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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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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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.