertown.

In order to preserve Panthertown Valley’s ruggedly remote appeal, there are no services available in the recreation area. Visitors should plan to arrive overly prepared, and follow Leave No Trace guidelines for backcountry travel to minimize impacts on the wilderness.

Originally written by RootsRated for Jackson County Tourism Development Authority.

Featured image provided by Nick Breedlove

The Best Day Hikes on the Mountains to Sea Trail

Ask someone their favorite part about living in North Carolina, and a likely response will touch on the accessibility of both mountains and ocean. From mile-high peaks to rolling farmland to wind-swept sand dunes, the Tarheel State is, indeed, fantastically diverse. And one day, a single, unbroken footpath called the Mountains to Sea Trail will connect these unique geographic regions in a more intimate way than a road ever could. But for now, the MST remains a work in progress and a 40-year testament to the vision and passion of an increasing number of everyday heroes.

The scope of the cross-state project is impressive. The entirety of the 1,150-mile MST exists within the borders of North Carolina, with more than 680 miles of the trail currently built. (By comparison, the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail traverses 14 different states.) Even though it’s still under construction, it’s possible to thru-hike the MST using road connections; in fact, more than 60 hikers are registered as MST finishers.

Creating and maintaining a trail of this magnitude is no easy, or quick, task. The idea of a trail to traverse the Old North State was first proposed in 1977 by Howard Lee, an NC Senator and the first African American elected as mayor of a predominantly white Southern town, Chapel Hill. When progress on the MST faltered in the mid-1990s, the non-profit group Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail was formed to advocate for the trail and organize its huge volunteer force.

From trail building to land conservancy, a huge army of volunteers and organizations work to make the MST possible
From trail building to land conservancy, a huge army of volunteers and organizations work to make the MST possible
Photo by Ann Hendrickson

Kate Dixon joined the FMST in 2008 as its first executive director and still holds that position. She expresses a deep respect for the folks who offer their time and talents to the trail. “That core [of volunteers] is so important for the MST,” she says. “Having people all over the state that really care about it is amazing.”

Dixon says some 30,000 volunteer hours were spent on the MST in 2015. That sweat equity was supplied mostly by 17 groups throughout the state, some directly affiliated with the FMST, others independent entities that care for all sorts of trails in their area.

Collectively these teams are responsible for the maintenance of 530 miles of existing trail and, on average, build around 10 to 15 new miles each year. Volunteers with the Elkin Valley Trail Association, for example, are ambitiously creating both new trail and support infrastructure for hikers. Farther up the Blue Ridge, the Carolina Mountain Club maintains 140 miles of the MST and recently built a section at Water Rock Knob that Dixon says was among the most difficult projects on the whole trail.

Officially, the Mountains to Sea Trail falls under the jurisdiction of the North Carolina State Park Department. And while it does receive some priority grant dollars for specific projects from the state, it is not directly funded like other parks in the system; the primary source of dollars that keep the trail operational come from corporate and private donors. Besides volunteering for trail work, Dixon says the best way to support the trail is by becoming a member of the FMST.

The cylindrical stone cap of Pilot Mountain is one of the most iconic sites along the MST
The cylindrical stone cap of Pilot Mountain is one of the most iconic sites along the MST
Photo by Ted Buckner, Creative Commons

The experience of hiking the full length of the Mountains to Sea Trail differs from other-long distance paths in the U.S., like the Pacific Crest Trail or the AT: The long walk across North Carolina can provide a more intimate, interpersonal experience. Passing through the mountain towns, farming communities, and seaside villages opens a window into the diverse cultures that occupy them.

“A lot of the people I talk to who have completed the whole trail, even people who grew up in NC, say, ‘I never really felt like I knew Carolina until I actually walked it and met so many people,’” says Dixon. “The MST takes you through wilderness areas, but you also get a chance to meet so many people going through their ordinary life along the way.”

Best Day Hikes on the Mountains to Sea Trail

The MST leads hikers past several Carolina bays, a mysterious geological feature of the coastal plane
The MST leads hikers past several Carolina bays, a mysterious geological feature of the coastal plane
Photo by PJ Wetzel

In case you haven’t banked the two months’ worth of vacation it typically takes to complete the trail, there is a long list of locations that allow day hikers to experience a piece of the trail. The Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail website  is an absolute treasure trove of vital information for accessing the MST. To make this information more manageable, the trail has been broken into sections, each one with a well-organized guide. To get you started, Dixon has recommended four day hikes that show off the variety found along the MST.

