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Keep Your Gear Like New: Cleaning, Repair, and Storage Tips

After a few days in the great outdoors, one the last things you want to do when you get home is tackle the task of cleaning your gear. But, as any outdoor enthusiast knows, gear is pricey stuff — and that’s if you only buy it once. However, putting in just a little bit of time and effort into keeping your gear cleaned, fixed, and stored properly has big impact on its lifespan and performance.

Fortunately, many wear-and-tear issues can be eliminated with proper maintenance and storage, and most damage can be addressed without replacing the item. By getting into a “Repair > Replace” mindset, you’ll save money and be more environmentally friendly. Your used gear is already part of the waste cycle, and by repairing instead of replacing, you’re reducing the carbon output of the manufacturing process.

We’re stoked to see brands jumping on board with this. From Osprey’s All-Mighty Guarantee to Patagonia’s Worn Wear initiative, eco-conscious brands actually encourage customers to repair their gear. (We’ve even identified them as brands who are Going Further.) A great place to start is Diamond Brand Outdoors or Frugal Backpacker for a variety of repair kits, including waterproof patches, hammock and tent kits, seam tape, and more. And, if it’s a bigger fix you don’t feel equipped to handle, many brands have a warranty repair program.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert to keep your gear in good working order; it just takes discipline and know-how. Here are some tips from our experts on how to clean, repair, and store your big-ticket items — which will keep more money in your bank account and raise your dirtbag cred at the same time.

Tents

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Your tent is your home away from home; treat it with some extra TLC to keep it functioning well.
Paxson Woelber

Cleaning: Before breaking down your tent, pick the whole thing up and shake it out, removing potentially abrasive debris. For a more thorough cleaning at home, set up the tent and wipe down the fly and body with a diluted mixture of hand soap and warm water. Never use detergent or put the tent through the washing machine — it can damage any protective coatings.

Repairs: Aquaseal and Silnet are great products created specifically for treated nylon products like tents. It works like Super Glue and can be used for seam reinforcement or to fix pinhole tears. Small rips in the mesh can be repaired with mesh repair patches, which have an adhesive that allows you to fix the tear without a sewing kit. Clean fabric with rubbing alcohol beforehand, allowing sufficient drying time, to help the patches stay in place.

Storage: The first rule of thumb is always store your tent flat and clean! Resist the urge to crumple it into the bottom of a stuff sack. Yes, it’s so easy to let camping gear get strewn everywhere after a trip, but take the time to lay your tent out and fold it along the seams, where it’s least likely to crack, and you’ll improve its lifecycle.

Down Jackets and Sleeping Bags

Cleaning: Experts recommend washing down items at least every season, which helps maintain the loft and warmth-to-weight ratio. Find a front-loading machine (the agitators in top-loading machines can damage the fill) and wash on a gentle, cold cycle with a small amount of down-specific wash like Nikwax. It helps to add a few other items in the machine to balance the spinning. Tumble dry on a gentle setting, checking often. (If the dryer gets too hot, the face fabric can melt.) When the item is nearly dry, add a few tennis balls to the dryer to break up any clumps of fill.

Repairs: A small tear in the face fabric shouldn’t be the end of a jacket or sleeping bag. Take a glance around any group of outdoorsy folks, and you’ll see gear decorated with patches of duct tape, which is all it takes to fix a small tear.

Storage: Always stash your down items at their highest loft possible, which means don’t compress them into tight bags for long-term storage. Leaving down compressed can degrade the loft and creates weakness in material treatment. Upon returning from your trip, remove the sleeping bag or jacket from its stuff sack and shake it out. Your sleeping bag likely came with a large mesh or lightweight bag — perfect for storage. If you don’t have the original, you can find one online or at a local gear shop.

Rain Gear

Cleaning: Rain gear needs to be washed a few times per season, especially gear with an ePTFE membrane. ePTFE is an expanded plastic membrane with 9 billion pores per square inch. This technology creates a waterproof, breathable layer that prevents water drops from saturating, but allows the vapor to leave. ePTFE — utilized in garments listing Gore-Tex or eVent — is oleophobic, which means oils from your skin can clog the microscopic pores and cause the jacket to lose breathability. No matter what the waterproofing, rain gear has a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) treatment on the face fabric, and residue from campfires and other contaminants can reduce the effectiveness of the coating. Washing garments with mild powder detergent or a tech wash like Nikwax will revive it.

Repairs: Feel like your older raincoat is losing waterproofing? Make sure you’re not just sweating it out—the jacket might just need to be washed. Second, check along the seams. If you find a seam failure, a product like Seam Grip can come to the rescue. For small tears on the face fabric, a patch kit from the manufacturer or your local gear shop will do the trick. To revive an older garment, give it a DWR treatment and it’ll feel nearly good as new.

Storage: Store your rain gear out of direct sunlight, preferably hanging up and not crumpled. This will help prevent the laminates from cracking. And it should go without saying, but never shove the jacket into the closet when it’s still wet, which breeds mildew and other funky, damaging stuff.

Hiking Boots

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Putting some effort into taking care of your hiking boots means they’ll really go the distance on the trail.
Cody Ash

Cleaning: While much of the backpacking world is migrating to synthetic trail shoes, leather hiking boots still hold a corner of the market. Keep yours clean and supple by scrubbing dirt off with mild soap and an old toothbrush, and treating with a leather cleaner every few months. Never put boots through the washing machine.

Repairs: If your waterproof boots are wetting out, apply a waterproofing agent, following the package instructions. If the outsole is beginning to separate, it might be a job for your local cobbler, or you can try to DIY by applying an adhesive like Free Sole.

