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$6,000 for Local Youth Environmental Education — Again!

We believe the outdoors are for everyone. That’s why we teamed up with Patagonia again this year to award $6,000 to area programs that support environmental and stewardship education for local kids and teens. You helped us by voting in the Winter of Love poll for your favorite organizations and — wow! — 3,825 votes later, we’re happy to announce the winners.

“Youth environmental education has been important to us since we opened our first store in 1964. It’s how we keep creating customers,” joked Will Gay, owner and CEO of Diamond Brand Outdoors. “Community support is at the center of all we do and we’re very happy to again partner with Patagonia to support these programs that combine life skills and outdoor experience, building self-esteem, fostering a sense of discovering, and building appreciation for adventure in the world that surrounds us.”

ecoEXPLORE (Experiences Promoting Outdoors for Research and Education) takes the top spots with 1,749 votes. The initiative is an incentive-based citizen science program for children in grades K-8. Developed by The North Carolina Arboretum, this innovative program combines science exploration with kid-friendly technology to foster a fun learning environment for children while encouraging them to explore the outdoors and participate in citizen science. Kids earn badges and prizes as they help scientists learn about wildlife in kids’ own backyards, libraries and parks. They’ll receive a check for $2,500 and a $500 gift card.

Finishing in second with 1,174 votes is the Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP) at Asheville GreenWorks. YELP introduces young people of color to environmental fieldwork through a six-week paid internship. Interns work alongside professionals to gain firsthand experiences with careers in environmental science, engineering, water quality, and forest ecology while making a difference in the local environment. We’re sending them a check for $1,500 and a $250 gift card.

In third, RiverLink’s K-12 Watershed Education delivers its programs at no cost to schools within the French Broad River Watershed. Through hands-on and fun experiences, students leave lessons with the knowledge and skills to care for their watershed. 902 votes earns them a check for $1,000 and $250 gift card.

 

Since opening WNC’s original outdoor store in 1964, community support has been an important tenant of our success and one of our guiding principals. Join us on March 18 at our store on 1378 Hendersonville Road for Campapalooza, a celebration of our history and a showcase of 2018’s hottest gear. We’ll have giveaways, package discounts, one-day-only deals, outdoor education from some of the best in the business, and more. We’ll also present checks to the local organizations listed above and others.

Everyone who cast a vote was also entered to win a $100 gift card to Diamond Brand Outdoors. Congratulations to Samantha B. of Asheville!

We’re blown away by the response. It’s great to be part of a community dedicated to making sure the next generation of adventurers are developed through the ability to get outdoors and run, jump, play, and explore! #AdventureIsLocal

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Love Asheville Go Local Week

“Adventure Is Local” isn’t just a tagline — it’s a philosophy that guides the decisions that we make. A lot of things have changed since we opened Western North Carolina’s first outdoor gear shop, but our sense of community and commitment to enriching lives through outdoor connections remains the same. We’re proud to remain an independent, family-owned business. We’ve joined other local businesses, Asheville Grown Alliance, and Asheville Downtown Association for Love Asheville Go Local Week.

Learn the story of Asheville along the Urban Trail, rediscover your favorite restaurant or pub, and check out everything that’s new in Buncombe County’s living room. Take 10% OFF your entire purchase (including sale items!) when you show your ID with a Buncombe County address at our Downtown location on 53 Biltmore Avenue in Aloft Downtown Asheville the entire week of February 10-17. If you’ve got a Go Local Card, we’ll take 15% OFF! (We also sell the cards, so you can purchase one to support local independence and public education.)

Parking is free for the first hour in the Biltmore Deck, which is attached to our building. Lots of fun is planned to rekindle your love for Downtown Asheville including the annual Mardi Gras Parade, live music and art, and special deals at restaurants and retail shops. Check out the list online.

We hope to see lots of friends and neighbors supporting local, independent businesses in Downtown Asheville!

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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

2018’s Best Outdoor Company

Thank you! Diamond Brand Outdoors has been named Best Outdoor Company in Blue Ridge Outdoors’ annual roundup of readers’ favorite places, people, events, businesses, and organizations from Maryland to Alabama. We’re excited to be recognized by the definitive magazine covering outdoor sports, health, and adventure travel in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Here’s what the magazine’s Jess Daddio had to say:

“What started in 1964 as a simple 900-square-foot glorified garage has now expanded into more than just a brick-and-mortar retail space. Diamond Brand helps its customers not only gear up for their adventures but also learn how to recreate safely in the outdoors through regular clinics and the annual Asheville Outdoor Show.”

While it’s always great when our team gets recognized, the Best of the Blue Ridge is special because it’s recognition that comes from the public. We know you have a choice and we’re honored you continue to choose Diamond Brand Outdoors, WNC’s first and original outdoor lifestyle outfitter.

Independent and locally owned since 1964, our team specializes in high-quality clothing and gear for travel, hiking, backpacking, camping, kayaking, and everyday life. We pride ourselves in hiring knowledgeable enthusiasts, who love the outdoor lifestyle and head outdoors whenever we get the chance including AT thru-hikers, class V+ kayakers, and world travelers. Whether you’re getting fit for a new pack and hiking boots for a bucket list adventure or just need a comfortable outfit for exploring downtown Asheville, you’re in good hands.

We hope to see all of you in 2018 at one of our clinics, demos, events, or just around the store!

Check out all of the Best of the Blue Ridge winners.

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Hiking Doughton Park

Doughton Park, located between milepost 238 and 246, is the largest recreation area along the 469 mile of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It also happens to be one of the most spectacular locations to soak up fall color changes in area.

It’s easy enough to stop at a lookout along the BRP and get the view you came for at Doughton — the scenic highway follows the ridge at the top of the park, putting you in a perfect position to peruse the panorama. But to get fully immersed in the landscape, walking some of the 30 miles of trails is the way to go.

