Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway Issues Travel Advisory

Blue Ridge Parkway officials are asking motorist to avoid traveling the Parkway over the next several days, especially those sections in Virginia. As Hurricane Sandy passes through the area, Parkway officials are concerned that a large numbers of trees may come down as well as significant amounts of snowfall at the higher elevations. With 20-30 MPH sustained winds and gust upwards of 60 MPH forecasted, driving on the Parkway will be hazardous and Parkway officials fear those who may choose to do so risk becoming stranded on the Parkway or injured. All gated sections along the Parkway in Virginia have now been closed and officials expect the gated sections to remain closed at least through Wednesday. Motorist, again, are asked to not travel on un-gated sections of the Parkway.

Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis stated, "The safety of Park visitors and our employees is first and foremost when it comes to this severe storm." Francis went on to say that as soon as the storm passes Parkway staff will assess any damage which may have occurred and we will reopen the motor road as soon as safely possible.

Hiking in the Smokies

34 Inches of Snow Atop Mt. LeConte!

Allyson Virden, caretaker for the Mt. LeConte Lodge, is reporting on her blog (with some great photos) this morning that the mountain has received a total of 34 inches of snow - with 3 more expected today. She also reports that there are drifts up to the roof on the dining hall! At Newfound Gap, the National Weather Service is reporting a total of 36 inches of snow as of this morning.

In her post Allyson states that ten more guests showed up after dark yesterday evening. The hikers reported extremely difficult conditions, including a lot of downed trees on the trail which they had to crawl under. It took some of them 10 hours to hike up the Rainbow Falls Trail.

Allyson also warns:

If you have a reservation for this evening, we are asking you to please not hike up. Please call our reservations office and they will take care of you. (865) 429-5704

Currently there are many closings throughout the national park system as a result of Hurricane Sandy. NPS Digest is reporting that as of Tuesday night, "69 parks are closed or partially closed and are working to account for all employees. There are no reports of significant injuries or fatalities."

Here are a few closings for parks in the Smokies region:

• Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Cataloochee Entrance Road, Foothill Parkway East, Twin Creeks Road above the science center, and Old NC-284 between Big Creek and Cataloochee in the Great Smoky Mountains are closed due to snow and ice.

• Snow, rain, and extreme wind have forced the closure of most sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Until the weather improves and cleanup is completed, travel on the Parkway is not advised.

• Shenandoah National Park remains closed. Yesterday afternoon, rangers reported approximately 12 inches of snow at milepost 35 on Skyline Drive.

• In North Carolina, Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain and Mount Jefferson are closed due to snow; hazardous road conditions exist near most mountain parks.

As the day progresses I will try to update this post with other closings and alerts for parks and national forests in the Smokies region.

For the latest updates on closings in the Great Smoky Mountains, please click here.

For updates on current weather and forecasts for the region, please visit the weather page on

Hiking in the Smokies

The Brins Mesa Trail

During our 3-day visit to the Flagstaff area we made the short drive down to Sedona. Based on a little bit of research I did beforehand, we settled on hiking the Brins Mesa Trail. This spectacular trail passes through magnificent red rock country as it makes its way to the top of Brins Mesa. With two trailheads, hikers have the option of starting from either end of the trail, or doing a one-way hike if you have multiple cars. We chose to begin our hike from the Jim Thompson Trailhead, which is accessed from Jordan Road in the heart of the town of Sedona.

The first mile travels over some fairly easy terrain that includes sweeping views of Mormon Canyon, The Mitten and several other red rock formations. Over the next four-tenths of a mile, however, the trail climbs roughly 320 feet as it marches to the top of Brins Mesa. Although we started the hike relatively early in the morning, it was already scorching hot by the time we reached the top. I definitely recommend starting early and bringing lots of water as you will be exposed to the sun for most of the route.

In addition to beautiful red rock country, the trail features a wide variety of desert plant life, including agave, banana yucca, prickly pear, juniper and pinyon pines.

Expecting a desert landscape at the top of the mesa, we were both surprised to see more of a prairie environment. Either way, the views were quite stunning.

Once you arrive at the top of the mesa look for an unmarked side trail that leads to the right. After an easy walk of about one-third of a mile on flat terrain you’ll reach a spectacular overlook of Mormon Canyon. Beyond the overlook the side trail continues for another half-mile or so to a view overlooking Angel Falls.

Back on the main trail, look almost straight ahead and you should notice what looks like a small cream colored butte off in the distance. After walking a short distance the trail will pass-by this rock out-cropping. As you approach it, look for a side trail that leads towards the eastern end of the rock. Don’t pass this up! A short easy climb to the top of the butte provides the best views along the entire trail. You’ll have panoramic, 360-degree views of the entire canyon from this vantage point.

From this out-cropping the trail begins to descend a little more rapidly. Roughly 2.1 miles from the trailhead you’ll reach the Soldier Pass Trail junction. This trail can be used in conjunction with the Jordan Trail to create a loop back to the trailhead. Your total mileage for this loop hike would be roughly 5.2 miles.

From the junction the trail continues its descent past the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness boundary, roughly 2.4 miles from the trailhead. As it continues the trail passes through a forested area of large pine trees, before ending at its northern terminus off FR 152.

Back in Sedona we paid a visit to the Oak Creek Brewing Company where we had a chance to try some fairly exotic beers, including a banana and clove beer, a combo Belgian Abby Ale/Oktoberfest, and a dessert beer made with vanilla and mandarin orange – one of the smoothest tasting beers I’ve ever had. Afterwards we had some great enchiladas from the Oaxaca Restaurant.