Storage: When it’s time to put away the boots for the season, clean them thoroughly before storing them, removing all caked-on dirt. If the midsoles are removable, pull them out to allow ventilation.

(We’ve got an entire post dedicated to How to Clean Your Chaco Sandals.)

Backpacks

Cleaning: Have you ever given your backpack a thorough cleaning? Probably not, which means the straps are caked with sweat, the bottom is filthy, and something spilled inside at least once. Hand wash the pack in the tub with mild hand soap, turning it inside out and scrubbing inside every pocket. If you run the pack through a front-loading washing machine, place it in a pillowcase to avoid getting the straps and buckles caught. Always air dry, as dryers can wreak havoc on the synthetic material, zippers, and other features.

Repairs: There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a pack, and most don’t warrant a full replacement. Torn mesh, broken zippers, failing buckles, and fabric tears are all replaceable or easily fixed. Gear companies will likely send you the exact strap or buckle you need, and many will stitch mesh or fabric back together. Your patched-up pack will have way more personality.

Storage: This one’s easy. Just store the pack clean without anything nasty caked to the inside.

Skis

Cleaning: If you choose to wax your skis yourself, you probably have a good idea of what you’re doing. In short, you’ll clean up the edges with a diamond stone, apply a coat of wax with an iron, let it cool, then thoroughly scrape it from tip to tail with a scraper. Brush with a brass brush, then polish with a fiber pad. Not sure how to do it? Watch a video or ask someone at a ski shop before tackling it for the first time.

Repairs: Take care of any dings right away—minor damages to the base can be peeled off with a sharp knife to prevent catching and dragging. The gouge can be patched later.

Storage: Clean and dry your skis, and take care of any minor burrs that could result in rust. Store skis upright, preferably in a rack out of direct sunlight.

Climbing Rope

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Your climbing rope is a critical piece of gear; make sure you take care of it properly.
Helen Cook

Cleaning: Self preservation means keeping load-bearing (i.e. life-saving) gear in peak condition. Keep as much dirt off the rope as possible by flaking it on a rope bag or tarp when climbing outside, and never step on it. When your rope gets dirty, wash it with warm water and a designated rope wash and rope brush, feeling for soft spots, which can mean that section is core shot. Rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear. Hang the rope in large loops over a railing to avoid annoying pigtails as it dries.

Repairs: The best way to repair a rope you’re unsure about is to not repair a rope you’re unsure about. Don’t risk it. Turn it into outdoorsy home decor by making a lovely rug.

Storage: After thoroughly cleaning and drying your rope, flake it loosely into a rope bag or tie it into a butterfly coil. Store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. When you take it out for the first use of the season, check the entire length up and down for soft spots.

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Featured image provided by John Strother

Paddling the French Broad Paddle Trail

The French Broad Paddle Trail is a series of campsites along the French Broad River connecting over 140 miles of river. It was created by the Western North Carolina Alliance, a non-profit in Asheville that houses the French Broad Riverkeeper, who works to protect and promote the quality of the French Broad River and its tributaries. The paddle trail begins in Rosman, NC, taking paddlers over flat and whitewater. It passes through an incredibly beautiful geographical region of the Southeast.

What Makes It Great

The Cherokee used to call it the “Long Man,” and its tributaries, “Chattering Children.” Later, European settlers deemed it the “French Broad.” The world’s third oldest river has a majestic and ancient appeal. Flat water and whitewater paddlers alike will love the adventure the French Broad Paddle Trail provides. You can now paddle over 140 miles of the river from Rosman in North Carolina to Douglas Lake in Tennessee, staying at campsites all along the way.

The river begins in an area of rolling, shaded farmland, where the North and West Forks come together. As the river plunges through Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, it eventually opens up to reveal mountains rising out of the water’s edge. The river is perfect for all skill levels, with the first 75 miles consisting of mainly flat water paddling and the rest offering a mix of class I, II, and III rapids. You can easily spend one night or even several weeks exploring one of the world’s oldest rivers.

Starting in Rosman, the French Broad runs northwest through the funky and quaint Western North Carolinian towns of Brevard, Asheville, Woodfin. Weaverville, Marshall, and Hot Springs, as well as Del Rio and Newport in Tennessee. What’s great about this part of the country is the small town feel with an eclectic charm of mountain culture.

Who is Going to Love It

History and nature buffs. Some sections of the French Broad River make you feel like you’re in a prehistoric time. Other times, you’ll see a bald eagle and feel like singing the Star Spangled Banner. Still other times, you’ll float through a town and wonder how that place has been shaped by the river…and vice versa.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Visit French Broad River Paddle’s website for all your logistical needs. At the website you can make a reservation, look at a map, find access points, or read about the campsites. Campsites are $25/night, with no limit on the number of your entourage. Plan your trip ahead of time and know your river. There are three dams on the French Broad, and we discourage portaging all of them. These portages are very time-consuming and oftentimes dangerous. Try to plan your trip where you take out before these dams. Local Asheville outfitters Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker.

The French Broad Paddle Trail is open 365 days a year. Campsites are strategically placed, so that paddlers can reach their sites within a single day. The longest distance between sites is 15 miles. The campsites are paddle-in only, meaning you’ll be far away from car-camping glampers. Remember these campsites are paddle-in sites, so don’t leave a bunch of litter after your stay. It makes it very difficult for volunteers and French Broad River Paddle employees to clean up when they’re already carrying lawn mowers and weed-eaters to do maintenance. So, practice leave-no-trace principles wherever you go, and have a great paddle.

