Rainbow Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Rainbow Falls

Every fall since 2014, I feel like I’ve made a trip to see my folks in Tennessee. We go hiking, relax, maybe do some cooking/baking/crafting. A few years ago, we moved closer to them, but I still make the trip to spend time.

Last weekend I had a mini-vacation to hang out with them, and my dad and I were finally able to get a hike in for the Rainbow Falls Trail in the Smokies. We’ve wanted to hike it for a while now, so I’m glad the weather was in our favor. A love for hiking/nature is one of those things that my dad and I share.

The trail is roughly 5 miles up and back. It’s a progressive climb the whole way up with a waterfall (Rainbow Falls) at the end. I wouldn’t suggest it to someone who isn’t up for a wee bit of a challenge. I suck at going uphill and had a rough start, but bounced back after a little while and after taking a snack break.

Me and Pa

The area had been burned a few years back when fires swept through the Smokies. You can see some remnants here and there, mostly just some scorch marks on trees and the larger of the decaying trees still lying on the forest floor, waiting for critters to make homes and for the earth to take them back. The forest bounced back from the devastation and has since filled back in. Trail crews have also been out there doing regular maintenance which includes building some impressive stone stairs.

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It’s Always Warmer in South Carolina

Living 20 minutes from the South Carolina border has its perks. If it feels too cold in Hendersonville, we just drive south and instantly gain at least 10 degrees.

Sulphur Springs Trail

Hurricane Michael came up and just missed us, but left some abnormal cold air for this time of year. My friend Katie and I ventured further south to hike in Paris Mountain State Park, just north of Greenville, SC. Warmer temps, many trails, a few lakes… it was a lovely place to visit. We chose the Sulpher Springs loop. It’s one of the longer trails in the park and is ranked one of the most difficult. We tackled it with only some huffing and puffing.

Hiking the trail clockwise, you’ll hit the hikers-only section. It follows a dammed up lake and travels uphill. This section is very rocky and rooted, thus making it the most difficult part. Much of the rest of the trail is smooth going.

If we thought leaf color was a bit scarce in North Carolina, there’s even less down in South Carolina. Leaves are on the ground, but the colors arent appearing, except for this one fabulous little plant.

Fall in South Carolina

I didn’t get too many photos while out there. Just focused on enjoying the hike. Here are a few others though:

The last wildflowers of the season

Wildflowers

The turret holding the mechanisms for the dam.

Dam turret

Dam mechanisms

Water flow from dam

And finally, the best bear warning I’ve ever seen. Apparently things have escalated and they like to hop in cars.

Bear with Me

Filled with fluff and love, a little bear made the long journey from North Carolina to Illinois to meet his new friend.

I used the Magic Loop Teddy Bear pattern by Julie Tarsha, and as one can guess, it calls for the magic loop method. This ended up being a learning experience. I had never used the magic loop method, but it was a challenge worth taking on. The pattern also required a toe up sock cast-on — not something I’m particularly well practised in using. Rather than sticking with my circular needles, I occasionally worked on double points.

Making something with love can sometimes take a little longer than anticipated. I missed my goal of having this little one ready for my friend Julie’s baby shower. As it turned out, little buddy was a month early. Bear was a month late. All in all though, I think they make a good pair!

Somwhere Over the Rainbow There is a Mountain Overlook

If you travel to the town of Beech Mountain, NC and drive to the very tippy top of the town, you will find a trail. This is the Emerald Overlook of Beech Mountain.

Yes, there is a Wizard of Oz theme to this trail system. After hiking for a bit, you will come to the Awesome Oz Overlook in which you can supposedly see the old amusement park, Land of Oz. The park, which opened in the 70s and slowly fell in disrepair, is only open one weekend of the year for a limited amount of ticket holders. But I digress. We probably saw the park from the overlook, but there was no bright yellow brick road. The ever gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains were the emerald beauties of the day.

The trail system is comprised of short trails for hiking and mountain biking, however you can connect the trails for a good long hike with several overlooks. In addition to spotting a bit of Oz, you’ll be able to see the town’s ski resort. And despite being in the woods at the top of a mountain, you will still encounter private gravel roads and some really fancy houses.

We meandered through tall flowering plants, gnarly trees, and rocky spots. Deer popped out of the woods on several occasions. And we came upon several other locals including a happy little lizard and cute fuzzy caterpillar.

