Upper Creek Falls – Pisgah National Forest

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Synopsis: Loop hike down into and back out of scenic Upper Creek Gorge to a beautiful 80-foot waterfall, as well as a couple of smaller ones.

Total Mileage: 1.7 miles (possibly more if you explore).

Blaze Color: Yellow/Orange; Blue/Orange ribbons

Hike Rating: Moderate to Strenuous

The Trailhead: The trailhead is located off the right side of NC Highway 181 if you’re coming from Boone, in the Jonas Ridge community. Look for the sign about 5 miles inside Pisgah National Forest, past the Brown Mountain Overlook, and just across the highway from Linville Gorge. Turn right and pull into the gravel parking area. The trailhead will be obvious. You’ll see signs for both upper and lower falls on each side of the parking area. If you like a more challenging hike, start with the upper trailhead.

The Hike: The first thing I noticed was the amount of litter in the parking area and at both trailheads. It wasn’t excessive, but the fact that it was there at all disgusted me. What part of “Leave No Trace” and “Pack In, Pack Out” don’t you understand? End of mini rant.

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For this hike, to get the full effect, my suggestion would be to start at the upper trailhead and hiking clockwise through the loop. I say this because at the trail at the base of Upper Creek Falls, there are several heard paths that make holding the main trail difficult. I wouldn’t want to get lost in this area of Pisgah (or any), especially so close to Brown Mountain. That place is creepy.

As you start out at the upper trail, you’ll notice it runs parallel to NC 181. You’ll also be struck at just how beautiful the terrain is here, if not somewhat rocky and rooty. You’ll forget you’re near a major highway for the entire hike.

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The blazes are orange and yellow, with the occasional ribbon marker. The trail descends gently down into the gorge. As you near Upper Creek, you’ll come to a wooden bridge and stairs which allows you to survey a smaller waterfall and swimming hole and get the the creek safely.

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After climbing down, the trail continues on the far side of the creek. Rock hopping is the only way to get across unless you wade. In high water, I wouldn’t attempt it. You’ll want to get pics here before continuing. The waterfall is nice, as is the view of the gorge in the opposite direction.

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Please be aware that you are standing directly above a roaring 80-foot waterfall. The rocks are smooth and slick. One slip and there’s no chance you’d live going over the lower falls. Don’t allow children to get too close. People have died here.

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As you ford the creek and climb up the other side of the bank, the trail is obvious. There is a campsite on the left. Continue down the trail ignoring all the steep herd paths off to your right. A switchback will lead you down to the base of the waterfall. It is slightly off the main trail. Again, ignore the herd paths and phantom trails. I thought it’d be relatively easy for an inexperienced hiker to get lost in this area. There are trails everywhere and not many blazes. Stay on the blazed trail and/or the obvious trail.

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Upper Creek Falls is one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve seen. It tumbles vertically over the cliff and sluices through huge boulders and further down into the gorge below. The rocks here are slick with moisture and algae, so use caution. This area makes for a great picnic and rest spot. We hiked here on a Saturday at about 2:30pm and did not encounter another hiker after leaving the smaller upper falls.

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The trail continues up and out of the gorge on the far side of the creek. You’ll either have to wade or rock hop again. In high water, I wouldn’t risk it.

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This part of the trail did not appear to be as heavily used as the upper portion. Maybe because the ascent out seems much longer than a mile.

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Numerous switchbacks will lead you past a huge boulder/overhang where rock climbers had anchored their leads. I stopped and did a little bouldering before continuing on, as a storm was threatening.

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The main trail will also carry you to the top of the boulder where you can get a dizzying winter view of the creek and gorge below.

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Follow the trail back to the parking area to complete this great hike.

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See you on the trail!

02/12/2017

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Essentials for Your Backpack

Backpack Essentials

What should I pack for a hike? This is one of the best questions any hiker could ask. Everyone has a different opinion, and there are probably a million lists online about which items should be essential pack items. I don’t claim to have THE definitive answer to the question posed, but I do believe there are a few pack essentials that every hiker should carry, regardless if it’s a long or short hike. Obviously, the season, terrain, distance of the trail, etc. will cause you to adjust the contents of your pack to fit the hike. But, here is my list of essentials that I carry in my pack at ALL times, and you should have them in yours, too.

