Southeast Spring Snowboarding

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App Ski

Who knew you could snowboard in North Carolina on March 23? I wouldn’t have guessed it and can hardly believe it is even possible. Last year, on a sunny day in late March with high temperatures in the 60’s, App Ski and Terrain Park were almost 100% open. Of course with that much warmth, conditions were quite slushy, but it was so pleasant. I rode in a lightweight hoodie and a t-shirt.

While App is not the biggest resort in the area, it is very well run and they have a great Ski/Snowboard school. I have snowboarded here and there for about 7 years now, but it wasn’t until this spring session that I actually got a lesson. After my experience, I would definitely recommend it. The teacher I had was awesome and because it was so warm, any falls I took were into soft melty snow instead of ice (a definite plus for someone like me who is still learning).

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David catching some air at App Ski

Apparently, Appalachian Ski Mountain consistently stays open well into March. They are super efficient at making snow and since it is a smaller area they are able to keep it well covered deep into our southern spring.

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Wolf Ridge, night session

Another spot that’s been particularly great for night sessions (6pm-10pm) is Wolf Ridge Ski Resort in Mars Hill, NC.  We love this spot because it’s right above Asheville making it easy to hit an incredible restaurant on the way to or from the slopes. Most recently, we went to a new favorite, OWL bakery and cafe, to load up on some great coffee, delicious tartines (open faced sandwiches), and a savory pastry before cranking out a few hours of riding. With our ridiculously mild February weather, conditions have been slushy but so comfortable with temperatures in the high 50s.

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OWL bakery tartine to-go

If you’re considering a skiing or snowboarding trip, there is still time this season! With snow expected this weekend, March is a completely viable time for this pseudo-winter adventure. Appalachian, Wolf Ridge, and Cataloochee (another favorite for night sessions) are all predicting open slopes for this weekend and beyond.

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Sierra at Tahoe, spring snowboarding 

While these North Carolina slopes may not have the epic elevation and deep powder of western ski resorts (like the one pictured above), they certainly provide plenty of fun at a very reasonable price (particularly on weekdays- as little as $12 for a night session at Wolf Ridge on “2 for Tuesday”!).  These mountains are subject to exceptionally comfortable conditions and the relative convenience is remarkable. Two out of these three  ski areas are just over 1.5 hours from Greenville!  That means you can slip out of work at 4:30 in sunny South Carolina and be on the slopes in time for a full session of snow sport. How cool is that?

IMG_6614Keep looking for adventure far and nigh! (and get out for a spring session!)

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Laurel Fork Falls

img_6473A couple of weeks ago we went on one of my favorite South Carolina runs of all time. My ideal run is challenging, but not demoralizing, extremely beautiful and interesting all along the way with plenty of variety and an incredible destination that helps pull you along and tempts you further. Also, it’s within a reasonable distance (no more than an hour or so) of decent pizza so you have hope instead of despair as your bloodsugar begins to crash and you realize you’re very underprepared in the snack department. 🙂 This had all of that! It was magnificent.

image-2-28-17-at-9-10-amThe run wove along Laurel Creek, which trips and plunges over the rocks, criss-crossing the Foothills Trail until it gushes off a cliff at the end. It culminates with an 80 foot high waterfall plunging into Lake Jocassee, the pristine mountain lake in Devil’s Fork State Park. I can’t wait to come back in the summer and take a dip at the halfway point of this run! That water is so beautiful, I was very tempted to take a jump in February.

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Along the way, you pass a smaller, but very beautiful waterfall called Virginia Hawkins. For a shorter outing this is a great option. If you hike or run all the way to Laurel Fork Falls and Lake Jocassee from Laurel Fork Gap, it is about 9 miles round trip; however, if you only go as far as Virginia Hawkins falls, it’s about 3 miles round trip.

Getting Here:  Map your route to Horse Pasture Road Sunset, SC. This is a gravel road off of US 178 marked by a sign for the Foothills Trail. Follow the gravel road as it slowly climbs into the woods. You will pass a Foothills Trail parking lot on the left as you come in. Keep going (unless you want to add about 8 extra miles to your hike- you can jump on the Foothills Trail from this first parking lot but just be aware that it will add significantly to your elevation change and mileage and it is less scenic than later parts of the trail). After a few more miles you’ll come to an intersection with Cane Brake road leading off to your right and some small unmarked parking areas on your left. This is where we parked.

