Blog Archives

The ‘Ole Swim’n Hole

A fearless diver hits the water from a high perch.

For years I’d heard mention of a nearby spot where kids loved to swim and dive – this is it.  Locally known as Trash Can Falls, it’s officially Laurel Creek Falls. The falls aren’t the star of the show here, it’s the hidden setting and opportunity to jump and play.  We just enjoyed watching.

Students from nearby Appalachian State University mingle with local kids to scramble around the boulders and test the waters with jumps ranging from heights of 10-30 feet.  The unmarked setting gives the spot a hidden waterhole atmosphere and you can just imagine Huck Finn stopping off for a swim. The river is a beautiful spot and we thought one smart couple had a great idea to hang their hammock between the trees along the shady bank. Read the rest of this entry

Crab Orchard Falls in Valle Crucis

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A short, but rigorous hike will reward you with views of the lovely Crab Orchard Falls. Even in this very dry summer, the sound of the water rushing over the rocks is powerful. The falls are extensive and have many levels, but from what I have read, have never been officially measured. Visitors park at the Valle Crucis Episcopal Church, in the upper parking lot.  It is well-marked where you should and shouldn’t park and signs will direct you to the trail leading to the Falls. dscn5296

The 1/2 mile hike takes you up 500′ to an elevation of 3,110′.  Benches are conventionality placed every 1/10 of a mile to take any needed breaks.  After reaching the top elevation, you will head down towards a network of boardwalks leading to the falls.  The boardwalks are not in the best condition and it seems some restoration work may be underway. In general, use caution due to lose rocks, prolific tree roots and the potentially slippery wood walkway.  It’s worth the trip.

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Farewell to Fall

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48 degrees. Glittering golden leaves. Carolina Blue sky and a mountain view that doesn’t stop. 

We took an afternoon break from packing-up to head south, and enjoyed our last hike of the season, to The Cascades. A short 30-minute walk along a well-maintained trail leads to the beautiful falls located in E.B. Jeffress Park at mile marker 272 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Deep Gap.  You hear the it before you see it.  Falls Creek looks deceptively serene until you reach The Cascades which are roaring down a steep rock-face stretching as far down as you can see.  Eventually the water will meet the Atlantic Ocean at Winyah Bay, SC.

Of note:  The 600 acre E.B. Jeffress Park has picnic and bathroom facilities at The Cascades parking area.  Markers with information about the trees and foliage are placed all along the trail; unfortunately about 75% of the descriptive plaques are missing.

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Elk River Falls

Elk River Falls

Elk River Falls

A hidden gem about 20 minutes from Linville and Grandfather Mountain, Elk River Falls is worth the visit.  We love to take our visitors: it’s a quick adventure, absolutely beautiful, and a great spot for a memorable NC photo-op!

Near the Tennessee border, just outside the tiny town of Elk Park you will see a sign for Elk River Falls.  The first time you turn off North Carolina’s 19E to Elk River Road, you think “surely there has been a mistake; this can’t be a road to any waterfall.”  About half-way through the approximately four-mile drive, your second thought is, “if there is a waterfall, it must be very small.”  You are wrong on both counts.

Finally you see the tranquil Elk River on your right and then, soon after, arrive at a small, unimportant-looking parking area (there is a sign).  But once you are out of your car and on the path – you are quickly rewarded with the sight and sound of the area’s most significant waterfall. (Some maps ID the falls as “Big Falls”).  Largest in the area by sheer volume of water and at 65’ in height, it makes an impressive sight.

It’s a moderate, 5-10 minute walk (on a 0.5 mile round-trip trail) to see the falls and surrounding pools.  If you are adventuresome, bring swim gear and go for a dip in the calm waters below the falls.  During the summer you will see locals enjoying the chilly water and sunning on the rocks.  Be wary that the rocks, both in and out of the water, can be very slippery.  In general, be careful in the area and do not jump off the falls, over the years, people have been killed trying that stunt.

For the less adventurous, a picnic, posing for pictures or just relaxing will do just fine.

FYI: the falls are in the Appalachian Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest and statistical info is from the USDA, National Forest in NC website

 

 

Going Off-Road to Wilson Creek & Betsey’s Ole Country Store

 

Wilson Creek Wild & Scenic River can be rough, calm, cold, raging, beautiful and serene.  Its a pure watershed and a source of drinking water.