Trail: Brins Mesa Trail #119
Roundtrip Distance: 7.2 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 980 feet
Max Elevation: 5080 Feet
Red Tape: A fee is required to enter the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Great Sedona Hikes contains detailed information on 55 of Sedona's greatest hikes. It includes updated trail descriptions, detailed maps, specific directions to the trailheads, GPS waypoints, and several trails not found in any other hiking guides.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rocky Fork to become Tennessee’s 55th state park

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today joined members of the General Assembly, local elected officials and members of the community for a special ceremony announcing the future conveyance of more than 2,000 acres in the Rocky Fork area of Unicoi County, that will eventually become Tennessee’s 55th state park.

The property is part of the 10,000-acre tract acquired by The Conservation Fund and U.S. Forest Service in 2008, and will be conveyed to the state of Tennessee in the coming months.

“Today’s announcement at Rocky Fork comes on the heels of a multi-year effort led by a coalition of both public and private partners,” Haslam said. “I want to extend my congratulations to the citizens of Northeast Tennessee who rallied in support to preserve this beautiful property and to personally thank both Sen. Alexander and The Conservation Fund for their ongoing efforts, passion and commitment to conserve this remarkable 10,000-acre tract, a part of which will eventually be home to Tennessee’s newest state park.”

Located along the Appalachian Trail corridor and the Tennessee-North Carolina border near Asheville, Rocky Fork is named after the cool waters that run down its center. The property is adjacent to more than 22,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service-designated wilderness, including Sampson and Bald mountains. Before Rocky Fork’s acquisition by The Conservation Fund and U.S. Forest Service, it was one of the largest unprotected tracts in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

The future development of Tennessee’s 55th state park has been made possible through the leadership of Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and through the very generous support of The Conservation Fund and U.S. Forest Service. Federal funding for the Rocky Fork land acquisition was made possible through the extraordinary efforts of Sen. Lamar Alexander and the Tennessee Congressional Delegation to secure support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and through significant private contributions totaling more than $4 million. Other key partners include TWRA, Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Unicoi and Greene counties, and the Upper East Tennessee Region.

The entire Rocky Fork wilderness area provides a wide range of world-class recreational opportunities, including hiking the popular Appalachian Trail, fishing more than 16 miles of blue-ribbon trout streams, and hunting bear, turkey, deer and grouse. The area is also home to both state and federally endangered species, including the Peregrine falcon.

The 2,000 acres to be conveyed by The Conservation fund offer a low-impact, financially feasible proposal for a new state park, which would also serve as a catalyst for economic activity in Unicoi County and surrounding areas. While discussions are under way regarding the proposed park’s development, budgeting and appropriations will first need to be reviewed and approved by Gov. Haslam and Tennessee’s General Assembly. However, preliminary plans for this “park in progress” include an access road, ranger station, primitive campground, picnic areas and trails, in addition to interpretive efforts to share the historic Revolutionary War-era battles site.

Hiking in the Smokies

Hurricane Sandy Drops a lot of Snow on the Smokies

As of Tuesday morning, Hurricane Sandy has already had a significant impact on eastern national parks, and will continue to impact travelers for the foreseeable future.

Allyson Virden, from the Mt. LeConte Lodge, is reporting on her blog this morning that the mountain has already received 17 inches of snow, and was coming down hard as she posted her report (with some great photos). By the time the snow ends, she adds, this could be the most snow she has ever seen atop the mountain in the 10 years that she's worked at the lodge. The National Weather Service is reporting a total of 18 inches of snow at Newfound Gap this morning.

Allyson mentioned they had 15 guests who made it up the mountain yesterday. Most of them will be staying a second night, as it was tough slogging through the 8 inches of snow that were on the ground yesterday.

Allyson also states:

Once again, I can not stress enough, how important it is for everyone to use common sense about attempting to hike up here. Please make sure you have the appropriate attire. This weather is not forgiving. Make sure someone knows you are on the trail. Practice safe hiking.

Here are a few closings as of this morning:

• Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, Cataloochee Entrance Road and Old NC-284 between Big Creek and Cataloochee in the Great Smoky Mountains are closed due to snow and ice.

• Snow, rain, and extreme wind have forced the closure of most sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Until the weather improves and cleanup is completed, travel on the Parkway is not advised.

• Shenandoah National Park remains closed.

• In North Carolina, Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain and Mount Jefferson are closed due to snow; hazardous road conditions exist near most mountain parks.

As the day progresses I will try to update this post with other closings and alerts for parks and national forests in the Smokies region.

For the latest updates on closings in the Great Smoky Mountains, please click here.

For updates on current weather and forecasts for the region, please visit the weather page on

Hiking in the Smokies

Bear Encounters Reported in Panthertown Valley

The U.S. Forest Service is discouraging people from backcountry camping and from bringing food into the Panthertown Valley area of the Nantahala Ranger District, Nantahala National Forest, following several bear encounters. The area is northeast of Cashiers, N.C.

If visitors choose to camp in the Panthertown area, they should camp in areas that are used infrequently.

Three separate incidences of bear encounters occurred recently that involved damaged tents and stolen food. No injuries were reported. The incidents occurred in the vicinity of the Mac’s Gap, Green Valley and the Little Green Mountain area.

Hiking in the Smokies

Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation Raises More Than $7000 for Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation announced last week the results from its first annual Plates for the Parkway, held in several communities along the Parkway last month. Through this event, participating restaurants donated a portion of proceeds from a meal or meals that day to the Foundation. To date, participating restaurants have donated more than $7000 to the Foundation. All proceeds will help the Foundation continue its work to protect, preserve and enhance the Parkway.

