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!

 

 

Jones Gap State Park Trail Run

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May 13, 2014

If you live anywhere in the Upstate and have not yet discovered Jones Gap State Park, you are missing out. It is a verdant pocket of forest, divided by a clear, bubbling mountain stream that shrinks and expands as it traverses the park. The area is speckled with waterfalls, both large and small, which make for great hiking/running destinations, and as we recently discovered, the opportunity for some pretty noteworthy mountain running experiences.

IMG_6462Over the past few years, my husband and I have run, hiked, camped, and explored this area in multiple directions. I will be sharing several adventures from this place, but I had to begin with our most recent new discovery: The Rim of the Gap trail. I have seen this intriguing trail name on the map since we began coming to Jones Gap; however, that interest was tempered by some things we heard early on about its high level of difficulty, several bear sightings, and its closure during the winter because of ice accumulation. The rumors made it feel ominous, intimidating, out of our league and far more wild than your average South Carolina state park. So on this rather muggy May day, we were not expecting to just take a little jog on this crazy beast of trail, but that is exactly what ended up happening.

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We arrived in the late afternoon, decked out in running gear and excited to try our new-ish hydration packs on a run where we might actually need the extra water. As we perused the map, we were approached by a ranger who wanted to warn us about the trails closing an hour before sunset. With disappointment, we realized we probably couldn’t tackle our 10.5 mile arch-nemesis, the out and back Jones Gap trail that we had been attempting to complete off and on for awhile. We had made a half-joking “vow” to ourselves that we would not return to the park or at least not that trail unless we were ready to just finish it, so we had quite the dilemma. That’s when we asked our new ranger friend  about the Rim of the Gap trail. Is it runnable? Is it crazy? How long is it? Overall, he downplayed the whole thing while simultaneously telling us the elevation gain was significant, around 1400 feet but also pointing out a 5.5 mile loop that only involved a portion of Rim of the Gap before cutting across on a connector that linked to Little Pinnacle Mountain via the Pinnacle Pass trail. This is what we ended up running and it was amazing. It was crazy, but very cool.

IMG_6474Almost immediately, the trail starts climbing and we were huffing and puffing and just barely power hiking our way through certain sections. Then we came to a rock you have to climb over with the help of a cable, and we knew this was going to be one of our more epic and memorable runs. The trail climbs and climbs, but thankfully the forest is so beautiful. We felt certain that we were experiencing almost of all of the elevation gain for the whole trail as we crept along, telling ourselves this was a killer workout even if we were barely moving in multiple places. You have to pay attention to the signs and blazes along the way, but the trails are well-marked. When you get to the turn for the connector and move on to the Little Pinnacle trail, you begin to get steep downhill sections that provide some relief for the legs, but also require a great deal of caution. The highlight of the whole run is the view you get just past the Mountain Bridge trail marker 20, pictured above. We were not expecting things to open up like they did, so it absolutely stunned us to see the waves of mountains and sky burst through the trees.

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I would totally recommend this as a hike or a run. It is so beautiful and the distance isn’t too intense. While later parts of the Rim of the Gap are apparently far more treacherous, this section was really not terrible. You get enough elevation gain and rock hopping in to feel pretty hardcore, but you also are not forced to inch along any narrow ledges or cross waterfalls with a cable (From what I hear, there may be some of that further up the Rim of the Gap trail). The downhill sections were what felt the most dangerous to us, but we just took it really slow in those areas and did not have any problems.

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Recommendations: Bring water and a snack in case your adventure takes longer than planned. There are plenty of spots to stop and rest if needed, and it’s nice to refuel a bit along the way. Definitely wear shoes designed for hiking or running that have some traction. Also, keep in mind that you could be out for a good chunk of time. We were running (as much as possible) and it took us around 1 h:45mins. That is a good bit longer than our normal 5.5 mile run :). Also, be very careful on the steep sections, particularly the rocky downhill sections, and I would probably avoid this during a torrential downpour if possible. Always remember to exercise caution on unfamiliar terrain, and fill out a hiker check-in before you start.

Enjoy the gorgeous views and keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

Trail Running and Winter/Spring Races

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February 16, 2014

My husband and I love trail running. Because it is one of our favorite activities, we are always trying to coax our friends into giving it a try. Here is our rationale/spiel. First of all, running in general is such a great form of cardiovascular exercise. According to the lofty Mayo Clinic, aerobic exercise such as running helps burn away excess pounds, strengthen bones and muscles, increase blood flow, release endorphins, reduce stress, ward off viral illnesses, and strengthen your heart*. Now all of that sounds pretty amazing, right? Who doesn’t want to be healthy and get those endorphins pumping?

But there’s more. Trail running in particular lessens the risk for certain injuries by reducing impact on the body and strengthening lots of supporting muscles that don’t get used on flat, hard surfaces. Sure, you may have to dodge the odd fallen tree or small woodland animal, but it’s part of the experience. Besides, all that dodging and hopping helps work core muscles and decreases the amount of constant pounding that your body takes during a typical pavement or treadmill run.

Another one of the advantages to trail running is that it takes you outside, into the heart of beautiful, interesting, sometimes wild places. Instead of pounding pavement, ingesting car fumes and greasy food odors, and dodging traffic, your steps are softened by fallen leaves, dirt, and sand. Your deep breaths pull in the scents of fresh air, wild flowers, pine, and earth. The perils of two ton vehicles and uneven concrete curbs are exchanged for roots, rocks, and wildlife. If you need a rest break, you can stop and enjoy a view or a babbling stream instead of someone else’s front yard or a fast food restaurant. The whole experience is much more soothing, refreshing, and inspiring.

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Now some people might argue that trail running is intimidating or harder than regular running, but it doesn’t have to be. You can start slow, take breaks, and enjoy all the beauty that surrounds you. Many people also find that the time passes more quickly because their minds are kept active by the changing scenery and more technical footwork.

If you want to find some motivation to hit the trails, I suggest signing up for a trail race. Some of our favorites are put on by Half Moon Outfitters. We just completed three of their races over the last couple of months, the Drifter 6k, the Make My Day 12k, and the Cherokee Rose 5k.

The Drifter 6k took place in Greenville at Conestee Nature Park discussed over here, while the Make My Day 12k was hosted in Columbia, SC at Harbison State Forest. This longer race was intense, especially since the snow from our latest Snowmageddon was still on the ground and a water main had burst leaving lots of deep puddles and stream crossings. It’s a great course though with only a few hills and lots of lovely open trail. You can check out the course here. The Cherokee Rose 5k was in Athens, GA at the Botanical Gardens. Last year, the course was a bit short, but this year it was accurate and included some extra hills.

When you register for any of these races, you get Smartwool socks and a fun tech-tee, usually from the Northface or Patagonia, not to mention a great after party full of raffles and in the case of the Greenville race, Counter Culture coffee from Swamp Rabbit Cafe. The next Half Moon Race isn’t until the Moonshiner 5k in the Fall, so there is plenty of time to get ready! In the meantime, we’re looking for some other great trail races to hit this summer. Do you have a favorite trail race or place to trail run? Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

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*http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/aerobic-exercise/art-20045541