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A good backpack.

This goes without saying. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive or newest model, but starting out with a good pack is a given. I use the Osprey Kestrel 28 most of the time. It’s a smaller, lighter pack, but it’s very durable and has tons of room. The Kestrel 28 is good for a day hike, but it’s sufficient for a three day hike. It comfortably carries all that’s shown in the pic, plus more. Some of the things I suggest looking for in a good, serviceable pack is:

– Correct size. You need to get a pack that can adjust to fit your body size and type. Most outfitters can help you with this, and there are Youtube videos to show you how to properly size a pack. This is important both for personal comfort and to be able to get all you need in it for the hike you’re undertaking.

– Well-made. A durable pack will pay for itself over and over again. The last thing you want is a backpack strap breaking while you’re miles from anywhere, or a zipper breaking so you can’t zip up and protect your gear. Again, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive pack. But it does need to be durable and well-made. Read pack reviews online, or ask a seasoned hiker for his/her recommendations before making your choice. Then you’ll most likely make the right choice.

– Waterproof/resistant. Most good packs come with a rain cover included. Some backpacks are made of waterproof material. This is important if you get caught in a storm and need to keep your supplies dry. Or, you might fall into a stream. Some hikers treat their packs with a water-resistant spray. I know I was once caught coming down Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains when a sudden massive rainstorm blew in. I had a relatively cheap backpack that was not waterproof/resistant, and everything I had in it got soaked. Plus it made the pack heavier, which wasn’t fun, either.

A first-aid kit.

I carry a simple, small kit that’s in a hard case. The inside contents are in a zip-lock bag also to keep everything dry. Some of the things I have in my basic first-aid kit are: band-aids, burn/rash cream, gauze, Advil, iodine, alcohol wipes, and a needle/thread.

Cutting tools.

I have a wilderness knife and a multi-purpose knife. Both are relatively small. The wilderness knife is a Gerber, and its tang (handle) is wrapped in nylon paracord in case I need more rope. It can also be mounted to a stick and used as a spear. I also have a Victorinox “Swiss Army knife” multi-tool that I like to keep with me at all times on a hike. It stays in my pack, while the larger wilderness knife normally stays on my hip. Keep your blades sharp.

Light source.

A small, waterproof flashlight is what I carry. I also have a small LED flashlight. If I knew for certain I’d be hiking at night, I’d take along a headlamp.

Multi-purpose bag.

I pack a small ziplock bag containing toilet paper, lotion, wet wipes, waterproof matches, tinder, water purifying tablets, lighter, a couple of extra zip-lock bags, and an emergency blanket. Plus, I include an extra, cheapie poncho.

Rain gear.

I have a waterproof poncho that packs into itself and becomes a pillow or floatation device. You should always have some type of rain gear, even when the weather forecast is clear. If you’re hiking at higher elevations, storms can form quickly. The last thing you want is to be drenched with miles to go.

Extra rope.

It’s good to have extra rope in case you need to string up your pack, build a shelter, splint a broken bone, etc. I’ll carry about 4 feet of utility rope in my pack at all times.

Tape.

I get laughed at about this. I never go on a hike without some kind of durable duct tape or packaging tape in my backpack. It’s amazing how it’ll repair gear, dress wounds, or help hold together a shelter in a pinch. I once saw a guy on the trail whose boot sole had ripped off, and he had secured it back on with duct tape!

Extra socks.

This is another one I get laughed at. But, have you ever tried to complete a hike with wet socks? Blister city. Very uncomfortable. Walking in wet socks will blister your feet and incapacitate you, and I’m not carrying you out. I always keep a durable pair of Columbia weatherproof socks in my pack just in case. You should, too.

Extra water + food.

I don’t use a pack bladder because I don’t like the bulge it creates in my back. If you do, that’s fine. I carry an extra water bottle. My bottle is sturdy enough that water can be boiled or food can be heated in it if need be. You can never have too much water on a hike. And having a way to boil water if needed is an added bonus. I also keep a couple of calorie dense protein bars in my pack. I like the ProBar peanut butter and chocolate bars.