Karen Hawks, owner of Hungry Farmer Restaurant in Cana, Virginia, initially wanted to participate in the event because she grew up near the Parkway. “The Parkway is wonderful, but it needs a lot of help. If we don’t take care of it, who is going to? We reap so many benefits from the Parkway, from the customers it brings to the enjoyment we get from it. Plates for the Parkway was a great way to introduce our restaurant to Parkway travelers while giving back to something we love.”

Restaurants from communities along the 469 miles of the Parkway were invited to participate on the Sept. 18th event. 38 restaurants joined the affair, with several holding events on alternate dates. Christy Bell, Development Director for the Foundation, says “We are so thankful to the restaurants who participated and for the customers who braved the bad weather on the 18th to attend. We encourage Parkway enthusiasts to visit these restaurants throughout the year to thank them for their support. Next year, we hope to involve at least 75 restaurants and raise $20,000 for the Parkway.”

In Virginia, participating restaurants included: Stella, Bella and Lucy's - Waynesboro; Devils Backbone Brewing Company - Roseland; Pomegranate Restaurant & Gathering Place - Troutville; Peaks of Otter - Bedford; Local Roots (event December 6), Martins Downtown and The Village Grill - Roanoke; Hungry Farmer Restaurant – Cana; and Bubba's BBQ & Deli - Virginia Beach.

In North Carolina, participating restaurants included: Freeborne's - Laurel Springs; Mountain Aire Seafood & Steaks - West Jefferson; Mast Farm Inn - Valle Crucis; Mellow Mushroom and Pepper's Restaurant - Boone; The Blowing Rock Grill, Mellow Mushroom, The Village Café and The Woodlands Barbecue - Blowing Rock; The Morning Glory Cafe - Black Mountain; The Local Joint - Fairview; Baja Café, Cafe Azalea, Chai Pani, Chef Mo's Restaurant and Bar, Copper River Grill, Corner Kitchen, Early Girl Eatery, Filo Pastries, Loretta's Café, The Junction, Piazza, Plant, Pomodoros Cafe East, Salsa's and Tomato Jam Cafe – Asheville; City Lights Cafe and Guadalupe Café – Sylva; and Tarheel Foodie -Raleigh, NC.

Plates for the Parkway is a part of the Foundation’s larger Parkway Plus program, which allows patrons of participating dining and lodging establishments in communities along the Parkway an opportunity to add $1 or more to their bill in support of the Parkway. Recruitment for next year’s Plates for the Parkway event will begin in January. For more information about how you can help, contact Christy Bell at 866-308-2773 x177 or visit and

Hiking in the Smokies

Monday, October 29, 2012

Impacts of Hurricane Sandy Already Being Felt in Smokies Region

Hurricane Sandy is already having a significant impact on eastern national parks. Snow accumulations of 2 to 3 feet are expected in the mountains of West Virginia, from 1 to 2 feet in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, and 12 to 18 inches in the mountains near the North Carolina/Tennessee border and in the mountains of western Maryland.

Shenandoah National Park is scheduled to completely shut down at noon today.

As of 7:00 am this morning, the Mt. LeConte Lodge has already recorded 6.5 inches of snow on the ground. On their blog, the lodge is reporting that snow was still coming down pretty hard at the time of their last posting.

Here are a few closings as of this morning:

• Newfound Gap Road (US-441) and Cataloochee Entrance Road in the Great Smoky Mountains are closed due to snow and ice.

• Blue Ridge Parkway from US-441 near Cherokee, NC to US-276 is closed due to snow and ice

• In preparation for Hurricane Sandy, Shenandoah National Park's north (mile 0-31.5) and south (mile 65-105) districts, including concessions facilities, campgrounds, picnic areas, and visitor center, were closed at dusk on Sunday. Skyline Drive gates into both districts have also been closed. The Central District (mile 31.5-65), including all concessions facilities (Skyland Resort, Big Meadows Lodge and Wayside, and Lewis Mountain Cabins), park facilities, and the Skyline Drive, will close today at noon. All visitors and park and concessions employees will be required to leave the mountain by noon. On Sunday, park staff swept trailhead parking lots and the backcountry to warn hikers and backpackers about the approaching storm and park closures. The entire park will remain closed until Hurricane Sandy has moved away from the northern Virginia area.

• A High Wind Warning is in effect today through 8:00 am EDT Tuesday, for the Northeast Georgia Mountains. Areas in this advisory include all recreation areas within the counties of Union, Towns, Lumpkin, and White, especially for elevations above 1500 feet. Expect winds of 15-25 MPH with gusts up to 50 MPH. Exercise caution as winds could down trees and power lines and make driving difficult.

For the latest updates on closings in the Great Smoky Mountains, please click here.

For updates on current weather and forecasts for the region, please visit the weather page on

Hiking in the Smokies

The American Camper Report

The Outdoor Foundation recently published the American Camper Report, a detailed analysis on camping trends throughout the United States. The report presents information on overall participation, preferences, buying behavior and the future of camping.

The chief takeaway, if we are to believe the headline intro, is that camping participation is growing: "Camping is a true American tradition, and it is gaining in popularity.". The Outdoor Foundation cites that 42.5 million Americans — or 14.9% of the US population over age six — went camping in 2011. This participation rate is up from 39.9 million, or 14.1% of the population, in 2010. However, when viewing participation data over the last several years, based on a graph included with the report, participation has clearly flat-lined since 2006 (the first year data is available). By insinuating a growing trend, I think the Outdoor Foundation has jumped the gun with their overall conclusion. As an indication that the flat-line trend will likely remain in place, the report cites that the average camper went on 4.97 camping trips last year. However, campers are planning an average of only 4.33 camping trips next year, an indication that participation rates may show a decline in the next report.

