Eagle fishing on the French Broad River

Murray’s Branch Hiking

Murray’s Branch is a great Winter’s day hike. It offers beautiful views of the French Broad River as it flows into Tennessee. You can do this as a loop trail or hook up with Jack Branch Trail blue blazes)which meanders on up the ridge and offers sweet spots to look up the river toward Hot Springs.

T & R Rating
Excellent Views
Moderate difficulty
1.3 mile loop trail
Yellow Blaze

Directions to Trail Head

Go to Hot Springs on Hwy 209. Continue across the French Broad as if you are going out of town and just on the other side of the river turn LEFT onto River Road. It will take a hard right and follow the river. The road turns to dirt and then you will come to Murray’s Branch Picnic area which is well marked. The trail takes off on the right hand side of the road across from the picnic area. It goes up to the ridge and follows the river up on the cliffs for beautiful views

Swimming Hole

If you follow the road on down to the paint creek you will come to a paved road.  If you stay on the lower road which is not a rough as the high road, you will come to Dudly Falls a great swimming hole.

 

.Eagle fishing on the French Broad River Dudly Falls French Broad River Easter Box Turtle found on our hike Forest in fall Paint Rock area

Paint Creek

Great Hike and Drive and Swimming
Can be combined nicely with dinner or lunch in Hot Springs
Picnic tables available by the creek
Waterfalls, Beautiful Rocks, Views of River, Picnic opportunities

To access this general area:

Drive to Hot Springs on Hwy 209 N.
Go through town and cross the French Broad River
Immediately after you cross the river, turn left to access River road.
At the stop sign, turn right to head downstream.Love Road is so romantic
This road takes you several miles down the river on a very scenic drive.

In a few miles it will turn to dirt road. Then you will come to Murray Branch Recreation area.
The parking lot is on the left and the trail begins on the right of the road, just before you enter the parking area.

Hiking
T & R Rating
Moderate
Yellow Blazes
1.3 miles
This short loops has gentle switch backs through the forest up the the ridge. About 3/4 mile in you will come to a Y. This is the loop. Stay to the right to see incredible ridge top views of the river. Continue on and this trail joins with another trail, that has blue blazes. It winds on in the woods but does not loop. You can add onto your hike with this “in and out” section.

(4 wheel drive may be needed on this section only if it is muddy)
Continue down the road and look for a road that crosses Paint creek on the right. It will have a brown sign with a camping sign to the right and fishing to the left. Turn left and follow to the end. There is a beautiful pond here.

Paint Creek to Dudley Falls
Paint Creek Road is very passable, but is narrow with turnouts. You will have a choice to take the high road or low road. The low road takes you to Dudley Falls. It takes you by a beautiful creek with lots of picnic opportunities. Dudley falls is a beautiful waterfall that is accessed by car. This is a great place to wander around.

Shelton Laurel Area Hiking Pisgah National Forest

Swimming Holes in Shelton Laurel

We have just started exploring this area and we find it quite beautiful.
The trails here are remote and are more for those experienced in back country hiking.
Most require a drive up a forest road to get to the trail heads. This is not a well traveled area, so sometimes the trails are a little harder to read. It is important to know about trail safety and back woods travel before attempting these hikes.

Hickey Falls
T &R Rating
Excellent
2.3 miles one way (best done as in and out unless you know how to loop it with White Oak Trail) It is not well marked on how to do this loop. But the In and Out is easy to follow.
Difficult

This hike is very scenic. It is especially nice when the rhododendrons are blooming. The trail leaves FR 465 right at a gate. You cross the creek on a really nice bridge and follow the trail through the woods. It then joins the creek again and offers the traveler many chances to dip it some wonderful swimming holes. The falls are gorgeous and well worth the climb. The Trail continues past the falls, but we don’t advise this unless you are heading on to connect with another trail. It is very, very steep. If you turn around at the top of the falls, the hike is very pleasant back to the starting point.

To get to the trail head, go to Hot Springs and Follow 25/70 East towards Marshall. When you get to The Laurel River Store and where 25/70 takes a hard right at the river, turn left on 208 to to 212 and turn right. Drive until you see the brown sign for Hickey Falls trail. Turn left of FR 465 and follow the road up to the gate. The gate may be open or closed, but the trail head is right there.