Compass/Map.

I realize many people don’t know how to read a compass and map, but it’s definitely something a hiker will want to learn to do before he or she begins longer, more challenging hikes. Knowing how to use a map and compass is a non-negotiable. Even if I’m going on a short hike, I will at least carry a photocopy of the trail route (in a ziplock bag) and a copy downloaded on my phone. My compass is built into a nifty bear whistle. That way I can scare off a bear, signal for help, or find my way out. I like items that serve more than one purpose.

Cell phone.

This is a given. Have a charged phone with you. Granted, I’m usually somewhere with no signal, but even if I can’t make a call, my cellphone has a compass, extra copy of a map downloaded, and a homing device. The screen can also be used as a signal or a mirror to start a fire.

So, that was my non-exhaustive list of backpack packing essentials. Again, this is not a be-all/end-all list. But, in my experience, I won’t hike without them. I know some people might laugh and say it’s just a day hike, but too many day hikes have turned into cold nights alone in the wilderness when a hiker took a wrong turn or broke an ankle. You never know what the wilderness will throw at you. We must always remember that any time we’re in nature, we’re at a disadvantage. It’s best to try and even the odds as much as we can. I think you’d be surprised at how light these items turn out to be also. I can get them all in my backpack with room for extra clothes, hammock, etc.

What are some things you might add or subtract to your essential backpack gear?

Let me know. See you on the trail!

Pinnacle Pass / Rim of the Gap Trail – Jones Gap State Park

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Synopsis: A strenuous day hike involving lots of climbing, combining portions of Pinnacle Pass Trail + Rim of the Gap Trail.

Total Mileage: 11.5 miles.

Hike Rating: Very Strenuous

The Trailhead: Located at Jones Gap State Park in Marietta, SC of northern Greenville County. Google to determine the best drive for you. After entering the gate, park in the area on the right. Pay the entrance fee. Follow the trail across an iron bridge that crosses the Middle Saluda River, and be sure to register at the Ranger’s Station/Gift Shop on the far side of the gap. The trail head(s) are located directly over a bridge across from the station.

The hike: I’ve always wanted to hike the Pinnacle Pass and Rim of the Gap trails located in Jones Gap State Park within the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. Word was both these trails were “hiker’s hikes,” meaning they were physically demanding, yet scenic. After studying a couple of maps (It’s a great idea to always carry a map with you.), and doing research, my two hiking partners and I (Kayla and Drew) determined the best route to ensure we experienced the best of everything these two trails had to offer.

Here is the route we took in short: Jones Gap Trail (blue) > Rim of the Gap Trail (Yellow) > Pinnacle Pass Trail (White, though most maps show Orange… the blazes are White) > John Sloan Connector (Pink) > Rim of the Gap (Yellow) > Jones Gap Trail (Blue).

Start out and hike a few yards on the Jones Gap Trail. Bear left onto the Rim of the Gap Trail. Soon, you’ll come to a marker post, bear left here onto the Pinnacle Pass Trail (also named the #20 trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area).

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The Pinnacle Pass Trail begins to ascend almost immediately. The climb is tough. There are some boulders in the trail, meaning you’ll have to boulder a little. The trail is wet, too. To the left are good winter views of Cleveland Cliffs. At about 2.5 miles, there is a very good view of the Blue Ridge Escarpment from the near summit of Little Pinnacle Mountain (this is what you’re climbing). I’d read there was a clearing and a cliff to walk out on, but we did not see it, though we did find a good view.

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I can’t stress how unrelenting the climb is up Pinnacle Pass. Please do not attempt if you aren’t in good physical shape. It seemed like every time we thought we’d topped out, there was another ascent in front of us.

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You’ll see that by the time you make it to more level ground, you’ve climbed over three summits.

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At 4 miles, you’ll see the 6 & 20 Connector Trail coming in on the right of the trail. You can turn here and shave off a mile or so, as it also connects to the Rim of the Gap Trail (#6). We opted to take a break here and rest and eat lunch.