The American Camper Report does show some pretty interesting trends, however. While conventional tents are still available to traditional campers, many campsites are evolving to more modern tastes, providing amenities such as indoor bathrooms, washers and driers and free Wi-Fi. Others have gone a step further by offering heated pools, waterslides, zip lines, golf carts and a calendar full of activities. KOA Campgrounds provides deluxe cabin rentals with flat screen TVs and air conditioning for customers who want to experience the outdoors with all the conveniences of home.

But is this really camping?

Some of the other key findings from the report that I found interesting, include:

• In 2011, campers spent an impressive 534.9 million days camping, an average of 12.6 days per person.

• Almost all age brackets added participants, except the adolescent group.

• The Mountain Region has the highest camping participation rate, while the South has the lowest.

• State parks are by far the most popular camping destinations.

• Hiking is the most popular activity to participate in while camping.

To read the entire report, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cape Final

The other day I posted a trip report that highlighted our visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I mentioned that Kathy and I hiked a couple of short trails that day, including Bright Angel Point and Cape Royal. Not mentioned in that post was our hike out to Cape Final on the Walhalla Plateau.

The Cape Final Trail is an easy 4-mile round trip hike to a limestone outcropping that provides stunning views into the eastern portions of the Grand Canyon. The trailhead is located just off Cape Royal Road, roughly 2.5 miles north of Cape Royal. If you’re seeking a little bit of solitude in the Grand Canyon, this is a great opportunity to get away from the crowds.

Most of the trail travels through an open forest of large Ponderosa Pine, with many wildflowers along the way. Expecting the entire area to be desert, I found this aspect of the Grand Canyon to be quite surprising. Another surprise were the large aspen groves in the North Rim area. Also, as you drive into the park, there’s a very long stretch of road, several miles long, that passes through an incredibly beautiful meadow. It reminded me of South Park in Colorado.

There is a little bit of elevation gain on this hike, mostly during the first three-quarters of a mile, but nothing that would be considered strenuous. Prior to reaching Cape Final you’ll pass two short side trails that lead to additional vantage points. If you have the time you should stop and check them out.

Just before arriving at your destination you’ll notice an abrupt change in the vegetation. Much of the route passes through a montane forest zone, but just yards from the canyon rim you’ll notice a stark transition to the Sonoran desert environment.

At Cape Final you’ll have outstanding views of the eastern side of the Grand Canyon, as well as Marble Canyon and the Painted Desert in the far off distance. Look closely and you’ll see two short sections of the Colorado River, as well as Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona. I would have to say that the views from Cape Final are far more scenic than those found at Bright Angel Point and the area around the Grand Canyon Lodge.

Since the best views look towards the east, I highly recommend hiking this trail during the mid-to-late afternoon so that you won’t be looking into the sun. Since most of the trail travels under the canopy of a pine forest you’ll have a fair amount of shade along the way, which will help keep the temperatures down.

After the hike we drove out of the park and on towards our next destination in Flagstaff. Along the way we stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn for dinner. The historic lodge/restaurant/bakery is located roughly 44 miles north of the Grand Canyon Lodge. Both Kathy and I had their signature sandwich, known as the Grand Bull, a burger with green chilies, caramelized onions and bacon. It was quite tasty! For dessert we tried a couple of German chocolate cake cookies. All in all, well worth the stop!

Trail: Cape Final
Roundtrip Distance: 4.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Max Elevation: 8050 Feet

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park provides firsthand descriptions and detailed maps for all of the developed trails in the park—from easy day hikes suitable for novices and children to extended backpack trips geared for intrepid wilderness travelers. The guide covers 15 hikes on the South Rim and 13 hikes on the North Rim. Also included are tips on safety, hiking with children, access, and services, as well as indispensable information about backcountry regulations, permits, and water sources.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Forest Service Releases New Sketch of Nantahala Rape Suspect

The USDA Forest Service has issued an updated sketch of the man accused of raping a woman in the Nantahala National Forest more than a year ago.

The new sketch is posted online here. A professional law enforcement artist created the new sketch of the suspect with help from the victim. The original sketch, issued in September 2011, was computer-generated with guidance from the victim.

The agency continues to seek information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the suspect. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials are using a variety of investigative tools, including forensic evidence, to find the suspect and bring him to justice. In recent months, law enforcement officers have followed up on leads and conducted interviews. No arrests have been made in the case.

The Forest Service, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, and the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) are seeking information on the rape that occurred Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011, at approximately 4:00 p.m. in Macon County within the Nantahala National Forest.

The incident occurred at the intersection of Forest Service Road (FSR) 711 and the Wayah Road, State Road 1310. A female driving through the area stopped to render aid to a person she believed was incapacitated who was lying beside the road. At that time, a firearm was used to subdue the victim, and she was allegedly forcibly raped.

Law enforcement authorities seek information and assistance in identifying a possible suspect. Authorities are looking for a white male, 6’0”, 200 pounds, between the ages of 30 and 40, having brown wavy short hair, green to blue eyes, having a deep voice and a fair complexion. The suspect was last seen wearing dark blue jeans and a medium blue shirt. The subject is armed and considered dangerous and may be carrying a backpack. No vehicle information is available at this time.

On the same date and approximate location, a motor grader was vandalized and diesel was stolen. Earlier the same day, three individuals were observed around the motor grader that may have information relevant to the case. These individuals or persons knowing these individuals’ identities are asked to call law enforcement.