Begin your hike/run by taking Cane Brake Road up the hill. You will come to a gate that blocks drivers seasonally-just go around it. Continue to climb until you see the small white sign for Laurel Fork Heritage Preserve on your left and another wooden sign with yellow arrows pointing both directions to signify the intersection with the Foothills trail. Turn left at this intersection and very shortly you will come to a poorly marked right turn into the woods. That is the Foothills Trail and now you will begin to see white blazes marking it all along the way.

Most of this trail was easy to follow, but near the end it can be a bit confusing. To get down by the lake you need to take one last little spur labeled with a sign that says “Boat Access Spur .3 miles” (we thought it said 3 miles-thankfully that wasn’t the case).IMG_6477.JPG Good to Know: There really wasn’t much cell phone service in this area, so be prepared for that, take a buddy, and tell someone your plans. Bring water and snacks and wear good shoes with traction even if you’re not running. There is a decent amount of elevation change over the course of the run and some places are quite steep but it is well worth the effort!image-2-28-17-at-12-07-pm

Where to eat: We love hitting Sidewall Pizza in Travelers Rest on our way back into Greenville. It’s open a little later, you can eat outside if you feel grimy and their pizza, giant salads, and homemade ice cream really hit the spot after a long afternoon on the trail.

Paris Mountain State Park

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Mountain Lake,  Sulphur Springs Trail

It is easy to underrate the beauty of a place you see regularly because you’re used to it or to oversell it because it’s a dear old friend and your love adds value to it that others might not perceive. This has been my dilemma in writing about Paris Mountain State Park, the spot in our own backyard where we get outside most frequently.  A wild place, no matter how small will always contain surprises and even longtime neighbors can be strangers to us. So here is an introduction (or reintroduction for many in the Upstate) to one of our favorite places.

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Sulphur Springs Trail to Fire Tower

Paris Mountain is a solitary peak or monadnock roughly 6 miles north of downtown Greenville. The 1,540 acre state park is traversed by 9 trails covering around 15 miles. When you enter the pristine moss and tree-lined drive, you are transported quickly from the bustling ever-expanding city below to a peaceful natural playground. Hiking, camping, trail running and mountain biking are probably the most popular activities available, but there are also opportunities to fish in the 4 park lakes or swim and boat during the summer.

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Sulphur Springs toward Shelter 5

I love the fact that the foliage, the upper lakes, the loudly tumbling streams and certain steep rocky places make you really feel like you’re high in the mountains, very far away from civilization. This is a park where you can bag a mountain run on technical single track trails with well over a thousand feet of elevation gain or take a short leisurely walk around the lake before starting your picnic. We have been amazed to see how different activities in the same place can completely change our perspective. There are trails on Paris Mountain that we have run countless times only to hike them and catch views we’ve never seen–glimpses of a lake far below or the trail weaving above our heads. No matter which activity you choose, you can wrap it up and be back in town within 10 or 15 minutes (plenty of time left for pizza). It’s amazing!

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North Lake Loop

We have had the opportunity to explore nearly every nook and cranny of this park, and I can’t wait to share some of our favorite trail loops and activities in future posts. While Paris Mountain may not be as expansive as the ranges of mountains further north, it offers great variety, ever-changing beauty and fantastic accessibility. Get out and enjoy it today!

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Lake Placid

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North Lake

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

 

Green River Game Lands

 

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The Narrows

The Green River Game Lands-that name totally intrigued us. My husband and I were looking for somewhere fun to go explore and literally saw this on the map in a spot that looked somewhat close to Greenville (roughly 1 hour away). When I researched it a bit, we saw that there are multiple trails in the Game Lands and the whole area has a lot to offer. The Green River Narrows, famous for whitewater kayak racing, are nestled in this parcel of land and that ended up being our destination. We visited in early summer and did the Green River Cove trail to Pulliam Creek  as well as the loosely marked dive into the gorge in order to see the Narrows. What a cool spot! It is a surprisingly rugged, steep descent involving cables and requiring some careful stepping, but that only added to the wild isolated feel we were enjoying.

