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!

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“I want to go hiking, where do I start?”

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“I want to go hiking, where do I start?”

I get asked this question – or a variation of it – A LOT. I guess for some of us, just knowing where we to go hiking and how to get started is something we take for granted. In my years of hiking, I’ve come to realize most people didn’t grow up on a rural, heavily wooded tract of land where you could hike every day like I did. They didn’t have relatives to teach them how to camp like I did. They didn’t have anyone to teach them about gear, or how to read a map. The great advantage to those getting into hiking today is the internet. It wasn’t that long ago that you had to do a little leg work to obtain a map or a field guide ( or guide book). Now, we can log onto the internet, search Google, and have most everything needed for  successfully getting started in hiking at our disposal.

Here are some things to consider before hiking for the first time or hiking any hike any time (I ask myself these same questions to this day):

  • Where do I want to go, what do I want to see?
  • How long is the trail?
  • How is the trail rated (easy/moderate/strenuous)?
  • Am I physically capable of hiking this trail?
  • What are the pros and cons of this trail?
  • Will I hike alone or with a partner(s)?
  • Do I have everything I need to successfully hike this trail?

 

Where do I want to go, what do I want to see?

Waterfall? Mountain views? Streams? Solitude? Sometimes I will want to experience those 360 mountain views. Sometimes I’ll hear about a waterfall I’d like to see. Sometimes I want to challenge myself by taking on a trail with a reputation for being tough. These are all things to consider before undertaking any hike.

How long is the trail? How is the trail rated (easy/moderate/strenuous)?

It’s nothing for me to knock out a 12 mile trail in a day. However, if you’re just getting started hiking, you probably will want to consider working your way up. I always recommend trails that are under 5 miles to a novice hiker, and that are rated moderate or less. 5 miles on a strenuous trail can seem like much more if you’re not used to it. Which leads us to:

Am I physically capable of hiking this trail?

Don’t bite off more than you can chew, especially in the beginning. There will be a time to challenge your physical limits, but not when you’re just starting out. Consider your physical conditioning before heading out on the trail. Also, consider the condition of those with you if you’re not going alone. Taking children or the elderly on a strenuous trail without considering what they’re capable of just isn’t smart.

What are the pros and cons of this trail?

This is one I always make sure I ask myself. Is the trail flat or steep? Does it have bear activity? Is it too long or strenuous for the time I have allotted? Is it well-marked? Is it high elevation, so the weather might change suddenly? Is it in an area that allows hunting? Known for snakes? Is it crowded? Is it remote? Good water supply, or will I have to carry extra? Will I have to share the trail with mountain bikers or horses? There have been times when I was certain I wanted to hike to that waterfall, only to discover the trail was rocky, narrow, and heavily used when I was looking for an easy, peaceful and secluded stroll.

 Will I hike alone or with a partner(s)?

You’ll have to think long and hard about the hike you’re about to undertake depending on if you’re going solo or with someone(s) else. If I’m taking my children, I’m going to keep it under 5 miles round trip, and I’m going to look for trails that are moderate at the most, and have cool  and generally safe things to keep them interested (streams, boulders, waterfalls, historical sites, etc.). If I’m going with an experienced partner, all bets are usually off. If it’s someone who’s just getting into hiking, I’ll take it easy on them. If you’re hiking solo, always let someone else know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. This is paramount!

Do I have everything I need to successfully hike this trail?

Do I have the right gear? I’ll be blogging about gear soon. It’s very important that you hike with the correct gear. I’m telling you from experience: hiking in the wrong shoes for the trail you’re on can hurt you. Getting caught in a sudden storm without a poncho can make a hike extremely uncomfortable. Not having enough water can kill you. Not having an accurate map (or knowing how to read it) can get you lost and eventually kill you. Having the correct gear on every hike is a non-negotiable.

So, these are a few questions to ask yourself before any hike. You can’t research a hike and what’s involved enough. In future posts, I’ll be breaking these questions down and looking more closely at them. If you have any questions, please use my CONNECT page and contact me.

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!

Shining Rock Mountain via Art Loeb/Ivestor Gap Trail

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Synopsis

Hike the peaks of 3 mountains that are over 6,000 ft. on your way to Shining Rock Mountain, whose summit is jeweled by giant boulders of white quartz.

