Skip to content

Mt. Kearsarge

October 21, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

Mt. Kearsarge is located in state park land in Central New Hampshire with 360-degree spectacular views from the summit.  On a clear day you can see Mount Washington, the White Mountain range, Merrimac Valley, and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mt. Kearsarge Summit

The summit of Kearsarge is marked by a large cairn.

Adam Says…

Mt. Kearsarge kept popping up on lists of hikes we had not done in New Hampshire that had amazing views, so we decided to tackle it on a day where we could capitalize on the views.  The hike starts off in Winslow State Park, reached by driving up Kearsarge Mountain Road and then taking a right on Winslow House Road to the top.  The area at the top of the road is a large picnic area, with shelters and outdoor grills that would be perfect for a family gathering before or after the hike.  The trail starts through an opening in the trees, near the southern back corner of the parking lot.

You quickly reach a large kiosk that shows the split of the loop trail.  We took the Winslow Trail up and returned via the Barlow Trail.  The Winslow Trail was quite steep and led through a lot of trail that was filled with lots of roots and rocks.  If you do this hike after a lot of rain, expect it to be quite slick in some spots.  The trail had us going a bit slow since it was a steep trail that required you to watch your foot placement in order to not twist your ankle.

The Winslow Trail

The Winslow Trail is a steep one mile climb to the summit. Below: The Winslow and Barlow trails make a loop over the summit of Kearsarge; A little mud; Lots of rocks and roots.

Trail Signs Muddy Trail 

The trail then passed a large split boulder on the left around .8 miles.  We were able to climb up to the top of this rock and then look behind us which opened up some views that were getting near the top of the tree line.  At .9 miles, we reached the top junction with the Barlow Trail and we pushed on from here to reach the top shortly after at the one mile mark.  The tower was in the middle of the huge rock expanse, but there were views all around.  We took some time to enjoy the views all around.  Fairly soon, we were joined by a few other hikers that had approached the summit via Rollins State Park – this is a shorter hike to the top of Mt. Kearsarge.  We first talked to a woman with her great niece.  The niece was probably about 11 years old and was not a fan of the hike or views.  She didn’t want to even look at the views.  She just wanted to know if she could touch the rock and leave immediately.  I could tell the great aunt was disappointed that her niece didn’t enjoy nature like she did, which was disappointing to witness.  The next person was a young woman from New Jersey that came here to do a quick day hike.  She had also approached from the Rollins State Park side, but she was hoping to make a larger loop and ended up adding the Winslow and Barlow trails to her day.

We then went to the fire tower.  Christine decided to climb to the top, but when I felt the rickety nature of the structure and was nearly hit by squirrel droppings from a squirrel that Christine had upset, I decided to just wait at the bottom.  Some men soon arrived to do some maintenance work on the dishes and they were talking about some of the mountain ranges around us.  While I am sure they are doing some hard work, I was envious wishing I had an office view like this one.

New Hampshire Granite

New Hampshire is called The Granite State with good reason.

We made our way back to the junction at the edge of the treeline with the Barlow Trail and followed the yellow blazes for this way back down.  We continued along the top as we walked by an alpine bog and then to some other views.  Dragonflies were everywhere at the top and it was neat to see so many of them at this high elevation.  We were glad we did the loop the way we did since we had views ahead of us on the way down.  The trail had some steep sections going down but weren’t nearly as treacherous as the way up.  Most of the trail was deep in the woods, but it was pretty scenery all around us.  We eventually made our way back to the lower junction between the Winslow and Barlow trails at 2.6 miles and then took a quick turn to the parking lot and we were done.  While the trail was a shorter one at 2.7 miles, the hike up took longer than we would have normally taken and the views at the top will make you want to take a large break to take it all in.

The books we had read and internet research we had done in advance probably didn’t give this hike enough credit.  This is definitely one to hit while in New Hampshire.  The length of the hike may also make it suitable for a lot of families and there is a wonderful picnic spot where you park to make this a memorable experience for the entire family.

The first views from Kearsarge on the ascent. Below: We had to crossed some slab granite. Fortunately, it was dry; Cairns mark the way over granite; Cell phone tower and an old fire tower on the summit.

  Towers Atop Kearsarge

Christine Says…

Mt. Kearsarge was our first new hike in New Hampshire during our summer 2018 trip.  The small, but  prominent, mountain is located in the Dartmouth-Sunapee region.  Geologically, the mountain is what is known as a monadnock – a mountain that rises steeply and abruptly from relatively flat land. This type of mountain always looks taller and more imposing than it is in reality. It was a fantastic choice for an easy morning hike  – great views, fun terrain, and not too lengthy. We chose to ascend on the Winslow Trail and then come back down on the Barlow Trail, making a 2.7 mile loop.