Forge onward for a mile on mostly level ground, on what appears to be an old road bed. There were lots of trees blown down, so you’ll have to climb over those, too. After a mile, the John Sloan Connector Trail blazed in pink appears on the right. Take this trail. It’s a mile long and connects with Rim of the Gap.

At the end of John Sloan, there is a kiosk at the crossroads with Rim of the Gap Trail. You can elect to turn right here and follow the trail back down the mountain and into Jones Gap. This would make your total hike 8.5 miles. We elected to turn left, hike all the way to the other end of the Rim of the Gap Trail and backtrack to the kiosk, then back down to the trail head. This added 3-4 extra miles.

You’ll want to turn left and experience the best of the Rim of the Gap Trail. After a short ascent, you’ll begin to descend. The environment changes from open forest and hardwood, to cliffs and lots of mountain shrubbery. The trail here is narrow, and there are many places where you’re literally a step away from falling down the cliff side (around 2,000′).Use caution. We heard there were chains for support, but we did not see any.

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At 1.4 miles, you’ll come to Weight Watcher’s Rock. This is a boulder stacked on two other boulders, making a narrow opening between them. You’ll have to climb through the needle’s eye, or take your chances on the narrow trail around the rock. I’d crawl through here if I were you. The trail around skirts a sheer cliff. You might have to remove your pack to get through, hence the name.

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Follow the trail, and notice several drips and small falls to your left. Further on, there are a couple of ladders to climb, and a couple of cables to hold onto at the base of waterfalls, however, the falls were dry on this day. (Also, my camera began malfunctioning several miles back, so I did not get pics).

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Once reaching the terminus of the Rim of the Gap Trail, turn around and retrace your steps back down to Jones Gap and the trail head. There are good views of the cliffs on the way back down. You’ll also have to cross several streams, but they were mostly trickles.

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Overall, I’d definitely recommend this trail if you love a good, quad-busting hike! I’d also take the exact route we took. Actually, if I had to do it all over again, I’d start at the Rim of the Gap trail head up near Caesar’s Head State Park, hike down to John Sloan, hike over to Pinnacle Pass, and down Pinnacle Pass to Jones Gap. This would require two cars, one at each entrance, but the hike from the John Sloan Connector on Rim of the Gap back down to our car was pretty uneventful, except for the beautiful Middle Saluda River.

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Enjoy the pics and let me know if you have any questions!

See you on the trail!

Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve: Eastatoe Gorge/The Narrows

Synopsis: A challenging hike down into Eastatoe Gorge to the “Narrows” – a spectacular box waterfall – in the Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve.

Length: 5 miles round trip.

Rating: Strenuous

Blaze color: Yellow

Location: From Spartanburg, SC, follow Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway 11 toward Pickens. At the 4-way intersection of 178, turn right toward Rosman, NC. At around 10 miles, Horsepasture Rd. will be on the left directly after the bridge. Look for the large red sign that says “Foothills Trail.” Drive up the gravel road until you come to a large graveled parking area on the left. You can park here, or drive on a short distance until you see the sign for Eastatoe Creek Preserve on the left. There is room here for 2-3 vehicles.

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Description: The Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve is a 300+ acre nature preserve at Eastatoe Gorge. The preserve features a box waterfall known as The Narrows, and is also home to several rare species of ferns and wildflowers. One type of fern is known to grow only in this preserve within the US.

The upper part of the gorge is typical of the Upstate, SC mountains: a mixed forest of hardwood and evergreen trees. As the trail descends, the gorge takes on a rain forest atmosphere and look, with plenty of humidity, moss, ferns, vines, and biting insects!

The trail to The Narrows of Eastatoe Creek Heritage Preserve begins innocently enough. This 5-mile round-tripper is a spur of the Foothills Trail. It starts at the red gate as an old road bed, winds its way down into Eastatoe Gorge, and ends at a viewing deck overlooking The Narrows.

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There are distinct “sections” to this trail that can be seen visually in the changing terrain and flora. The first section takes you on a relatively level trail that begins as an old road bed before turning into a more traditional hiking trail.The trail is surrounded by hardwoods and mountain laurel.