 

We ran as much of this as we could given our time and the terrain.  It ended up being about 8-9 miles round trip including the trail to the Narrows. Much of the  trail winds pleasantly along the river across rolling hills, but at the Narrows everything opens up giving the feel of a larger more substantial gorge. There was a fantastic waterfall pouring into the river and massive rocks were tumbled everywhere. It felt epic and we were the only ones there to enjoy it.

At the end of our run, we back tracked to a little parking area right before Wilderness Cove Tubing and Campground that provides access to the river via a short trail. This was a great cool down, but even better (if you have the time) is a 2 hour float down the Green River provided by Wilderness Cove Tubing. We tubed on a Sunday afternoon late in the summer and had a blast. It was relatively busy, but the river didn’t feel crowded. The rapids were fun without being scary-big and two hours was more than enough time to enjoy the scenery and soak up the cool water.

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The Green River

 

We hit two different restaurants on our return journeys, both of which were delicious! After the run, we caught pizza night at Wild Flour Bakery in Saluda, NC. Wednesdays and Fridays they offer wood-fired pizza from 5-8. It was truly delicious and relatively close to the Game Lands. After tubing, we visited Green River BBQ in Saluda. With live music and some of the best ribs I’ve ever tasted, it too hit the marks for convenient proximity and tasty food.

Altogether, this is an awesome little afternoon or day-trip. The drive to the Game Lands is relatively short, but quite scenic. The trails and the river are fantastic and the proximity to the cute mountain town of Saluda with multiple yummy restaurants sealed the deal. We will definitely return.

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

Getting There:  The parking area for Green River Cove trail access is off of Green River Cove Rd. just past Wilderness Cove Tubing and Campground. You can plug that address (3772 Green River Cove Rd. Saluda NC 28773 US) into your GPS, go just past it (maybe .1 mile or less) to a small pull-off on the right and park there.  Cross the road and you will see a private property drive. The entrance to the trail is off of that drive on the left.

We ran the Green River Cove Trail  about 3.5 miles, until we reached an intersection with Pullium Creek Trail veering to the right. We took this split and went about .75 miles on Pullium until we came to some pink tape (on our left) marking the trail down to the Narrows. This treacherous, rooty trail was between .25-.5 miles straight down to the river. Be very careful if you decide to attempt it, especially with a dog. It’s very steep, tricky footing.

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Seasonal Considerations: Hunting is permitted in the Game Lands  from September through May. If you’re planning to visit during this time, be sure to wear bright clothing or go on Sunday when no hunting is allowed. For more details on the hunting particulars and  trail information, I found this  online document  extremely helpful.

Also, there appeared to be a good amount of poison ivy in places during the late spring/early summer months, so be on the lookout for that if you’re sensitive to it.

 

Kauai Activities

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Stunning cliff trail to Waipoo Falls

While the Kalalau trail was a major priority and highlight for our trip, there were many other equally amazing adventures to be had on Kauai. Here are few more of our favorites. Most of the headings have links to more information and/or the exact company we used for a specific activity.

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Waimea Canyon

Western Kauai

Waimea Canyon– This place is unreal. People call it the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and it is pretty mind blowing. We did a couple small runs here too and would have loved to explore more.

Na Pali Coast Overlook- Amazing views of the coast and what looked to be some pretty sweet campgrounds along the way. This was an especially magical place at sunset. When we got there, almost no one was around. There were huge wild hydrangea bushes in full bloom and locals were hiking down past the fence to reach more views. It’s probably a little more dangerous than just taking things in from the overlook, but we couldn’t resist following just a little ways to check it out.

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Just below the Na Pali coast overlook

The Saddle Room – Delicious burger place in Waimea. Fun atmosphere and really good food. It is pretty low key, but it’s attached to Wrangler’s, a fancier steak house.

Little Fish Coffee– This was a really fun coffee spot in Hanapepe. We had wonderful affogatos here.

Na Pali Coast Kayak Trip– The most intense kayaking trip I’ve ever done. The company we went with calls it the Mount Everest of kayaking and awards you a certificate upon completion of the excursion while National Geographic has named it one of the top 40  Best American adventures. It’s around 17 miles of guided sea kayaking. You get to see the entire Na Pali coast up close in one day as well as spinner dolphins, sea turtles, waterfalls,  awesome beaches and much more. The trip includes lunch and guides (which we were SO grateful for).