Persons having information to pass on to law enforcement may call the USDA Forest Service special agent at 828-231-0288, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office at 828-524-2811 or the SBI at 1-800-334-3000.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, October 26, 2012

Driver Killed By Falling Tree On Skyline Drive

NPS Digest is reporting that an SUV towing a camper in Shenandoah National Park was struck by a falling tree while traveling south on Skyline Drive on Tuesday evening. The driver attempted to avoid the tree by moving into the northbound lane, but it struck the windshield and the driver was impaled by branches. Rangers and local emergency squads responded. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene. The 58-year-old man from Tennessee was traveling with his wife, who was not injured in the accident.

Investigation determined the tree was a live Virginia pine that had root system failure.

Hiking in the Smokies

The Best Cities to Raise an Outdoor Kid

Which towns offer the ideal mix of accessible trails, inspiring teachers, and great recreational resources?

Sevierville made the list. So did Asheville.

Backpacker Magazine and The Outdoor Foundation recently teamed-up to identify America’s top 25 places to beat nature deficit disorder. Ranking number one on that list was Boulder, Colorado - no great surprise there. In fact, Colorado had 4 cities that made the cut - the most of any state in the union. Three towns in the Great Smoky Mountains region made the list, including Sevierville (#17) and Asheville (#11), as well as Brevard (#20).

Citing as one of the reasons for Sevierville making the list, was this comment:

"10 minutes to trailheads leading into the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park"

I guess they were referring to that super secret highway that the locals use after midnight, when no other cars are on the road, all the traffic lights are flashing green, and all the cops are waiting in line for a fresh Danish...

Anyway, to check out which towns made the top 25 you can click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Grand Canyon: Views from the North Rim

I don’t know if it was due to the proximity to Los Angeles or not, but Kathy and I saw a lot of strange stuff during our short visit to the Grand Canyon. At the Grand Canyon Lodge we saw a guy walk out onto the porch wearing a black Japanese kimono donning a large red dragon on the back. We saw another guy on the Cape Royal Trail walking with a stuffed poodle in his arms. Then on the way back from Bright Angel Point we passed a young gentleman, presumably Dutch (tall and blonde hair), walking down the trail in traditional Dutch wooden shoes. Oh well….

On the flip side we did meet some very interesting people. One person in particular was an older gentleman who served in the Army Air Force during WWII. During his tour of duty he flew the hump, that is, he flew over the Himalayan Mountains between India and China to resupply the Chinese war effort against the Japanese. After the war he became a NASA engineer and helped build the Apollo program, and was very involved in helping to bring back Apollo 13. I asked him about the Tom Hanks movie. He told us they got the story just about right.

During our visit we did several short hikes, including Bright Angel Point, which is a quarter-mile walk along the peninsula that juts out from the historic Grand Canyon Lodge. From this vantage point you can “see” Grand Canyon Village on the edge of the South Rim - roughly 11 miles away in the hazy distance. You can also see 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona roughly 64 miles away! You may be able to see the peak in the first photo below - rising above the "horizon line" through the haze:

While soaking in the views we noticed a helicopter fly into the canyon. We assumed it was a tour ride, however, after a few minutes it flew back in our direction with a rescue basket hanging from it. It then made another run, this time coming back with two large cargo loads tethered to the bird. We never found out if this was a rescue or not. Coincidentally, there actually was a search and rescue operation carried out that same day, but it was in another part of the park.

Although we didn’t get an opportunity to see one, you should definitely keep an eye out for California Condors riding the thermals over the canyons along the North Rim. Extremely close to extinction in the late 1980s, condors were reintroduced into the wild in 1991, and have been making a steady comeback ever since. As of May 2012 the population count of known condors was 405, including 226 living in the wild, mostly in northern Arizona and southern Utah. These rare birds have wingspans that exceed 9 feet, and can live up to 60 years! Although we weren’t lucky enough to see one, we did see a golden eagle floating on the breeze.

Our next stop took us out to Cape Royal, a place with a reputation for great sunsets. This easy 0.6-mile roundtrip hike offers a few peeks at the Colorado River flowing through the bottom of the canyon. The view while standing atop Angels Window was quite stunning.

You might consider this to be a bit of national park heresy, but I thought Zion National Park was far more impressive than the Grand Canyon. However, I should say, we never ventured into the canyon itself, so that opinion could possibly be changed.

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park provides firsthand descriptions and detailed maps for all of the developed trails in the park—from easy day hikes suitable for novices and children to extended backpack trips geared for intrepid wilderness travelers. The guide covers 15 hikes on the South Rim and 13 hikes on the North Rim. Also included are tips on safety, hiking with children, access, and services, as well as indispensable information about backcountry regulations, permits, and water sources.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

US Forest Service waives fees during Veterans Day weekend

The U.S. Forest Service has announced that it will be waiving fees at most of its day-use recreation sites over the Veterans Day holiday weekend, Nov. 10-12.

The fee waivers – the fourth this year -- are offered in cooperation with other federal agencies under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. Day-use fees will be waived at all standard amenity fee sites operated by the Forest Service. Concessionaire operated day-use sites may be included in the waiver if the permit holder wishes to participate.

“This is our way of saying thanks to the brave men and women – past and present – who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe at home,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We encourage veterans, their families and all visitors to take time out over the holiday weekend to enjoy the benefits that nature provides at forests and grasslands throughout the country.”

Traditionally, fees are not charged on 98 percent of national forests and grasslands, and approximately two-thirds of developed recreation sites in national forests and grasslands can be used for free. Many recreation opportunities such as camping, sightseeing and hiking can be enjoyed throughout the year at no cost.