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Featured image provided by anoldent

Hiking Skinny Dip Falls

The waters of Yellowstone Prong spring from the peaks of the Great Balsam Mountains and gather themselves in Graveyard Fields. Born from springs above 6,000 feet and purified through the 5,000 foot meadow, these waters run crisp and clean. The perpetually cool waters flow peacefully through the hanging valley before plunging down a raucous ravine which leads to the Prong’s confluence with the East Fork of the Pigeon River.

What Makes It Great

From the mouth of Graveyard Fields the Yellowstone Prong cascades over the mighty Second Falls and then the secluded Yellowstone Falls. A short distance downstream the Prong makes its most risqué drop over Skinny Dip Falls. At this popular swimming hole a series of cascades and plunge pools line the banks of a heavenly ravine. A short, half-mile walk from the Blue Ridge Parkway, leads to Skinny Dip falls where you can cool your body and refresh your soul in the wild waters of Appalachia.

Access to Skinny Dip Falls can be found right off the Parkway from the Looking Glass Rock overlook. Across the Parkway, from the overlook, a blazed spur trail leads into the woods. After taking this trail and entering the woods you will notice a “trail tree,” which was formed as a trail marker by indigenous tribes. Perhaps they also enjoyed taking a dip, skinny style, in the Yellowstone Prong? After passing the ornate tree – some say the face of a dragon can be seen in its gnarled bark – hikers will come to an intersection with the Mountains-To-Sea Trail. Veer left at this intersection and follow the rocky trail until reaching the swimming area. When you reach a wooden staircase leading to a bridge spanning the creek, you have arrived!

Enjoy the series of plunge pools, but please keep your clothing on if there’s a crowd. The falls are Skinny Dip by name only, not by nature during busy hours. A grouping of Boulders along the right side of the upper pool provides a platform to jump into the 6’ deep water. Use caution and make sure to hit your mark if you decide to take the leap off of the 8’-10’ rocks. The lower pools of Skinny Dip Falls are serenely beautiful and offer wading and lounging opportunities on their sun-soaked rocks.

Who is Going to Love It

Thanks to such easy access Skinny Dip Falls has become a highly popular area for families and adventurers. On warm summer days you are likely to share the water with a crowd. Fear not though, there are plenty of pools to spread the watery wealth. This swimming hole is in the vicinity of some incredible hiking trails. The Art Loeb, Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Black Balsam Knob, and Shining Rock are all within striking distance. Take a hike, then cap off your adventurous day by soothing your aching muscles in the waters of Skinny Dip Falls!

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville, catch the Blue Ridge Parkway. Head south on the Parkway towards the Looking Glass Rock Overlook, located by mile marker 417. Parking here is free but you may want to get there early on pretty summer days to find a spot. Dogs are welcomed, but should be kept on a leash until they are ready for a swim.

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Featured image provided by Jenn Deane

7 Romantic Excursions in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Skiing at Cataloochee Mountain.Lovely evening light settles over the ski slopes.
Timo Newton-Syms

1. Share Some Powder

Love birds by day, powder hounds by night: Hit the slopes of one of Western North Carolina’s ski resorts after dark for an out-of-the-ordinary romantic excursion. Most ski resorts offer both twilight (usually 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and night (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) passes for discovery of the distinct pleasures of skiing and snowboarding after sundown. Although the main trails are brightly lit, the real fun begins when you and your sweetie duck into the trees and find the powder stashes that are illuminated only by starlight.

2. Picnic on the Parkway

Kissing alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A romantic moment alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Melina Coogan

A picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway requires very little planning, which makes it a perfect spur-of-the-moment romantic outing. Simply choose which phenomenal view you’d like to share (we recommend Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Milepost 417, which also happens to be the trailhead for Skinny Dip Falls) or cruise the parkway and take your pick of breathtakingly beautiful overlooks.

3. Camp Out at Crabtree Falls

Take a tiny vacation to the Crabtree Falls & Meadows Recreation Area, home of the gorgeous, 70-foot Crabtree Falls, one of the most photogenic landscapes near Asheville. Spend the night in one of the small, rustic cabins at the Crabtree Falls Campground. Then, make the easy, three mile out-and-back hike to the falls first thing in the morning. Bring a thermos of coffee to share with your sweetheart and watch as the first rays of sun penetrate the forest and illuminate the gauzy veil of water. If you’re an early riser, you may have that marvelous sight all to yourself.

4. Watch the Sunset from Linville Gorge

Sunset at the Linville Gorge.
Sunset from Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge.
JenjazzyGeek

With all the artistic allure of sunrise, but without the painful wake-up time, sunset is time of reflection, serenity, and romance. As the sun sinks and the sky erupts in colors, the world grows cold very quickly. Make sure and throw a blanket in your backpack so you can wrap it around the both of you, and pack a thermos of hot tea to share.

A dramatic spot to witness the closing of day is from the summit of Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Some 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, perch at the edge of the rock outcrop, and take in the view that stretches across the gorge to Table Rock and Grandfather Mountain. Remember to pack a couple of headlamps for the 1.5 mile descent back to the car.

5. Take in the Stars at Graveyard Fields

A starry night in the mountains.
The cosmos on a clear night, putting on the most romantic performance in the universe.
Anunturi Gratuite

If you’re truly looking to impress, treat your certain someone to the best stargazing in all of North Carolina. Graveyard Fields, a high valley in the heart of the Great Balsam Range, is best known for its hiking trails that meander through mountain laurels, blueberry thickets, and rhododendrons and provide the perfect overlook for two waterfalls that tumble down the Yellowstone Prong. In the evening, however, after most of the visitors have packed up and headed home, the settling darkness unveils a whole new realm of natural beauty above the quiet meadow.

Folded away in the Blue Ridge and far from the city lights of Asheville and Hendersonville, the sky above Graveyard Fields is one of the best places in the Southeast to view the Milky Way. And while this may be a lofty claim, that diamond-white spray of stars is arguably the most romantic spectacle in all of the visible cosmos.

