Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Linville Falls: From the Gorge Floor

Quiet Reflection Photo Copyright © 2007 G. Kiser

The Linville Falls area is just North of the Linville Gorge along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can find this attraction at milepost 316.5 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, just South of the Linn Cove Viaduct. A second trailhead can also be found off of Kistler Memorial Highway (Old NC 105) off of NC 183. To view the Linville Falls, your best bet would be the former where the visitor's center is.

This particular view comes from the most strenuous trail in the park, the Linville Gorge Trail. It is steep, full of rocks, ruts, and tree roots...however, for the best view of the Linville Falls, up close and personal, there is no better option. While I always recommend hiking attire and footwear, this is one of those occasions where a good pair of hiking boots will really help you along.

The trailhead starts at the visitor's center as the others. To the right of the office, you will find the trail that takes you to Upper Falls, Chimney View, and Erwin's View. To the left of the office you will find the trails that will take you to Dugger's Creek Falls, the Plunge Basin Overlook, and down to the Gorge itself. Choosing the trailhead to the left is what you want to do for this Trek.

Quickly after entering the wood line the trail will fork, take the right fork marked Linville Gorge. This trail is 0.6 mile and will probably take about 15 minutes at a good and steady pace. Not too long after starting this trail you will likely come across a very large tree that has fallen and is blocking the path. It has been there for at least the past year and is showing no signs of being removed. You can crawl over it to continue on the trail. You will reach another fork in the trail after 0.2 mile. Continue to follow the sign directions for the Linville Gorge. At this point the trail increases in difficulty as you start your descent. At one point there are 23 wooden stairs to aid in the hike and to protect the ground from sliding boots and shoes.

When you are finished with the stairs the trail does something rather funny. There is another fork, but there are no signs and there is supposed to be only one trail that proceeds through. The left fork is actually drainage from the mountains, and while it looks like a is not and will end you up on a very skinny ledge on the side of a steep slope....don't ask. What you want to do is take the right fork which is a much better trail that actually leads to the bottom of the gorge. It looks like the trail terminates at the river, but if you look closely, you will see it continues along the bank to the right. At this point, you will begin to hear the mighty Linville Falls as you get closer. You will make a shallow right turn along the rock wall and there you are...face to face with the Linville Falls.

Well, not quite fact to face with the falls.  There is a row of cascades just downstream of the falls that makes for a great panoramic shot.  You can also make out some of the terrain that you will need to traverse to get to the best position for a picture of Linville Falls.  There is also a rock to the rear that you can climb on to get another viewpoint if you want to include these cascades.

You can also get close enough to the falls to actually touch it with just a small bit of wading. Keep in mind that there is no swimming in Parkway Waters. Of course, expect to see lots of people of all ages here in the warmer months as it is a very popular summer destination. If you are like me, and want to enjoy this waterfall in the quiet, you might want to go in the winter months, or early in the morning as the park fills up fast in good weather.

For those of you who are photographers, this particular waterfall, and specifically from this vantage point, allows you to break one of the steadfast rules of waterfall photography. Due to the wide open canopy, the very fast water flow, and the fact that the sun rises in a perfect position to illuminate the falls very evenly, you can actually photograph this waterfall under a clear sky. There are very few waterfalls where this can be done successfully, so take advantage of this.

One additional note about the return hike. If you will recall, I mentioned a possible wrong turn you might take earlier. Well, it is pretty easy to avoid on the hike down, but on the hike back to the visitor's center, the chances of you missing a turn are pretty good. This is how I found out the destination of this impromptu trail. As you are hiking back, keep an eye out to your left. The trail is no better marked or worn than the drainage path, but you will see those 23 steps to your left. After you make this turn, the rest of the trail is easy to follow. There are no blazes, or other markers to keep you on the trail so be mindful of where you are headed.

This is the last trail at Linville Falls that I had left to hike. I now feel pretty qualified to make some suggestions for visitors. If you are there for just a short amount of time and are not that interested in a hike, you should go and see Dugger's Creek Falls. The trail is short and easy. The waterfall itself is the prettiest in the whole park, in my humble opinion. If you just have to see the Linville Falls, but are not in the best of shape, you should Trek up to Erwin's View. The hike is long, but easy with several stops along the way where you can rest while looking at the falls. The ultimate view, and the ultimate hike are the one in this entry...The Linville Gorge trail will take you right to the base of the most famous waterfall in North Carolina. You might be a bit tired after the hike, but it is well worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Setrock Creek Falls, Pisgah National Forest

Setrock Creek Falls Photo Copyright © 2007 G. Kiser

Setrock Creek Falls is not what I would consider a must see waterfall, however, if you are in the area it is worth a look. For those of you visiting the Roaring Fork Falls, this is a great secondary destination as it is just a few miles down the road. All this is not to say it is not a very pretty waterfall, just not spectacular. The waterfall itself is primarily a waterslide with a small cascade at the bottom. It is about 50 feet high, so its not that large of a waterfall either.

