Grandfather Mountain

The name Grandfather Mountain may sound old, but the area is vibrant with a variety of experiences. The fun begins immediately as visitors receive an auto tour cd upon entering the park. Pop in the cd and immediately, you’re immersed in the history that appears at every turn.

With a movie highlighting the area, restaurant, fudge shop, and animal encounters, the first visitor center has plenty to do. My favorites were the animals and animal feedings. If you get a chance, definitely check out the bear feeding which provides an opportunity to view the black bears up close and yet safely.

The drive up to the next visitor center via the narrow, winding road, is not for the faint of heart, but provides stunning views along the way. For those wishing to forego the final steep ascent to the visitor center, there is a lower parking lot with a short, scenic hiking trail that leads to the visitor center.

The second visitor center at the top of the mountain is less commercial, but provides more outdoor activities via hiking trails, the mile high suspension bridge (mile high in elevation, not from the ground), and plenty of unencumbered views.

One day was hardly enough to scratch the surface. I could see easily spending more time fully exploring the area. For all the pertinent details go here: www.grandfather.com

Crabtree Falls Hike

Crabtree Falls“Services closed” was the first sign I saw when I pulled into Crabtree Falls off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those signs always make me a little sad because being outside and enjoying nature is good for the soul, no matter your age or background.

Thankfully, the parking lot was still open which provided access to the hiking trail. The trail starts out as a paved trail and as it descended became a dirt path. Passing an empty amphitheater, I couldn’t help but wonder what shows had been there and if it would be open again.

Continuing through a grassy area, the trail then takes a right turn and goes through part of the former campground. Nestled among the trees, and away from the road, this would be a great place to camp!

After the campground, there was a sign that said Crabtree Falls loop, 2 miles, strenuous. Hmmm….it is late in the day, but it can’t be that bad. Taking the right fork of the trail, we headed into the forest and began our descent.

Through the lush forest, the path descended via a long series of stairs made of stone and logs. Nothing unusual there, a lot of mountain hiking trails have stairs. This trail was different because each turn brought on more stairs that continued the trail’s steep descent.

Downward we continued and the amount of stairs reminded me of walking down a lighthouse, just not as steep. Ok, I think I know why this trail is called strenuous; going back up is really going to suck! Hiking is a blast, but you know whatever you go down, you’ll probably have to come back up.

The decent continued through the forest and I felt like I was on a quest more so than a hike. Around one more corner and the sound of rushing water and a muddy trail signaled we were close. A wooden bridge came into view and we had made it!!

Aside from Looking Glass falls, this was one of the widest waterfalls I’d seen in the area. The mist of the falls highlighted the sun beams as the afternoon sun broke through the tree tops.

I’m not sure what it is, but you always have to get closer to a waterfall. Fortunately there are two short trails on either side that provide some inspirational photo ops. The area isn’t that large so once a few people arrive, it can feel crowded.

After a few photos and being misted by the falls, it was time to head back. The question was which way? The ascent from hell or the unknown other half of the loop, which could be just as steep.
The choice was quickly made to take continue on the trail and see where it exited. Greeted by steep stairs, this trail appeared to be similar as the other one. Up it went through the lush green forest, but the stairs were short lived.

The path became a dirt path among the trees with a waterfall view to the left. The trail was still steep here, but it wasn’t stairs and a few benches along the way provided water stops.

Once the trail made it past the falls, it leveled out significantly and was more of “normal” trail. As I crossed a wooden bridge, I looked at the creek below and commented “I know where that’s going!” We always see waterfalls at their end, so it’s intriguing to see them at their beginning.

The trail continued to ascend on the way to the old campground. Here I got a little confused because I recognized the campground and knew we came in from across it. Cutting across the campground, we found the original path and made it to the parking lot.

The entire loop is 2.5 miles and rated strenuous, but with enough time and plenty of hydration it can be done. For more information: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/v.php?pg=38

<