As with most mountain locations, I’d imagine this area might be a little difficult to get to if there’s ice or snow. The elevation was somewhere around 5,200 feet give or take 200 more here and there. Regardless, this it is likely to be magical and changing year round.

Catskill, New York

A week ago my mom and I embarked on a trip. It was to be an epic exploration of Massachusetts. We didn’t make it. The universe was against us.

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However, we did make it to Catskill, New York. This was to be our first stop. For about 24 hours we spent time visiting my brother Jake and his girlfriend Helena. Catskill is in the lower portion of upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley. That sense of old history and foundations hangs in the air. (I’d try to explain it more, but that could be a whole other post of me rambling.) I absolutely loved it. I can see why Jake and Helena settled in the area several years ago. There is a typical tiny town main street that’s lined with shops and restaurants. The rest of the area spreads out into the nooks and crannies of the land.

We visited their lovely new home, ate downtown, and meandered up and down the street. Of course we stopped along the water area where the Hudson meets another river. The Rip Van Winkle bridge stretched across the water.

The next day we did breakfast in a great little place called the Garden Gate Cafe — simple, not pretentious, and down to earth. I wish there were more places like it. I realize that they’re around, but you have to scout them out.

Afterwards we went and visited Kitterskill Falls. This waterfall is a historic attraction that has been drawing painters and tourists to it for years. While we did not make up the full length of the falls, we did get to watch them crashing down at the base of the trail. We were lucky in that we were able to see them when it wasn’t completely packed with people.

The whole region is old and cozy and mystical seeped in history and nature. I’ll always enjoy visiting my family, but it definitely makes it even more fun to explore such a fantastic area with them.

 

 

Mountain Goating Up Mount Pisgah

Do not be fooled by a corgi’s stumpy stature. Shorty’s got serious hops.

Me and Fox atop Mount Pisgah

Fox and I hiked up Mount Pisgah today. It’s 1.5 miles each way with quite a bit of elevation gain. I anticipated a climb and cringed at the thought that it might all be stairs. There were stairs made of stones, but there was also a lot of maneuvering to be done with many rocks, roots, and some water to make it potentially slick.

Half way up I felt guilty for taking Fox on the hike, but all in all I don’t think he actually minded. He’s a little tank. A regular mountain goat. We stopped a number of times to catch our breath, have some water, and chat with a family that we were keeping pace with.

Most of the trail is through a green tunnel of trees, rhodi, mountain laurel, etc. It doesn’t open up until the top where you get an almost 360 view of the Blue Ridge mountains and surrounding cities. I say almost because there’s a giant antenna up there for a local TV station. I’d imagine you might get some more glimpses of the mountain views in fall and early spring when there is less foliage.

The hike is in and out, so we came down the way we hike up. Fox was ready to run down, but he had to wait for my cautious self to get down carefully. Little man was pooped afterwards, but in true Fox fashion he impressed me once again with what a good hiker he is. He is the good boy.

Hardtimes in Bent Creek

Really, I didn’t have hard times in Bent Creek Experimental Forest (part of Pisgah National Forest). But I did hike the Hardtimes loop. It was 6 miles of gravel roads through the forest.

The trailhead gets you started on the Hardtimes road, a long service road that creeps through the woods for several miles. It’s a steady uphill climb, but not intense. The trail eventually meets up with the Mountains to Sea trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway. From there, it’s a slow descent to the North Carolina Arboretum. Trails going from the forest into the arboretum have gates which are locked during the garden’s after hours.

There are at least two different trails you can choose to continue on after the Hardtimes Road ends. For a bigger loop that will lead you to the trailhead, go with the Bent Creek Road (not to be confused with the arboretum’s footpath, the Bent Creek trail which runs along Bent Creek).

I ran into very few people on the roads outside of the arboretum. As an added bonus, the path was wide and there weren’t many mountain bikes. This is a change from some of the other trails in that forest which can be narrow and packed with bike riders depending on day and time.

Since it’s early summer, there were less flowers, tons of greenery, and some cool fungi. It was interesting to see the forest change between Bent Creek to Arboretum to Bent Creek again. The foliage in Bent Creek is far more wild. In one area, kudzu had taken over the entire area. It was amazing and eerie at the same time.