The Winslow Trail is shorter and quite a bit steeper than the Barlow Trail. I always think it’s nice to tackle the tougher terrain when my legs are fresh. I also appreciate the challenge of a tough climb. Upon entering the woods, the trail is soft and covered with pine needles. However, the trail footing soon becomes rooty and rocky. Red blazes will help you navigate across jumbles of boulders and granite slabs.

Summit of Kearsarge

The summit view from Kearsarge is fantastic. Below: Adam at the summit cairn; There is an elevation sign and a couple picnic tables next to the tower; Christine enjoys the views.

 Summit Sign Taking in the View

Your first views from the mountain come from atop a huge split boulder right before you break the treeline. This is also where the junction with the Barlow trail is located. You’ll pass the junction at this point and make your way toward the summit. In the bald, open area, cairns are used to guide hikers to the top. The park has posted several signs imploring hikers NOT to build new cairns. Moving rocks disrupts nature and building new cairns can make wayfinding confusing for hikers.

The summit of Kearsarge is marked by a big rockpile.  From the top, the view rolls out in every direction.  It’s GORGEOUS! When sky conditions are clear you can see the imposing White Mountains and Mt. Cardigan to the north, the Merrimack valley to the south, and to the west are Vermont’s Green Mountains. Just below the summit, the vista is interrupted by an old fire lookout and a communications tower.  There is also a picnic area and a sandwich-board sign noting Kearsarge’s elevation (2,937’).

Descent on the Barlow Trail

We followed the longer Barlow Trail for our descent. Below: A small alpine bog; The descent on the Barlow trail had lots of nice views; Blueberries – some of the only ones we saw on this year’s New Hampshire trip.

Alpine Bog  Blueberries

While the towers aren’t pretty, they barely detract from the magnificent views in every direction. I climbed the tower while Adam hung out below.  On my way up the stairs, I encountered a very angry red squirrel. I thought he was going to dive-bomb my face, but he settled for loud chattering. The view from the tower wasn’t really any better than the view from the summit, so I made my way back down and found a nice rock to sit on.

After taking in summit views, we made our way downhill to where the Winslow and Barlow trails meet.  The yellow blazed Barlow Trail passes across open areas with more stunning vistas. We saw blueberry bushes and a small alpine bog on our way down. When we visited, dragonflies were swarming the mountain. If you look closely at our photos, you’ll see loads of them!

Eventually, the trail will traverse some slab granite and dip back into an evergreen forest.  The trail continues downhill over roots and pine needles.  There is one small footbridge over a swampy area near the end.  The trail ends at the initial Winslow-Barlow junction near the picnic area at Winslow State Park.

Pine Forest

Pretty evergreen forests of New Hampshire. Below: Scenes of the descent along the Barlow Trail.

Barlow Trail Barlow Trail Barlow Trail

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2.7 miles
  • Elevation Change – 1224 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.  The trail was steeper than we would have expected, but take your time.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  Due to the steepness and the abundance of roots and rocks, this could make for a more difficult hike after heavy rainfall.
  • Views –  5. 360-degree views all around from the summit.  There is a fire tower that obstructs some of the view but you can rotate around it to take it all in.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 0.  Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 2.5  A decent spot for bird-watching and squirrels. 
  • Ease to Navigate –  4.  The trail was fairly well-blazed.  The junctions may make things a bit tricky, but follow our map.
  • Solitude – 2.  This is a popular spot and with two approaches to the summit, you may not realize how many people you may see at the top.  You should be able to carve out your own solitude at the top since there are views all around.

Trail Map

Click to download full size map.

Elevation Profile:

Click to download full size elevation profile.

Directions to trailhead:

Coordinates for this hike are 43.390281, -71.868260.  The trailhead is located in New Hampshire’s Winslow State Park in Wilmot, NH.  There is a fee to enter the park.

Blackrock (NC)

September 23, 2018

North Carolina Hikes

This 4.5 mile hike in North Carolina’s Plott Balsams had some great views, but the trail was in such poor shape that the hike was not that enjoyable.  There were parts that were unpleasant (tall grass, blowdowns, and thick overgrowth), confusing (relatively few blazes), and even dangerous (slippery erosion and steep dropoffs).

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Sun Rays on the Trail to Blackrock

All the unsettled weather and fog made for pretty sunrays in the woods. Below: Parking along the shoulder of the road; Park along the road way just beneath the turn-off to the visitors center; Lush ferns as you enter the trail.

Park Here Waterrock Knob Pretty Ferns

Christine Says…

This hike started off along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center at BRP mile 451.  There is parking right along the shoulder of the road (as pictured above).  The entrance to the trail is unmarked, so you’ll need to search along the forest line to find where the trail begins.  When you see this old, broken-down kiosk just inside the woods, you’ll know you’re on the right path. The trail has occasional purple/yellow blazes, but don’t count on seeing many along the way to guide you! This area is tricky – even for experienced hikers. Meanderthals hiking blog did a good write-up where they describe getting a bit lost along this stretch of trail.