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We also encountered an abundance of wildflowers throughout this section.

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You’ll also notice that the trail clings to the side of Eastatoe Gorge on your left, with it’s dramatic vertical drop-offs. I would like to hike here in the Fall or Winter, as I imagine the views sans foliage would be amazing.

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After a distance of a mile or so, the trail begins to descend via a bridge and stairs to the left.

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This is a fairly sharps descent in some places with numerous switchbacks.

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This section gradually narrows until the trail is only a foot or so wide. There are a couple of footbridges across small streams.

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As you descend you’ll notice the ferns become more numerous, as well as vines and moisture. The spray off The Narrows and Eastatoe Creek turns the mountain environment into a rain forest.

After a while, the trail levels out and you’ll be tempted to think you’ve reached the floor of the gorge, but you haven’t. There is a small sign pointing you to The Narrows. (The trail here splits to the left also, but I’m told it is more for crossing the creek upstream.)

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Follow the trail down to a viewing deck overlooking The Narrows. The view here is dramatic. Eastatoe Creek has cut a narrow box waterfall through the granite cliff, and as the creek is funneled into what looks like a 4 or 5-ft. sluice, it creates a dramatic roar and water plume all around the gorge. I’m told the deck is fairly recent, not just for viewing, but for safety. Several people have been injured or died here. Without the deck, the trail literally ends with a sheer vertical cliff.

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I was feeling more exploratory, so I hiked back up to a spur trail of to the right. This trail led down to the edge of Eastatoe Creek. Be careful if you take this trail! It’s almost vertical, and blow-downs are present the whole way. When you reach the end, you are now at the very bottom of Eastatoe Gorge. There is a primitive campsite along the creek.

There are also numerous raging rapids here. The rocks around the creek are slick due to the perpetual dampness and darkness. I took off my shoes here and attempted to ford the creek to get a better view of The Narrows, but the creek wasn’t having it. Not only was it ice cold, but very swift, and the rocks were extremely slick. If I ever go back, I’ll take a rope and trekking poles or hiking staff for balance. Again, be careful here. One slip and fall puts you right in the middle of a cold, raging creek with plenty of rapids below you. Not a good combination.

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One interesting fact about Eastatoe Creek: The waters here are so pristine that native rainbow trout breed and spawn here.

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After taking a few pics and wading in the safer parts of the creek, I climbed back out to the main trail, which required both hands and feet to do so!

After admiring The Narrows a little more, we begin the ascent out of the gorge. It wasn’t as “killer” as I’ve heard some describe, but it wasn’t a cake walk by any means! I was definitely sore the next day, and that rarely happens.

To return, simply retrace your steps. Be sure to enjoy the nice, cool, damp breeze blowing up out of the gorge. You’re going to need it!

Be sure to put this on your “must hike” list.

You can see even more of this hike @ my Facebook page: The Carolina Trekker

See you on the trail!

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Dead River Falls Trail (And Other Great North Woods Adventures)

Dead River Falls Trailhead

My family and I took our annual vacation in late July. We’d long wanted to see the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Michigan, which is located along the shores of Lake Superior. The multi-colored cliffs were a thing to behold, as well as the multi-hued refractions in the water from which they rose. Here’s a pic:

Miners Castle, a cliff formation on Lake SuperiorI’ll include a few more pics in the gallery at the end of this post.

As expected, The Upper Peninsula is home to some nice hiking trails. We had the kids with us, so we knew we’d have to stay on more family-friendly trails. Family-friendly does not have to equal boring, as you’ll soon see.

I’m not going to include my usual detailed “finding the trailhead” information, but I will include links to help you find each trail’s location along with more information.

We lodged in picturesque Marquette, Michigan. The drive to Munising was about 45 minutes, but it was a very scenic drive, so we drove it daily.

Miners Falls

The first trail we hit was Miners Falls. It was a 1.5 mile round-trip trail located off the road to the more popular Miners Castle trail (Miners Castle is pictured above). A unique feature is the trail includes 77 steps down to a falls viewing area.