The directions to this waterfall are a bit involved, but it is not too difficult to get to. As with the Roaring Fork Falls, you will need to exit off of the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 344 in Little Switzerland. You will turn North on NC 80 toward the Mount Mitchell Golf Course. Turn left on County Rd 1205 (South Toe River Rd), which will become Forest Road 472. You will follow this road for approximately 0.8 mile where it turns into gravel. Four wheel drive is not needed unless there has been a lot of rain recently which I am sure would wreak havoc with the road bed. At 1.5 miles, you will see picnic tables on the right of the road, and in an additional half mile, you will come to an intersection. You will turn right, which is almost a "U"turn pointing you in the direction you came from. After another half mile or so, you will come to the Black Mountain campground. There is parking for hikers on the left by the information board.

Once you have parked, the directions become kind of involved, so I will try to simplify what I had. You will cross the bridge into the campground and continue until you see a sign for the Briar Bottom Bike Trail. You will follow this trail along the bank of the South Toe River for approximately 0.2 mile. I caution you not to pay attention to the blazes, as they will change color without warning. After you cross a fairly long wooden bridge, you will come to a "T" intersection. You will turn right and continue on that trail for a little over 200 yards and you will be at Setrock Creek Falls.

I am not sure how popular this waterfall is with the campers, but none were at the falls when I visited. It is a rather remote waterfall and is a nice place to collect your thoughts. There are lots of ways one can photograph this waterfall, but I chose to concentrate on the cascade at the bottom. I was surprised at how little water there was flowing considering how much rain we have had lately. I imagine that in a drought (even a minor one), this waterfall would be nearly non-existent.

One positive to this waterfall is that the trees provide a nice closed canopy over the falls. That makes for much easier photography. However, toward the top of the waterslide, you will need to watch for highlights as any sun will hit the top sections.

Roaring Fork Falls: Pisgah National Forest


For those of you searching out waterfalls in and around the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roaring Fork Falls should be on your short list of waterfalls to visit. It is a 45 foot high cascading waterfall that snakes its way through the moss covered rocks to a small pool at the bottom. It is easy to get to, and is a nice way to stretch your legs after being on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

You can find the Roaring Fork Falls in the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian District. The easiest route to take is to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 344 where the Parkway intersects with NC 80 in Little Switzerland. After exiting the Parkway, you will turn to the North on NC 80 and dive about 2.3 miles. You will turn to the left on County Road 1205, which is also named South Toe River Road. You will again turn left at the first road you come to, which is a matter of feet. This road has a sign indicating that the falls, as well as the Busick Work Center are on this road. The road continues for about 0.2 mile where it dead ends at the work center.

There will be a gravel turn out on the left where you can park your vehicle.  From this point your travel will be by foot. On the other side of the road you will see a two track road with a gate closing it off. This is just to keep vehicles out while foot traffic is still allowed. There is a sign stating that the falls are 0.5 mile down the trail. This is an easy path to walk, and is fairly level. You will come to the end of the path and will find a small wooden bridge leading into the woods. This is the route you will want to take to view the falls. The portion of the hike in the woods is short, and very easy to navigate.

It is not uncommon for this waterfall to have lots of visitors in the warmer months due to the ease of the hike. If you are wanting some quite time, be sure to go when its cooler, or maybe just a very cloudy day. There is enough of a pool at the bottom to invite swimming. It is not deep, but would be great for cooling off. For those wanting to photograph the falls, be sure and pick a cloudy day. There is a lot of thick vegetation over the falls, but any sunshine will peek through creating horrible hot spots along the rocks and cascades.

The rocks along this waterfall are a bit deceiving. They look nice and level, inviting you to try to climb alongside for a better view. While I am sure this is possible, be very...very careful. I found the rocks to be particularly slippery, and I chose the safer avenue along the bottom of the falls. There is plenty to be seen from the lower position, and the ground has much more traction.

Also of note, along the path leading to the waterfall, you will see two old structures. At one time, they had "Danger" and "Explosives" warning signs on them. Years ago, the forest service used these buildings to store the explosives used to build the roads through the mountains. That has since been contracted out to private companies.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lower and Middle Falls, Stone Mt.

Stone Mountain State Park is located in Roaring Gap, NC and is home to four waterfalls. This park is not too difficult to find thanks to signs from the major roads. Detailed directions can be found at their web site. For those coming from Hwy 421, you would want to exit onto I-77 North to Elkin. After you pass Elkin, you need to branch off to the left onto US 21. The next turn will be a left onto Traphill Rd (SR 1002), followed by a right onto John P. Frank Parkway. The Parkway will take you into the park.

