Paris Mountain: Sulphur Springs Trail

Trail runner on Sulpher Springs Trail, Paris Mountain State Park, Greenville, South CarolinaHaving frequented Paris Mountain State Park a lot for almost 8 years and now living in very close proximity to it, the trails are very familiar to us. However, I consistently hear friends and acquaintances share confusion about which trails to take or what goes where. I think any unfamiliar trail area can feel that way. So, I want to dedicate a few blog posts over the next several months to our favorite trails and loops at Paris Mountain. We are always trying to get people to try trail running/hiking and excited to hear about friends who are wanting to get outside more, so hopefully this will take one obstacle (the where should I go? conundrum) out of the way and help make it more accessible.

Sulphur Springs Trail sign at Paris Mountain State ParkFirst up,  is one of our favorite all-around trails, Sulphur Springs a 3.8ish mile loop trail.  It is definitely not the easiest trail, but it is beautiful and varied. There is decent elevation gain in either direction, but that means you get a significant downhill both ways as well.

trail runner on sulphur springs trail at Paris Mountain State Park, Greenville, SCGetting Here: The best spot to start this trail is from the Picnic Shelters 5&6 parking area.  These shelters are located around 2 miles from the park entrance.  Sulphur Springs trail is a loop with one end of the trailhead located near the creek in the parking area and the other end located directly across the street from the parking area and picnic shelters. I would recommend starting on the hike-only section of the trail that is closest to the bridge and the shelters. It winds along the stream about a half mile before reaching Mountain Lake, a smallish body of water with great reflections of leaves and sky and an old rocky dam that creates a small waterfall. This is a nice turnaround point if you don’t feel like tackling the whole loop.

Trail Running on Sulphur Springs Trail, Paris Mountain State Park, Mountain Lake, Greenville, South Carolina

Final ascent to Mountain Lake

Mountain Lake on Sulphur Springs Trail, Paris Mountain State Park

Mountain Lake

If you decide to continue, you’ll go along the rocky side of the lake and continue to cross a couple of streams and gain some decent elevation. This is the toughest part of the trail, but it is really lovely  and you can hear the rushing creek all along the way and see it tumbling down in lots of different places. Once you get to the top, you’ll dead end into a wider trail and turn right to continue down Sulphur Springs. If you go left, you are taking another little trail called Fire Tower. It’s not super long so if you wanted to add on a bit (about .8 miles round trip), you could. It’s an out-and-back trail so you come to a dead end at the top of it, turn around and continue down Sulphur Springs.

Sulphur Springs Trail, Paris Mountain State Park, Greenville, SCThis part of the trail is wide and gently downhill, a wonderful respite after the climb you’ve just completed. Take it all the way down to an upper parking lot which you will cross to continue the trail. This can be a little confusing the first time, but it is marked and if you know it’s coming, it’s no big deal. Once you’ve gotten on this final stretch, you have a lot of swooping switchbacks that propel you down the mountain and back to your starting point. You will come down a final small hill that throws you out beside the road across from the parking area where you began. You’ve just completed an awesome workout!

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Upper Sulphur Springs Trail near the final descent

Good to Know: The Sulphur Springs Trail has portions of it (roughly the first half as I described it) that are hike-only. This means there shouldn’t be any mountain bikers to watch out for; however, when you come to the top of the mountain and head back down you should watch out for bikers as they can come up pretty quickly on the descending switchbacks. Also, be sure to take water on this trail particularly in the summer or if hiking. The distance is not super long, but as mentioned the elevation change is not insignificant.

Where to Eat: If you need some refueling, I’d recommend our go-to post-run meal: pizza. There are some great options around, but one of our current favorites is Swamp Pizza. They use local ingredients,  delicious scratch made dough, and a brick oven to create some of the best pizza in Greenville.

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

 

 

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Laurel Fork Falls

Lake Jocassee Laurel Fork FallsA 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.

trail runner on the foothills trail heading to Lake Jocassee and Laurel Fork FallsThe 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.

Laurel Fork Falls at Lake Jocassee Foothills Trail

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!!

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.

Nature’s Stair Master and a Cabin in the Woods

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This past weekend, we celebrated my husband’s birthday by making our way up to Bakersville, NC.  A friend mentioned Roan Mountain as a beautiful place we should explore, and since Bakersville is the “gateway to Roan Mountain”, it was the perfect jumping off point.  We discovered a lovely little cabin on VRBO called Birdtown Guesthouse which was situated about 25 minutes from the mountain and nestled amidst plenty of smaller peaks in its own right. The property is comprised of 60 acres including nearly 4 miles of trails. These trails were crazy–beautiful and fun, but crazy!

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The “easier” trail behind the cabin

As soon as we got there Saturday, we decided to strike out for a quick jog. The property owner warned us that one trail was somewhat steep and the other was VERY steep. We started on the “easier” trail and quickly decided that we might have gotten mixed up and landed on the steeper one. The trail climbed almost immediately crossing frozen streams and weaving through snow-specked leaf piles. It was intense and straight up for the most part until we reached an amazing ridge line with stellar views.

