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A Few of Our Favorite Hikes

 

 

Do you find yourself staring out the window, daydreaming about being outside enjoying the sunshine, listening to the birds sing, and seeing what wildflowers are in bloom? Well, you are not alone, not by a long shot. When we’re not at work, we’re out enjoying those same things. This week we’ve asked our staff members to share some of their favorite places to hike. Next time you’re in the “neighborhood,” check one of these adventures out.

Congaree National Park

Carter from the Mast Store in Columbia spends a lot of time exploring the Midlands region of South Carolina. He has this suggestion that is great for anyone.

Trail Name: Boardwalk Loop
Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: Very Easy, perfect for families
Location: Congaree National Park, 100 National Park Road, Hopkins, SC 29061 
Why do I recommend: Trees! While many of the “champion trees” are tucked deeper in the forest, some very old loblolly pines, bald cypress, and tupelo trees can be observed from the boardwalk.

Description: While Harbison State Forest and Sesquicentennial State Park (often called Sesqui) provide amazing opportunities for outdoor recreation. Nowhere in Columbia is quite as wild as Congaree National Park. Paddling Cedar Creek is, in my mind, the best way to see country’s largest bottomland old growth forest, but in terms of ease and accessibility the Boardwalk, Loop Trial is hard to beat.  It is a 2.4-mile elevated loop that is very doable for almost any level of fitness or outdoor experience, making it a great introduction to the beauty and solitude nature can provide.  Also, it connects all the trails at Congaree, which makes it a great jump-off point for a day of exploration for the more seasoned crowd. The King Snake and River Trails dive deep into very lightly trafficked sections of the floodplain forest. Depending on recent weather and time of year, trail conditions may get a little hairy out there, but you will almost always see more Champion Trees than people.  Shorter loops like the Weston Lake Trail provide quick and easy adventures the entire family can manage. Also, be prepared for the unofficial state bird, the mosquito, by remembering your bug spray.

Elk Knob Summit Trail

Sheri is a lifelong resident of Boone and works at Mast Store’s worldwide headquarters in Valle Crucis. One of her favorite trails is found in one of North Carolina’s newest state parks.

Trail Name: The Summit Trail
Length: 1.9 miles (3.8 miles total, out and back)
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Location: Elk Knob State Park, 5564 Meat Camp Road, Todd, NC 28684
Why do I recommend: It’s like walking along a garden path! The understory is filled with wildflowers and once you get to the top, you have an awesome view of three states.

Description: Over the course of the 1.9 miles, you’ll gain 1,000 feet in elevation. From the parking lot, the trail is relatively narrow and gains elevation quickly. It is constructed through the understory of a hardwood forest, and many wildflowers can be observed along the way. One of the first thing you’ll notice is something that you don’t see. Many of the trails in the Boone area are surrounded by rhododendron hells. The geology of Elk Knob doesn’t have the pH to support rhodos. What you will see in the springtime are numerous wildflowers like the Solomon Seal, False Solomon Seal, Jack in the Pulpit, Yellow Corn Lily, and Wake Robins.

Parts of the trail are like walking on a garden path of flagstones (a very steep garden <wink>) and others, during a rainy period may become a part of a creek bed when springs become a bit more active. Around the midway point, there’s a nice photo opportunity featuring the ridgeline and a couple of large clearings. At the summit, 5,520 feet above sea level, you can observe other mountains of note including Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Mitchell, Roan Mountain, Mt. Rogers, and Pilot Mountain. This trail is a pleasure to hike any time of year – spring for wildflowers, summer to escape the heat, fall to see the colors rippling into the distance, and winter on snowshoes.

Moore's Wall Hike

Will from the Mast Store in Winston-Salem has a myriad of trails to explore. Winston-Salem is located in the Piedmont of North Carolina with rolling hills that are the remains of ancient mountain ranges. His suggestion will make you work for it, but the pay-off is worth it.

Trail Name: Moore’s Wall Loop Trail
Length: 4.7-mile loop
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Location: Hanging Rock State Park, 1790 Handing Rock Park Road, Danbury, NC 27016
Why do I recommend: It’s a great hike and makes you work for the gorgeous view.

Description: The Moore’s Wall Loop Trail takes you to the highest point in Hanging Rock State Park. Since it is a loop, there are two ways to hike it. I recommend heading southwest to begin because you’ll be coming down the steps at the end instead of climbing up them. This trail also intersects with other park trails, so pay attention to the blaze (a red circle). Once you get close to the summit, there are a bunch of cliffs to hang out on just off the trail – the views are awesome. At the summit, you can climb the fire tower for a 360? view. The cliff at the top is a good place for a halfway ‘round the loop picnic, too. You can see Hanging Rock, Sauratown, and Pilot Mountain in the distance.

Jim is an avid outdoorsman at the Mast Store in Knoxville. In addition to hiking all around the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, he enjoys fly fishing and backpacking. This is one of his favorite go-to outings.

Trail Name: Curry Mountain Trail
Length: 6.7 miles out and back
Difficulty: Moderate
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Little River Road, Gatlinburg, TN 
Why do I recommend: It’s a quick, quiet hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Description: This trail is 3.3 miles one way with the steepest section being found in the first half of the trail. Park at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area, 9.8 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center on Little River Road. Walk east on the highway back toward Sugarlands for 1,000 feet. The trailhead is located on the right side of the highway. The trail follows an old road to a small maintained cemetery that once served the Jakes Creek community. If you observe closely, you can see stacked rocks and old fence posts that indicate old homesites and fields. I like to have lunch at the cemetery because I’ve always felt that they probably don’t get a lot of visitors. Just off the trail near the cemetery, there is an old homesite that you really have to look for to find.

This trail is probably a little more scenic in the spring, late fall, and winter because the summer foliage obscures the longer range views.

Crab Orchard Falls

We’re certain that many of you know Francine, at least you’ve heard from her in the Almost Monthly missives she shares with you. She submitted this as one of her favorite hikes because it’s right here in our own backyard!

Trail Name: Crab Orchard Falls
Length: About 1.5 miles, round trip
Difficulty: Moderate (but steep)
Location: Valle Crucis Conference Center, 146 Skiles Way, Banner Elk, NC 28604 
Why do I recommend: The trail is a challenge, and the waterfall is beautiful!

Description: The Valle Crucis Conference Center is a special place with deep ties to the history of Valle Crucis and the area in general. Crab Orchard Falls is hidden, and you have to work to get there. Park your vehicle in the parking spaces labeled “waterfall parking.” These spaces are near the dining hall (look for the dinner bell), then follow a gravel road up around Johnson Hall. The first part of the trail is wide and very steep; don’t worry, there are several benches along the way to take a breather. After a short, flat part of the trail, watch for a sign off to the right that points to the falls. You’ll go down a series of stairs (watch your step, they can be slippery) and across some bridges. Please DO NOT shortcut to the falls. The Conference Center is doing some restoration plantings to recover some of the shortcut trails. At the end of the stairs, you can enjoy wading in the pool at the bottom of the cascading waterfall. This trail is beautiful to hike at any point during the year. If you hike in the snow, I highly recommend wearing snowshoes!

When you visit the stores, if you are looking for a local trail, be sure to ask. We love sharing our favorite places with you.