Water Rock Knob

This high-altitude spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway offers one of the most easily accessible and amazing views of the entire MST. A short trail to the top begins at the Water Rock Knob overlook at BRP Milepost 451.2. There are bathrooms and even a small store here. The roughly one-mile roundtrip hike is near the edge of Smoky Mountain National Park and makes a fantastic stop on the way out to watch the sun setting over the valley a thousand feet below.

Pilot Mountain

The MST connects many of the state’s most noteworthy natural landmarks, but few such places have distinguished themselves more as a symbol of North Carolina’s unique beauty than the cylindrical rock monadnock at Pilot Mountain State Park. Several of the state park’s trails share the MST designation. Entering the park from the south, parts of the Corridor, Mountain, Grindstone, and Grassy Ridge Trails are marked with the familiar white blaze that designates the Mountains to Sea Trail. Map segment 6 describes which pieces of these trails are on the MST.

Jones Lake State Park

Far to the southeast of Pilot Mountain, where the rolling hills and red clay of the Carolina Piedmont give way to the flat, sandy soil of the coastal plain, the MST passes near another geological oddity: the Carolina bay. These elliptical depressions vary in size and depth, but all share a northwest-to-southeast orientation. Debates surrounding their origins are generally contained in two camps: Those who theorize the bays were created by a geological event and those who believe they are the result of a celestial impact.

A day hike on the MST at Jones Lake State Park offers a firsthand opportunity to investigate a Carolina bay and decide which theory you subscribe to. The walk connects to a loop trail around Jones Lake, one of the larger bays in the area.

Volunteers write funny, and all too true sayings on the boardwalks which carry hikers across the swamps of Croatan National Forest
Volunteers write funny, and all too true sayings on the boardwalks which carry hikers across the swamps of Croatan National Forest
Photo by Becka Walling

Neusiok Trail

Nearer still to the Carolina coast, the MST passes through the incredible biodiversity of Croatan National Forest and joins the 20-plus mile Neusiok Trail. Multiple bridges and boardwalks offer comfortable passage over raised swamps (called pocosins) and through dense forests of pine and cypress. Black bear, deer, osprey, eagles, and the infamous Venus flytrap all make their home in the forest, as do much smaller inhabitants. Dixon suggests hiking in this area from fall through early spring to avoid the high times for insects. Plan for your exploration of this area with the help of the segment 17 guide.

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Originally written by RootsRated for OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Paul Blake/Wikipedia

5 Summer Things to Do in Western North Carolina

Our little corner of the world offers amazing access to the outdoors, music and art, picturesque mountain main streets, and the best friends and neighbors anyone could ask for. While you may be headed to the beach or out of town for a summer vacation, there’s plenty of local adventure to occupy a weekend or an afternoon in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Grab your kayak, lace up the hiking boots, and make your summer bucket list.

May

While May technically falls within spring, Downtown After 5 serves as an unofficial start to summer in the city. Celebrating its 29th year, this monthly concert series from the Asheville Downtown Association began as a way to draw locals into a largely abandoned city center in the late 1980s. The first DA5 concert featured a Mardi Gras theme and, in a nod to that history, the May 19 concert features dynamic New Orleans funk and RnB band the High & Mighty Brass Band and local opening the Josh Phillips Big Brass Band. Why not make a day of it and explore the city’s history on the Asheville Urban Trail, stopping at galleries and public houses along the way?

June

Summer officially arrives on June 21. What better way to celebrate than by participating in the Great American Campout? The National Wildlife Federation has tools that can help you host a public campout in your neighborhood or community. Buncombe County Recreation Services is planning a June 24 campout in Lake Julian Park with guided hikes, stargazing, morning yoga, s’mores, and campfire stories. Even if you don’t take a pledge to join the GAC, heading out with a group of friends is a great way to unwind and reconnect. Lake James State Park is just under an hour away from Asheville and offers scenic vistas of the Appalachian Mountain range, hiking, boating, biking, and hot showers.

Courtesy of RomanticAsheville.com

July

Thru-hiking for months on end is out of reach for many of us. Luckily, the Appalachian Trail offers plenty of shorter hikes that offer the same experience. Art Loeb Trail is just west of Asheville. This 30-mile-long footpath is a highlight reel of the Southern Appalachians with rhododendron tunnels, waterfalls, swimming holes, 360-degree views, and much more. There are plenty of spots to set up camp – or pick a spot in one of the shelters. Three to four days offers ample opportunity for side trips off the main trail. You can also beat the July heat with a stop at Sliding Rock on the way back.