Once inside of the park you can choose two different routes to get to these two falls.  The first one is from the first trailhead that you come to.  This is the shortest route, but you will have to contend with over 300 steps at the Stone Mountain Falls.  I would recommend continuing on the road until you get to the main trailhead.  Here you will go past the trail map board and continue on the trail for a short distance.  You will come to a fork where you will go right.  This will take you toward the Stone Mountain Loop Trail as well as Wolf Rock.  You will pass the Hutchinson Homestead and the namesake for the park...a huge granite bald outcropping.  Your next fork will be to the left away from Wolf Rock Trail.  You will continue here passing the Cedar Rock Trail and eventually coming to the branch that will take you to the Lower and Middle Falls.

Take the right and follow the trail until you come to your first branch to the right which is to the Middle Falls.  This is not an impressive waterfall by any stretch.  It is barely worth photographing.  There is a nice little cascade just before the waterslide that is the Middle Falls.  It is interesting, but only mildly.  The Middle Falls is aptly named and suffers from the middle sibling syndrome.  It might be fine for spashing in the water, or sunning yourself on the rocks, but that is really just about all this waterfall is good for.

For the effort of this hike, you should really keep on going to the next waterfall stop at the end of the trail.  This is the waterfall that has captured my attention on a number of visits, and greatly benefits from recent rains.  If you find that the creek crossings along the trail are easy to navigate without getting your feet wet, you probably won't see much in the way of excitement at the falls.  However, if you find yourself more than ankle deep, you might just luck up and see some pretty interesting cascades.

A Pondering Moment

At the end of the trail you will find the Lower Falls which have enough interest to justify some camera work. This is a bit further down the trail, but not too far. I am not exactly sure of the exact distance, but from the split you are looking about 10 minutes worth of hiking.  It is a mile total off of the Stone Mountain Loop Trail.  Once there, you will find yet another waterslide that leads down to a swimming/fishing hole. Again, there is nothing particularly beautiful about this waterfall. However, just upstream you will find some small cascades. For us waterfall hunters, this is well worth the trip.  Actually, this is the saving grace for all three of the waterfalls along the Stone Mountain Loop Trail.

The main series of cascades are tucked under some pretty heavy tree cover, so sunny day photography is possible here. This cascade is very easy to get to from the trail and you can actually walk right out into the water. There are several locations from which photography is possible, but keep in mind that many of the compositions will require some serious cloud cover as large portions of the area are not in the shade.

The First Falling

As you see, these cascades do coninue for a good bit downstream.  There are three main cascading sections which are represented here in photographs.  These do require a cloud cover, and plenty of recent rainfall to keep the water levels up.  A word of caution to the photogapher though, the best compositions are found by standing in the water on the rocks and moss.  This is not the most stable environment, and your feet will probably get wet.  The rocks are slick, and the footing is not the best, but if you are careful and know what you are doing, you can get some beautiful images from these sections prior to the actual waterfall.

Dramatic Finish

While the cascades to the Lower Falls make this hike worth the trip, they are by no means the most beautiful waterfall in the park. If you only have time to visit one waterfall on a trip, I would say without a doubt, Widow's Creek Falls is the best waterfall in the park, and ironically the easiest to get to.

If you happened to get here by way of the Stone Mountain Falls side of the loop, you might be thinking that these waterfalls were not that difficult to get to. OK, they really aren't, but remember those 348 steps from earlier? Guess where your car is?  This is why I strongly recommend taking the long way which is only about two miles one way in order to avoid the stairs.  Your knees will thank me.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Crabtree Falls: Crabtree Meadows

The Blue Ridge Parkway is known for its amazing scenic vistas, but there are also several waterfalls along the 469 mile roadway. One of the larger ones is located in the Crabtree Meadows. Crabtree Falls is about 60 feet tall, and is a very large cascading water fall.  It is tucked deep within the woods which removes most evidence of it being in the middle of a tourist mecca.

In Constant Turmoil

You can reach the trailhead to this waterfall by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 339 in North Carolina (there is also a Crabtree Falls in Virginia). You will find a camp ground as well as an amphitheater. While you can pick up the trailhead from inside the camp ground, it is probably a good idea to pick up a map at the gift shop at the main parking lot. This map provides a good bit of detail about the falls, and some safety suggestions.

Once on the trail, plan to hike for a bit over a mile if coming from the main parking area. For the most part this is an easy to moderate hike. Only when you get close to the falls does the hike become a bit strenuous. This is one where you will be doing a lot of steep climbs and descents on loose boulders. There are some rocky stair cases built right at the falls to aid in moving up and down.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this hike is that from about half way through the hike, you will join up with one of the waterfalls tributaries. The sound of the rushing water will really get you excited about seeing this waterfall. For the return trip, you can turn around and go back the same way you came, or you can continue on the loop trail for another 1.6 miles.