Wilson Creek Wild & Scenic River can be rough, calm, cold, raging, beautiful and serene. It’s a pure watershed and a source of drinking water.

 

Wilson Creek's rugged gorge offers skilled kayakers 2.3 miles of big challenges including class IV whitewater rapids.

Wilson Creek’s rugged gorge offers skilled kayakers 2.3 miles of big challenges including Class IV whitewater rapids.

Going Off-Road to the Wilson Creek National Wild & Scenic River

Well, maybe not really “off” road – but at least the less traveled gravel roads so common in the NC mountains.

We recently found ourselves off in the Jeep for a photo-expedition to the beautiful Wilson Creek area. A popular hiking, swimming and picnicking destination, the Creek is actually quite lengthy and often wider with much more dramatic scenery and rougher water than other local rivers.

You can hike to the Creek from the Blue Ridge Parkway or drive along the mostly gravel Brown Mountain Beach Road. All along the route there are access points where you can easily get to the Creek with sturdy wooden stairs and/or trails just off the road. Thoughtfully, they have even built permanent bathroom facilities along the way. The more adventurous can get down to the water the old-fashioned way at any point they can manage.

You won’t see many people along this route, but you will come across the occasional folks fishing, sunbathing (there are actually a few sandy beaches), camping or enjoying some extreme kayaking. It’s a great area to take some really scenic photos and enjoy getting outside in this amazing part of the county.

This area of Caldwell County used to be known for harboring some unsavory types, but local residents banded together and fought for designation as a National Wild & Scenic River. In 2000, with the national designation in hand, residents worked with officials to build the Wilson Creek Visitor Center and see to the purchase of 640 acres of land through the Foothills Conservancy. The land was formerly home to a hosiery mill and ruins of the old stone structures have been cleaned up and can now be seen along the road.

Betsey's Ole Country Store and Trout Pond is on Highway 90 by the Mortimer Campground.  Bruce Gray has owned the store and adjacent facilities for 20 years (he even has wi-fi).  He first visited the area as a child with his Father who had trained in the here with the Green Berets in the 1950s.

Betsey’s Ole Country Store and Trout Pond is on Highway 90 by the Mortimer Campground. Bruce Gray has owned the store and adjacent facilities for 20 years (he even has Wi-Fi). He first visited the area as a child with his Father who had trained here with the Green Berets in the 1950s.

When enjoying the scenery leaves you all tuckered out, be sure to stop by Betsey’s Ole Country Store by the Mortimer Campground. You can’t miss it – it will be the only rustic building, in fact the only building of any sort, flying both the Israeli and American flags. Originally built sometime in the 1930’s they now serve snacks, drinks and Nathan’s hot dogs pretty much any way you’d like them. Owner Bruce Gray will be more than happy to fill you in on the local sights and activities.

Bruce directed us to nearby Thorps Creek Trail (in the Mortimer Recreation Area in the Pisgah National Forest) where a short five-minute hike ends at the serene, picturesque Thorps Creek Falls. From Betsey’s, a very short drive or walk takes you to the Mortimer Recreation Area; drive through the campground and park at the end of the road where you will find the trail head, then follow the trail upstream.

Trailhead leading to Thorps Falls, a short hike on Thorps Creek Trail.

Trailhead leading to the Falls.

The falls are at about 1,640’ elevation and are not huge, but the 15’ cascade drops into a calm, clear pool resulting in a striking setting. Once there, you will find an engraved stone plaque commemorating the loss of someone obviously very special. The sentiment has been left in memory of Betsey, for whom Bruce named the Country Store 20 years prior, after her untimely death in an accident. Betsey was obviously well-loved and the marker makes this an even more special place to stay awhile and contemplate life.

A moving tribute to Betsey graces the lovely Thorps Creek Falls.

A moving tribute to Betsey graces the lovely Thorps Creek Falls.

USDA guide to Wilson Creek:
http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5334062.pdf

Wilson Creek Visitor Center: 828-759-0005
Open daily, year round, with extended hours during the summer months; call for hours.