Features

6,000 ft. summits, Appalachian balds, amazing views, Shining Rock.

Length

11+ miles round trip.

Rating

Strenuous; Very rugged and remote in places.

Description

I can’t say enough about this hike. It has it all. Rugged and remote wilderness, high mountain peaks, breath taking views, and so many other goodies. The rub is you’ve got to work for it.

I’m going to issue a few words of caution up front. Have a map of Pisgah National Forest/Shining Rock Wilderness and a compass. Know how to use them both. There are numerous side and phantom trails and except for trail wands, none of the trails in the Shining Rock Wilderness are marked. Don’t attempt this hike if you’re inexperienced and unfamiliar with the area. It’s a beautiful and rewarding trek, but physically demanding. Know your physical limitations. Be sure you carry enough water/filtration system, and wear supportive footwear.

This is my hiking route on this day: Black Balsam > Tennent Mountain > Ivestor Gap > Grassy Cove Top > Flower Knob > Shining Rock Gap > Old Butt Knob Tail > Shining Rock Mountain > Ivestor Gap. This hike follows the Art Loeb Trail and Ivestor Gap Trail in a loop.

To begin this hike, turn off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 420 onto FR 816. Drive to the end and park at the parking area at Ivestor Gap. There is also a pull-off on the right at the Art Loeb trailhead, parking permitting. If you park at the parking area you’ll have to hike back down the road to the trailhead, about .5 mile.

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The first part of the hike follows the Art Loeb Trail and takes you up to the summit of Black Balsam Knob (6,240’). From here you can enjoy 360 vistas that will take your breath. You can see the Blue Ridge Parkway, Graveyard Fields, and Sam Knob.

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Continue along the ridge and down around Black Balsam Knob. You’ll catch views of Big East Fork and Same Knob, as well as Ivestor Gap on your left. Wind down through thickets. Since I was hiking in the morning, the dew off the bushes literally soaked my clothing. Tennent Mountain and its hooked summit will come into view. After a while you’ll come to the first of 3 of what I call “chicken feet.” This is an area where the trail splits three ways off a main trail. Take the obvious trail that heads up Tennent Mountain, this is still the Art Loeb Trail. It bears to the right.

Once you’re at the summit of Tennent Mountain (6,040‘), enjoy even more amazing views. Looking Glass Rock is very visible from here. You’ll also catch a glimpse of Shining Rock Mountain gleaming in the distance.

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Follow the trail down Tennent Mountain to the next “chicken foot”. This is an open area that is an obvious “gap” between mountains. From here, you can take the trail to the right, which is the Art Loeb Trail, and has a wand. It leads you up over the hill. The left trail, which looks like an very old road (because it is), is Ivestor Gap Trail. Both trails will wind up at the entrance to the Shining Rock Wilderness. You’ll know you’re at the entrance because there is a wooden sign saying so. There are several fences here. This is a good place to rest and get your bearings. The mountain in front of you is Grassy Cove Top. There were signs that trails to the summit were closed due to erosion. You probably don’t want to climb here, anyway.

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This is another “chicken foot”. Pay close attention here, because this is where I became disoriented and added a couple of miles to my hike that I didn’t need to. The far left trail is still Ivestor Gap Trail. You could take it and wind up at Shining Rock Gap. It’s relatively flat. You can see Big East Fork area to the left of it. I took the trail right, which is the Art Loeb Trail. The trail winds around Grassy Cove Top, then climbs the far side of it. Ignore all other side trails here! There seems like hundreds of them. Wind a narrow path until you come to another (surprise!) “chicken foot”. This one is probably the most confusing gap on the hike.

The right trail heads down and toward Cold Mountain. The trail straight ahead skirts Grassy Cove Top. The trail left climbs up Grassy Cove Top toward Flower Gap. This is the trail I took because it seemed the most traveled. It climbs through sawing blackberry thickets on a narrow trail. The point of reference you’ll want to look for is a huge, old double fir tree. You’ll know you’re on the right track. Continue to follow the trail to the backside of Grassy Cove, barely skirting the summit. You’ll get a very good view of Shining Rock as you come down the trail. The trail winds down to Flower Gap. There are several campsites at the gap and great high meadow open views.