The trail was relatively level, and the breeze off Lake Superior made it a relaxing walk. The 50 ft. waterfall was a good payoff on this for-the-whole-family trail.

Dead River Falls Trail

This trail is located back in Marquette. It wasn’t mentioned on any of the literature we had, we ran across it on the internet searching for hiking trails closer to where we were staying.

The falls themselves are located off an unpaved county road. Here are directions to the trailhead (plus some good pictures).

Once you get to the trail’s beginning, you have to walk up a steep, winding gravel service road which is tricky because of the loose stone. Once you get to the top, there is a set of wooden stairs on the left that is clearly marked.

150At the base of the stairs is a short level section, then a sandy, rooty drop-off. Be careful here.

152At the bottom is an open area with the Dead River on the left. There is a nice big rock to sit on, as well as a cascade to admire.

156As you continue on the trail, you’ll come to a small creek which splits the trail, but there is a primitive log crossing. To your left you’ll notice the dark, jagged walls of a gorge that the locals call “The Barricade”. The falls are hidden behind this.

The BarricadeThe trail technically continues up a sandy embankment. Let me issue a word of caution here: If you have children, or if you are afraid of heights, or if you are not in good shape, don’t even attempt it. The reason is the hill is badly eroded and sandy, and footing is unstable. If you do scramble to the top of it, a sheer 20 ft. cliff awaits you on the left. This is where my wife and kids waited and sent me on to get pics. The trail hugged the cliff, and it seemed every step was a step away from sliding off the edge. It’s a mess.

So, I climbed down to the river’s edge – which seemed the easier route. I rock-hopped up to The Barricade. The Barricade is a small, narrow canyon of sharp, jagged rock.

You’ll have to have sure footing here and some basic rock climbing skills.

I made it to the top and the falls are on the other side. There are also a couple of cascades and sluices leading up to the main falls.

After admiring the nice and roaring 15 ft. double falls for a little while and snapping some pics, I carefully climbed back down.

Once down, I climbed out of the canyon, retrieved my family, and got them the heck back to solid ground!

This was a rewarding and strenuous hike to have been so short. The canyon section wasn’t very family-friendly, but for those who can, if you ever visit Marquette, Michigan, put Dead River Falls on your “must hike” list.

Sable Falls Trail

Sable Falls is a 75 ft. multi-level waterfall on Sable Creek that tumbles down into a canyon and empties into Lake Superior.

Sable Creek FallsThe first section of the trail leads down 169 steps onto a viewing platform. Remember, if you have to go down the steps, you have to eventually go back up. 169 steps isn’t a cakewalk. Follow a sand covered boardwalk after the viewing platform.

After exiting off the boardwalk, follow the sandy trail that winds through a deciduous and hardwood forest with Sable Creek to the left. We took our shoes off here and enjoyed the cool sand and the natural padding it provided.
I estimate the trail is around 1 – 1.5 miles in length. Sable Falls Trail ends on a densely pebbled section of shoreline along Lake Superior. There were just a few people here, and the area was generally secluded.

You can admire the high dunes on the left. There are warnings to stay off, as the dunes are extremely unstable and prone to landslides. The dunes are peppered with every size rock imaginable and climbing on them is an easy way to get hurt or killed. They, like waterfalls, are best admired from the base.

This section of beach is a great place to rest, picnic, and look for agate and other stones. After we played here for a while, we hiked back up to the parking lot — barefoot, of course.

We also “hiked” (It was more of a stroll) up to see Munising Falls and the interesting cliffs around them, as well as a couple more lesser trails.

In addition to the hiking, we were able to eat a local favorite pasty (pronounced “pass-tee”), tour the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, see a few of the Lake Superior shipwrecks, and swim in the beautiful (and chilly) waters of the Great Lake.

I really liked my first trip to the Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior, and the North Woods. It’s an area I wouldn’t mind returning to and hiking more of this area’s scenic and seemingly endless trails.

Riley Moore Falls

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Riley Moore Falls is a short but scenic waterfall (10-12 ft.) located on the Chauga River in Oconee County, South Carolina. At the base of the falls is a popular swimming hole for both humans and river otters. The trail to the falls is a relatively easy-moderate 2-2.5 mile round tripper, and features some nice Spring wildflowers. Finding the correct location of the falls can be challenging. I’ll explain below.