The Forest Service operates approximately 17,000 developed recreation sites nationwide. Of those, approximately 6,000 require recreation fees, which are used to provide visitor services, repairs and replacements, and facilities maintenance.

Columbia Flash Sale - Member Exclusive Pricing On Trail Footwear At Expires 10/26/2012 At 8:00AM PDT. Click Here To Join

Hiking in the Smokies

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rangers Make Two Ginseng Poaching Cases

NPS Digest is reporting that Cumberland Gap National Historic Park rangers were able to make ginseng cases against five people in two separate incidents at the end of this year's ginseng season. Ranger Brad Cope was watching a truck at the park boundary on Tuesday, October 16th, when two people walked by on the trail. Just as one of them was advising the other of presence of a ranger vehicle, Cope stepped out and said "Yes, there's a ranger." The two men admitted to digging the 84 ginseng roots in their possession and were cited and released.

Ranger Gene Wesloh noticed a suspicious vehicle at a trailhead on Wednesday and by the end of the day had contacted three ginseng poachers with 328 roots totaling almost 3.4 pounds. All three readily confessed and were charged with digging ginseng; one was also charged with possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine).

Hiking in the Smokies

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Zion National Park: Exploring The Lesser Known Areas

Down through the millennia the North Fork of the Virgin River has cut a swathe of Navajo Sandstone, nearly 15 miles long and a half-mile deep, to create what is now known as Zion Canyon. Before it became a national park the Anasazi and the Southern Paiutes lived among the mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths and natural arches of Zion. Spanish priests first visited the present-day park in 1776. Eventually Mormons came to the area in 1858, and would settle there by the early 1860s.

In 1909 President William Howard Taft signed legislation that made Zion a national monument, which was known at that time as Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1918 the name was changed to Zion National Monument, and in the following year was upgraded to a national park.

One of Zion’s most famous features is the death-defying hike up to Angels Landing. The trail climbs 1200 feet in roughly 2.4 miles. To reach the top hikers have to ascend Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks up to Scout Lookout. The last half-mile features sharp drop-offs along a narrow path, which includes chains for hikers to grip. The chains are there for a very good reason. In the past eight years alone six people have plunged to their deaths after losing their footing along this trail.

Although Zion Canyon is the main attraction, I highly recommend spending at least 2 or 3 hours exploring the area east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. In addition to hiking the easy half-mile trail out to Zion Canyon Overlook, there are several interesting rock formations to check out. Here are a few random photos from this strange and beautiful area of the park:

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Forest Service Cracks Down on Ginseng Poaching

Kristin Bail, forest supervisor of the U.S. Forest Service National Forests in North Carolina, announced yesterday that agency law enforcement officers are cracking down on the poaching of ginseng in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests.

“Forest Service law enforcement officers conducted a large number of compliance checks in September, and at least eight people received misdemeanor citations because they did not have a permit to harvest ginseng in the national forests,” said Bail. “Law enforcement officers will continue to focus their attention on people who collect ginseng outside of the legal harvest season in the future.”

Conservationists, botanists and others are concerned about the decline of ginseng populations, and poaching may eventually cause harvests to be restricted.

Visitors to the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests must obtain a permit to collect ginseng during the designated harvest season, which runs September 1-30. Ginseng permits cost $40 per wet pound. An individual may purchase up to 3 wet pounds annually. Harvest is prohibited in Wilderness and Natural Areas.

Removing any plant or its parts from national forest land without a permit or outside of the legal harvest season is considered theft. Every national forest plant is public property, which means plant thieves are robbing taxpayers of a resource that is collectively owned. Penalties for plant poaching may include a fine up to $5,000 or six-month sentence in federal prison, or both.

Ginseng root has been favored as a tonic with exports to East Asia for the past two-and-a-half centuries. In North Carolina, the plant primarily occurs in the mountains and is sparse in the piedmont.

The Forest Service continues to monitor the harvest in the national forests in North Carolina to ensure the future viability of the plant.

For more information on harvesting ginseng in the national forests in North Carolina, click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Friday, October 19, 2012

Appalachian Trail Long-Distance Hiking Workshop

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), in partnership with the Bears Den Trail Center, invites the public to attend a long-distance hiking workshop on Saturday, November 10, 2012 from 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the Bears Den Trail Center, located at 18393 Blueridge Mountain Road, Bluemont, Virginia. The workshop is free and open to all ages. Advance registration is required.

The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is one of the longest continuously marked footpaths in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles in length. An estimated 2-3 million people visit the Trail every year, and about 2-3 thousand of those people attempt a “thru-hike”, completing the entire long-distance Trail in one journey. This one-day workshop will provide information and tips to hikers of all experience levels who are considering hiking the A.T.

"The Appalachian Trail Conservancy looks forward to providing information to hikers who are interested in getting outdoors and exploring the A.T. with a backpack, whether for a week-long trip or a six-month thru-hike of the entire A.T.”, said Laurie Potteiger, information services manager of the ATC. “Part of our mission is to educate the public on how to successfully and safely hike the Appalachian Trail while minimizing impacts on the environment."

Participants will check-in between 7:30a.m. and 8:30a.m. Coffee, tea and donuts will be provided for breakfast, but participants will need to bring their own lunch.

Workshops will run from 9:00a.m to 4:30p.m. Topics will include planning and preparation, nutrition and cooking, health and safety, Leave No Trace™ and much more. A portion of the day will be spent outdoors, where participants will learn how to pitch a tent, hang a bear bag and other outdoor skills.