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Na Pali Coast paddling trip

After doing the trip, I had no desire to ever try it unassisted. The conditions felt a little crazy to me and apparently it was a very average day in regards to ocean swell, wind, etc. When you look at the ocean from a distance it looks relatively smooth, but when you are actually out on the ocean you can get on these massive swells and backwash off the cliffs that make your neighbors disappear and send you soaring.  It’s very cool, but it is no joke. We fell out once or twice, as did most of the group, and it really wasn’t a big deal since we had an easy system for getting back in, we were wearing pfds and everything we brought was in waterproof bags lashed to the boat; however, it was a bit scary initially and it definitely cemented my healthy respect for the ocean. The guides give you great safety training and directions and they are especially helpful during the beach landings where you can get pummeled if you’re not careful.  I had the misfortune of feeling seasick for about half the trip, so I would highly recommend bringing a remedy for that if you have ever had any semblance of motion sickness.  I never actually got sick, but other people did and it takes away from a really exciting and amazing experience. It is very cool to propel yourself through the ocean along one of the most beautiful places in the world–absolutely unforgettable!

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Polihale Beach, the gorgeous finale of the trip

North Shore Kauai

Kealia Farm Market- This small market was our favorite by far! We got INCREDIBLE fresh sashimi grade tuna for a really reasonable price, as well as some beautiful vegetables. The guy who sold the fish also served a couple of cooked dinner items ($7-10). They were amazing as well. 3-7pm Mondays and Fridays, bring Cash

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Kealia Farm Dinner- grilled pesto fish with local greens

 

Ke’e Beach– The “end of the road” northernmost beach at the base of the Kalalau trail. This spot was beautiful–cliffs plunging into the Pacific Ocean–and we had our best snorkeling here.

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Ke’e Beach from the water

Kamokila Hawaiian Village–  This was a really neat spot near Kapaa. We toured the village, rented kayaks for a very reasonable price and did a short paddle on Wailua River + a hike to a waterfall. Great shaved ice in a food truck on site!

“Tourist” Lumahai Beach – Gorgeous beach, local favorite, not great for swimming depending on the season. It was calm while we were there (in early June) and lots of people were jumping off the lava shelf into the ocean, but apparently it can be very treacherous at times.

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Tourist Lumahai

South/East Kaui

Wailua Shave Ice– This was probably my favorite shaved ice spot. It was the last one we went to and it was really great. They make all their ices with local fruit–so delcious–and they had a yelp coupon the day we went!

The Greenery– Amazing restaurant in Lihue featuring local, organic soul food fare. This is where we landed, jet-lagged and starving after leaving the airport. It was incredible. They were about to close for the day, but with true Hawaiian hospitality they served us some absolutely delicious food.

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The stunning local fruit

Huli Chicken– This is an easy-to-miss roadside stand in Anahola. They slowly grill whole chickens over hot coals and it is outrageously moist and flavorful. They have limited hours and do sell out so get there early if you can. We also got mountain apples at their farm stand.

 

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Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

 

 

Kalalau Trail Run

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Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast of Kauai

One of our top priorities in Kauai was doing a long run on the Kalalau trail along the Na Pali coast. You absolutely have to check out this trail if you go to Kauai. Even if you just hike the first mile or two, you will see so much beauty and catch absolutely epic views of dramatic cliffs and sparkling little beaches. The tropical plants, flowers and birds are surreal and if you can get past the more crowded beginning of the trail it really starts to feel prehistoric out there–quiet and beautiful like the world was just created. This place is stunning and totally draws you in, but we had a rather difficult time sorting out what was possible for us to legally do in a day trip. If you go to the Hawaii State Parks website  you will see all the rules and warnings about how far you can go with and without a camping permit. As of March 1, 2015, you have to get an overnight camping permit to hike/run beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach (2 miles in), even if you’re not camping. The goal of this is to prevent overcrowding, reduce trash, and increase safety on the trail which is obviously great; however, we were super disappointed when we saw that because the permits were completely gone for the time frame we were traveling. Thankfully, we emailed the park and got permission to run 6 miles in. So, if you don’t get an overnight permit and you’re truly planning to run in and out on the same day over the course of a few hours, an email may be worth a try.