August

Parts of WNC are uniquely positioned to witness the contiguous United States’ first total solar eclipse in 38 years on August 21. Graham, Macon, Swain, Jackson and Transylvania counties are a handful of places in the world that will be plunged into total darkness as the Earth, moon, and sun line up so that the moon completely obscures the sun for about two minutes. Mountain towns are bracing for ten times the number of guests as usual and Clingman’s Dome is hosting a special ticketed viewing, so it’s best to reserve a campsite or cabin as early as possible. Depending on where you end up watching the eclipse, it’s a perfect chance to explore towns like Murphy, Cherokee, or Brevard. Events are also planned at UNC Asheville and in Pack Square Park, but Asheville will only see a 99% eclipse.

September

Just as summer begins with a festival, it comes to an end with the Asheville Outdoor Show on September 17. Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker host outdoor experts and leaders at this annual event that showcases everything new in hiking, camping, kayaking, outdoor clothing, and technology. With workshops, music, and the chance to chat with representatives from top brands like Patagonia, Prana, Mountain Hardwear, and Kelty, it’s a reminder that even as fall comes to the mountains, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors in comfort and style with your favorite folks.

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Ways to Explore the Outdoors in Asheville in March

March equinox brings spring to the mountains on March 20. The month is named for Mars, the Roman god of war who was also regarded as a guardian of agriculture. His month Martius was the beginning of the season for both farming and warfare, and the festivals held in his honor during the month were mirrored by others in October, when the season for these came to a close. As winter comes to an end, March is seen by many as a month to celebrate rebirth, rejuvenations, and regrowth.

Here are some picks for getting outside during the first month of springtime. Visit the experts at Diamond Brand Outdoors to make sure you’ve got all the right gear and outdoor clothing before heading out!

Kolo Bike Park
Opens for the season on March 4, Prices vary
Part of the Adventure Center of Asheville, this experience includes miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails and features — including wooden and dirt jumps, 180 degree wood berm, and wooden bridges — in a wooded, rolling terrain. It’s adult and kid’s pump track make it a sort of mountain bike sampler pack. There are multiple ways to ride Kolo’s trails depending on your skill level whether you’re just learning, taking it easy, or looking to push your edge a bit. Bring your own bike or rent one on site.
1 Resort Drive in Asheville

Spring Hiking 101
6pm-7pm on March 9, Free
With the arrival of spring, the ground thaws, flowers begin to blossom, and nature is jumps back to life. With trails that weave through multiple waterfalls, provide ample bird-watching opportunities, and lead to epic vistas, there’s no better time to explore WNC’s terrain than the temperate days of spring. Frugal Backpacker‘s experts will review essential items you should take with you while hiking in the Asheville area and share their favorite spring hikes.
52 Westgate Parkway in Asheville

Campapalooza
10am-4pm on March 18, Free
Spring camping season gets an early start with a preview of 2017’s best reviewed gear from international innovators like Kelty, Marmot, and Oboz, as well as locally based makers like ENO, Astral, and LiquidLogic. Free hourly workshops on topics from festival camping to choosing the right backpack for a thru hike to getting started to hiking are joined by giveaways and the presentation of grants to local environmental nonprofits. It’s our way of celebrating Diamond Brand Outdoors’ history as WNC’s first and oldest outdoor store — and thanking our customers for their support!
1378 Hendersonville Road in Asheville

Get in Gear Fest
Noon-5pm on March 18, Free
26 WNC Gear Builders will be demoing their newest equipment on the banks of the French Broad River at Salvage Station. From a slingshot shooting range and 1:1 guided outdoor experiences to unique events to test outdoor skills and outdoor gear collaboration beers and ciders, it’s no joke that this festival is called Get in Gear. Diamond Brand Outdoors’ paddle experts will be hosting paddlesports demos on the river at 1:00, 2:15, and 3:30 in the afternoon.
468 Riverside Drive in Asheville

Mountains-to-Sea Trail Bird Walk
8am-10am on March 25, Free
Have you ever wanted to get to know the birds that you see and hear around you? Join international birdwatching guide Kevin Burke for an moderate hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. You’ll look for typical winter species, such as Carolina Chickadee, Hermit Thrush, Golden, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, as well as early spring migrants like Northern Parula, Blue-headed Vireo, Hooded Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, and Wood Thrush.
1378 Hendersonville Road in Asheville

Asheville Orchid Festival
9am-5pm on March 25 & 26
$5 per person, Free ages 12 and under (standard parking fees apply)
The Western North Carolina Orchid Society hosts its 19th annual ode to the excitement and joy of cultivating orchids inside The North Carolina Arboretum’s Education Center. World-class orchid growers and breeders, along with regional orchid societies, will exhibit hundreds of orchids presented in carefully crafted displays. Orchids will be for sale by vendors from Taiwan, Ecuador, and across the United States.

