Best Hikes of Pisgah National Forest Part 1, North Carolina

Pisgah National Forest is a huge park and many of the top trails and sights are spread out. It’s a good idea to plot out where they are along the parkway so you save yourself time. In Part 1 we’ll cover the hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway that are South West of Asheville in a linear fashion, starting at 40 minutes from downtown.

+Mount Pisgah Trail, mile marker 407

To be the namesake mountain of a national forest, you better be a pretty great trail. Pisgah delivers. It is a very popular trail indeed, so in the lower lot there is actually a restaurant, restroom, campground, and store. The trail begins in the way back of the upper lot. The hike is 3 miles RT, an out and back which gains 700 foot gain. The trail is rocky and moderately strenuous, but the blossoming rhododendron, mountain laurel, and flame azalea were great distractions.

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Before I knew it I summited the mountain and discovered that a big ole’ transmission tower was up there, too. Try to block that out because BAM – those are some seriously sensational views.

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+Frying Pan Tower, mile marker 409

The old dirt road up the hill isn’t very exciting, but what’s at the top is.

A 1.5 RT out and back trail with a 350 foot gain to a 70 foot fire tower.

Ignore the communication towers next door and climb on up. Spy Looking Glass Rock in the distance.

Views are unparalleled.

+Skinny Dip Falls, Looking Glass Rock Overlook mile marker 417

A stop at this overlook should be at the top of everyone’s list when driving the parkway. Looking Glass Rock is exceptionally incredible, a pluton (great mass of molten rock hardened under the earths surface) formed by underground volcanic activity.

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After viewing, take a walk to the falls. There is no indication of them, it would feel like a great secret if there weren’t so many other people to share it with! It is a very popular hike and swimming hole. Be cautious as you cross the busy street, on the other side you will find a marker for the Mountains to Sea Trail. Follow the clearly trodden path ½ mile until you spot the falls.

At a closer look there are many different levels,

cascades,

and pools to observe.

The water is so clear, and one section is six feet deep, more than enough for a good dunk. Keep your eyes peeled for marvelous snails!

+Graveyard Field Loop, mile marker 418

It’s great when you wow even before you get out of the car, stunning foggy mountains and rhododendron.

Diverse and ever changing, this exciting hike is a very popular choice. There is a great big parking lot and restroom. Note the trail map before you head out. Graveyard Fields Loop is 1.3 miles roundtrip. It has lovely boardwalks and paths through fields and forests.

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As you reach the Yellowstone Prong notice its plentiful cascades. There is a spur which brings to Second Falls .3 RT, a sight you would not like to miss.

It is a great spot to cool down on a hot day. Add on Upper Falls an additional 1.6 RT spur with more elevation gain, less populated do to the extra effort. It is a bit more strenuous, but having the narrow chute to yourself is an added bonus.

Look out for resident juncos along the way.

+Devils Courthouse, mile marker 422

You can see your destination from the parking lot, the rock outcropping on top of a lush speckled mountain side.

Walk along the side of the road and then enter the woods shaded woods which were filled with rhododendron.

The trail is one mile round trip, an out and back which is paved for most of the way and gains 250 feet. It is very popular and due to its short length family friendly. Views from the top are truly breathtaking.

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There are plaques to help you identify prominent peaks in the sea of green. Be extra careful to stay on the trail, resident Peregrine Falcons nest in the area and you wouldn’t want to disturb them.

+Richland Balsam Mountain, Haywood Jackson Overlook mile marker 431

The highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a easy 1.5 lollipop loop that gains 700 feet. It is different from other hikes along the parkway, the trail is dark on account of the dense spruces – which also make it smell delicious.

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The summit offers no views,

but completing the loop you will snag a pretty shot.

I had this trail and big parking lot all to myself, it does not seem to be a popular hike which can be a nice thing in such a busy park. Be sure to stop by the highest elevation point on the parkway, less than a mile away.

Posted in Asheville, North Carolina | 5 Comments

Guide to Pisgah National Forest & Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

I spent two glorious weeks in Asheville, North Carolina and I can’t think of a city in America I ever fallen in love with harder. It’s a nature lover’s paradise. June was the perfect time to visit because rhododendron, mountain laurel, and azaleas were in bloom and absolutely outrageous. Not to mention the sensational firefly show every night. Temperatures were warm enough for shorts and t-shirts, a dip under a waterfall, but cool enough so that you don’t think of unrelenting southern heat. Swaths of land surrounding Asheville to the north, east, and west are engulfed in Pisgah National Forest.

A ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway takes you through the forest, America’s longest linear park running 469 miles linking Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina all the way up to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Some of the tallest mountains of the eastern United States reside along the parkway – such as Mount Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi River – an hour from Asheville.

There are countless vistas, pull offs, swimming holes, hiking trails, and biking opportunities throughout the land.

+The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor’s Center [195 Hemphill Knob Rd, Asheville, NC 28803] can supply you with a map, especially because there is limited cell reception in some areas. Plus you can find out any additional information you may need, and a restroom!

+Be prepared with supplies! Have enough fuel in your car, there are no gas stations on the parkway. Come packed with food and water, although there are concessions stands and visitors centers along the way, they are far and few between.

+Mind the speed limit on the curving mountainous roads. If you find cars tailgating you, pull over and enjoy the view at one of the numerous vistas so everyone is more relaxed.

+Respect the wildlife and be up to date on what to do if you encounter bears. Leave no trace.

+Weather can change at the drop of a dime. Bring layers and rain gear no matter how warm or sunny when you leave your accommodations.

+The Folk Art Center [Milepost, 382 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Asheville, NC 28805] is a neat places to grab local crafts and has a very unique gallery.

+R e l a x and enjoy the ride, there is no cost to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway or hike in Pisgah National Forest. No trip to Asheville is complete without a into the mountains and over the next few days I’ll be sharing my favorite spots along the Parkway.

Posted in Asheville, North Carolina | 3 Comments

Hike Surprise Lake, New Jersey

Vistas, rhododendron, PINK rocks, and scrambles. There is never a dull moment along the circuit around Surprise Lake. The hiking trail is located within Abram S Hewitt State Park very close to the state line between New Jersey and New York.

Quick Notes

Length: 4 mile loop

Difficulty: Moderately strenuous, 1,200 elevation gain

Parking: 538 Lakeside Road, Hewitt NJ 07421 across from the lake in designated lot past the Greenwood Lake Marina. No fees. Porta john at the trailhead.

Cliffnote Trail Directions:

+Begin on blue and white blazes

+Left at yellow blazes

+Left Yellow/Orange when you reach the lake

+Remain on yellow until it dead ends

+Turn right on the white blazed AT

+Right turn on Blue/white

Just behind the trailhead hop on the blue and white blazed trail heading uphill, n less than a mile you’ll gain over 500 feet!

In between wiping your sweat away, keep alert for the yellow trail junction marked on a rock, turn left here and continue your way up.

Climbing steeply, this trail will bring you to one stellar view point over Greenwood Lake.

On a clear day you can just see the tips of the tallest buildings all the way in NYC.

Stick around a bit and you may even be graced with a bald eagle sighting.

When you finally look down from notice the rocks, which are quite different. Some sections are pink puddingstone!

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There is more to see. Carry on across the bald rocks past the dwarfed pines back into the woods. Surprise. There is the lake in the middle of the woods.

Take a left to remain on the yellow trail – accompanied with orange for some time, and keep with it until it dead ends. Pass through a rhododendron tunnel which would be magical during it’s bloom – see if you can plan accordingly.

The trail some challenging rolling hills and a bit of a rock scramble. It is filled with diverse habitats and ever-changing views. When you hit the intersection, head right on the Appalachian Trail blazed in white. Turn right to continue onto the blue and white blazed trail descending all the way back into the parking lot to complete your hike.

Posted in New Jersey | 3 Comments

Play Pinball at Yestercades, New Jersey

New Jersey has a great pinball scene, fitting with its nostalgic never changing feel. If you can pull yourself away from the beach and boardwalk arcades, head inland to experience Yestercades. Pay by the hour or grab a day pass to play as much pinball as you’d like, newer machines and old favorites alike.

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There are other old school arcade games as well,

and even guitar hero!

Depending on where you are, there are two locations in the state.

+80 Broad St Red Bank, NJ 07701

Not far from the popular beach town of Asbury Park is a lesser known little town called Red Bank. The arcade is located on an adorable, yet bustling Main Street with plenty of mom and pop shops and restaurants.

+29 Division St Somerville, NJ 08876

Close to the city of Edison, a smaller town named Somerville. The second location is within a quaint pedestrian mini-mall. If you’re looking for a bite to eat in the same area, try Division Café across the way. They offer delightful Spanish cuisine, be sure to try their homemade empanadas – the chipotle chicken was phenomenal. The black bean burger was excellent served with yucca fries.

