The Boone Fork Trail is renowned not only for the sultry beauty of the mountains it passes through, but also the range of ever-changing terrain that one will encounter on this dynamic five-mile loop. The hike begins and ends in Julian Price Memorial Park, a swath of land comprised of 4,200 acres of dense hardwood forest and rolling Appalachian Mountains.

The trail’s namesake river, the Boone Fork, will intersect your path at multiple points along the way, but never with the same temperament. It firsts appears as a flat and docile stream, then transforms over the next few miles into a roaring cascade, tumbling through a garden of cracked granite boulders. As you near the completion of the trail, the river once again becomes placid, cutting through floodplains that, in the summer months, are choked with wildflowers.

Your hike will begin with a gentle climb through soft, undulating hills that give way to cow pastures, meadows, and marshes as the din of the river grows and fades in the background. In the heat of summer, you will be grateful for chilled rhododendron tunnels and tall, shady coniferous trees. The gradient for the majority of the trail is moderate, making it a popular loop for trail runners. A few moments of steep climbing, timber cut steps, and one wooden ladder may present a challenge to children, small dogs, and anyone not dressed for slippery and uneven terrain. Other obstacles include rock hopping, stream crossings, and brief sections of mud.

The pinnacle of this hike is Hebron Rock Colony, a jumble of flat-top boulders so thickly dispersed that the river all but disappears beneath them. This unusual feature cuts into the hillside like an ancient highway, providing an idyllic spot for sunbathing and picnicking. In certain areas, water splashes over granite tongues, creating a natural water park that will prove irresistible on sweltering summer days.

Farther along the trail, rock outcrops provide views of iconic Grandfather Mountain and Hanging Rock. Long range mountains views are secondary, however, to the immediate splendor of a lush, river-fed landscape, wide open fields, and waist high wildflowers. Not long after embarking from the parking lot, you will find yourself feeling completely immersed in an ethereal beauty reminiscent of a watercolor painting.

Although swimming spots and sunny meadows make this hike a popular excursion in spring and summer, Boone native Ambrose Park advises paying a visit in the off season as well.

“The Boone Fork trail is awesome, but in the summer you run the risk of crowds,” says Park, warning that on weekends he’s seen people forfeit their hike because they couldn’t find a parking spot. “I like to run it in the fall when there are less people and all the colors, and in the winter the river forms all sorts of enchanting icicles.”

To access the trail, cross the footbridge at the Price Park Picnic Area, mile marker 296.4 in Julian Price Memorial Park. Allow yourself three hours of daylight to complete this hike.


Featured image provided by Joe Giordano


Delving into the etymology of Charlie’s Bunion reveals a historical tale of exploration during the earliest days of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Famed author and adventurer, Horace Kephart, was leading a reconnaissance trip high into the remote Saw-tooth region of the Smokies. This knife-edged ridgeline runs between the Mt. LeConte and Mt. Guyot massifs; its airy undulations are some of the most remote parts of the Park — and a profile view of the 10 mile stretch of peaks resembles the serrated edges of a saw. Warn out from the rigors of exploration Kephart’s companion, Charlie Conner, removed his boots during a break and revealed a set of haggard feet. His mangy extremities resembled the nearby bulging outcropping of rocks known then as Fodderstack. Kephart, one of the Great Smokies’ greatest advocates, proposed renaming the rock Charlie’s Bunion to commemorate his misery.

What Makes It Great

Charlie’s Bunion can be reached by a 4-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. A picturesque drive to Newfound Gap (sight of the Park’s inauguration) leads to the start of this scenic hike. Forests of fragrant firs line the rocky path and long range views will entertain your eyes as you make your way north on the AT. This particular section of the AT has a total elevation gain of 1,600 feet and climbs to over 6,000 feet on the sides of Mt. Kephart as it leads to the BunionNearly 3 miles into the trail, hikers are offered a reprieve from the rigors of trail life at the Icewater Springs Shelter. Bring a water filtration system and nourishment for a high country hiatus at this “life-list” shelter. Icewater Springs is home to amazing Appalachian views and a perpetually cold water source, making it an ideal resting point on your way to the Bunion.