Instructors include Lauralee “Blissful” Bliss, 2007 A.T. thru-hiker and 2008-2011 A.T. section-hiker, as well as Justin and Patrice La Vigne, 2011 A.T. thru-hikers.

An optional dinner, catered by Apple House, will be available for $10.00 a person, consisting of pulled pork, side dishes, chips and drinks. Participants are also welcome to stay for a casual campfire gathering after dinner from 7:00p.m. – 9:00p.m.

Overnight accommodations will be available at the Bears Den Trail Center. Camping is $8.00 a person and indoor lodging is $15.00 a person. Anyone under 18 years of age will need to be accompanied by an adult. Checkout is on Sunday at 9:00a.m. Complimentary coffee and tea will be available, as well as pancake mix to make your own pancakes.

To register, e-mail Justin LaVigne at by Thursday November 1, 2012.

- Long-Distance Hiking Workshop
- Date: November 10, 2012
- Time: 7:30a.m. – 4:30p.m.
- Location: Bears Den Trail Center, 18393 Blueridge Mountain Rd, Bluemont, VA 20135

FEES - Workshop: FREE
- Optional Dinner: $10.00/person
- Optional Overnight Indoor Stay: $15.00/person
- Optional Overnight Camping: $8.00/person (includes inside privileges)

- 7:30a.m. – 8:30a.m.: Registration
- 8:30a.m. – 9:00a.m.: Introduction/Welcome
- 9:00a.m. – 12:00p.m.: Planning and Preparation, Nutrition and Cooking, Health and Safety and Leave No Trace™ Workshop
- 12:00p.m. – 1:00p.m.: Lunch
- 1:00p.m. – 2:00p.m.: Gear Essentials and Packing a Backpack Workshop
- 2:00p.m. – 4:00p.m.: Setting Up Camp/Outdoor Demonstration
- 4:00p.m. – 4:30p.m.: Wrap-up
- 5:30p.m. – 7:00p.m.: Optional Dinner
- 7:00p.m. – 9:00p.m.: Optional Campfire Gathering

For more information or to register, visit or contact Justin

Hiking in the Smokies

L.L.Bean Donation Benefits Smoky Mountains

Outdoor retailer L.L.Bean and the National Park Foundation (NPF), the official charity of America's national parks, announced today that the goal of the "Million Moment Mission" has been reached, resulting in a donation of $1 million by L.L.Bean to support youth programming in our national parks. The Million Moment Mission campaign was created in celebration of L.L.Bean's 100th anniversary, designed to inspire a love of the outdoors in the next generation.

With the campaign, L.L.Bean pledged to contribute $1 to NPF's "America's Best Idea" program for every outdoor moment shared. Thanks to the contribution of one million stories, photos and outdoor experiences, L.L.Bean and NPF have met their goal. The $1 million contribution from L.L.Bean will have an impact on 60,000 underserved children in America.

“We are overwhelmed by how many people have shared their excitement for the outdoors. In joining us in the Million Moment Mission and sharing their passion, our customers are helping to inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. We are proud to partner with the National Park Foundation on this vital initiative to get more kids into healthy, outdoor activities,” said Chris McCormick, CEO of L.L.Bean.

Grants from the National Park Foundation, funded by L.L.Bean, have already helped kids and teens across the country get outdoors and work with mentors. They've hiked in national parks, kayaked along national seashores, and worked an archaeological dig.

Examples of programs made possible through L.L.Bean funding to the 2012 America's Best Idea grants include:

* The Assateague Adventure Academy at Assateague Island National Seashore, which encourages students to participate in recreational activities along the seashore like kayaking and digging for clams

* The Native American Conservation Corps at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, who for the first time hired an all-Native American crew, giving local youth valuable job experience and a connection to the outdoors

* Women on the Water: Leaders of Tomorrow, a program developed for high school girls from cities and towns surrounding the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which teaches the girls to become environmental stewards as they learn key kayaking, canoeing and rafting techniques

* Archaeological work in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through which Cherokee youth and the local high schools engage in a two-week dig supervised by professional archaeologists

* Voyageurs National Parks Teen Ambassadors Program, which brings kids from rural areas on outdoor adventures

For more information on L.L.Bean's commitment to the outdoors, please visit To learn more about the National Park Foundation and its programs, please visit

Hiking in the Smokies

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Forest Service Closes Shining Rock and Graveyard Fields to Camping

The U.S. Forest Service announced yesterday that it is closing the Shining Rock Wilderness and Graveyard Fields areas to overnight camping due to ongoing bear encounters with humans.

The areas will be closed to dispersed camping until further notice. The agency will monitor conditions to determine when it is safe to reopen the areas.

On Monday night, a bear damaged a tent and food bag. Two people were in the tent at the time of the encounter, but no injuries were sustained. The encounter is the latest in a series of bear encounters in recent weeks.

Questions regarding the camping closure can be directed to the Pisgah Ranger District, 828-877-3265.

Hiking in the Smokies

The 10th Annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition

Appalachian State University Outdoor Programs, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts present the 10th Annual Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition and Exhibition. The AMPC is made possible through the sponsorship of Virtual Blue Ridge, the premier online resource for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The competition provides both amateur and professional photographers the opportunity to showcase their interpretation of the unique character, people, places, and pursuits that distinguish the Southern Appalachians.

Categories for the competition include: Adventure, Blue Ridge Parkway - Weather on the Parkway, Culture, Our Ecological Footprint, Flora/Fauna, and Landscape. $4,000 in cash and prizes are made possible through the generous support of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, Footsloggers Outdoor and Travel Outfitters, and Appalachian Voices.