6. Ride the Point Lookout Greenway Bike Trail

If you want to keep it casual with a brand new love interest, take a fun and flirty ride on the Point Lookout Greenway Bike Trail. This paved greenway, surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, makes for a pleasant eight mile out-and-back ride (including the half-mile dash from the parking area at the picnic area near Old Fort). If you choose to cruise together on a tandem bike, be warned that the trail gains 900 feet of elevation in 3.6 miles, so get ready for some teamwork.

7. Escape for the Weekend

On the front porch at a Smoky Mountain Getaways cabin.
On the front porch at a Smoky Mountain Getaways cabin.
Courtesy of Smoky Mountain Getaways

Just because you’re a permanent resident of the Blue Ridge Mountains doesn’t mean you can’t play tourist from time to time. Surprise your partner by a one-of-a-kind cabin or yurt and sweeping him or her away from the ubiquitous demands real life. Hide away at a rustic riverside cabin or indulge in the luxuries of a fancy mountainside cottage. A weekend of fresh views, hot-tub soaks, and some new perspective on a familiar landscape will do you both a world of good. Sometimes, even the most steadfast relationships need a little change of scenery.

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Featured image provided by Caleb Ekeroth

Visiting Hot Springs

On any given summer weekend in Hot Springs, North Carolina, pack-laden hikers and paddlers in wetsuits can be seen traversing the sidewalks of this tiny, no-traffic-light Appalachian Trail town, population 575. Acoustic music drifts from the open doors of taverns and the occasional train whistle echoes through the valley.

Surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, Hot Springs is only about 25 miles (40 minutes) from Asheville, but it feels a world away. Adrenaline may be pumping on the Class III rapids of the French Broad River which runs through the center of town, but on the main drag, Bridge Street, the pace is nothing but slow Southern town, with a certain mountain charm that has to be experienced to be understood.

Looking down at Hot Springs from Lover's Leap
Looking down at Hot Springs from Lover’s Leap
Joanne O’Sullivan

And it’s no surprise that people have been experiencing this place for over a century. The mineral springs, for which the town is named, first brought tourists here in the 1880s, but it’s the Appalachian Trail, which literally runs down the main street here, that has given Hot Springs a reputation as an outdoor destination.

As a home base for exploring the river, the national forest, or the many nearby trails, Hot Springs has everything you need. Here are the essentials for a Hot Springs visit:

Gear Up 

Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker have been supplying AT thru hikers and daytime visitors with provisions since 1964. Not only do they have gear, food, maps and all other kinds of supplies hikers might need, they also have a world of knowledge and local expertise.

Fuel Up 

Considering the size of the town, there are an impressive number of places to eat in Hot Springs. The Spring Creek Tavern describes itself as ‘hiker friendly,’ (which means they don’t mind if you smell like sweat and dirty socks), and with 12 beers on tap as well as excellent pub standards like burgers and wraps, it’s a great place to refuel. The covered deck next to the creek has prime seating and is usually full on weekend nights. Just next door, Still Mountain Restaurant and Tavern has more of a bar-pub feel and menu, and they often have musical acts playing into the night on their outdoor patio.

If you really clean up well, Mountain Magnolia Inn is primarily a romantic B &B, but it’s also an upscale restaurant with amazing views and is open to the public.

Get Out There 

The French Broad River next to Hot Springs
The French Broad River next to Hot Springs
David Wilson

There are about a dozen rafting concessions near Hot Springs, including an outpost of the Blue Heron Whitewater and Hot Springs Rafting Co. Each outfitter offers something a little different. Some offer kayaks, canoes, and funyaks. Some offer tubes, with guided and self-guided trips depending on the area of the river (the French Broad near Hot Springs has everything from Class I to Class IV). Of course, you can bring your own gear, too.

If you’re seeking a hike, the Appalachian Trail runs down the sidewalk in Hot Springs then back into Pisgah National Forest, but there are plenty of other local trails, depending on what you’re interested in. The local library has plenty of information. One of the most popular hikes in Western North Carolina is just 20 minutes from town at Max Patch, a Southern Appalachian bald with 360-degree views and great picnic opportunities.

Wind Down

After a long day on the trail or fighting the rapids, the outdoor mineral baths at Hot Springs Resort and Spa might be just what you’re looking for. The tubs are spaced far enough apart to allow for privacy, and the optional spa services menu includes everything from integrative massage to hot stone and mud bath therapies. The resort also has tent and RV camping sites along the river, plus cabins.

If you’d rather unwind with a drink, Iron Horse Station might be more your speed. The restaurant and tavern offer a varied menu, wine, beer, and acoustic music. It’s located in a historic building across from the railroad track and there are upscale hotel rooms located upstairs.

Bunk Down

Hot Springs Cabin
Hot Springs Cabin
David Wilson

In addition to the other lodging options mentioned, there are a number of local campgrounds. Appalachian Trail hikers favor the Sunnybank Inn, operated by Elmer Hall, a man who has hosted hikers for over 30 years. If you’ll be heading toward Max Patch and want a more private retreat, try Kana’Ti Lodge, a small eco-lodge with spectacular surroundings.

If you’re looking for a perfect outdoor weekend getaway in the southeast, Hot Springs should definitely be at the top of your list. 

 

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Featured image provided by David Wilson

Elk Knob State Park

The nearly 3,500 wild acres of Elk Knob State Park, which includes the second highest peak in Watauga County, was nearly lost to developers in the early part of the 21st century. The area was being considered for the construction of a summer home community until a group of local landowners and concerned citizens, together with the efforts of The Nature Conservancy, purchased the land and deeded it to the North Carolina Department of Parks and Recreation.

