Blog

Hiking the Craggy Gardens Area

June brings daily showers that make our flowers grow and bloom into incredible shows. Rhododendrons, Flaming Azaleas and Mountain Laurel are some of the most dramatic in our region

We find it interesting that these blooms often occur earlier up in the higher elevations due to the different species of plants.

Our Rhododendrons tend to bloom in late June and early July while the ones at Craggy Gardens and Mount Pisgah seem to bloom in Mid June.

Craggy Gardens is locate at Mile Post 364 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

There are several short and easy hikes from the visitor center. It is really wonderful to hike from the visitor center to the picnic area and back. This takes you through a wonderful display of blooms.

For a more dramatic show, go past the visitor center to a well marked parking area where you can hike up to a peak. This is well worth the short climb and offers incredible views especially when the Rhododendrons are in bloom.

We have reviewed a longer hike below. All are really wonderful.

And if you have time, go on up to Mount Mitchell and enjoy their restaurant for a nice meal with a fabulous view!

Directions:

To get to Craggy Gardens from Dancing Sun Cabins
Go to Weaverville and access the Blue Ridge Parkway from there.
Go North to Craggy Gardens
It’s about a 90 minute scenic drive from the cabins.
Tom and Rebecca do this as a day trip. We like to eat dinner at the restaurant on Mount Mitchell when we are through. It is a short drive further north, but well worth it as the view is fabulous. The food is great too.

Tom and Rebecca Ratings:
Moderate to Difficult
Stumble Factor is HIGH- so consider taking a walking stick
Highlights:
Craggy Trees, Large Rocks, High Altitude Flora and Fauna, Beech Forest
Total Elevation Gain: Approx 2000 ft
Mileage: In and Out Trail total 10 miles

Craggy Gardens is an incredible place to be when the Rhododendrons are in bloom. We discovered that the flowers are not the only attraction here. The forest is amazing! It is a wonderful place to take a high altitude hike.

The forest is full of old “bonsai-like” trees. They are like the “old crones” of the forest, twisted and bumpy and full of character. The ground underneath is covered in beautiful green grass along with a wide variety of wildflowers and a surprising lack of poison ivy.

In late May, we took the trail from the Craggy Gardens Picnic area to Douglas Falls. We found the trail to be well marked and pretty well trodden. It is an “in and out” trail and is approximately 5 miles each way making it a good 10 mile hike.

The trail is quite rocky which is part of it’s charm. However, that makes it a bit difficult as this goes on for miles. The whole area is covered in unique rocks and trees with up and down sections that take you across the mountain. I suggest taking a good walking stick on this hike as my knees get tired near the end and it is nice to have a stick to prevent the stumbles. The total elevation gain for the entire hike is approximately 2000 ft. It is a good work out.

On the way to Douglas Falls, you pass through a beautiful Beech Forest. You will also cross 2 waterfalls which are delightful places to stop and cool off. They are not as dramatic as Douglas Falls, but they are nice places to stick your feet in the water.

As you get close to Douglas Falls you will begin a steep walk down. You will pass some dramatic rocks and then come to Douglas Falls. The water level was not particularly high the day we visited, but the beauty is in the way the water drops off a huge cliff. The cliff has a cave and you can walk behind the falls and be dry. There is a little pool for quick dips, but not large enough to actually take a swim. It is a great place to picnic.

We really enjoyed this somewhat challenging hike. It made us tired, but very happy that we experience such a unique forest.

 

Beautiful Craggy Gardens Beautiful Moth we found on the trail Craggy Gardens are covered with Rhododendrom

 

 

Hiking

Hiking from your cabin door

Hike From Your Cabin Door

From a “wander and ponder” stroll through the forest to steeper challenges that offer wonderful cardiac workouts, we have just the hike for you right out your front door.

Each cabin has a book with maps to help you find the perfect hike. Rebecca and Tom can also suggest hikes specific for the weather conditions and your needs.

There are many, many choices.

The Waterfall Trail: Wander up the driveway and take right past the Appalachian Shack to the waterfall trail. We are so fortunate to have the National Forest for our backyard. Come and play. The waterfall offers a great opportunity to play in the creek on a hot summer’s day. Explore the cascades and waterfalls either in the creek or on the trail that winds in, out and around the forest.

The Labyrinth Trail: There is only one spot on our 100 plus acres that you cannot hear our waterfall. This little Hollow tends to be silent, even on windy days, when the wind roars through the tree tops. This is the place we chose to build our Labyrinth. A Labyrinth is not a maze. It is a meditative walk with only one path through it. It is an ancient design. It is used for prayer and deep meditation. We welcome you to come and walk our Labyrinth in the woods. It is a short walk from your cabin door.