The Trailhead.

Riley Moore Falls is located near Westminster, South Carolina in Oconee County. We arrived via I-85 South. We took Exit 11 and followed Hwy 24 to Westminster. From there pick up US-76W. (There are signs pointing you to the falls as you travel through Westminster’s main street.) Follow US-76W for around 7 miles. You’ll be looking for Cobb Bridge Road on the right. (IMPORTANT NOTE: There are 2 Cobb Bridge roads on the right. The first one is next to a church. DO NOT take this road. Continue on to the second Cobb Bridge Road. I’d read online that this had caused confusion for some trying to find the falls.)

Turn onto Cobb Bridge Road and drive for about 1.5 miles and look for Spy Rock Road on the left. (There is a sign for Riley Moore Falls both at the entrance of Cobb Bridge Road and at Spy Rock Road.) This is an unpaved road. Turn here and drive for over a mile. You will come to Forest Service Road 748.

Here, you can park and walk down the road for around .5 of a mile to the trail’s beginning, or you can risk it and drive down to a parking area at the falls trailhead. I say “risk it” because FS-748 is an old bumpy, single-lane logging road, not suited for most vehicles. 02 For what it’s worth, we parked and walked. 05 The Hike.

The hike down to Riley Moore Falls is relatively easy, though there are a couple of places that might give some trouble, especially children. Parking and walking at the entrance of FS-748 will also add some calf-burning to your hike, especially on the way back, so be aware of that. Riley Moore Falls Trail begins to the left of small, dusty parking area alongside an old forest service road. The trailhead is obvious: 08The begins a gentle slope down and in and out of forest coves. Almost immediately we noticed several groups of Indian Pink wildflowers. They were all along the trail. Previously, we’d driven all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Rick Mountain Road) to see these beautiful and somewhat rare wildflowers, not knowing they grew just a couple of hours from our home. 10We also saw wild blueberries (of which we partook), milkweed, jack-in-the-pulpit, and trillium. Mountain laurel and rhododendron was  in bloom. Most of the trail is easy. There were a couple of rooty and rocky places that I caught my foot on, but it’s fairly level. Follow the trail as it gently ascends. 16aAt about .75 you’ll begin to hear the falls. The falls will shortly come into view. The last 50 ft. or so of the trail is somewhat dangerous, as it ascends steeply and features loose rock, dirt, and exposed roots. Use caution here. 18a The falls themselves are beautiful. Though listed at only 10-12 ft. high, they stretch across the entire length of the Chauga River. The base of the falls area has a nice, large sandy beach, perfect for sunning, swimming, and picnicking. There are also several primitive campsites in the area. 28We did this hike on Memorial Day, so we had plenty of company at the falls. There was around 25 more people there doing everything from fishing to swimming to playing frisbee to trying to climb the falls! They’re not high falls, but the combination of rushing water and slick rocks don’t exactly make it safe for climbing.

It was difficult getting a pic without another person in it, but I finally did. Our 4 and 11 year old played in the water and collected freshwater clams. I’m told that on less crowded days river otters love using this area for sunning and fishing. It’s also the site of an old grist mill, though there are no ruins left to easily see.Riley Moore Falls is also a Class 5 rapid, and when the water is high kayakers and rafters have been known to spill over the falls.

I’d always heard about Riley Moore Falls and I’m glad we finally made the hike to them. This is a good hike for most everyone and I highly recommend it. I’d love to come back in early Spring when all the wildflowers are in bloom — and it’s less crowded.

See you on the trail!

Little Bradley Falls

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Quiet, sometimes challenging hike to a beautiful waterfall tucked back into a mountain cove near Saluda, North Carolina.

