Sunday Hikes: North Rim Trail, Tallulah Gorge

Our home state of Georgia is mostly woods and farmland and that’s about the extent of some people’s view on Georgia’s landscape. Some people are surprised to find out we have mountains (small ones but mountains nonetheless). Even fewer people are aware that the state contains large canyons, three to be exact (Providence Canyon, Cloudland Canyon, and Tallulah Gorge). Obviously that is nothing compared to most western states but to a state of mostly farms and pines they are a big deal.

 

Tallulah Gorge is perhaps the most popular with it’s massive waterfalls, steep 1,000 foot cliffs, and unmitigated beauty. Tallulah Gorge State Park’s North Rim Trail is a great trail that takes you to six incredible overlooks above the canyon. The trail is mostly flat and only 1.5 miles round trip.

Overlook #1 is also originally named “Inspiration Point” and shows Oceana Falls and horseshoe bend rock formation.

Overlook #2 gives a slightly new view of Oceana Falls as well as Bridal Veil Falls (another unique name)

Overlook #3 shows off three more waterfalls; L’Eau d’Or Falls, Tempesta Falls, and Hawthorne Cascades and the Hawthorne Pool.

Overlook #4 is another view of L’Eau d’Or Falls and Hawthorne Pool. From here the ruins of an old water compressor plant can be seen. As well as the Tallulah Falls Dam.

Overlook #5 is an awesome view of Tallulah Falls Dam which was has been around since 1913. Georgia’s oldest living resident is 113 years old and would have been 8 years old at the time of the dam’s completion. It is likely that no one alive remembers or could recall this natural wonder’s natural state. Each overlook is no more than a fence or a small wooden porch built on the canyon’s edge except for 5. 5 has a large stone and concrete platform. When I went recently and took these pictures the whole thing had a giant pool of snowmelt in it.

Overlook #6 is another view of Hawthorne and also just a great view of the gorge.

Tallulah is an easy day trip from Atlanta, Asheville, or Chattanooga. There is also so much in that area that a weekend trip or even a weeklong trip could be spent in northeast Georgia. I love the western United States and there is no denying the the nature there is bigger and wilder than the heavily populated a long inhabited east but there is still wilderness and extreme beauty here in the east and I would encourage anybody to get out and explore it.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: The Heart of Rocks Loop and other trails at Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona is a real gem. I had a free day in the area and wanted to see as much of this park as possible including the Heart of Rocks Loop. This remote part of the park is only accessible by hiking several other trails. I mapped out a route beginning at the Echo Canyon trailhead, but taking the Ed Riggs Trail to Mushroom Rock Trail, up and back Inspiration Point Trail, and then down Big Balanced Rock Trail to the Heart of Rocks Loop, then down the Sarah Deming Trail, up the Upper Rhyolite Trail connecting to the Echo Canyon Trail back to where I began. This route is 9.5 miles total.

Chiricahua National Monument is known for its balanced rocks, spires and hoodoos formed by eroding volcanic rhyolite rock. I was excited to see this but I had no idea that there were probably millions of this features. Certainly more than you could count.

After packing my bag with lots of water and snacks, I took the quick connector trail from the Echo Canyon Trailhead to the Ed Riggs Trail. I snapped some shots of some standing rocks that I would have just strolled by later without barely noticing because of their commonness.

I scooted down the Ed Riggs Trail in record time because my adrenaline was pumping. The features on this trail were stunning but would pale to some of the rock formations later to be seen.

Quicker than I could believe I cut down the Mushroom Rock Trail. This trail had some incline in it that slowed me down a bit. The namesake Mushroom Rock looked more like an inverted triangle to me. I don’t understand how it doesn’t fall over. After passing Mushroom Rock you could see that this area had been affected by wildfires sometime recently.

Inspiration Point is a 1 mile out and back spur trail. It is the highest part of the park at just over 7000 ft elevation. I was really surprised by the view at Inspiration Point. It views right down the valley and out of the park to the flat ground outside. I climbed up on a rock, had a snack and soaked in the amazing view. You can see how prevalent the rock formations really are in the picture.

I returned back to the main trail and resumed by going down Big Balanced Rock Trail. After a while I saw this big balanced rock and took a bunch of pictures because it was so amazing. Turned out it was just some unnamed but still cool rock feature.

The real Big Balanced Rock defied gravity and for scale look at the specifications on the sign.