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Resolve to Get Outdoors in 2017

New Years Asheville OutdoorsThe turn of the year means 2016 is in the books—and for many of us, it can’t come a moment too soon. The end of a year usually brings a time of self-reflection, a time to get our priorities in line and make a plan for improvement. That seems especially important this year.

The top New Year’s resolutions remain largely unchanged year after year: stay fit and healthy, lose weight, and enjoy life to the fullest. If the goals on your list look similar, scratch them out and replace them with one enjoyable item: get outdoors!

These days, the average American spends 93% of their life inside, 87% in buildings and 6% in vehicles. Spending just 20 more minutes outside each day is long enough to provide a cleaning of the mental windshield to recover from everyday life.

You might be thinking, “This sounds great, but I went camping once and hated it.” Luckily, there are countless ways to get outdoors that don’t include pitching a tent—although that can be pretty great, too! If you’re already an outdoors maestro, introduce newbie friends and family to your favorite outdoor activities.

Take a Hike

Asheville Hiking Outdoors Western North Carolina MountainsOn a tree-lined street, your closest park or greenway, or one of the many trails a few minutes outside of town, hiking is great because it doesn’t require a lot of special equipment. A good pair of hiking shoes from your local outdoors store is good enough to start. As you graduate to more moderate trails, trekking poles can come in handy. The North Carolina Arboretum is a beautiful choice this time of year with lots of parking and trails of all levels.

Train for a Big Event

Running Asheville Big Event Western North Carolina OutdoorsWhether you’re a runner, biker, or hiker (or want to be one), having a specific challenge in mind will give you structure and motivation. If you’re already running a few times a week, but want to warm up your winter right away, the Asheville Hot Chocolate 10K is January 21. For beginners and those just getting back into the game, the Race to the Taps series kicks off on March 18. Followed by three additional races in April, September, and October, you’ll be able to trace your improvement through the year.

Find Inspiration

Outdoors Volunteering Asheville Mountains WNCShare your skills, meet new people, and make a difference by volunteering with organizations like MountainTrue, The North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville Greenworks, Carolina Mountain Club, The Pisgah Conservancy, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Muddy Sneakers, Friends of the Smokies, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, North Carolina Outward Bound School, RiverLink, and…you get the idea?!? There are many ways to volunteer with great local organizations. With the amount of projects available, you can volunteer when your schedule permits, create a custom outing, or join a group event. Local stores like Diamond Brand Outdoors often host information sessions with these groups, making getting involved even easier.

These are a few ways you get outdoors more in 2017 right away. You can also simply visit a new neck of the woods or take a date night outside. As it warms up, maybe join an outdoor sports league or try your hand at kayak fishing. Making time for yourself to do what you love in the places you love to do them will reconnect you with the world and make you happy.

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Ways to Explore the Outdoors in Asheville in December

Even though summer hung around longer than usual, we’re lucky to enjoy four distinct seasons in our little corner of the world. Every season is a great season to live in Asheville, but holidays in the mountains carry a special charm all their own. From sharing a fire pit with friends in your backyard to getting in one last camping weekend with the family, there are plenty of traditions—casual or official—to fill up the month of December.

Here are some picks for getting outside during the last month of the year. Visit the experts at Diamond Brand Outdoors to make sure you’ve got the right hiking shoes and gear before heading out!

Frozen Waterfalls
While the power of rushing water is a spectacular site during any waterfall hike, winter brings magical icy scenes that are on display for just a short time each year. Leafless trees offer clearer views and the absence of crowds make for a very personal experience. Daniel Ridge Falls, Cove Creek Falls, Soco Falls, or one of many others are just a short drive from Asheville. Visit RomanticAsheville.com for some great suggestions.

Lake Julian Festival of Lights
6pm-9pm nightly through December 22
$5 per car, $10 per van
Transforming the road circling Lake Julian Park involves thousands of lights and more than 50 displays, growing each year! The lake’s reflection can even make it appear that the dazzling wonderland goes on forever. A fundraiser for Buncombe County Special Olympics, the annual event is a great value since you pay by the vehicle and not per person. December 1 offers the option to walk through the festival at your own pace rather than driving in the car.