Today, Elk Knob is one of North Carolina’s newest state parks, open year round for the enjoyment of hikers and naturalists who are drawn to its scenic beauty and unusual ecology. It lies within a small mountain range north of Boone known as the Amphibolite Mountains, named for their unique geological foundation. Amphibolite, a dark, crumbling metamorphic rock, disintegrates into a rich soil that plays host to rare plant species such as flame azalea, purple fringed orchid, and gray’s lily.

The soil is inhospitable to the type of heath shrubs that typically choke the ground floor of northern hardwood forests. In the absence of mountain laurel, blueberries, and rhododendron thickets, the forest feels wide open and expansive, a unique characteristic for the peaks of Appalachia. Rosy bells, trillium, starflower, and jewelweed carpet the ground in vivid hues during the spring and summer. You may find yourself breathing more deeply than you have in months.

Although there are some decidedly steep and strenuous sections en route to the summit of Elk Knob — the longest of the three trails currently constructed throughout the park tops out just shy of four miles round-trip — it’s generally a nicely switchbacked and straightforward route for most hikers. A gently rolling one-mile loop encircles the picnic area. Moderate trail lengths make the park a popular destination for families, trail runners, and afternoon adventurers. Don’t forget the real reason to visit Elk Knob: as one of the highest peaks in the Appalachians, the summit of Elk Knob boasts an exceptional tri-state view of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, including Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak on the East Coast, fifty miles away in the Black Mountains. The experience at the summit is one of unparalleled quiet, only interrupted by the occasional whistling of High Country winds that rush up the side of the mountain.

For Appalachian State University Students like Margot Brown, the primitive camping spots along the Backcountry Trail provide an easily accessible respite from the rigors of college life: “It’s not car camping, but it doesn’t take long to get there. We can sleep out overnight and then be home for class the next morning.”

Winter adventurers will experience a summit feathered in hoarfrost, and dazzling views of rippling, white-frosted mountains without having to brave the cold for too many hours.

Elk Knob State Park is located off of Meat Camp Road in the community of Todd, North Carolina, 9.5 miles outside of Boone. Picnic tables, grills, and restrooms are available. First come, first serve camp sites can be found along the Backcountry Trail; there are two group sites that require reservations.

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Featured image provided by Joe Giordano

7 Winter Adventures in North Carolina Other Than Downhill Skiing (and Where to Do Them)

Why waste the winter months hibernating indoors? Snow, ice, and frosty temperatures provide plenty of fodder for outdoor adventure from moderate to extreme. When winter weather rolls into the Southeast, North Carolina’s wild spaces are briefly and beautifully transformed, with much more to offer beyond black diamond downhill runs.

1. Snowshoeing

Requiring far less finesse than downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is ideal for ski school dropouts — and sturdily-built snowshoes can go places skis can’t. In the High Country just north of Boone, Elk Knob State Park consistently gets a more-than-generous dusting of snow. Even better, the park remains open throughout the winter, Elk Knob’s trails are prime for exploring by snowshoe after a coating of fresh powder.

In Beech Mountain, the loftiest town in the eastern United States (sitting at 5,506 feet), visitors can explore 30 miles of maintained trails, and snowshoe rentals are available at the Beech Mountain Resort. Novices can warm up on the recreation center’s 1/3-mile loop, while pros can head for the 8 miles of alpine tracks at the Emerald Outback, the town’s picturesque trail park. Tentative snowshoe converts can ease into the sport with a guided tour at Sugar Mountain Resort outside Banner Elk.

2. Winter Hiking

Explore Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Christopher Sims

Head for North Carolina’s most popular trails when temperatures plunge, and less hearty hikers have gone home to roost for the winter. Waterfalls are among the state’s most popular hiking destinations, and in winter, most cascades are equally stunning, transformed into gravity-defying ice sculptures. Outside Brevard, head for Moore Cove Falls, in the Pisgah National Forest, accessible after a brief 0.7-mile hike. Or strike for the state’s most popular flume, Linville Falls. You can hike there via the trails that begin along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 316). Even when the parkway is closed for winter weather, the falls are still accessible courtesy of trailhead located off NC 183 (on Wiseman’s’ View Road, NC 1238), outside the town of Linville Falls.

Or you can set out for one of the state’s most popular peaks, Max Patch, without the fall and summer crowds. An iconic southern Appalachian bald outside the town of Hot Springs, the 4,629-foot Max Patch is crowned with more than 300 acres of airy alpine meadows. The view-laden summit is accessible via a number of approaches, including the Appalachian Trail, but the most direct route is the 2.6-mile loop beginning at the parking area on Max Patch Road (SR 1182).

 

3. Rock Climbing

Some crags are better in winter, including some of North Carolina’s premier routes, which are best tackled after autumn’s crisp chill arrives. Slopes too toasty in spring and summer become climbable. Rising dramatically above a thickly wooded expanse of the Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock, just a few miles outside Brevard, is one of the largest monoliths in the country, providing unparalleled climbing opportunities. The massive granite dome is best climbed in fall and winter. For bouldering aficionados, Looking Glass also has plenty of problems, primarily collected along the base of the North Side of the monolith, accessible along the North Side Trail.

Southeast of Asheville in Chimney Rock State Park, the southern cliffs of Rumbling Bald make for another ideal winter climb, and the Rumbling Bald Trail also meanders past three boulder fields loaded with nearly a thousand problems.