From here I took the Heart of Rocks Loop. This was really fun as parts were a rock scramble and you felt really in with the rocks. The Pinnacle Balanced Rock was my favorite in this area.

After completing the loop I continued down the Sarah Deming Trail. This trail went down the entire time losing much elevation. It was also much more wooded.

From here I connected onto the Upper Rhyolite Trail which crossed the valley floor including over a rocky wash and started to go up the far side where it joined with the Echo Canyon Trail.

Echo Canyon was the last portion of the hike but it may have been the best (aside from going up, up and more up). It had many of the same cool rock formations but also some slot canyons and rock caves to pass through. It was on this trail where I saw the first and only people I would see while hiking in the park.

I made it to the parking lot exhausted but thrilled and happy. I cannot tell you enough how amazing this National Monument is. If you like hiking and exploring then add Chiricahua to your bucket list now. Thanks for reading. rk

Sunday Hikes: The Hugh Norris Trail in Saguaro National Park

I arrived at the Red Hills Visitor Center on the West side of Saguaro National Park around 230pm. I wanted to hike and see the park, but was worried about the early December sunset at 515pm.

I decided on hiking the beautiful Hugh Norris Trail and seeing how far I could get. This trailhead is located off of the Bajada Loop Drive.

It didn’t take long to find the trailhead and start hiking. I quickly realized that the trail pretty much goes up indefinitely, but that was good since the return trip would be faster. I took a series of pictures as I ascended to the first pass.

Giant 30-40 foot saguaros were everywhere! There was a cool rock formation, similar to a hoodoo, off to the right as well.

The sun was getting lower in the sky by now with a pretty orange glow starting to appear on the clouds behind me.

At the top of the first pass were several large rocks that you could scramble and take in some gorgeous 360 degree views. Of course, I took advantage of that. Off in the distance you could see mountain ranges all around me.

I hurried on through the similarly spectacular terrain, glancing over my shoulder repeatedly at the sun setting creating orange and pink stripes across the sky. Soon the dirt seemed to change to a more yellowish tone and off to the right was a fenced off hole in the ground. I wasn’t sure if it was an old mine, a cave, or the den for a mountain lion. I didn’t tarry long. Almost immediately after the “big hole” as I dubbed it was my turnaround point at the trail interjunction with the Esperanza Trail.

I had made it 2.7 miles with a return trip looming of another 2.7 miles with a race against the setting sun. Fortunately for me that included non stop views of the sun setting which made the hike all that more enjoyable.

Man what a great hike! I was able to do the 5.4 miles in about 2 hours and 10 minutes which could have been faster if I hadn’t stopped to take so many pictures. If you are in Saguaro definitely hike this trail. Thanks for reading. rk

Sunday Hikes: Cedars of Lebanon State Park

Not every hike has perfect cloudless blue skies and that warm, but not too warm, temperature. But every hike is a good hike. I’ve wanted to check out the Cedars of Lebanon State Park for awhile now because of the cool name.

Located about 30 miles east of Nashville TN, this is one of what seems like dozens of gorgeous state parks located off of I-40 between Nashville and Knoxville. The park is named after the Eastern Red Cedars that thrived in this area. Early American settlers to this area thought the trees reminded them of cedar forests across the Mount Lebanon area of Biblical fame.

The hiking conditions were typical of hiking in the southeastern US in winter. Overcast, damp and a chilly 38*F. It was late afternoon so I decided to hike the namesake Cedar Forest Trail which is a 2 mile loop.

This hike is what I call a lollipop trail, this one with a short stick and a big loop. The trail started off right off the main road through the forest. After taking the right fork of the loop we started to get some rocks but the only cedars I saw were quite small. I managed to slip on one rock and bust my shin.

The back half of the loop was surrounded by sinkholes with one having what appeared to be a small cave opening. There were also many more of the cedars but none seemed anywhere near full grown.

This area isn’t really that far from Mammoth Cave National Park, so I wondered if there was a similar cave system underneath this park. Maybe it’s even connected?!

I finally saw a few larger cedars along with more sinkholes. Turns out this area was almost completely logged before it became a state park so all the older cedars were long gone. I crossed through a large rock field and then completed the loop and then back down the “stick” to the parking area.