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Hanakapi’ai Beach: 2 miles in, usually a little rough for swimming

It is important to note that the trail is pretty intense, with water crossings, sheer drop offs and loose rocks in some places (especially after the first two miles). In the 6 mile section that we tackled, it never got to the really tricky, edge-along-on-your tiptoes, total palm sweat areas that we saw on some You Tube videos, but it is good to be careful and more aware the further you go. The trail is also extremely hilly and potentially very hot with a lot of direct sun on the exposed ridges. Within our 12 mile round trip jaunt on the trail, we gained nearly 10,000 feet of elevation. It was crazy. The views are so distracting and the whole thing feels like such a massive adventure you don’t realize how much you’re doing until the exhaustion starts setting in. That’s why you will see many warnings on the internet, in guidebooks, and even at the trail head. It is kind of wild out there and depending on the weather, it can get pretty sketchy.  You absolutely have to be careful and know your limits, but if you can manage that, it really is an adventure of a lifetime.

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The View

My biggest piece of advice based on our experience is to bring plenty of snacks, water and some kind of water treatment in case you run out. We are experienced trail runners, but we still underestimated the time it would take us to do this run and used 3 liters of water between the two of us before running out with a mile or two to go in the blazing sun. Thankfully, it worked out and some angelic person was selling coconut water straight from the coconut at the bottom of the trail, but it was sobering to us to realize how close we cut it. Multiple times we have looked back and decided it was a miracle our water lasted as long as it did. So, pack carefully and try not to over do it even though it is very tempting to just keep going!

Note: Parking at the trail head is limited and can fill up pretty early in the day. We ending up parking at Tunnels Beach and starting the run on the road. This is not ideal as it added 3 miles to the run, but it is an option if there is no parking. Also, bring along plenty of snacks/food for after the run too. My memory is that there were not tons of places out there to grab dinner.

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Deep in the Na Pali Coast

 

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Views down the coast

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!!

Kauai

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Shaka on the Kalalau trail

So typically I post about places within easy striking distance of Greenville, SC, but today I wanted to share about an amazing place we had the opportunity to visit that is basically the opposite of easy striking distance. This past June, my husband and I got to go to Kauai, Hawaii. We were planning to do something fun for our five year anniversary and when airfare to Hawaii dropped hundreds of dollars lower than I had ever seen it, our choice became easy. Apparently last year and even 2016 are proving to be better years for travel due to lower fuel prices, so if you’re considering the trip, now might be a good time to jump on it.

I would recommend that anyone considering Kauai for a vacation take the opportunity. Hawaii is every bit as beautiful and unique as people claim. I’ve been to multiple Caribbean islands (St. John, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel- all incredible places!), but Hawaii, particularly Kauai, still felt special and worth the lengthy flight and subsequent jet lag.  In many places, the air is infused with exotic bird songs and literally smells like flowers and fruit . The water is dramatically blue and speckled with spinner dolphins, giant sea turtles and neon fish that hardly seemed real. You get the contrasting beauty of dramatic volcanic mountains and multi-hued beaches. Then, there are the sunsets–soft golden light making a haze over the jagged  hills with fiery orange and pink finishes or the flourish of a rainbow. It really is magical.

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Sunset hike below the Nepali Overlook, West Kauai

Each island has its charms, but for us, Kauai was a great fit. We love to do outdoorsy things and prefer a less touristy more natural environment. Some blogs and travel forums talked about it lacking some of the restaurants and tourist options that other islands have, but we did not find this to be a problem. There was only one night we had trouble finding a place to eat because it got a little late on a weeknight and everything seemed to be shutting down. Even then, the problem wasn’t a complete lack of options. We were just being picky and looking for something amazing, relatively cheap, and also casual. Our take away was that you need to plan, but if you do, there are plenty of great places to get food. As far as activities go, we had a full week in Kauai and did not even come close to getting bored.