Choose ‘n’ Cut Christmas Tree Farms
The North Carolina Fraser fir is the second most popular Christmas tree in the nation. Christmas tree farms are a great holiday outing, allowing you and your family to make memories while picking the perfect yuletide centerpiece. Cut it yourself or have the professionals bale and tie to your vehicle while you enjoy refreshments and (in some cases) hay rides. A good resource is NCChristmastrees.com.

Santa on the Rock
11am-2pm on December 3 & 10
$13 adults, $6 ages 5-15 (includes park admission)
Jolly Old Saint Nick practices his chimney shimmy with multiple rappels down Chimney Rock. Meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, enjoy live holiday music, hot cocoa and cookies, and meet live critters that call Chimney Rock Park their home.

Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum
6pm-9pm nightly through January 1
$18 adults, $16 ages 5-11
Shorter days mean more time to enjoy the nighttime wonderland of light displays throughout the region. The North Carolina Arboretum’s elaborate Winter Lights show transforms the gardens into a magical experience. Grab some layers and enjoy the experience of roasting marshmallows and making s’mores!

Asheville Downtown Holiday Windows
Map available at ashevilledowntown.org
Finish your holiday shopping or just get in the holiday spirit as you window-shop about 30 businesses that make up the Holiday Windows walking tour sponsored by the Asheville Downtown Association. Seasonal interpretations range from the traditional to the neo-traditional to the only-in-Asheville, a delightful experience that reinforces that we may celebrate in different ways, but we all love the experience of winter magic.

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Ways to Explore the Outdoors in Asheville November 14-20

Choose and Cut Your Own Christmas Tree near Asheville
Pick the perfect Christmas tree for you home and have a great holiday outing at one of the “choose and cut” Christmas Tree Farms near Asheville. You select the tree…they cut it, bale it and tie it on your vehicle or you can use their bowsaws and cut it yourself! Check out the great list of local tree farms provided by RomanticAsheville!

Step Out + Shop for Diana Wortham Theatre at Diamond Brand Outdoors
November 17 at 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. on 1378 Hendersonville Road
In its sixth year, Step Out & Shop is a way to support Asheville’s finest theatre in a very easy way. Get started on your holiday shopping (or grab some things for yourself) with a storewide 20% discount! At the end of the night, we’ll donate 10% of all store sales to the Diana Wortham Theatre to support live performances of music, theatre, and dance throughout the year. There will also be lots of fun giveaways and prizes, as well as live music and light bites.
Fee: Free

Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum
November 18 – January 1, Nightly at 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. on 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way
The North Carolina Arboretum’s elaborate Winter Lights show returns, transforming the gardens into a nighttime wonderland with 500,000 lights! Stroll through spectacular lighted displays and see the gardens in a completely new way. Designed with an artistic aesthetic, The Winter Lights show enhances the natural beauty of the gardens as you celebrate the holidays.
Fee: Prices Vary

Asheville Holiday Parade
November 19 at 11:00 am – 1:00 pm in Downtown Asheville
This year’s theme is Light Up the Holidays: Celebrating 70 Years. The parade features nearly 100 entries including marching bands, dance and cheer squads, nonprofits and businesses. Parade entries include a little something for everyone with decorated floats, adoptable pets from area rescue organizations, the Honored Veterans float, live music, performances, and Santa Claus.
Fee: Free

Native Watercraft + Liquidlogic Factory Warehouse Sale at Diamond Brand (Part of Big Super Saturday)
November 19 at 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on 1378 Hendersonville Rd, Asheville
Locally made, international boat companies, Native and Liquid Logic are also hosting their first ever factory warehouse sale that day at Diamond Brand Outdoors. Current and previous season boats are going to be priced below wholesale including some models which have never been available in our area. DBO’s also offering special packages and discounts on boating accessories for the day to make sure you’re ready to hit the water. Now is the time to get the deal of a lifetime on a kayak made right here in your backyard!