 

 

4. Canopy Tours

North Carolina’s stunning landscapes become even more spectacular when viewed from above, and for outdoor-lovers immune to frosty temperatures, canopy tours aren’t just limited to spring or summer. Soar above the snow-frosted landscape in the North Carolina High Country with the two-hour Snowbird Tour at Hawksnest outside the town of Banner Elk. Or get a bird’s eye view of southern Appalachia with a winter zipline adventure at Navitat or Treetops Adventure Park in Asheville.

5. Ice Climbing

North Carolina is one of only two states where Fox Mountain Guides offers ice-climbing.

During icy winters, the land of waterfalls becomes a frozen wonderland, making North Carolina of the best ice climbing destinations in the south. For novices, Fox Mountain Guides operates in Pisgah National Forest and offers expert-led trips. North Carolina is the only state aside from New Hampshire where the climbing school offers ice-scaling expeditions.

For experts, when wintery conditions prevail along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ice-glazed bluffs and crags of Doughton Park (milepost 240), provide an abundance of climbing options, including tackling the rock ledges framing the iconic roadway (climbing is permitted when the parkway is closed to vehicles). In the Nantahala National Forest, just outside Cashiers, the soaring cliff faces of Whiteside Mountain appear glazed with ice year-round. However, when the cliffs truly are iced over, Whiteside is transformed into one of the East’s top destinations for unflappable, peak-bagging pros — with options like Starshine, an iconic 200-foot route.

6. Cross-Country Skiing

While snowy forecasts may keep drivers off roadways, predictions of wintery weather will have cross-country skiers chomping at the bit. When snow and ice render North Carolina’s most stunning roadway — the Blue Ridge Parkway — inaccessible for vehicles, the thoroughfare is transformed into an extensive Nordic track for cross-country skiers. The High Country section of the parkway skirting Grandfather Mountain between Blowing Rock and Linville is beloved by local Nordic enthusiasts. Near the parkway’s southern terminus, the stretch of roadway around Soco Gap can also become skiable, loaded with close-ups of the frosty peaks of the Great Smoky and Plott Balsam mountains. Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 292.7), the more than 20 miles of carriage-roads lacing the 3,500-acre Moses Cone Memorial Park morph into Nordic wonderland with a blanketing of snow.

7. Backpacking

The Appalachian Trail crosses the top of Max Patch Mountain, offering views of the Appalachian Mountains.
Jason A.G.

Winter camping makes for a singular outdoor adventure. Familiar landscapes can take on a different dimension—and present new challenges. Tackle a bite-sized thru hike in western North Carolina on the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail, rambling through the Shining Rock Wilderness and over some of the loftiest peaks in the Black Balsam mountains. The trail can be broken up into shorter sections for backpackers wanting to cut their teeth with a quick winter overnight.

For ambitious backcountry snow-bunnies, the Bartram Trail, named for 18th century naturalist William Bartram, winds through North Carolina and Georgia for 100-miles, mingling with the Appalachian Trail several times. The western North Carolina stretch rambles through pristine expanses of the Nantahala National Forest, culminating at the summit of 5,062-foot Cheoah Bald.

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Featured image provided by Adam Fagen

Hiking Calloway Peak

What Makes It Great

Grandfather Mountain’s forests house plenty of wildlife and almost 200 different species of birds. Profile Trail hikers can spot woodland species such as warblers (especially in spring), scarlet tanagers, Louisiana water thrushes, and a numerous varieties of vireos. As the trail continues to spiral up the mountain, you’ll pass a great campsite, numerous breathtaking overlooks, and Shanty Spring, a cool and delicious fresh water spring located at about mile 2.7.

The last 0.3 miles will get your heart pumping, calves burning, and put you on your hands and knees as you climb up rocks along the steepest part. Once you reach the top of the Profile Trail, you’ll have two options: left or right. Swing left on the Grandfather Trail to reach Calloway Peak. It will take you 0.4 miles along the ridgeline and up three ladders to the summit of Calloway Peak.

Calloway Peak sits at 5,946 feet with the best views of Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge, and sometimes even the Charlotte skyline. John Muir described the sublime scenery from the summit as, “I couldn’t hold in, and began to jump about and sing and glory in it all!” Of the sunsets here, he said, “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Bring some tasty snacks, plenty of water, and good company, and it will be a hike that you won’t regret.

Who is Going to Love It

This trail is for nature, adventure, and hiking enthusiasts. You’re gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation from start to finish. You’ll want to have comfy hiking boots, a backpack full of water, and your favorite snacks to stay fueled along the trail. If you have any knee or leg problems, make sure to bring trekking poles for additional support. There are benches along the trail for moments when you need a breather. It is well maintained and well traveled, although the last 0.3 miles can be rocky and uneven.

Intro

Beginning off of scenic highway 105, the Profile Trail offers hikers an opportunity to witness some of the spectacular and beautiful views the high country has to offer — views famed naturalist John Muir wrote about in 1898. You’ll start by lightly treading through the headwater streams of the Watauga River as it winds 3.1 miles through seven different types of natural communities, including northern hardwood, Canadian hemlock, and acid cove forests.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The trailhead is located 12 miles from Boone on Highway 105, ¾ of a mile North of the intersection of Highways 105 and 184.There is an official parking lot for this trailhead. Since this is a hiking favorite, the parking lot fills up quick; get there early to secure a parking spot. If the lot is full, you’re able to park along the shoulder of Highway 105 at your own risk. Trail access is free since, but you must fill out a permit at the trailhead information kiosk and bring the bottom section of the ticket with you on your hike.

Dogs are permitted, but must be leashed at all times.

If you plan to camp, remember to camp in designated areas, there are plenty of beautiful sites along the trail.