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Continue on up the trail toward Shining Rock Gap. The trail winds through evergreens and rhododendron. There are more campsites on each side of the trail. When you come to Shining Rock Gap there is another “chicken foot”. Pay attention to just TWO: Left is Ivestor Gap Trail and leads you back to the entrance of the Shining Rock Wilderness. You will want to take this trail on your journey back. The trail straight/right is Old Butt Knob Trail. This is a deeply worn, steep trail that winds up the mountain through thickets. It’s dark and damp, and you’ll soon start seeing shards of white quartz, from whence Shining Rock gets its name.

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As you climb the trail, a huge white boulder will be on the left. Before you, appearing suddenly, is Shining Rock. It’s a huge rock wall, about as big as a two-story house. Continue up the trail to the summit of the Shining Rock (6,000‘). Enjoy great views back toward Flower Gap and Grassy Cove Top. Be careful, as the rock has sheer cliffs on every side.

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I enjoyed a snack here with a nice couple from Greensboro, North Carolina. After they left, I enjoyed the solitude. Interestingly, the giant white rock was considered a sacred place to the Cherokee. It is a unique formation to say the least. I could sense the history there. After eating my snack and enjoying the peace and quiet and gentle mountain breeze.

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Climb down Shining Rock and hike back down to Shining Rock Gap. Take the far right trail (left as you were coming in) which is Ivestor Gap Trail. This trail is relatively flat and shaded. I had the entire trail to myself. You will come to a split in the trail. Continue left. (Right leads you to the Daniel Boone Campground.) Enjoy the quietness. The trail was very soggy and muddy in places from seepage. There are some great views of the mountains and valleys to the right. After a while, you’ll see Grassy Cove Top, and you’ll return to the Shining Rock Wilderness entrance.

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Continue on the Ivestor Gap Trail, which is on the right. It is an obvious old road and is wide and rocky. Another word of caution: Ivestor Gap Trail, though level, is extremely rocky and is punishing after a long hike. Follow this trail back to the parking area. I’d parked on the roadside at the Art Loeb trailhead, so I had to walk (limp) another half mile back to my Jeep.

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Overall, this was an amazing hike, and I don’t use the word “amazing” lightly. It has everything. Again, be careful of all the unmarked side trails. When in doubt, take the trail most followed. Enjoy the dramatic scenery from the mountain peaks and the remoteness of a true wilderness hiking experience.

See you on the trail!

Mt. Craig + Big Tom via Deep Gap Trail

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Synopsis

Alpine-type hike in the Black Mountains of North Carolina beginning at Mt. Mitchell to the 6,000’+ summits of Mt Craig and Big Tom.

Features

Alpine landscape, semi-technical trail, rock climbing, rare plants and fungi, breathtaking views.

Length

2.5 miles round-trip

Rating

Moderate – Strenuous

Description

The Deep Gap Trail is a classic Black Mountains hike that begins at the picnic area of Mt. Mitchell State Park and continues on to Deep Gap campground. Deep Gap boasts a stunning FOUR peaks that are above 6,000 ft., five if you include Mt. Mitchell. For our hike, we decided to include just the summits of Mt. Craig (6,663 ft.) – the second highest peak east of the Mississippi – and Big Tom (6,580 ft.), both of which are the first two peaks encountered on the trail.

Deep Gap Trail is accessed at the Mt. Mitchell picnic area. Look for the giveaway trail head:

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The first 1/4 mile or so of the trail is relatively level. Soon you’ll begin to start the first ascent down rock stairs that trail volunteers have kindly put in place.

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As usual, the weather atop the Black Mountains is unpredictable. Below Mt. Mitchell the Blue Ridge Parkway was 73 degrees and sunny, but on the Deep Gap Trail, the air was chilly and fog was rolling in. Thunder clapped in the distance. Mountains this high are perpetually moist. These are two things to consider when hiking at heights such as this. Always carry proper weather gear (light jacket/poncho/rain jacket), and wear shoes with good traction. The Black Mountains are rocky and rooty – a slip or ankle twist is always a step away.

After making our way through the moss-covered forest, we came upon a cluster of dead evergreen trees, victims of the woolly adelgid, a non-native pest that feeds almost exclusively on the sap of evergreens. With the fog, the scene was quite surreal.