I’d attempted to find Little Bradley Falls a couple of times in the past, but gave up. The first time we couldn’t determine exactly what was the trailhead. Once we thought we’d found it, we also found the trail to be poorly marked with several “phantom trails” that forked off the main trail. The second time, it’d snowed and though the trail was now marked by red (actually, maroon) blazes, when we came to Bradley Creek (I’ve also heard it called Cove Creek), which the trail crosses, it was partially frozen and raging, so we turned back. This go-round I did a little more research and several fine folks had made more accurate trail info available on their blogs (Thank You!). This time, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Trailhead. Take Exit 59 off I-26 in Saluda, NC onto Holbert Cove Road. If you’re coming from Spartanburg, SC, you’ll bear right onto Holbert Cove Road. Drive around 2.5 miles down a twisty road until you come to the creek (it has no bridge, but runs under the road via an aqueduct) and you’ll see what is plainly a gravel pull-off on the left shoulder of the road. You can park here, or across the road is another smaller pull-off on the right. The pull-off on the RIGHT side of the road (if coming from -26) is the trailhead for Little Bradley Falls. NOTE: There is no sign designating this as a trail. I know several hikers who’ve gotten confused here, including myself. There is nothing that says “Little Bradley Falls”, nor is there a trail kiosk to indicate this is an “official” trail. But, rest assured, this is the trailhead. 01 The Hike. Once you’ve located the trailhead, you’ll see two distinct trails. One on the right runs along the creek. This is NOT the trail to Little Bradley Falls. However, it is a nice walk along the creek after you’ve hiked to the falls. The trail on the LEFT is the trail to Little Bradley Falls. It’s rooty and somewhat indistinct to start off. Look for the RED blazes (they’re actually maroon) and follow them and you’ll be okay. 02I’ve seen Little Bradley Falls Trail estimated to be 2 miles round-trip. I estimated it at around 4 miles r/t. So, expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a moderate 4 mile hike. The trail begins a gentle ascent along the side of the mountain. It’s rooty in some spots, but overall a level walk. After you reach the obvious crest, you’ll see the creek a good ways down on your right. On the day I hiked this trail (04.30.2015), the rhododendron was in bloom along with several species of wildflowers along this part of the trail. 09Once reaching the crest, keep right on the trail. (There is a phantom trail that forks to the left, don’t follow it.) The trail ascends into a gully, crosses a small creek, then ascends back up. Here the trail levels out for a ways and you’ll ford another side creek and then walk alongside Bradley Creek and through lush ferns and other plants and flowers. There were several downed trees across the trail, but they were easy to cross. Suddenly the trail seems to end at Bradley Creek. You’ll have to cross here and pick up the trail on the far side of the creek. You have a these options: Take off your shoes and socks and wade across (best option), or you can carefully rock-hop in a couple of places. Be careful here, because the rocks are very slick and unstable. Either way you slice it, your feet will get wet! 29bAfter crossing the creek and putting your shoes and socks back on, pick up the trail. Holbert Cove Road will now be above you on the right above you. You can hear the cars passing. The trail then begins an ascent and away from the road. You’ll come to a wash-out area with several large boulders you’ll have to cross. After crossing, the trail ascends down and back up. There are ruins to an old cabin on your left. 36After one last easy ascent, the trail descends and you’ll hear Little Bradley Falls in the distance. Follow the blazes and the sound and within a short time the falls come into view. Around the falls are several large rocks on which to sit and enjoy the view. There is a pool at the base of the falls. Several primitive campsites are around the area. On the day I hiked the trail, Little Bradley Falls was magnificent. It is a multi-tiered falls. Recent rains ensured it was full and flowing. I’ve seen it estimated at 35-50 feet. I sat here and rested and had a snack. I didn’t see another person on the entire trail, which was nice. The solitude was welcomed.

After resting and enjoying the falls, I then hiked my way back out. Little Bradley Falls was definitely worth the hike. Overall, I’d rate this hike at moderate, because of the condition of the trail (rooty, rocky, downed trees), a boulder field, a couple of steep scrambles… and those creek crossings. Hopefully someone comes in and builds proper footbridges. I’d also be hesitant to take children on this hike because there are a couple of very high and steep drop-offs and the trail along these places is quite narrow. But, this was a nice hike, the trail packed a nice punch for such a short trail, and the serenity, the wildflowers, and the scenery made Little Bradley Falls worth every step.

See you on the trail!

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