A portion of the proceeds from the Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition support Outdoor Programs Student Outdoor Learning Expeditions at Appalachian State University. SOLE trips are educational journeys of discovery that take students around the world. Visit the Outdoor Programs website to find out more information on the Student Outdoor Learning Expeditions program at ASU.

The deadline for submissions for his year’s contest is November 16th, 2012.

For more information, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Smokies Announces Plans for 2nd Phase of Chimney Tops Trail Rehabilitation Project

Officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have announced that the first phase of the rehabilitation of the popular Chimney Tops Trail, from the trailhead to the junction with the Road Prong Trail, has been completed. On Friday, October 19th, the trail will be open all week until the second phase of the trail rehabilitation begins in late April of 2013. The Chimney Tops Trailhead is located along Newfound Gap Road about 8 miles south of the Park's Gatlinburg, TN entrance.

The combination of heavy use, abundant rainfall, and steep terrain turned the Chimney Tops Trail into a badly eroded obstacle course of slick, broken rock, exposed tree roots, and mud. Since April 2012, The Park's Trails Forever Crew has been rebuilding the trail using durable stone and rot-resistant black locust timbers that will stabilize the trail for decades to come, reducing annual maintenance and greatly improving the visitor experience. The crew constructed rock steps to carry hikers up the steepest areas and prevent erosion, redefined sections of trail that have become unsafe or difficult to navigate, improved drainage by modifying water bars or constructing other types of drainage structures, and built raised turnpike structures out of sustainable materials to prevent further erosion.

Phase Two will consist of the rehabilitation of 0.4 miles of trail from the junction with Road Prong Trail to the first left hand switchback leaving the steep drainage. This section represents the most continuous technical trail reconstruction needed on the entire rehabilitation project. During Phase Two, the trail will again be closed each Monday through Thursday from late April through October to safely accommodate trail rebuilding activities which include moving and breaking large rock.

Trails Forever is a partnership program between Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Friends of the Smokies who donated $121,000 this year to support the program, and the generosity of the Knoxville based Aslan Foundation. With 848 miles of hiking trails, an average of more than 80 inches of rain a year, and significant forest vegetation, trail crews at Great Smoky Mountains National Park focus their efforts primarily on cyclic maintenance to keep the trails open (clearing windfalls, mowing/pruning and drainage). The Trails Forever program provides the opportunity for a highly skilled trail crew to focus reconstruction efforts on the high use and high priority trails in the park. The program also provides a mechanism for volunteers to work alongside the trail crew on these complex trail projects to assist in making lasting improvements to preserve the trails for future generations. The Park invites interested trail work volunteers to visit the Trails Forever website at or contact the Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator at (828) 497-1949 for more information.

For more information on hiking the Chimney Tops Trail, please click here.

Hiking in the Smokies

Zion Canyon from Observation Point

Observation Point in Zion National Park is an absolute gem. Although there are more popular hikes in the park, such as Angels Landing, two park rangers told us that this hike was their favorite. Simply put, the trail starts off with grand views, and only gets better the higher you climb.

I highly recommend starting as early in the morning as possible in order to take advantage of the shade from the towering cliffs for a large portion of your climb.

The hike begins from the Weeping Rock Trailhead, and immediately begins climbing a series of long switchbacks up Cable Mountain. Much of this trail was blasted out of the canyon walls in the 1920s. As the trail climbs higher you’ll have stunning views of Angels Landing, The Organ, and Big Bend in the Virgin River:

At roughly 1.5 miles the trail leaves the cliff side and enters into the incredibly beautiful Echo Canyon. For the next half-mile you’ll have a nice break from the relentless climbing.

In some ways Echo Canyon was even more impressive than the views from Observation Point. This narrow canyon, sitting roughly 1100 feet above the trailhead, would make a wonderful destination by itself. The trail follows along a shelf above the canyon floor, with an extremely narrow slot canyon sitting just below it.

To get an idea of the immensity of this canyon, see if you can spot my wife at the very bottom of this photo:

Looking over the side of the trail I spotted this interesting looking hole, roughly 200 feet below:

Once out of the canyon the trail begins to climb again, and will gain roughly 900 feet over the next mile. Roughly 60% of this hike has some exposure that leads to long drop-offs. However, most of the trail is at least 4-5 feet in width, with some places narrowing down to maybe three. Obviously if you have a fear of heights you’re going to feel very uncomfortable on this trail. For the most part I was able to do my normal pace, and didn’t feel any intimidation. There was one section, about a tenth-of-a-mile long near the final push to the rim that did make me a little nervous. This section of the hike stands-out prominently from Observation Point. In the photo below you can see a “Z” etched into the side of the white cliff face. This is another part of the path that has been blasted out of the rock:

Other than this one short section, if you’re used to hiking in the mountains, you likely won’t have any other problems with vertigo-inducing drop-offs.

Beyond the “Z” the trail levels out for the most part, and begins to hug the forested cliffside over the course of the last mile to Observation Point.

From Observation Point you’ll have one of the great iconic images of Zion National Park. The views are just awesome. From this vantage point Angels Landing, The Organ and Big Bend will be the most prominent landmarks almost directly below you. On the west side of the canyon you’ll see Cathedral Mountain and the Three Patriarchs. On the left is the East Rim, Cable Mountain and the Great White Throne. Running down the middle of the valley is the Virgin River as it flows towards Springdale and beyond.

Afterwards we drove into Springdale and had a great burger and an oven fired pizza from the Flying Monkey.

Trail: Observation Point
Roundtrip Distance: 8.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2150 feet
Max Elevation: 6507 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park