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Featured image provided by Chelsie Mitchell

Winter Hiking at Grandfather Mountain

The wind just always seems to be blowing at the top of MacCrea Peak. The bare rock that caps the roughly chimney-shaped precipice offers no protection from the frigid gusts of the season. Just below, a ring of alpine forest (a biome common only in the Southeast at elevations of a mile high or greater) is dusted with bright white snow and shimmers under a sheen of ice. Far beyond the southern Appalachian spruce trees, valleys, and blue-hazed mountains seem to extend for eternity.

At once beautiful and treacherous, this is winter hiking at Grandfather Mountain State Park. Rugged rock scrambles, nerve-wracking high-altitude ladder climbs, and ice-slick chutes highlight the 12-mile trail system which laces its 2,500 acres.

Constant wind gives spruce trees and odd appearance of forward motion
Constant wind gives spruce trees and odd appearance of forward motion
Paul Geist

Grandfather Mountain was, until 2008, a privately owned park. The state park system bought the land but many of the attractions — gift shop, restaurant, animal habitats — remain and are operated by a non-profit enterprise. The front gate at the main entrance to the park is a reminder of those private ownership days and continues to charge a per person fee. However, since taking over the trail system, the Park Service has stopped collecting fees at the two other trailheads. Beginning your exploration of Grandfather Mountain at the western trailhead allows you to avoid the entrance fee and puts you in position to enjoy one of the greatest treks in this amazing park.

Snow covered trails make traction and navigation a bit tricky
Snow covered trails make traction and navigation a bit tricky
Lisa Firullo

A Deceptive Start

A brown sign on NC 105, about ¾ mile from the junction of NC 184, locates the Profile Trail parking lot. During summer, this lot can overflow with eager trekkers, many of whom take on the more intermediate 7-mile trek to Calloway Peak  and back, but that’s rare on a cold winter day. Eventual updates, according to the Park System, will allow for more parking and a bathroom.

The first mile and half or so of the 3.1-mile Profile Trail doesn’t hint at the rugged terrain ahead. Mostly gentle climbs through a hardwood forest provide a good warm up, though. The trail turns abruptly steep and rocky but offers a well-protected lunch spot and water source at Shanty Springs just past the 2.5-mile mark.

The next bit of travel opens up to the first views of the day and may require a bit of “bear crawling” over exposed rock. Turn left onto the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Trail for a half-mile (each way) out and back hike to the top of Calloway Peak. The path near the top can become icy, and trekking poles offer a huge advantage.

Fir trees, bent by the constant onslaught of wind and fringed with icicles, frame the views from one of the highest peaks in the park.

Expansive views of Southern Appalachian Alpine Forest make the trek worthwhile
Expansive views of Southern Appalachian Alpine Forest make the trek worthwhile
Lisa Furillo

Head back to the trail junction and continue straight to connect with the Grandfather Trail. Alpine Meadow, the open patch of grassy mountaintop about a half mile from the trail junction, is one of the best backcountry camping spots in North Carolina during warmer months.

Chutes and Ladders and “Batman-ing”

Another mile further on, the Underwood Trail splits to the right. Stay straight and you’ll soon come to a heavy wooden ladder, the first of several, which leads to the top of MacCrea Peak. Cresting the big rock is well worth the diversion to take in 360 degrees of Blue Ridge Mountain views.

Craggy rock faces create beautiful ice flows on the trail
Craggy rock faces create beautiful ice flows on the trail
Paul Geist

After a visit to MacCrea, the next stretch of trail includes the chutes and ladders that make this trek famous. Shimmying, a la Batman from the campy 1960’s TV show, down bare rock faces requires a light grip on attached cables. Several more ladders — needed to avoid free climbing steep drop offs of exposed rock — make this section particularly troublesome for dogs, although many can complete it with a little help. These craggy overhangs also produce some crazy-cool ice structures perfect for your next profile picture.

Mile High Bridge

The final turnaround point is the large parking area on the top of Grandfather. As this is also the stopping point for those driving up from the main entrance, the lot is often bustling with families who’ve come for a picture on the mile high swinging bridge. While plenty sturdy, the sway of the 228-foot pedestrian suspension bridge (the longest of its kind in the U.S.) can cause shaky knees in even mild acrophobics. The gift shop, restaurant, and bathroom facilities are here as well. Once you’ve had your fill, head back the way you came to the Profile Trail parking lot.

A frosted sheen of snow and ice brings a different look to Grandfather
A frosted sheen of snow and ice brings a different look to Grandfather
Joe Giordano

Tips for your first winter hike at Grandfather

    • Plan plenty of time for your return hike. Grandfather is no place to be stuck after dark if you’re not camping.
    • The total hike to the main parking lot and back is 12 miles. Even experienced hikers rarely complete it during the reduced daylight hours of winter, many choosing to turn around at MacRae Peak or the Alpine Meadow. The shortened hike still offers an incredible variety of views and experiences.
    • While some hikers bring dogs to Grandfather, it’s probably a good idea to leave your four-legged pal at home on your first trip, especially in winter.
    • With the potential for slick ice spots and the guarantee of rugged rock, hiking poles are strongly suggested.
    • Wisteria Gastropub is conveniently located on the way back to Charlotte in Morganton. They offer a fantastic southern-spin on farm to table meals and a well-rounded beer list.

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Featured image provided by NC Orchid

4 Reasons to Hike Mount Mitchell in the Winter

Thousands of years ago, when extreme cold gripped the North American continent, flora and fauna most suited to northern latitudes migrated south, covering what is now North Carolina. As the cold retreated and temperatures climbed, the trees and animals more suited to warm weather returned. Except, that is, for those living on the highest peaks in the state.

Like islands of alpine forest in a sea of temperate climate, the rounded precipices of North Carolina’s loftiest mountains still have the look and feel of their Canadian counterparts — none more so than Mount Mitchell, standing 6,684 feet above sea level.