There are so many things I could recommend in Kauai, from tiny honor-system fruit stands and stunning snorkeling with giant sea turtles to the famous farmer’s markets and paddle boarding in Hanalei Bay. However, I will try to limit this list to a few highlights (more to come in the next post):

To Stay:

If you’re looking for the lush, green tropical feel, I would definitely recommend the North Eastern side of Kaui as a home base for your trip. We picked two spots in that part of the island and as much as we loved the whole island, that area continued to feel the prettiest. At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong staying anywhere, but we loved these spots.

Princeville– We stayed at  Hale ‘O Imi Loa , a VRBO rental that we were very happy with. It was very comfortable, clean, and pretty. The location worked really well as it was close to Hanalei, not far from the Kalalau trail, and a reasonable distance from everything else we wanted to check out

Kilauea– We had an amazing experience at the  Kauai Retreat Center with our Airbnb host, Hilary. This place was lovely and the breakfast was so fun! Delicious fresh fruit and flowers were out everyday and the whole place was super clean. It is very airy and bright. You can hear people out in the common areas because all the windows stay open to keep the temperature comfortable; however, the beauty and cleanliness of the spot outweighed that little inconvenience.

                                                                                         Eat and Explore:

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Queen’s Bath

The Queen’s Bath- A hotly debated spot, I found. Many people shared horror stories about the dangers of this place and others described a beautiful, peaceful must-do excursion.  For us, it was a cool hike to a gorgeous turquoise pool; however, we could totally see where the potential danger comes in. The waves really crash in and if it’s a particularly wild day, you can get swept out of the pool or off the rock wall that creates it. If you go, definitely be careful and don’t underestimate the ocean. We heard that locals will watch any swimming spot for at least a little while before getting in, just to get a feel for how the water seems to be acting on a given day.

Hanalei Bay– Gorgeous bay, perfect for SUPs and catching sunsets. We rented paddle boards from the place that hosts Napali Kayak tours and Kauai’s North Shore Surfing School. This location is in Hanalei and the price was reasonable. They even helped us strap them on the rental car.

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Paddle boarding on Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Farmer’s Market-  Top notch market with a great view.

Lei Petite Bakery and Coffee– Great little Princeville breakfast spot. We loved the Acai bowls and the eggs Benedict dish was good too.

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Acai bowl at Lei Petite

Pink’s Creamery– smoothies, ice cream and Hawaiian grilled cheese

The Dolphin – Great market for fresh local fish! Not the crazy deals of the farm markets, but reliably delicious.

Trucking Delicious– gourmet grilled cheese food truck

Puka Dog– Funny name, but these are actually tasty Hawaiian hot dogs.

 

 

 

 

 

Jones Gap Trail

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Several months ago, I mentioned Jones Gap State Park as a must-see nook in the Upstate’s park scene. At that time, we were working on completing an out-and-back route on one of the main trails, Jones Gap Trail. We have since completed it twice, run large chunks of it many times and started counting it as an all-time favorite. It is between 10 and 11 miles long, depending on whether you start/end at the parking lot and which fork you take at the end of the run, and it is a perfect run for easing into more distance on the trail. It is one of those trails that climbs so gradually, you hardly notice it visually. If you are like David and me, you feel a slight persistent burning that gets chalked up to “warming up” or a “rough start” and it’s not until you come flying down on the return journey, feeling like a million bucks and thinking about how great your endurance is that you begin to suspect, “Oh, maybe this whole run was uphill until I turned around. That’s why I felt slightly terrible at the beginning and now, I feel awesome!

IMG_2626This scenario played out multiple times, but ironically, by the end of every run on this trail, we would always forget that the first half was somewhat challenging and log the run away as basically flat and pretty easy. Then we would come back to it months later and wonder how we ever arrived at that conclusion–until the massive gradual downhill hit again, boosted our energy, and supplied so many endorphins that once again we forgot that we climbed uphill for more than 4-5 miles.

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Finally, sometime last year we conquered this run in it’s entirety and it was such a good feeling. We had almost finished so many times, but something always prevented it–lack of snacks, lack of time, early trail closing etc. This continues to be one of our favorite long run locations. It is always beautiful and exciting to look forward to our favorite creek crossings and waterfalls along the way.