Midnight Hole at Big Creek, excellent swimming hole

Hiking Big Creek in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Tom and Rebecca Rating
Excellent Hiking

Midnight Hole at Big Creek, excellent swimming hole

Easy Trail
2 miles in and 2 miles out Excellent Swimming Hole…..Our Favorite!!!!
Excellent Jeep Trip (Call for directions)

One of our favorite places to go on a hot summer day is Big Creek. This creek offers great swimming holes and fishing holes. It has a nice gentle hike to 2 beautiful waterfalls.
We love to go here and cook a little lunch in the picnic area then go up to the falls for a dip.
The trail takes off from the picnic area. About a mile up if you look very carefully to the right you will see a trail that is not marked that goes up through some big rocks. About 100 ft up you will find an amazing and unique cave. It is work the climb.
However, if you are just enjoying the gentle hike, continue on up the main trail and look for a well traveled path to the right that leads to Midnight Hole. This is a glorious place to swim. Perhaps Rebecca’s favorite, as it offers a nice wide pool and the water is so clear you can see the fish swimming with you. Also, hearts appear here in the rocks as the sun changes position. It is really and amazing place.
Further up the trail is Mouse Creek Falls. This is also a beautiful waterfall and worth the extra half mile walk.
There are many different ways to get to Big Creek from Dancing Sun Cabins.
The Google map shows a way via Max Patch that includes dirt roads.
But, if you want to go the paved road way, see the directions below.

From Dancing Sun Cabins:Big Creek Waterfall

Take Roaring Fork to Meadow Fork and Turn Right
Go 3 miles to Caldwell mountain Road and Turn Left
Go to the end of Caldwell Mountain Road and turn Right on Hwy 209 S
Travel until you come to Furgeson’s store where Hwy 209 turns Left, but instead turn Right to go toward
I-40W. Turn Right on Fines Creek Road and Follow it as it bares left toward I-40.
Take I-40 W to exit 451 (Waterville Exit)
Turn left after crossing the Pigeon River and continue 2.3 miles and continue straight through the intersection past the ranger station and continue on to the picnic area. The trail head is at the picnic area. Big Creek favorites, can you see the heart?

Hiking Mount Pisgah

A great day trip to the high country is to drive to Mount Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
It takes about an hour to get to the section of the Parkway then it is about 30 miles north to Mount Pisgah.
If you want to take a dip along the way you may want to stop at one of our favorite swimming holes, Skinny Dip Falls.

We have given you our “Tom and Rebecca Ratings”on the areas below:

Mount Pisgah Trail

Mt. Pisgah

T and R Rating:
Excellent Hiking

Moderate Difficulty
Excellent Views
Excellent Photography
Unique Tower at Top

Back on the Parkway you will head North to Mile post 408. Here you will find a trail to the top of Mount Pisgah which is 1.5 miles in length with about a 700 ft elevation gain. The gain is at the very end and is about .5 miles of very steep climb. It is well worth it.
We highly recommend enjoying a meal at the Pisgah Inn. The service is excellent, the food delicious and the view is exceptional.

Skinny Dip Falls:

T and R Rating:
Excellent Swimming
Easy to Moderate Hike
Short with some steep places
Approximately 1 mile in and 1 mile out

Located at Milepost 417 which is the Looking Glass Rock Overlook there is a trail head for Skinny Dip Falls. This Trail is across the road from the overlook to the north. The falls area has many private pools that are perfect for swimming.

Cradle of Forestry
T and R Rating
Excellent place to take Children or Elders
Best Wheel Chair Accessible Area we have ever visited!
Interactive Museum
Lots of Trails

Mile post 412 is known as Wagon Road Gap is where 276 crosses the road.
Take this exit and turn left to go to the Cradle of Forestry. It is well marked. You will be traveling toward Brevard.

Looking Glass Rock and Pisgah Wildlife Center

T and R Rating
Excellent Drives to photograph Looking Glass Rock
Wonderful Hiking Trails that are well marked with easy access

For a Jeep Trail Experience here is one way to drive to see the rock:
Further down Hwy 276 is a Forest Road 475B. This road is a pretty well maintained Forestry Road but it is gravel. You can take it down to 475 and head Left to the Fish Hatchery and Pisgah Wildlife Center.
Then you can travel further down 475 traveling the same direction and it rejoins Hwy 276 at Looking Glass Falls.

For a gentle Car Experience
Just continue on down Hwy 276 toward Brevard and you will see signs for the Fish Hatchery and Pisgah Wildlife Center

T and R Rating

Excellent Drive
Excellent Photography
Nice Swimming Experiences

Heading back toward the Parkway on Hwy 276 back toward Waynesville will take you back to the parkway. On the way you will pass Sliding Rock. This unique area is a fee area that allows you to slide down an amazing part of the creek if you are so inclined.

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.

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.