I really enjoyed the hike, with the exception of bloodying my shin. I recommend this state park if you are in the area and want to get in a quick hike. As always, thanks for reading. rk

Sunday Hikes: Wright Lake Trail

The Wright Lake Trail is a 5 mile loop trail in Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest that shows the diversity of plant life in Florida’s swamps. Dad and I hiked this trail in late March on a weekend trip. The trailhead is found at the Wright Lake day use area across from the Wright Lake Campground. We arrived early in the morning and caught the light just right to see the trees and clouds reflecting on the lake. At the trailhead is a large sign with loads of information about the different types of swamps and marshes that the trail goes through. Dad and I took a minute to read the sign and then went on down the trail.

The Apalachicola National Forest has been logged heavily and is mostly rows of pine trees planted for future logging with small pockets of swamp and marsh scattered throughout. It’s a very strange and unique looking place. We hiked through it while keeping an eye out for alligators and the pitcher plants that grow in this part of Florida.

We came to a dome swamp filled with bald cypress trees with some deep water and only one way to cross; a long plank not even a foot wide across the middle of the swamp. We went one at a time because we didn’t trust the bridge but it proved sturdy and gave us a nice view from the center of the swamp without getting mucky.

After the bridge we walked through the forest a bit more before we came to a sandy forest service road that cut through the forest straight and flat. After the road the trail makes a large loop and crosses the road once again. After this it curved around a circular depression of trees that looked like an aliens crop circle.

As we neared the end of the trail we came to a wonky bridge with a sign that said “Bridge Closed”. We decided to pretend we didn’t see the sign though and took the bridge anyways. It felt sturdy but about half way through the bridge made a 45 degree turn and the entire thing seemed like it had been lifted up on one side and was very slanted. There was a sign here that read “Marleen’s Magic Corner”. We weren’t sure what that meant but we figured there was a witch living nearby or something.

Soon we returned to the trailhead after a nice hike and we hungrily headed out to find some lunch. We never saw any pitcher plants on the hike but there were a lot of pretty wildflowers. We did find some pitcher plants off the road and stopped to take some pics.

I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the Apalachicola National Forest and I think it’s worth visiting especially if you like plants and/or boating in swamps with alligators and snakes.

Thanks! -Josh

Sunday Hikes: Table Rock Mountain, North Carolina

Table Rock seems to be the go to name for any mountain with a flatish granite top. It seems like half the states have a Table Rock Mountain and all of them have incredible views! Perhaps one of the most popular and most beautiful is Table Rock Mountain in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. About two hours from Asheville, Table Rock rises 2,000 feet straight up from Linville Gorge with a squared off peak that makes it impossible to miss when driving towards the mountain. It is easy to see Table Rock’s 4,101 foot elevation on paper and dismiss it since that is not very high even for east coast standards but the views from the top rival any other mountain range in the country!

After camping in an awesome little campsite off of Forest Service Road 210 (the long dirt road that leads up to the trailhead), we woke up a bit late at 9am and made coffee before heading up to the trailhead about 1.5 miles away. The road is typically fairly well maintained but the recent hurricanes on North Carolina’s coast sent enough rain to wash out the roads in a few places and create somewhat rough conditions. It is certainly still driveable but be careful in low clearance and 2 wheel drive vehicles. The trailhead has a large parking lot to accommodate how many hikers and rock climbers come to this area. I think we saw more climbers than hikers here actually. We excitedly hit the trailhead with perfect weather and an eagerness for great views.

The trails length is a bit iffy because there are many side trails to explore and an open granite top to run around on but if you hike from trailhead to where the trail ends and the mountaintop opens up then the trail is about 1.2 miles round trip. The trail is steep, slippery, and a steady incline but it is still a relatively easy trail thanks to the short distance.

Driving up the steep road I saw sneak peeks of the great views to come through the trees. The first opportunity for a view unencumbered by trees is made possible by a large rock sticking out from the trail that looks out on the Linville Gorge. Even from here (about halfway up the trail to the top) the views are amazing and make this mountain feel huge!

From here the trail continues steeply through the trees with long switchbacks and rocky steps. Soon the trail goes through two tall rocks and up some more before a split about halfway through that will take you up and right to the summit or down and left to some great rock climbing spots and is part of the Mountains-to-Sea through hiking trail.

After some more swithbacks through some dense rhododendrons the views start to really open up to the west and soon we created the peak of the mountain where there is the foundations of an old rock house that once stood at the summit.

There are many bushes on the large flat peak of Table Rock with chunks of granite poking out and giving way to incredible views. To the north is Hawksbill mountain and a thick forest.