I was really not sure what to expect as I had only seen a couple of pictures of this waterfall previously. In fact, the first visit was completely unplanned, and was based more on the fact that I was nearby and the cloud cover seemed to be cooperating with me. I had no idea that this was going to be as impressive as it was. Trust me...this is one of the waterfalls you must see if you find yourself on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I've now been twice, and will probably go back many more times.

An interesting bit of information about this area is that in the early 1800's there was a corn mill here that ran on the strong current of the mountain streams. The water wheel was not vertical as most are, this was a tub mill which turned horizontally.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Blue Ridge Parkway: Rough Ridge Overlook

Waterfall Walkway Photo Copyright © 2007 G. Kiser

As far as I know this waterfall is unnamed, if anyone can help me find a name for this waterfall, I will be very grateful.

Located at milepost 302.8 along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is the Rough Ridge Overlook. If you are not looking for this spot, you are likely to drive right past without noticing what this small section of the Parkway has to offer. As you are driving South towards the Linn Cove Viaduct the overlook will be on your right. To the left is a pretty standard view of the Appalachian Mountains. However, to the right is something (actually several things) worth taking a look at.

Directly in front of the parking area you will see a rocky slope that is home to a very small water slide that drains below the parking area. At the top of the slope, you will see a bridge that is part of the hiking trails. It may be about 60 feet from the parking area to the bridge. As you can see from the picture above, there is very little water flow here. This is about as much water as I have seen come down the rocks, and this is just after a recent snow and several rains. The good news is, I've never seen it dry.

While this is not a spectacular waterfall, it is one that is easily accessible, even if you don't want to leave your car. However, since you are here, you might as well get out and stretch your legs for a few minutes. There is a section of stream that provides a bit of white water, although there is nothing particularly photogenic about it. The trail continues up to the top of Rough Ridge where you will get the opportunity to learn about some of the delicate ecosystems of the area and view the Linn Cove Viaduct from a boardwalk built along the side of the mountain. The hike is moderate to easy, but well worth the time.

A quick side note for this waterfall. As is the case with so many of these natural beauties that I have visited, there is evidence of vandals here. There are several places that have been spray painted. Again, the goal here is to enjoy the waterfalls, and leave no trace that we were ever there.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Linville Falls: From Erwin's View

The Linville Falls area is just North of the Linville Gorge along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can find this attraction at milepost 316.5 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, just South of the Linn Cove Viaduct. A second trailhead can be found off of Kistler Memorial Highway (Old NC 105) off of NC 183. To view the Linville Falls, your best bet would be the former where the visitor's center is.

From the visitor's center, you will cross a bridge over a small stream to begin your hike. The trail has been newly reconditioned so it is a very pleasurable hike without having to walk through some rather dense woods. The hike is short, less than a mile, and except for some moderately steep sections, it is an easy one. There are several places along this Hemlock lined path that you will want to take a quick break. The first one that you come to will be a view of the Upper Falls.
 Erupting from the Forest

Froth and Foliage

Seasonal Shift

From this vantage point, you can get up close and personal with a set of twin falls that feed directly into the massive Linville Falls. There is a fenced in observation area that is just above water level. There are signs that warn you to stay behind the fence...this is for your safety as the currents are very strong leading to the largest waterfall in this part of the country.

Of particular interest at this location is the rock formations that surround the water. The striations along the rock walls are very interesting and look to be caused by years of the water cutting deeper into the surface. I can't recall the exact numbers, but I have read, somewhere, that the Linville Falls has actually moved a substantial amount over the years. It has reached much harder bedrock now, and its eroding nature has been stalled for a while.
Rocky Layers

As the water cuts through the rock, it eventually winds its way to the crevice that leads to the top of the main falls. The water flows violently at this stage, and I'm sure would be a painful ride if one were to get caught in the flow.

Water Carvings
 From the Upper Falls, you will head back to the trail and continue up to Erwin's View. You will pass a couple of overlooks on the side of the gorge called Chimney View. This vantage point will allow you a view of the Linville Falls which is now on the other side of the gorge from your location. Looking down, you can really get an idea of how far up you actually are.

Spilling From the Rocks Photo Copyright © 2007 G. Kiser

The last point on this trail is just a bit further up, and it is called Erwin's View. From here you have a nearly uninterrupted view of the gorge as well as the main falls. To the rear you can see the river snaking its way through the gorge. It really is an awe inspiring view.

 Impressive from a Distance

This trail is by far better than the Plunge Basin Trail on the other side of the falls. To really get up close and personal with the Linville Falls you need to take the trail all the way to the base of the falls.