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Getting there: Jones Gap State Park is located about 45 minutes from Greenville and only 25 minutes from Travelers Rest.  We typically take 25 N, make a left onto Gap Creek Road and follow it back to the park, but there may be quicker routes depending on where you are coming from.  Once you park in the main lot, follow the small spur trail (a nice mulched path) into the woods, cross the foot bridge over the bubbling mountain stream and make your way left down the sidewalk toward the ranger station (on your right) and another bridge which you will cross. The trail and trail map are on your right. Take Jones Gap Trail all the way to its conclusion and turn around to return the way you came.

What to eat: We love hitting Sidewall Pizza or Tandem Creperie in TR on the way home. Both places are amazing and we enjoy both regularly as we come and go from this run.

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Zoe on the dog-friendly porch at Tandem post-run

Good to know: Cell service on Gap Creek Rd. and in the park are very spotty. There are nice bathrooms in the park on the way from the parking lot to the main trail. Near the end of the trail, you will have the option of taking a foot bridge that leads to the right or continuing straight. Going right, over the bridge, takes you to the end of Jones Gap trail. Continuing straight takes you up one more sizable hill to another parking area. Both routes are great, but the straight route is definitely more difficult.

Appalachian Trail Run : Newfound Gap to the Jump Off and Beyond

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Elk spotting in the park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The name sounds as grand and imposing as the mountains it encompasses. Surprisingly close to the glaring lights and endless man-made entertainments of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, sits this pristine beacon of natural beauty and real adventure. The first time I visited, my husband and I were on a couple’s retreat with friends from church in the Pigeon Forge area. We were banking on getting some running in and knew the park was not far away, so we decided to check it out.  Little did I know how truly spectacular this place is, how intense the trails can be, and how common it is for spring snows to linger at those elevations. We got a couple runs in on that trip, one of which was extremely icy, and another that has become a particular favorite. The Appalachian trail section from Newfound Gap to the Jump Off is a moderate but steady climb that challenges and awes us every time we go. I still vividly remember the woodsy perfume of the pines that surrounded us as we passed into the higher elevations that first day. This, combined with plummeting views on both sides as we reached the apex of the Jump Off, created a stunning impression; even so, nearly four years passed before we managed to make it back to the Smoky Mountains and more specifically that trail.

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Ironically, we were returning from another couple’s retreat with church friends when we came within range of the park again. On a whim, we decided to detour in and re-attempt the Newfound Gap run. As we climbed the section of Appalachian trail leading to the Jump Off we quickly began to encounter a good bit of snow and ice. It was magical, but slow going and we ended up turning back before reaching the summit we had hoped for.

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Nevertheless, the bug to run in the Smokies had taken hold and a couple weekends ago we managed to return.  With cool, sunny weather we plowed through the 3+ miles to the Jump Off much more quickly and enjoyed absolutely spectacular views. Though the drifts of several weeks earlier were melted away at the base of the trail, this ridge line still boasted fantastic snow-capped trees that looked as if they were perfectly coated with thick glistening icing.

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The wind was whipping through them ferociously creating a refrigerator effect that was kind of incredible, but also intensely cold. It was an exhilarating experience that reiterated the way in which each visit to an area can feel unique. So much can change the landscape and allow for different beauty, sights, and sensations.

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We returned from the spur trail that led to the Jump Off and kept plunging forward on the main trail to get in a bit of extra mileage. Signs pointed to Mount LeConte and we discussed the possibility of returning for a long run up and back to that famous peak, but for that day we just added a couple of extra miles before returning to the Newfound Gap parking lot.

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This run is so much fun. You are rewarded with great views along the way, the intoxicating smell of firs as you gain elevation, and a panoramic view on the Jump Off that is quite an epic finale (or intermission).

Getting Here:  This place is relatively easy to find. Just follow directions to Newfound Gap parking lot and take the Appalachian trail heading east toward Boulevard Trail and Mount Leconte. There is a sign for the Jump Off shortly past the Boulevard Trail. The trail climbs pretty steadily over the first half of the run, but you can enjoy a nice downhill on your return since this is an out-and-back route.