To the west and south west is Linville Gorge plummeting down and in the distance clouds shrouded the black mountain range and Mt Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern US.

To the south is Shortoff Mountain and Lake James.

And to the east is the flat North Carolina country that seems so far down if you fell you’d never land (don’t test that).

In every direction the views are breathtaking and worth a long while to take in and enjoy. We found a nice spot to sit down and brew some coffee and enjoy the beautiful day and beautiful views around us. We sipped our coffee and explore the top of the mountain a bit longer before deciding it was time to hear back. On our way back we ran into a friendly older man who knew everything there was about these mountains and just had to share it. He asked if we knew about the “stack rock cave” and when we said no he told us to follow him. So we did. He took us back down the trail and just after the two tall rocks we followed him somewhat warily through the brush and scrambled up a small rocky cliff and at the top was indeed a cave created by two pillars of rock that was layered making it a “stack rock cave”.

The views were very cool from here and despite the somewhat sudden and weird nature of us finding out about this place we were grateful to this guy for sharing his knowledge with us. After chatting with him a bit we headed back down to the trail head to eat our lunch. We made sandwiches in the car and then headed back down for Asheville and eventually home wishing we were still on the mountain.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Prentice Cooper State Forest

The Prentice Cooper State Forest is 25,000 acres of land around the Tennessee River gorge about 10 miles west of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It has 35 miles of hiking trails and free camping.

Josh and I wanted to get in a solid hike in the area and chose to take the dirt road to the Snoopers Rock trailhead. From there we could check out “Snoopers Rock” and hike to Natural Bridge and back. This would be a 6 mile round trip distance.

We parked at the trailhead and followed a spur road for a 1/4 mile and discovered that we could have driven down and parked right there at Snoopers Rock. Snoopers Rock is a rock overhang with gorgeous views of the Tennessee River gorge.

There were quite a few folks at Snoopers Rock since it was so easily accessible. After soaking in the unearned view for a moment. We then followed the signs towards Natural Bridge.

This route was much less traveled. The trail followed the river from on high. There were many trees down across the trail which made it more fun rather than difficult. After a mile or so we reached somewhat of a hiking crossroads in the forest.

We followed the path to Natural Bridge of course, while making a mental note to come back and check out these other trails. The hiking thru this area felt like we were hundreds of miles from civilization as it was quiet and secluded. We passed several rickety wooden bridges and soon we arrived at Natural Bridge.

We hiked over the rock bridge and down under it and then back up the top. It was impressive and a lot of fun pretending to rock climb.

After playing around a bit we hurried back and made much better time on the return trip. This was a great hike and a lot of fun. I highly recommend the Prentice Cooper State Forest if you are visiting Chattanooga and want to get in some nature too. rk

Sunday Hikes: The Channels

I was searching for a late afternoon hike in southwest Virginia and found The Channels. It looked very amazing online with “east coast” slot canyons and other rock features. I was excited.

Trusty Google maps took me down a long and winding rural road and turned me onto a dirt and gravel road in The Channels Natural Area Preserve. About a hundred feet up the road was this sign.

I wasn’t sure if the 3 mile trail started here or at the end of the gravel road or if that was one way or round trip distance. I figured I would drive ahead and see. The road was rough and a high clearance vehicle would be preferable although if it was dry then a car could make it if you take it easy. After driving a couple miles and passing through several open gates, I came up on a locked gate. I took that as indication that I should proceed on foot.

After a ways of steady, but not steep, incline I came up on an open area with 3 paths leaving in a fan pattern outward. There was no sign. After deliberation, I took the most likely path which was the left fork as the trail snaked much more narrowly into the brush.

I started getting a little anxious and nervous because it was darker in the woods and you could hear creatures rustling about. I figure The Channels has black bears so I didn’t want to run into one alone. I started singing a bit which should scare off anything or anybody. This part of the trail was much steeper and more beautiful but I had the feeling I had gone a long way and had no indication that this was the right direction. The multitude of spiderwebs across the trail and the fact I saw no tracks (except dog/coyote) concerned me I was off in the wrong direction. Only the occasional red blaze kept me going. Finally I ran into a sign saying I was in The Channels, except I was still in the woods.

I figured I must be close now and redoubled my pace up the trail that was now more steep than ever. I passed a nice stream flowing downhill and abruptly the trail ended at a fence. I had passed through The Channels Preserve and come out the other side.