Loop to Cat Pen and T and R Bald: This is a 2-3 hour loop that we have created from our property that incorporates the Appalachian Trail. It is a delightful walk up to 2 bald areas that offer incredible views. Cat Pen is at the top and allows one a 360 degree view with an incredible view of Max Patch and Lemon Gap as well as Bluff Mountain.

Loop to Walnut Mountain: Another wonderful loop that incorporates the Appalachian Trail is our Walnut Mountain Loop. This takes 2-3 hours also and can be joined with the Loop to Cat Pen to make a nice full afternoon or day hike. This loop takes you to Walnut Mountain AT shelter. Here it is possible to go even further to Lemon Gap and then loop back to your cabin. The possibilities are endless as are the views.

Historical Wasp and Wolf Creek Falls: This is a challenging 10 mile hike that begins at the back of our house. It takes you through an old community that died out in the 1930’s. You walk across Kale Gap and down, down, down to the waterfall then back. This hike gives you a sense of what life must have been like to former generations. It is a full day hike and really for experience hikers. There are several opportunities to take the wrong path or road, so pay attention to the directions and always know how to come back.

Spring IS coming

Spring is coming.  That is what I tell myself as I watch the snow fall and cover the ground.  It is beautiful and even this late in winter, I get so excited  when it snows. This is a beautiful light, fluffy snow.  It transforms our world and brings a sweet silence to the forest as everything sort of hunkers down to stay warm.  Tom and I are no exception.  We hunker down by the wood stove and enjoy the fire.  I work on a weaving project that I started last week with found objects.

We were walking in the woods not long ago and forest “gifted” me an antler.   I was so amazed.  I have walked miles upon miles through the woods, but never found one even though they are shed every year by the many deer that live here.   I think this is because the other little critters find them very tasty, so they get snatched up pretty fast.  I felt quite honored to find this one and wanted to do something special with it.

My friend, Delaney Smith of Eyeland Studio in Marshall, NC  invited a guest teacher, Taylor Barnes to teach a class on making looms with found objects.  This sounded perfect so I signed up.  What a great thing to do on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon! Both of these teachers are excellent and I highly recommend their classes.

Up here in the mountains, we have a lot of what I call folk schools.   These are places where we can go and learn traditional ways and new ways of creating with nature.  I love learning to use things from nature.  In this project I used sassafras saplings, grapevine bark, wool, yucca fibers, crystals and hemp to weave with the deer antler.

Yesterday, the sun came out.  When this happened, the snow began to melt and the birds at my bird feeder went crazy.  The whole forest seemed to sing in exultation!  Spring is on the way!

Tom and I went hiking.   We chose a new trail and we had ford a few creeks. Now Tom just bounces over these crossings but for me it meant taking my boots off each time.   By the time we got to the 4th stream, I decided  to just go barefoot for awhile.   Even though it was cold, there was something quite wonderful about walking in the forest with no shoes on in late winter.  Our forest floor is covered with the many different kinds of leaves that grow here and they make a soft landing for the bare sole.   The sun warmed the leaves and this warmed my feet in between the icy creeks.  There was something magical about this time, a slipping off of winter if you will.

I want to leave you with this video from last year as it gives me the ultimate hope of Spring.  This happened last year in the little garden behind our house that we lovingly call GrandMary’s garden as it was created outside my mom’s window when she was alive.  She loved to watch the birds and the flowers come alive this time of year.  So this video is in her memory.  It speaks to the love of motherhood and the promise of Spring.  Enjoy!

Love Changes Everything

 

Heart fence at Labyrinth

We feel so grateful to live here in the  Pisgah National Forest.   A dear friend told me that I would never really understand this place until I stayed here for a full year, watching the subtle changes in the forest everyday.  This time of year really proves that statement true.

As I watch the bulbs begin to push up through the partially frozen earth, as if they are groundhogs, just poking their heads up to see what it’s like above ground, I think, “Yes, it is Spring”.   And then comes a big, beautiful snow storm that covers the daffodils with fluffy crystals of white.  The whole place turns into a magical snow globe that beckons the song birds from the forest to my feeders.  I watch as the yellow finches flock to the bags of thistles hanging from the trees outside my kitchen window.   It will all melt soon, no doubt, and the daffodils will make a full recovery.  Spring will reappear and, as  Mr. Emerson exclaimed, the earth will laugh in flowers once again.

Meanwhile, we shall enjoy the beauty that nature displays everyday.  We  cherish this opportunity and are so grateful for this forest.  We work hard to  be good stewards of this place.

