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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The Pinnacle: Crowders Mountain State Park

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I confess I’ve never thought about hiking Crowders Mountain until recently. I’ve passed by it on I-85 for years, and though Crowders Mountain State Park near King’s Mountain, NC is only about 30 miles from my home, it never occurred to me to go check it out. Thankfully, several friends posted pics of their hikes there, so I decided to check it out.

I was glad I did!

I heard the various trails around the park made it a very popular destination, so I got there early. I started my hike at around 9:30 a.m. I decided to take the Pinnacle Trail, which is roughly 2 miles one way. It carries you to the summit of The Pinnacle, a peak in Crowders Mountain State Park (1,705 ft.), which is an ancient monadnock, and the highest peak in Gaston County, NC. In addition to hiking, it is also a popular area for rock climbing/bouldering.

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The Pinnacle is not Crowders Mountain. Crowders Mountain is adjacent, and is accessed by the Crowders Trail.

The first part of the trail is well-graded and easy. After a short while, you begin to climb, but you haven’t seen anything yet.

I laughed to myself when I saw the trail rated as “strenuous” and the mountain less than 2,000 ft. However, the mountain got the last laugh.

At around the halfway point, you begin to encounter numerous boulder fields, and the trail begins to ascend a little more sharply. There are some good views to the left. I spent some time hopping around the giant boulders and exploring. It’ll become evident that you’re walking a craggy ridge line.

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After the boulder field, the trail takes a u-turn. Here’s where the fun began. The next half mile or so is brutal.

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The trail ascends steeply, and is rocky and slick from all the fine sand. The craggy ridge line/summit of The Pinnacle becomes apparent above the right side of the trail. To the left there are some openings and more nice views.

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At around the last quarter mile or so, I noticed several of hikers tuckered out and resting beside the trail. I’ve hiked a lot of high mountains and steep trails, but something about this section knocks the wind out of you. My quads felt like they were going to blow up!

I, too, took a short rest, and carried on. As you get closer to the peak, the left side of the trail opens up for some great views of the valley below. The rocks around you are jagged and weathered.

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Take a right and climb up through the boulders. You’ll pass a familiar overlook on the left where everyone and his mother has taken a selfie. It was kind of crowded here, with maybe 15 other hikers waiting for their turn to get a pic.

But this is not the summit. Continue on up through the rocks.

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You’ll know you’ve reached the true summit when you come to a concrete pad with a pole sticking out of it. There are 360 views here of NC and SC. I climbed down a rock edge and found a nice, private overlook to rest and have a snack. I watched three turkey buzzards circle right in front of me. I sat here for nearly an hour and never saw another person.

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After resting, I explored a bit more, and had a good conversation with an older hiker, a local. He told me about a “secret” trail down, and about the tragic deaths that had occurred at Crowders Mountain/The Pinnacle recently. With all the jagged rocks and drop-offs, this is not a place to take chances.

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We talked hiking a bit more, and went our way. On the way down, several people asked me “Am I close yet?” I’m telling you, that last .25 mile is tough!

On the way down, I turned off at the Turnback Trail. I took this trail down. I didn’t pass anyone on it. I enjoyed complete solitude. When the trail levels out, there is a small stream that follows the trail. I then turned off on the Fern Trail, and took this back to the parking lot. By now the parking area was crowded to capacity. If you want to hike in solitude, get here early!

I made my hike a loop by combining the Pinnacle Trail, Turnback Trail, and Fern Trail. Total hike was about 5 miles.

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See you on the trail!

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