I saw that the red blazes continued north along the fence line. However it was getting late and I didn’t want to get caught here after dark since I hadn’t brought a headlamp or flashlight. I decided to turn back. Since the return was all downhill, I took most of it at a jog and made much better time. I did stop to take a picture of the trail that I thought was particularly pretty and of a cool old growth oak.

Once I got back to the open area It did seem a bit lighter in the sky so perhaps I could have continued and found the rock features this area was named for. But caution probably was the best option as no one would find me up here in this secluded area for who knows how long if I had gotten lost.

After counting my steps, I figure I hiked about six miles round trip. I’m not sure I was even on the correct trail. However, I had fun and got a workout so the hike must be considered a success. I hope to get back up this way again soon to try and find the Channels this Preserve is named after. As always, thanks for reading. rk

Sunday Hikes: Beehive Trail

The Beehive Trail is one of Acadia National Park’s “iron rung” trails meaning it is mostly a non-technical rock climb up the Beehive cliffs with the assistance of iron rungs in the rock places there by the NPS. The nearby Precipice Trail is similar but involves more rock scrambling, higher cliffs, and is all around scarier but sadly it was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting when we last visited in July. The falcons don’t seem to like the Beehive cliffs though which is good for me since the Beehive is one of my favorite hikes! My only complaint is that it isn’t longer at two miles round trip (only .5miles or so is climbing).

We had just been at Sand Beach and walked across the street to the Beehive trailhead to begin our hike. It was a beautiful summer day on the Maine coast and the greens of the trees and blues of the water were vibrant as ever in the afternoon sun. Last time I hiked this trail was in the peak of Maine’s fall leaf season and the whole place was lit up with reds, oranges, and purples that glowed on the mountains. One day I hope to visit Acadia in the dead of winter to experience it in all seasons. But anyways the trailhead marker is a small stump with words carved into it and the trail starts off very rocky and uphill.

Soon we reached a fork in the road in the shape of a circle with hard granite sticking out of the dirt. A sign pointed left and a sign pointed right toward the Beehive and that’s the way we headed. Soon there is a sign warning of the dangers of climbing Beehive and it includes the fact that multiple people have fallen to their deaths on these cliffs.

With this grave news the Beehive pokes up through the trees looming as a high up peak with little ant-like people on its face. The reason it is called the Beehive is evident with this view.

The trail doesn’t take any time getting to the climbing and pretty soon we were waiting behind an old lady stuck 3 feet up with her family telling her she probably should sit out of this hike. After they talked her down we carried on upwards with some big rocky steps and a couple iron rungs. After the first few sets of iron rungs a view opens up of sand beach and the bay where we had just been. The water a deep blue that shone in the afternoon sun.

From here we climbed up several sets of iron rungs before crossing a small wooden bridge sticking out of the side of the cliff. The views here are great.

After the bridge we turned a corner and after a few more iron rungs we were up at the rocky top of the mountain with amazing views of Mt. Desert Island all around.

After we took in all the great views we went over the top of the mountain to reach the return trail. The return trail takes you down quickly with a bunch of steps cutting through the aspen forest. It felt like no time before we returned to the fork and then soon we were back at the trailhead and ready for the next hike.

I love the Beehive Trail! It is so fun and unique with great views! If you ever have the chance to visit Acadia I would highly recommend the Beehive trail.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Stone Mountain Walk Up Trail

One of the more iconic hikes in the Atlanta area is Stone Mountain. Fair warning, the Stone Mountain park is a private park and they do charge a parking fee.

If you are not from the area, but have ever flown through ATL then you have probably seen Stone Mountain. It’s the largest piece of exposed granite in the world and is 1686 feet in elevation at its zenith.

The trail starts at a busy parking lot and on this hot late summer day, there were a lot of folks climbing the trail. The Walk Up Trail, as it’s called, is one mile up and one mile back. I did the trail twice so I got 4 miles in.

The trail starts with an incline and you can see some places where granite had been excavated previously. The yellow daisies which only grow on the granite outcroppings in the southern United Stares were in full bloom.

The hike is a gradual incline but near the summit gets very steep and has railing so you can keep from sliding back down.

Views from the top are expansive with the Atlanta skyline directly in front of you. The summit is marred a bit by tourists who have ridden up on the skylift and are not sweaty like the hikers. There are some exhibits, a gift shop and snack bar at the summit as well.

All in all, a great Atlanta hike with local history and culture. Try this hike and stay for the laser show on the mountain face on your next visit to Atlanta.

rk