Four miles into your hike, a signed spur trail on your left will lead you in the direction of Charlie’s Bunion. Explore the area carefully; large drop offs and loose rock here will require your utmost attention. Your reward for reaching the Bunion is paid off in views.The area is walled in by the beautiful behemoths: Mt. Kephart, Mt. Guyot, and Mt. Leconte. An uninterrupted westward view over the sprawling green expanse of Eastern Tenessee opens up on the summit.

Who is Going to Love It

If you’re looking to experience the Appalachian Trail — sans blisters and without walking all the way to Maine — then you will love this 8-mile out-and-back sampling of the world famous trail. Adventurous scramblers will find a playground on the rocks and photographers can capture amazing sunset views from this precipitous peak.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Asheville, an hour and half drive will take you to the Newfound Gap parking lot where you will begin your hike northbound on the AT. Ample parking and restroom facilities are also available at Newfound Gap.

A day hike to the Bunion does not require any permits or fees.

If you wish to stay at the Icewater Springs shelter make reservations in advance. This shelter is quite popular and a permit is $4 per night, per person.


Featured image provided by Justin Meissen

With 38 inches of annual rainfall and dam released rivers that run throughout the year, the Asheville area in Western North Carolina is one of the top paddling destinations in the United States. The laid back Blue Ridge culture compliments the surreal beauty of the mountains and the remote gorges that the rivers have cut through them.

French Broad River

Paddlers enjoying the splashy class II rapids of the French Broad.
Paddlers enjoying the splashy class II rapids of the French Broad.

The most popular stretch of the French Broad is the 3.5-mile intermediate run between the Madison County put-in and the Stackhouse take-out. Although it won’t present much of a challenge to the expert paddler, the beauty and seclusion of this run makes it a favorite for whitewater enthusiasts across the board. Paddlers will enjoy an even distribution of splashy class II and III rapids with a few sequences and holes to keep it punchy. For a longer day, continue to the second take-out in  Hot Springs and enjoy two larger rapids along the way: Frank Bell’s (IV) and Kayaker’s Ledge (III+).

After a heavy rain, expert kayakers can tackle the challenges of the North and West Forks of the French Broad River. These two creeks have a completely different temperament than the friendly features of Section 9. Although the North Fork is considered a class IV creek, it includes two class V rapids and some mean sieves. The West Fork is solid class V with bigger drops and bigger threats than its brother. A missed line on either of these creeks could have serious consequences. Be on the lookout for the additional dangers of errant wood and lumber.

The Green River

David Clarke running Gorilla on The Green River Narrows.
David Clarke running Gorilla on The Green River Narrows.
Melina Coogan

The scenic, dam-release Green River, which runs roughly 300 days out of the year, is considered the Holy Grail of whitewater in the Southeast. Three distinct sections of river offer a beautiful day of paddling for boaters of all abilities. The boulder congested Green River Narrows, a low volume, class V steep creek, serves as the main staple for advanced paddlers. Precise boat control is necessary to navigate the big slides, mandatory boofs, and tight rapids that plunge through a heavily forested gorge. Expert kayakers from across the country visit the Green to test themselves against The Big Three: Gorilla, Sunshine, and the sinisterly named Go Left or Die.

The Upper Green is an enjoyable 3.7-mile run of class III rapids. This ideal learning spot includes two challenging III+ drops: Bayless’ Boof and Pinball. The take out includes a brutal uphill hike, but for boaters who dream of one day running the Narrows, it’s well worth the cost. The mellow Lower Green is rippled with class I and II rapids for a fun and easy float. This stretch is perfect for beginners looking to log some river miles and nail their combat roll.

Big Laurel Creek

Tucked into a deep, wooded gorge, the class III/IV Big Laurel Creek provides an excellent introduction to creeking. Ambitious intermediate paddlers will love the forgiving nature and epic feel of this Appalachian gem. Dropping over 200 feet in 3.7 miles, the river offers up three major rapids linked together with tons of fun moves. The first big drop, Stairstep, is found one mile down the run and can be easily scouted on the trail on river left. Be wary of the next rapid, Suddy Hole, as the big, boxed-in hole on river right is the most dangerous feature on the run. Luckily, it can easily be avoided by a taking a clean line just right of center, off the river-wide ledge.