Coated in crystalline frost even while surrounding valleys are bathed in relative warmth, Mount Mitchell is among the best places in North Carolina to experience a real winter wonderland. Here we offer four reasons to brave the fickle conditions on the East’s loftiest peak during its harshest months.

1. You’ll earn serious bragging rights.

Bent trees and horizontal ice formations tell the tale of powerful winds that frequently sweep across the top of the mountain. North Carolina State Parks
Bent trees and horizontal ice formations tell the tale of powerful winds that frequently sweep across the top of the mountain.
North Carolina State Parks

Hiking to the top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi is a formidable goal any time of year. But in winter, when the Frasier fir trees are dusted with snow and a brutal wind forms sideways icicles, hearty hikers gaining Mitchell’s summit become part of a special club.

The Mount Mitchell Trail is the most popular summit route in the state park. This 6-mile, one-way trail begins at the Black Mountain Campground and wanders through several distinct biomes on the way up. Mountain laurel and rhododendron line lower elevation creek beds. Mountain maple, spruce, and birch trees crowd for sunlight midway up, while the last remnants of an alpine fir forest cap the final stretch.

The Black Mountain Range, a 15-mile stretch of peaks anchored by Mount Mitchell, stands high enough to affect the weather. Temperatures have dropped to minus 34 degrees while wind gusts of more than 170 mph have been recorded at the peak — and it’s important not to take a winter day here lightly. These conditions certainly add to the challenge, but also to the accomplishment.

2. It’s a different world in winter.

“Post-holing” through a heaping layer of snow can make the already challenging hike to the top of Mount Mitchell a real beast. North Carolina State Parks
“Post-holing” through a heaping layer of snow can make the already challenging hike to the top of Mount Mitchell a real beast.
North Carolina State Parks

During spring, multi-hued flowering bushes line babbling creeks on the mountainside. Songbirds fill the trees and lush vegetation buffers the trail in an expansive green carpet.

But winter brings an entirely different mood to Mount Mitchell. There are no songs from the forest now; just the crunch of your footsteps on frozen trail reverberating off weathered tree trunks. On a rare, still day, there is no other sound. On a typical day, however, the whistle and howl of wind overhead surrounds you.

Down low, at the beginning of your hike, branches are coated in a heavy snow. Nearer to the peak, horizontal ice formations and bowed trees are static reminders of punishing winds. Where a blue haze might limit views in the summer, clear winter days provide vistas of frosted peaks up to 80 miles away. It’s a special kind of serenity that only a winter hike affords.

3. You’ll savor plenty of solitude.

The challenge of climbing some 3,600 feet to the top of Mt. Mitchell may be substantial, but in good weather it’s a common undertaking. No surprise, then, that the Mount Mitchell trail can be heavily trafficked in summer. And at the top, where a large parking lot sits adjacent to the snack bar and museum, families and groups of motorcyclists can crowd the view.

In winter, however, the snack bar and museum are closed for business. Difficult road conditions, school schedules, and the tough climate keep many visitors at bay. The quiet of the trail continues all the way to the top. It’s a memorable outdoor adventure not possible on busy summer days, making the wind-burnt skin and cold toes well worth it.

4. You’ll find plenty of post-hike happiness nearby.

An 800-degree stone oven provides the tell-tale char on the crust at Fresh Pizza and Pasta. Don’t want it? Just let them know when you order. Rob Glover
An 800-degree stone oven provides the tell-tale char on the crust at Fresh Pizza and Pasta. Don’t want it? Just let them know when you order.
Rob Glover

A winter exploration of Mount Mitchell will chill your bones and burn some serious calories. These days are made for hearty craft beer and huge, wood-fired pizza.

This perfect one-two punch awaits in the quaint town of Black Mountain, due south of Mount Mitchell. Begin with a stop at Fresh Wood Fired Pizza and Pasta. Settle into this cozy restaurant and watch while bubbly-crusted pizzas are pulled from an 800-degree stone oven. (The typical pie comes with a charred crust which creates a wonderful flavor, but you can ask them to leave it un-charred if you prefer.) The calzones are the size of a small RV and the beer selection is admirable. Leaving hungry, even considering your incredible effort earlier in the day, is unlikely.

If You Go:

  • Check the weather report before setting out. It changes quickly here, and being caught in a blizzard with howling winds is no joke.
  • Bring your hiking poles for this trek. They can provide a lot of support on an icy trail.
  • Check the park website for closures. The park staff works hard to clear roads, but they may shut down for a day or two after a heavy snow.

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Featured image provided by North Carolina State Parks

Events

Asheville Outdoor Show 2018

Stay tuned for BIG changes to this one-of-a-kind community driven event celebrating all things outdoors! There will still be plenty of local gear makers and national innovators showcasing the latest trends in outdoor recreation, but you’ll find far more diverse offerings of interactive demos, educational workshops, and informative speakers.

Check out pictures from last year!

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Kids are welcome at this free public event. There’s even an awesome Family Adventure Zone!

State of Paddling 2018

Every year, more and more paddlers are discovering the ease and fun of hitting the water. Increased interest has led to innovation in technology, materials, and mindset within the kayaking world.

Join industry leader Steve Jordan from Liquidlogic Kayaks, Native Watercraft, and Hurricane Kayaks to hear trends and predictions for 2018 in whitewater, recreational, and fishing kayaks. There will be ample time for Q and A, as well as a chance to check out 2018’s new fleet of kayaks and chat with our paddling experts.

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Kids and well-behaved pets are welcome at this free presentation. Enjoy complimentary coffee, juice, and bagels, too!