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Either spot you’re in for fun reliving the golden age of gaming.

Posted in New Jersey | 2 Comments

Giant Stairs Hike: Palisades Interstate Park, NY-NJ

If you want a hike with it all, head to Palisades Interstate Park which spans for miles along the shores of the Hudson River. Giant Stairs is an exhilarating rock scrambling trek spanning two states with dramatic panoramas, palisade cliffs, and hidden treasures along the way.

Quick Notes:

Length: 5.5 mile loop

Difficulty: Moderately strenuous, 800+ foot elevation gain

Parking: State Line Lookout, Palisades Interstate Park – restrooms, cafe, no fee

Map:

Without moving much of a muscle from the State Line Lookout parking lot you can enjoy the incredible views along the paved path Old Route 9W heading north (or left from the parking lot) as it runs parallel with the river.

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The namesake palisade cliffs are home to many vultures, a perfect spot to soar down and catch the thermals.

As the trail veers away from the views, you’ll want to make a right onto Trail A which stays close to the cliffs. You will follow from New Jersey for a brief interlude into New York, passing a border monument to signify the crossing

and a geological marker along the way.

There are many interesting and precarious looking geological formations to stop and ponder.

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As you descend steeply turn onto the white blazed Shore Trail which you will remain for the next two miles.

Pass by Peanut Leap Cascade which was not very impressive during my visit, but supposedly after a good rainfall it is magnificent. What I did find was the stone ruins of an old Italian style garden.

There is also a nice swing hanging from a tree. Enjoy these pleasantries, because once you reach Giant Stairs the party is over. This massive jumble of rocks towers over the river and each step must be calculated.

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It is a ton of fun to navigate, a great challenge, and you can’t beat those views.

You think it’s over when the trail becomes more relaxed, but then a bit of a scramble once more before turning into the woods. This is the peaceful calm before the next storm. From here you turn onto the blue and white blazed Forest View Trail to ascend brutally back up to the top of the cliffs.

You’ll be happy to see the path level off after a steady climb, you are close to completing the circuit. Just make a right when the trail hits a junction on to Trail A. A quick right to remain on Trail A. And one more right on Trail F to find yourself back in the parking lot now completing the Giant Stairs loop!

+There are many other recreational opportunities on the 30 miles of trail at the parking. Less strenuous options such as simple strolls on the flat paved path or picnicking are perfect for all abilities.

Posted in New Jersey | 5 Comments

Deep Cut Gardens, New Jersey

The best things in life are free. Deep Cut Gardens [152 Red Hill Rd, Middletown, NJ 07748] is a treasure in New Jersey, an expansive and enchanting garden open to the public at no cost.

Paved paths pass pretty flowering trees and flowers, hiking trails meander through the woods.

The landscaping is simply masterful. There are collections of rose bushes and bonsai trees.

Formal gardens are meticulously maintained.

You’ll see shimmering koi in the pond,

and numerous bunnies, birds, and frogs.

The flowering bushes were aflame in springtime, but I’d imagine there is something that pops in every season at this garden.

To me, it’s all about the little details

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and hidden paths.

Make sure to enter the greenhouse which has countless cacti, pitcher plants, and orchids.

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Inside the visitor’s center there is a restroom, library, and play room for kids. Not far from the coast, this is a wonderful place to stop and take a break from the sand and surf of the Jersey Shore.

Posted in New Jersey | 6 Comments

Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, New Jersey

A powerful 77-foot waterfall is a sight to see on the side of the road. Pull over to stop and visit the overlook park to admire its majesty.

Great Falls is not your average waterfall revered simply for its beauty or height, but rather its historical significance. Great Falls National Historical Park [72 McBride Avenue Paterson, NJ 07501] was created to tell the story of Paterson, America’s first planned industrial city established in 1791. Alexander Hamilton saw the potential to harvest the power from the waterfall for industrial use and thus New Jersey would begin to produce cotton for clothing, locomotives for trains, paper for books, and more.

These industries created many jobs for immigrant workers who faced the harsh conditions of factory life – setting the stage for the labor movement. Walk along the Passaic River to see the Textile Printing ruins. Closer to the falls view the hydroelectric plant that works to power the city today.

Take a stroll over the pedestrian bring to get a better view of the falls from Mary Ellen Kramer Park.

Here you can get up close and person with the falls and see how it disappears into the chasm.

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Come for the waterfall, stay for the history. Great Falls is worth a stop when passing through Paterson, the site is free for all to visit.

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