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View from the cabin

We retraced our steps and headed up the opposite trail only to realize it actually was the harder trail. It felt like a stair-stepper exercise machine that would not end. Our calves were burning, our glutes and thighs were on fire, and if something in our legs didn’t hurt on the way up, it got jostled and shaken until it did on the way down. We were kind of cracking up, between heaving gasps for air, about how we thought the other one was tough. Thankfully, the payoff in views was well worth the push up those hills. The second trail opened up into a meadow on top of the ridge and again we got to soak in waves of mountains basking in the chilly setting sun.We could not get over how cool it was that this cabin had such incredible trails right out the back door. Though the mileage was not particularly extensive, the workout was more than enough.

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Jane Bald in the distance

The next day we headed up toward Roan Mountain and the Appalachian Trail at Carver’s Gap. This area is right on the Tennessee/North Carolina line. After all the hype we had built up in our minds about Roan, we actually  ended up running North on the Appalchian trail (the opposite direction) towards some other balds.

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From the ascent of Jane Bald

Round Bald (5826′), Jane Bald (5807′), and Grassy Ridge Bald (6139′) comprised the majority of our run, and they did not disappoint. The views were absolutely incredible. Summiting these three balds and coming back was a distance of about 5 miles. In spite of gray skies and a very blustery wind, we had a wonderful run and cannot wait to go back.

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Grassy Ridge Bald

Getting There:  To get to Roan Mountain or this section of the Appalachian trail, type Carver’s Gap, Pisgah National Forest, Fork Mountain-Little Rock Creek, NC 28705 into your GPS or google maps. To check out the awesome cabin  and access those trails, look on their website or find it on Airbnb, VRBO, or Homeaway under Bakersville, NC vacation rentals.

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Coffee on the back porch of the cabin

What to Eat: Food is always a consideration, but if you plan on going up here, especially in an off season (like January), you really need to plan well. There are not many places to begin with and in winter many are closed or have limited hours. Bakersville has a Dollar General where I imagine you can get some snack things and basic groceries. Spruce Pine is probably 30-40 minutes away from Carver’s Gap and they have a very good pizza place called The Pizza Shop at Dry County Brewing. Knife and Fork is also very good as well as their bar, Spoon. Both places have excellent farm to table fare. In Bakersville, there were a few restaurants that looked fun, but nothing was open over the time that we were there. Again, I think a lot of this had to do with it being off-season. One other cool stop in Bakersville is Oak Moon Dairy and Cheese shop. This place was so cool! The goat cheese is incredible.

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Good to Know: This may be obvious, but it is colder at those higher elevations than it is in town. Make sure you pack good layers. Also, phone service is VERY spotty. It’s decent in Bakersville, but pretty bad on the trails and at the cabin.

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Look for adventure far and nigh!

A Christmas Tree Expedition and Foothills Trail Run

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This year everything seemed to fly by and the holiday season is proving no exception. Thanksgiving came and went and suddenly we were a week into December with no Christmas tree.  Every year since we got married, David and I have gone somewhere special to pick out a Christmas tree and chop it down.  It’s unnecessary and sometimes overpriced, but it’s also a really fun tradition. I highly recommend just going for it, at least once. The last two years we have gone to a place called Zeigler’s in Brevard, North Carolina. It’s family run, beautiful, isolated in the middle of Pisgah National Forest, and very reasonably priced.

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We were headed there this year with the intention of snagging a tree and catching a run in the mountains on our way home, but daylight was fading quickly. As we were sorting through our options, we stumbled upon another smaller farm right along the road and decided to check it out. The trees looked so perfect and they were advertised as the highly desirable Fraser firs. We decided it couldn’t hurt to do a price check and ended up getting a gorgeous 10-11 foot tree for $45!  It was such a cool Christmas blessing, and since it was 45 minutes closer than the other spot we had enough daylight for a quick run on the Foothills trail. 

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The Foothills trail is a legendary spot to us. We have heard several crazy stories about it–friends thru-hiking it over a weekend ending in tears of relief, others attempting it only to be thwarted by exhaustion induced illness etc. There have also been some amazing photos posted of it, vistas overlooking Lake Joccassee, plummeting waterfalls and winding single track trails.  This past weekend, we finally got our first taste of this spot and it was kind of by accident. We were headed up to get the Christmas tree when we decided to follow a large wooden sign that pointed to the Foothills Trail just to see where it took us and what it was like.

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In the parking area at the top of a winding dirt road, we found this weathered sign which pointed to Laurel Falls 8.1 miles away. We knew from some earlier research that this falls pours into the stunning expanse of Lake Joccassee. It was amazing to us that one of our favorite destinations was only 8 miles away down the Foothills trail. Since we only had about 30 minutes of daylight left after getting our giant Griswoldian tree hoisted onto the car, we did not make it to the lake; however, we did get a little taste of an awesome new trail that is just over an hour from Greenville. Now we are plotting a mild winter day excursion run to the lake and back. Who’s with us?

Getting There: Head up 178 N (Pickens Highway) toward Brevard.  A large wooden sign denotes the Foothills Trail on the left. The small Christmas tree farm is on your left about 10 minutes past this sign. If you reach signs for The Wilds camp (also on the left), you’ve gone too far by about a mile.