The trail system at Doughton is pretty simple. The longest trek runs for about 16.5 miles and creates a ring around the entire park. If time allows, this is the best way to experience all the amazing views the park has to offer.

To make the walk a little easier and more in line with a day-hike time budget, use the trails that cut through the center of the park. The Grassy Gap fire road links to the Bluff Ridge primitive trail. Bluff Ridge is 2.8 miles of nearly straight uphill climbing, terminating on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A shelter sits right near the end of the trail and is a great place for lunch with a view.

While hiking is the main attraction, Doughton Park also offers some other amenities. The campground holds more than 60 tent sites and 25 RV sites. Rainbow and brook trout can be found swimming in Basin Cove Creek, just waiting for skilled anglers. And cross country skiing is allowed when the park is accessible in winter (even when other parts of the BRP are closed).

Back in the day, the late 1800s that is, the area was home to the bustling Basin Cove community. In 1916, however, a flood claimed most of the structures in the area. Two notable survivors are the Brinegar Cabin (circa 1885) and the Caudill Family Homestead. Both are accessible by trail and offer a glimpse into how this very tough breed of settlers once spent their days.

Luckily, you don’t have to work nearly has hard as the Caudill’s to get your dinner. Once you’ve finished stuffing your eyes with panoramic scenery, it’s time to stuff your belly with some classic Carolina feed. Featured on BBQ with Bobby Flay, the Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery is the perfect place to help you balance out all the calories you burned at Doughton. Pulled pork is the star of the show, but this North Wilkesboro eatery also offers ribs, chicken, country ham, fish, and a whole pile of other choices including their signature side dish, Brushy Mountain Caviar.

Saving room for desert is a requirement. As the name suggests, Brushy Mountain makes their own ice-cream which is then generously applied to shakes, sundaes, and cakes.

If you want a peak at peak Blue Ridge leaf season from the top of a peak, then Doughton Park in late October and early November is where you need to be.

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Featured image provided by Rob Glover

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

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

Crew Picks: Top Gifts for Women

When she’s not hiking with her dog, Opie or living the hammock life, you’ll find DBO Crew Member Erin at our Downtown store. She loves gearing locals and visitors up for a day in the woods or a night on the town, and sharing her favorite places to get outdoors. Her advice for making the most out of the outdoors is simple: “Always be prepared, engage with nature while respecting it, and remember to have fun!” Below are her favorite gifts for adventure-minded women.

Farm to Feet Socks$18.00 – $26.00

US raised merino wool socks keep your feet temperature-regulated and comfortable beneath both casual and technical shoes.

Suncloud Motorway Sunglasses$59.99

With a vintage look and polarized lenses, you’ll stay on trend and keep your eyes safe from harmful UV rays.

Black Diamond Iota Headlamp$39.95

he Iota Headlamp emits 150 lumens on its max setting with a rechargeable battery. It’s perfect for anything from early morning trail runs to night-time camp-outs.

Patagonia Re-Tool Headband $25.00

51% recycled polyester fleece helps hair stay out of your vision while keeping ears and forehead warm. It’s great to have a cute winter accessory that’s also environmentally responsible!

Kavu Rope Bag$50.00

With fun patterns and practical pockets, the Rope Pack makes a great accessory for casual hikes or shopping downtown.

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Events

Campapalooza 2018

The Gist
Spring camping season gets an early start with a preview of 2018’s best reviewed gear from international innovators as well as local favorites. 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.

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Who’s Going to Be There

  • Adventure Medical
  • Buff
  • Chaco
  • CLIF Bar
  • Columbia
  • Deuter
  • Exped
  • Good To-Go Gourmet
  • Gregory
  • Hydropack
  • KEEN
  • Know Allergies
  • La Sportiva
  • Leki
  • Lole
  • Marmot
  • Mountain Khakis
  • MSR
  • Mystery Ranch
  • Nemo Equipment
  • Oboz
  • Osprey
  • Pack Towel
  • Platypus
  • Salewa
  • Seal Line
  • Sherpa Adventure Gear
  • Smartwool
  • Snow Peak
  • Stanley
  • Sylvansport
  • The Landmark Project
  • Thermarest
  • Travel Chair
  • Vasque
  • Western Mountaineering

Hikes, Workshops, Trail Runs, and More

  • Announced soon!

Discounts, Special Buys, Giveaways, + Raffles

  • Announced soon!

Why We’re Doing It
In 1964, we opened the first outdoor gear shop in Western North Carolina: a 900 sq. ft. garage full of factory seconds. Over the years, Diamond Brand Outdoors has grown to include much more than camping products, but our dedication to quality brands, high service, and community partnership continues to echo through our retail stores. You’ve been great friends and neighbors, voting us Best of the Blue Ridge and Best of WNC multiple times and making us the first stop for adventure for generations.

The best part: the fun, discounts, and education are free and open to the public. There’s no membership required! Kids and well-behaved pets with owner on leash are welcome.

American Red Cross Blood Drive

We’ve joined with the American Red Cross to host a St. Patrick’s Day blood drive. This is a great opportunity for your hiking or trail run club, workplace, or friends. Everyone who donates will receive 20% off any item at Diamond Brand Outdoors.

You can schedule an appointment online. Just click here and use the code DIAMOND to find our local blood drive.

You don’t need a special reason to give blood. You just need your own reason.

  • Some give blood because they were asked by a friend.
  • Some know that a family member or a friend might need blood some day.
  • Some believe it is the right thing we do.

Whatever your reason, the need is constant and your contribution is important for a healthy and reliable blood supply. And  you’ll feel good knowing you’ve helped change a life.

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