What to Eat: You have several options depending on your preferred route home and where you call home. If you’re heading back to the Upstate area, you can come through Asheville and hit any number of wonderful spots or if you get detoured off the Blue Ridge Parkway and end up in Rosman, NC (like we did) you can take your starving self over to La Casita. This was a delicious hidden jewel of a place in our book. We got the “special” guacamole, delightful endless chips and salsa, and split a trio of different enchiladas (chicken mole and verde) and a steak taco with a stuffed poblano instead of rice and beans. Everything was so good!

Good to Know: Cell service (at least for Verizon) is very spotty in this area. Make sure you have your directions pulled up and figured out before you enter the park. There are bathrooms here which is always a nice perk. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this trail. It seems like that is pretty common knowledge, but we didn’t know until this trip that it is actually illegal and carries a hefty fine if you’re caught. Yikes!

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh! Even when your smile is frozen 😉

Lake Robinson

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When we need a quick escape on the water, there is nothing like a sunset paddle on Lake Robinson. It’s only 25 minutes away from our house, the view is lovely, and it usually boasts very smooth calm waters.  If you visit on a clear day, there are gently sloping foothills and sharper angled mountains piling up at the base of the lake, but on any day you are treated to a heavily tree lined, very clean body of water that is quite pleasant and quiet. Motors over 10 HP are forbidden, so there is not much wake or high speed traffic to worry about, and with the exception of the odd fishing boat or pontoon, we have often found the whole 800 acre lake essentially unoccupied. Though Robinson is bordered by homes, they are well-spaced and Greer Commission of Public Works maintains strict guidelines about cutting down trees and building within the 50 foot margin they control along the shore. I’m sure this gets trying for the home owners at times, but it has kept the lake looking very peaceful and natural.

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For some amount of time, I had very little interest in Lake Robinson because of what felt like so many rules and regulations. I am not a rule breaker. I don’t like getting in trouble. Maybe it’s because I’m a firstborn, maybe it’s just being a people pleaser in general (something I’m trying to work on); whatever the case may be, it made me feel nervous to have so many do’s and don’ts, like it would be easy to mess up by accident and get scolded. Paddle boards are off limits ( a posted sign now states this specifically) and online there is a whole list of motorized and non-motorized water sports that are likewise forbidden. Swimming is also off limits in these enticing, pristine waters, and for awhile, I felt like half the fun of kayaking was being able to jump in if you wanted to! All together, I had the impression of Lake Robinson being a stuffy, somewhat stifling place, but I really hadn’t given it much of a chance.

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No rules against selfie sticks!

When I actually began to visit the lake and go paddling there more regularly, I found a lot to like. We had some very friendly interactions with the wardens (no scolding :)), and I decided that touring kayaks are not super conducive to getting in and out for a quick dip in the middle of a lake anyway. It’s doable, but not super tempting to me.  I also learned to appreciate Lake Robinson for what it is instead of being disappointed and intimidated by what it is not. If you want a spot where you can swim, roll your kayak, try out your new paddle boards, go camping or beach your boats for a picnic in a hidden cove–this is not it. (See instead, Lake Jocassee) However, if you live in or around Greenville and want to crank out up to 9ish miles of paddling in a lovely, peaceful setting before breakfast or after work, this is a very convenient spot. You can get to it quickly and the access area is very convenient, well kept and inexpensive (only $3/kayak * Update: The day pass price went up to $20 this year (2015), while the year pass remains $30. I think it’s safe to say they are encouraging the yearly pass. We found this change super frustrating, but the lake is still an amazing spot. ). There are many nice spots to just sit and soak in the beauty or eat a lunch. Nice bathrooms are available and supposedly there is some decent fishing to boot.

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After realizing this and getting more excited about paddling as an adventure-workout that is possible during all of our relatively mild seasons, I came to appreciate Lake Robinson much more. We have visited numerous times over the last few months and the convenience combined with its natural beauty have me fully sold on this spot. If you haven’t been, you should go, even if it’s just for a picnic.*

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Photo Credit: David Nigh

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

*Note: Kayaks can be rented at Half Moon Outfitters in Greenville, Rock’s Country Store across from the park entrance, and Sunrift Adventures in Travelers Rest. If you do kayak, make sure to bring a life vest and a whistle. Free whistles can be obtained from the warden, but you could be warned/or fined without these items. Passes are obtained from the warden’s office.