The run begins in Hurricane and concludes in Hot Springs, where it joins the French Broad River. From here, you can hike your boat upstream and take out at the Stackhouse or continue down the second portion of Section 9 on the French Broad. If you choose to continue, you will be faced with Windy Flats, a shallow, two mile stretch of flat water, before you’re rewarded with the two most challenging rapids of  Section 9, Frank Bell’s, and Kayaker’s Ledge.

The Nolichucky Gorge

Kayakers walking the shuttle on the Nolichucky River.
Kayakers walking the shuttle on the Nolichucky River.
Melina Coogan

The Nolichucky River is a beautiful and playful intermediate run just over the border in Tennessee. Nearly 9 miles long, this all day adventure is perfect for a warm spring day, although when the sun drops below the gorge it can get cold fast, so pack accordingly.

You will be greeted with a series of splashy, straightforward class III rapids downstream of the railroad trestle at the put in. The first major drop, a bouncy chute known as On the Rocks, has a clean line straight down the tongue. After this, you will find a set of waves and a big, juicy hole called Jaws, one of the best play spots in the area. Make sure you’re aware of the water levels, as this normally friendly hole can get sticky above 2,000 CFS. Your next big drop will be Quarter Mile, by far the most dangerous of the river. This class IV rapid culminates in a nasty, recirculating pourover called Murphy’s Ledge. There is a solid eddy above the rapid and its entire length can be scouted from the train tracks. From here, the river mellows out with more fun class III and small waves, the perfect playground for anyone just learning to surf.

 Pigeon River

Erich Burton surfs the play hole on the Pigeon River.
Erich Burton surfs the play hole on the Pigeon River.
Melina Coogan

The Pigeon River is the next step for the progressing kayaker after they have mastered Section 9 of the French Broad. This five mile run winds along the Eastern boundary of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is packed with big water class III-III+ rapids with names like Roller Coast, Accelerator, and Powerhouse. Pushy, bouncy waves make for a thrilling but not too threatening ride for intermediate paddlers. The single class IV rapid, Lost Guide, has a juicy hole that can be sneaked on the side. Play boaters will have their pick of features for surfing and wave wheals.

This river is dam released; the water is turned on from 11:30 am to 6pm. Because of its popularity and easy accessibility, you will probably find yourself surrounded by many others enjoying themselves in rafts and kayaks. This is a recent occurrence in the river’s history: for the majority of the 20th century, severely polluted from a paper mill, the Pigeon was declared biologically dead. It was even known to locals as The Dirty Bird. It wasn’t until the early-2000s, when fish, snails, and mussels were reintroduced to the waters, that the river came back to life. Soon after, paddlers flocked to this once abandoned river, although it is still threatened by contamination.


Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

At Diamond Brand Outdoors, we believe that the outdoors are for everyone — and we love helping our community discover new places to get outdoors. To celebrate the arrival of summer, our local experts have put together a list of their favorite hikes, from easy to challenging. Make this your most active summer yet (and save on some new gear) by taking the Summer Trail Challenge.

Hit six of our 14 favorite trails before September 23  (the first day of autumn), and you’ll get 25% off up to six items.

Just stop by any Diamond Brand Outdoors or Frugal Backpacker location, grab a free sticker, or purchase a logo water bottle, hat, or tee. Take a pic showing off your Diamond Brand Outdoors swag on the trail and post it to Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #AVLSummerTrail. Make sure to tag @diamondbrand_outdoors or @frugal_backpacker. We would love to see some smiling faces! (Be a good steward and skip any urges to actually stick a sticker on a sign, tree, or anything else that doesn’t naturally have a sticker.)


Easy – Moderate:

Asheville Urban Trail

Crabtree Falls

Craggy Gardens

Glassy Mountain

Hard Times Loop

Lover’s Leap

Max Patch

Mt Pisgah

Pink Beds

Moderate – Difficult:

Black Balsam

Coontree Loop

Devil’s Courthouse

John Rock

Looking Glass

Once you’ve hiked six of the trails, return to any Frugal Backpacker or Diamond Brand Outdoors location to receive your discount. A team member will take a look a look at your tagged photos — which we’d love to share on our feed if you give us permission.