Birds of Prey Demonstration at Dimond Brand Outdoors (Part of Big Super Saturday)
November 19 at 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. on 1378 Hendersonville Rd, Asheville
Steve Longenecker of Falconers of Falling Creek Camp will host his popular Birds of Prey presentation with live raptors including a Peregrine, male and female American Kestrel, Red-Tailed Haw, Great-Horned Owl, and an Eastern Screech Owl. This is always a popular event so plan to arrive early for the best seats.
Fee: Free

Birds of Prey Asheville Raptor Presentation

Marmot + RootsRated Fall in Love with the Outside Road Tour at Diamond Brand Outdoors (Part of Big Super Saturday)
November 19 at Diamond Brand Outdoors on 1378 Hendersonville Rd, Asheville
Marmot and RootsRated have traveled to 30 different cities around the country on their tour, but together with Diamond Brand Outdoors, are planning something very special for Asheville. Diamond Brand Outdoors is teaming up with these popular brands to celebrate everything great about the outdoors with a day of live music, tent pitching contests, Marmot gear raffles, s’mores, apple cider, outdoor trivia, a photo booth, and good ole’ conversations about where to go outdoors, with 100% of donations benefiting the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. 
Fee: A suggested $5 donation will get you hot cider, a Ball® mason jar, and entry into the awesome raffles

 

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Ways to Explore the Outdoors in Asheville November 7-13

What does ‘Adventure is Local’ mean? It means we live in an awesome place where the next chance to explore is just around the corner, on a still-unexplored trail, or out with friends at a concert. Here are our top picks for getting outside this week.

One of the Last Weeks for Leaf Viewing Around WNC
The beautiful fall colors around us are fading fast; this may be the last good week to get out and enjoy all the colors! Now’s the perfect time to go on a drive through along the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy one of the many hikes along the way. I would highly recommend checking out Fryingpan Tower for an amazing 360 degree view. The panoramic views from the top of the tower include a close-up view of majestic Cold Mountain (peak is just five miles away). Mt. Pisgah is just 2.5 miles north. Looking south is Looking Glass Rock. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is visible northwest and Shining Rock Wilderness area to the southwest.
It gets cold at the top of the tower so be sure to bundle up!

The Holidays Have Begun at Biltmore
Christmas at Biltmore celebrates beloved traditions with unsurpassed style as one of the Southeast’s most storied holiday destinations. Inspired by a century of festivities, America’s largest home is adorned with more than 70 intricately decorated trees and thousands of lights. This year’s theme of “Hearth and Home”—drawn from stories of Vanderbilt family hospitality—emphasizes Biltmore House’s many fireplaces accented with extravagant decorations.
Fee: Prices Vary

Fall Festivities at Hickory Nut Gap Farm
Daily from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm on 57 Sugar Hollow Road in Fairview
Families can come out to the farm and enjoy apples, tunnel slides, the corn maze, a mini hay maze for toddlers, the trike track, and more.
Fee: Admission is $6 Tuesday-Friday and $7 Saturdays-Sundays. The best deal is Monday, when you can get in for just $3. On Saturdays and Sundays, they offer hay rides and kiddie cart rides for $3 from 11-4, and horse rides for $7.

Catch One Leg Up at the Salvage Station
November 8 at 8 p.m. on 468 Riverside Dr in Asheville
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, One Leg Up performs a vibrant mixture of upbeat Gypsy Jazz, Latin, Swing and original jazz compositions and is a favorite of club, concert, and festival stages throughout the southeastern United States.

Put Nights at Salvage Station (WNCDGA Putt Night)
November 10 from 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. on 468 Riverside Dr in Asheville
Every Thursday, the Salvage Station hosts a weekly disc golf putting competition.

Frugal Backpacker Hiking Club: Advanced Map + Compass at Linville Gorge
November 12 9:00 a.m.3:00 p.m. at 52 Westgate Parkway Asheville
Learn to take bearings and read the trail with a map and compass while hiking one of the most fascinating outdoor spaces in the region. Recognizable peaks and landmarks will be used for location via triangulation. It’s roughly a three mile round-trip with a few hundred feet of elevation gain along the trail. While the bearing of the trail stays relatively Northbound, a large number of recognizable peaks surrounding the trail will allow for easier location. This is a free class, but RSVP is required.
Fee: FREE

The Orange Peel Presents: Mavis Staples in benefit of the French Broad River
November 13 Doors at 7 p.m. on 101 Biltmore Ave in Asheville
Mavis Staples is living, breathing history.  She is an alchemist of American music, having continuously crossed genre lines like no musician since Ray Charles. Weaving herself into the very fabric of gospel, soul, folk, pop, R&B, blues, rock, and hip hop over the last 60 years, this iconic singer has seen and sung through so many changes, always rising up to meet every road.
All proceeds from the show will go to MountainTrue’s work to protect the French Broad River.
Fee: $35 or $55 VIP (without seats)

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