One of our biggest challenges arrives this time every year as we fulfill our commitment to keeping the water clean and pure up here.  We are at the top of the public watershed and it is important to us all.  So, every year we must clip and cut all of the brush that grows beneath our power lines so that the electric company will not spray large amounts of herbicide that decimates the natural flora and fauna and and leaches into our native springs.  This is about 1/2 mile of power line easement.  This is a lot of clipping and cutting!

This year, as I was sharpening the blades on our loppers and Tom was sharpening the blade on the chainsaw, I had an idea.  I needed to  “flip the switch” on this attitude of mine.  So, I came up with a way to make it fun.  I decided to start weaving a fence with all the saplings that we cut.  Not only would it provide a great use for the materials, but it would provide a much needed barrier to keep our chickens out of the new garden space at our house.

I started researching ways to build a fence and discovered an old technique called wattling.  It turns out this is a practice that has been around for centuries.   It is a great way to use up all this wood we are cutting.  And, because it is now an art project, it became FUN!  Yes, fun!

Now, I am excited to head out with my loppers to see what I can find to weave into my fence. There are different colored saplings that grow here.  Some are red, bright green and even purple.   And, we have an endless supply of grapevines that grow in the forest and kill the trees.  This gives us the ability to begin to sculpt with vines.  Tom came out of the forest with  a 75 ft grape vine!  Wow!  I had a lot of material to work with for days.  And the trees seem to say, “ahhhhhhhh”  when you release them from all of that constriction.  It’s quite rewarding.

So,the weaving has turned to hearts, as so many things do up here.    I invite my friends to come and join me.  I am envisioning hearts made by all my friends.  Even the birds joined in and wove a heart shaped nest into this old wreath hanging on our shed.  And the hearts are growing as you can see in the photos.   But the chickens?

Well, they are laughing, of course.DSC chicken

 

Heart fence at our house

Shed heart made by birds
Even the bird joined in and built a heart shaped nest in this wreath.
This is the little heart shaped bird’s nest snuggled into the old wreath on the shed.
Trout

Fishing

Fishing is really great in our area.  All of our streams are stocked with trout every Spring. Our creeks flow into Roaring Fork creek which flows into Meadow Fork creek , then Spring Creek into the French Broad river.   Here is a link to the Madison County Fishing Guide.

It is a fun day trip to visit the NC fish hatchery at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education.  The drive will take you throuh miles and miles of creeks and rivers and many, many waterfalls before you arrive at the hatchery at a place called John's Rock, which is one of our favorite hikes in the spring.

Brook Trout

You will need a NC Fishing License.  The pond at Max Patch is also stocked with trout every year.   This pond is located beyond the parking lot for hiking. To reach this pond, take Roaring Fork road to Meadow Fork road.  Turn right on Meadow Fork.  Proceed until you see the brown sign pointing you to Max Patch.  Turn right onto Little Creek Road.  It will turn to dirt.  Continue until you come to a T intersection.  Turn right at the T.  In about a mile you will see the parking lot for Max Patch on the right.  Just continue on the road and the pond is about 1/4 mile past the parking lot on the right.

Max Patch pond
Max Patch Pond is stocked for some wonderful still water fishing.

Pond at Max Patch Max Patch Pond

Romantic Heart Rock at our Waterfall just a short hike from your cabin door

Mountain Spirits

Blue Ridge Mountain Spirits

 

From the little book, Attitudes of Gratitude, by M J Ryan.

"I've learned over time that it helps to take the long view, to choose to see our lives from a spiritual perspective. I know we are here to "grow our souls," to heal our wounds - or at least bless our woundedness - and become more loving, kind, fearless, and hopeful. The longer I live, the more I recognize that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is the key to living from an open heart, that is living in a spirit of joyful expectation."
MJ Ryan

We are so thankful to live here and to be able to share this mountain with others.

Today, as I reflect on the sparkling snow outside, I am mystified by the beauty of life.  

Gratitude is a powerful force that can shift any situation.  In my work as a nurse, I encountered many people who had great challenges.  The ones who healed the fastest were the ones who were able to find the "gifts" in their situation.  As hard as it is to imagine, even in our darkest times, there is a gift there somewhere.  Focusing on gratitude shifts the vibration of it all.

When we walk in these hills we often find hearts in nature.  Tom and I have a tradition that we kiss every time we encounter a heart.  This is a reminder to stop and remember our love.  It helps us to focus on what is important.

 

Hiking in Winter

“To appreciate the true beauty of a snowflake, one must go out into the cold.”  -Aristotle

One of my favorite times to hike is in the winter.   The forest opens up.   The trees display their true personalities.  The fungi that have been dormant as the leaves were out, begin to flourish and deepen in color.  The evergreens persist in their beauty and promise of eternal life. 
Continue reading “Hiking in Winter”