Running the Trail: Proceed up the winding dirt road past the wooden sign for about half a mile. It will lead you to a gravel parking area or the road continues (we did not explore beyond the parking area by car). On foot, head towards the continuing gravel/dirt road and almost immediately you will see signs for the Foothills Trail on the right and steep steps leading up from the road into the woods. Run out and back as far as you like following the white blazes.

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Look for adventure far and nigh!

Art Loeb Trail Run- Black Balsam to Shining Rock Loop

Art Loeb Trail, Tennent mountain near Black Balsam Knob in Shining Rock Wilderness, Trail Running

Location: This is an amazing trail with stunning panoramic views of the mountains, Shining Rock Wilderness, and Pisgah National Forest. The section of the Art Loeb Trail beginning at Black Balsam Knob, is beautiful and challenging.  There are ups and downs, technical footing, and a lovely variety of sceneries.  It is great for hiking or running. We completed a roughly 9 mile loop that included one section of out and back running. The exact route we took is detailed below.

Getting There: Black Balsam Knob is about 1 hour 45 minutes away from the Greenville area. If you’re leaving Greenville, take 25 N towards Hendersonville to 26 W. Get off at Exit 37, turn left NC-146 W. Take a right on Clayton road. Continue 1.3 miles. Slight right onto NC-191 N. Continue 1.2 miles. Turn left onto the Blue Ridge Pkwy. Continue 26.8 miles. Then, turn right onto Black Balsam Knob Rd. Continue to the end parking lot or park in one of the designated spots along the road. The Art Loeb trail begins on the right side of Black Balsam Knob Rd. as you’re driving in towards the parking lot. There are parking spaces beside the trail head and it is well-marked.

What to Bring: Running shoes- preferably trail shoes, lots of layers- It is always colder here than in the valleys and the weather can be very changeable at this altitude (around 6,000 ft), water/snacks (for during or after since you’re a bit isolated from restaurants and stores), change of clothes if you run it and don’t want to feel sweaty or chilled all the way home

Where to Eat: We love having a fun meal to look forward to after a big run. Farm Burger in Asheville, NC is one of our current favorites and an easy detour on the way back from Black Balsam (roughly an hour from Black Balsam). West First Pizza in Hendersonville, NC is another awesome post-run stop (also roughly an hour). We’ve enjoyed Mayberry’s Soups and Sandwiches in Brevard on several occasions too (around 45 mins away).

Art Loeb Trail to Shining Rock Wilderness

What an enchanting run this is. David and I have run and hiked parts of this loop on multiple occasions, but until this day, we had never delved very far into the Shining Rock Wilderness. We needed a longer run since we were training for a trail half marathon and we always like having a goal destination to run to, so we decided to try to find Shining Rock. Until planning this run, I didn’t know that there was in fact a “shining rock” which gave the wilderness area its name. As it turns out, there is snow white quartz at the top of a mountain in the wilderness area which is rather eye catching amidst the other more common rock features in the area.

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View from the top of Shining Rock including some of the unusual snow quartz.

We parked at the trail head for the Art Loeb Trail which is found on Black Balsam Knob road. Our run took us up and over Black Balsam Knob and Tennent Mountain, through a large gap-like clearing area with signage pointing towards Ivestor Gap and then through Ivestor Gap itself where we were welcomed to the Shining Rock Wilderness. Here we decided to stay to the right on the Art Loeb trail instead of taking the left fork onto Ivestor Gap trail. We tried to stay on the Art Loeb for our entire outward journey just to keep it simple and avoid getting lost.

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This led us around and over another mountain which I believe was Flower Knob. It was kind of hard to tell because once you’re in the wilderness area nothing is signed. We got to a smallish grassy clearing eventually where there was a piece of orange/pink tape dangling. This seemed to mark the spot where Ivestor Gap trail emerged from our left, but we weren’t positive about that either. We kept going along a bit of a ridge line until we started climbing once more. We had begun to wonder if we were still headed the right direction when we hit over 4 miles with no sign of the white quartz that would mark Shining Rock, but at last it started to appear scattered along the path. We hit the top around 4.5 miles which was what we had hoped would be the case based on our research of this route. After some pictures, we turned back retracing our steps exactly until we came to the clearing at the base of Tennent Mountain. Instead of ascending on the trail to the left, we took the lower trail to the right which circumvents Tennent and Black Balsam returning you to the parking lot at the end of Black Balsam Knob road. This path is pretty wide and flat, however there are a ton of loose rocks, and if it’s rained lately the whole thing can be somewhat flooded. This does not make it impassable, but it can slow you down if you don’t want wet feet.

The only bummer about looping back like this is that you have nearly half a mile on the road once you reach the parking lot if you parked at the Art Loeb Trail head. We always dislike ending on pavement after longer runs. It just hurts, but finishing the loop is satisfying and at least the footing was super easy! If you need a great day hike, trail run, picnic or backpacking spot, this one is hard to beat. You could go out for a much shorter distance and still enjoy stunning views and wild beauty. Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

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