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We wound our way in and out of dense, moss-covered alpine forest, catching a few views to the left. As the trail begins to ascend to Mt. Craig, there are several rocks and rock outcroppings that you’ll need to traverse. Most of them were ice slick with the moss and water. Be careful on these.

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The trail then becomes fairly level as you continue along the ridge line
before ascending again to the first amazing overlook. The sun had broken through and the valley below was wide and green. This is a great place to rest, picnic, catch a cool breeze, or just soak in the beauty around you.

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After resting here, continue up to the true summit of Mt. Craig, being careful to stay on the trail so as not to harm any of the rare alpine plant species.

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There is a plaque around the corner as you head toward Big Tom, which commemorates North Carolina Governor Locke Craig, who played an important role in the establishment of Mt. Mitchell State Park.

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From here continue on along the trail another 1/4 mile or so to the summit of Big Tom.

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There is not much of a view here, but there is another plaque letting you know you’ve reached the summit:

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As you can read on the plaque, Big Tom was a colorful character who found and helped retrieve the body of Elisha Mitchell, for whom Mt. Mitchell is named, after he fell to his death during a geological survey.

Here was the terminus for this hike. If you continue on the trail, you’ll summit Cattail Peak and Potato Hill, then ascend down into Deep Gap. To get back to the trail head, simply retrace your steps. If the weather is clear, you’ll find it hard to not stop and take in one more view of the valley below from the summit of Mt. Craig and if you’re lucky, Mt. Mitchell to the south.

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See you on the trail!

Notch Trail – Badlands National Park

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Synopsis

Hike through a section of Badlands National Park to an overlook of the White River Valley.

Features

Canyons, cliffs, ladder, dramatic views

Length

1.5 miles round-trip

Rating

Moderate – Strenuous

Description

The trail head to the Notch Trail is located in Badlands National Park 2 miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. There is a large “can’t miss it” parking area with restrooms on the right (east) side of the road. There are several more trails accessed here (Door Trail; Window Trail) in addition to the Notch Trail. The Notch Trail is the closest trail head as you enter from the visitor center side of the road.

One of the first things I noticed was the sheer number of people here. This is because several nice views of the canyon are located on short boardwalk trails which are wheelchair accessible and kid-friendly. Also, there are restrooms.

We arrived mid-day after tromping through other sections of Badlands NP. It was around 100 degrees and dry. After locating the trail head, we began our hike.

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There were literally no crowds on this end of the parking area. This could’ve been because of the heat, or because the Notch Trail, though relatively short in distance, has a reputation for packing a punch. The sign says it all.

I would say to make sure you carry plenty of water on hotter, drier days. Also consider there are rattlesnakes (unfortunately I didn’t see any), canyons, cliffs, narrow sections of trail, and a steep log ladder to climb.

After hiking around .50-.75 miles through a canyon, you’ll come to the most famous feature of the Notch Trail: the log ladder.

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The ladder is built into the side of the canyon and is steep and has around 50 rungs. I’m guessing it’s anywhere from 80-100 feet high. We met a few other hikers here tackling the ladder one by one. I couldn’t wait for my turn, as I love technical trails:

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Only the last 10 feet or so of the climb is what I’d consider steep, but when you’re at the top looking down, you get a different perspective:

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The ladder leads up to a cliff and the trail continues here to the left. The trail skirts a cliff and has a great view of the valley below. I found this short section to have the highest capacity for danger. It’s narrow and well over 100 feet above the canyon floor. The dirt is loose and slipping and falling is a very present possibility. As a matter of fact, I witnessed someone slip and begin sliding down toward the cliff’s edge, but I grabbed his shirt and pulled him back up.

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Falling hazards aside, there are some nice views of the canyon below.

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Continue to follow the trail as it hugs the cliff beside you. Again, exercise caution as there are no cables to hold onto. The trail veers right, and then dead stops at an overlook, or “the notch,” which provides great views of the White River Valley.

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After admiring the views and exploring, simply retrace your steps back down to the canyon floor and return to the parking lot.

I really enjoyed this hike! If you’re ever in South Dakota, and Badlands NP in particular, this is one trail you’ll have to hike. As I said earlier, it’s not a long trail, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in features and fun.

See you on the trail!

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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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