I’d definitely recommend this trail (or parts of it) if you’re looking for an easy several hours in the woods regardless of the season. Easy for kids and adults, but might be hard on pups’ paws since it’s all gravel.

3 Bs Inn: The Perfect Pup (and People) Excursion

Do you love your dog? Is your hound your fur baby? Do you and your pup need to get the hell out of dodge for a bit?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then the 3 Bs Inn is the place to go.

Chris, Fox, and I don’t vacation often. And having a dog does make it interesting when you’re trying to find a place to stay. That said, Chris found this magical place in his journeys. The 3 Bs Inn is a little slice of heaven tucked away in the woods. You can only stay there if you have a dog. Now think about that. How many places WON’T let you stay somewhere because you have a dog? This place does the opposite and it’s amazing.

3 Bs Inn – Bed, Breakfast, and Biscuits

I have never stayed at a more welcoming, comfortable, clean, and accommodating place. The website may draw you in (go check it out, my recap can wait). It will not fully prepare you for the actual tranquility of this bed & breakfast. We ran away for an overnight trip away from home. I don’t think any of us, Fox included, have been that relaxed in ages. While we didn’t go swimming or kayaking, we did dip our feet in the pond. We visited the ducks, took a walk through the woods on the grounds, sat and read, and watched Fox romp with another guest, Calvin – a big dog. He NEVER plays with the big dogs and there he was chasing the pup around.

 

We got to chat with the owners and learned that they run the entire place themselves – ground keeping, housekeeping, cooking, booking, etc. They’re a couple with a love for animals in general, but obviously they have a soft spot for dogs.  They bought the grounds which was originally home to a number of things – a religious group, a state run home for wayward girls, and a roadside motel. They worked on the place for a year and got it up and running for pups and people.

There are some pet policies and people rules, but to be honest I don’t blame them. They have to make sure that all pets and people are safe and happy. Most things that they have noted are just common sense/courtesy.

I would highly recommend this place to anyone coming to Western North Carolina with their pet. Whether you plan on bringing them out with you or if you need to leave them in their own cabin room for the day, you’ll all probably have a wonderful time.

 

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Sleep in woods, wait for bears.

Friday I said screw it all, packed up my gear and dog, and hiked into the woods to camp out for the night. It was just me, Fox, and the bears, raccoons, and any other critters hanging out of sight.
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In doing this, I broke a promise I had made to a number of family and friends. When I first started toying with the idea of backpacking, most folks were not enthused. They weren’t happy that I was hiking by myself either on any given weekend. You know what? I get it. Most people do not have a desire to wander alone in the woods whether it is day or night. Here’s the thing — I am safer in the woods than I ever would be walking down a street back home in a major city. Yes, things can go wrong in the woods, but the chances are very slim.

So why the last minute major decision? For the most part, I’ve been letting myself down lately and backpacking has been a goal of mine for over a year and a half. Friday just became the day I pulled on my boots and did something.

After work, Fox and I headed down the road to Pisgah National Forest. I picked a place and a trail (Cat Gap Loop) that I’m familiar with. I wanted to hike in but still be somewhat close to my car in the event that anything went wrong. 20 minutes and an uphill climb later, we got to the camp spot. You can tell others have camped there because there is a fire pit. The opening in the woods is perfect for setting up a tent. And it is adjacent to a small waterfall and the river. Location and a water source!

Rookie mistakes were made, but things were ok. I started setting up camp a wee bit late. There was little sleep to be had. My tent is tiny and my dog curled up on my sleeping bag. I woke everything 15 minutes at least the entire night long. Despite there being only black bears in North Carolina, I still kept envisioning a grizzly bear paying us a visit.

All in all, though, the trip was a success. It was worth it to sit there as the sun came up and hike out with no one else around. Perhaps equally worth it was proving to myself that I can do it. That’s not to say I wasn’t a little scared. In the future, I think I would prefer the company of others if it’s an option. But Fox is always a good companion and trusty corgi.

I did the thing, and I’ll do it again. I could’ve kept putting it off, waiting to go backpacking with someone, but I needed to do this for myself. And life is too short to let anyone hold you back – even if it’s yourself. Chris asked me if I had fun. To be honest, this first time out there wasn’t fun, but I didn’t plan on that. It was about challenging myself, and I did it.