Just 20 miles from the southern edge of the Smokies, the western North Carolina town of Sylva provides a strategic launch point for exploring one of the country’s most beloved natural wonders — Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The national park, spread between North Carolina and Tennessee, is the most visited in the country, boasting 16 peaks above 6,000-feet and 850 miles of trails. Even better, the park is easily accessed from Sylva courtesy of a lofty stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the iconic motorway linking the Smokies with Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.

Waterrock Knob

The stunning view from Waterrock Knob.
The stunning view from Waterrock Knob.
Nick Breedlove

Stretch your legs and get an eyeful of the Smokies before even reaching the park with a stop at Waterrock Knob, the southernmost visitor center on the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 451.2). From the visitor center’s overlook — or the 6,292-foot summit of Waterrock Knob, accessible via a brief but steep 1.5-mile trail — the Smokies ripple into the distance, a seemingly endless sea of peaks, framing the historic city of Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary, a massive swath of land owned by the Eastern band of the Cherokee people.

Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Mingus Mill offers visitors a glimpse into 19th century life in the region.
Mingus Mill offers visitors a glimpse into 19th century life in the region.
Ken Lund

The Blue Ridge Parkway delivers visitors to the park’s southeastern entrance, in a valley along the Oconaluftee River. Aside from the stunning backdrop, the park’s Oconaluftee entrance is also deeply entranced with cultural history. Just a short stroll from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, the Mountain Farm Museum and nearby Mingus Mill immerse visitors into the existence of the region’s resourceful 19th century settlers with a collection of authentic artifacts and structures.

Just outside the park, the early history and legacy of the area’s first inhabitants is explored at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

The area surrounding the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is also a hub for some excellent animal viewing, most notably elk. Once abundant across Appalachian ecosystems, elk were extirpated from the region by the middle of the 19th century, as a result of enthusiastic over hunting. Elk were reintroduced in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001; in the last decade and a half, the herd size is believed to have grown to more than 100 animals. Most frequently found lingering in the Cataloochee area of the park, grazing elk can also be encountered grazing the patchwork of fields flanking the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, especially at dusk and dawn.

Oconaluftee River

The Oconaluftee River is one of the park’s trout fishing strongholds, ideal for anglers in pursuit of brown or rainbow trout. In the southeastern corner of the park, the waterway is also paralleled by 1.5-mile Oconaluftee River Trail, which leads from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to the edge of Cherokee (and is one of only two trails in the park where dog walking is permitted).

Mingus Creek Trail

The Mingus Mill Trail offers hikers access to the summit of the 5,160-foot Newton Bald.
The Mingus Mill Trail offers hikers access to the summit of the 5,160-foot Newton Bald.
Ken Lund

Beginning just a half mile from the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, at Mingus Mill, the Mingus Creek Trail is loaded with both history and scenery. The first stretch of the trail is nestled in a Depression-era road bed built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. You’ll travel through bunches of rhododendron, over gushing creeks, and even skirt a historic cemetery. For a longer day hike, the trail also provides access to 5,160-foot Newton Bald, a summit once cleared by early settlers that has since regenerated with new growth forest.

Clingmans Dome and Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald is one of the easiest summits to reach in the park.
Andrews Bald is one of the easiest summits to reach in the park.
Miguel Vieira

For avid hikers — or peak seekers — Clingmans Dome is a must-visit destination. At 6,643-feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the national park and the entire state of Tennessee. Even better, an elaborate observation platform cresting the summit offers panoramic views stretching for 100 miles. The viewpoint is accessible via a short half-mile climb from the Clingmans Dome parking area, or with a more extensive hike on the Appalachian Trail, which meanders directly past the summit’s viewing tower.

In the shadow of Clingmans Dome lies another iconic Appalachian summit, Andrews Bald. The highest but also one of the most accessible balds in the park, Andrews Bald features a meadow-blanketed 5,906-foot summit that is accessible via a 1.8-mile hike on the Forney Ridge Trail, which begins at the Clingmans Dome parking area.


Featured image provided by Nick Breedlove


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