The trail begins a gradual, easy, uphill climb through evergreen forest. There are ferns and mosses draping the ground everywhere.  When we hiked in June, there was a ton of blooming Clintonia borealis – a lily found frequently in woodlands around the world. The initial climb goes on for just a couple tenths of a mile before opening up to a nice view to the southeast, including a look at Yellow Face mountain. After the view, the trail descends into a brief saddle.  Fog from the unsettled weather seemed to sit in every dip in the trail along the way.

Views from the Trail

There were nice views from the trail in several spots. Below: Blooming Clintonia borealis; Adam negotiating the terrain; Tons of fog and moving clouds.

Clintonia Rocks to Scramble Fog Descends

At just under three quarters of a mile, we reached the summit of Yellow Face.  This mountain stands at just over 6,000 feet and was donated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to the National Park Service around 2001 or 2002.  In fact, the entire trail is cobbled together across land owned the the Nature Conservancy, the NPS, and the town of Sylva, NC.  Some sources say the trail itself has existed (in varying forms) for hundreds of years and was used historically by the Cherokee people.  It’s currently maintained completely by volunteers – the NPS and the forest service are not involved.

When we hiked, the ‘bald’ at the summit of Yellow Face was really overgrown with tall grasses and bramble bushes.  The view was nice, but definitely closing in. Near the summit, there’s a memorial plaque to Stephen Andrew Canada. I tried finding more information about him, but came up empty.  Maybe he died on this peak or maybe he just loved this peak.

After the summit of Yellow Face, the trail descends again into another saddle. You’ll encounter some blowdowns, a pretty spruce forest, and some more open terrain. Near the low point of the saddle, at 1.3 miles, there are campsites on the right side of the trail.  The open grassy area is littered with remnant mechanical parts from old logging equipment. We didn’t see a water source near the campsites, so if you were to overnight at this spot, you would need to carry enough water to cook and drink.

Obstacles

This was just one of the many blowdowns across the trail. This was one of the easier ones to navigate. Below: Trail scenery; Campsites in the saddle; More blowdowns.

Pretty section Campsite Another Blowdown

After passing the campsites, the trail climbed again for a few tenths of a mile.  We passed over and through a couple more blowdowns. At 1.7 miles, things got tricky. We began walking along a very narrow ridgeline decorated with enormous boulders.  The trail was so slippery and eroded that I put my camera away to fully focus on footing and safety. There are more photos of this section included on the return hike below. I don’t think any of the photos truly do justice to the trail conditions along this stretch. It was far sketchier than it appears. The tough terrain went on for about half a mile, where we reached an opening in a dense rhododendron tunnel at 2.2 miles.

I chose this point to stop. The climb after this point was described by another website as ‘a steep climb up roots and rocks requiring hands and feet‘. On a dry day, I would probably have no problem tackling that climb, but on this particular day I’d been slipping, stumbling, and sliding so much that I decided to stop 100 yards short of the summit.  It’s always a tough decision to miss the final destination of a hike, but I think the phrase ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ exists for a reason.  Adam went on without me to take photos of the final vista.  When he eventually came back he told me that I made the right decision and that the final climb was really slippery and precipitous. I was relieved he made it back safely!

Through the Fog

The foggy trail was beautiful. Below: Giant boulder; A view from the trail right before the final summit; The rhododendron tunnel right before the summit.

Large Boulders Looking toward Blackrock Rhodie Tunnel

We slowly made our way back across all the terrain we had covered on our hike out.  Very rarely do I feel this way, but the whole way back I kept thinking, “I can’t wait to get off this STUPID TRAIL!”  We trekked through the overgrowth, slithered back through blowdowns, and slid down rocks and mud.  It was a slog. It was a death march. It was not fun at all. We chatted with a couple other hikers who were hiking just to Yellow Face and back (good call!)  We crossed paths with a naturalist group looking at plant life along the trail.  But, generally, we had the hike entirely to ourselves for most of the day.

I was very grateful to get back to the car!  Afterwards, we paid a quick visit to the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center and then made our way back toward Bryson City for lunch at Nantahala Outdoor Center’s River’s End Restaurant. I had fun counting all my new bruises and scrapes on the drive back to the valley.  Maybe this hike would have been more fun on a clear day after a stretch of dry weather. But overall, it’s not a hike I enjoyed. If you’re picking a hike in this area, I recommend The Pinnacle instead. It had much more vertical gain, but the trail was in vastly better shape, and I thought the vista was much more accessible (and just as beautiful!)

Adam Says…

We had attempted to do this Blackrock hike last year. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway but the fog was so heavy, we couldn’t even find the trailhead. We hunted around, but with so little visibility, we decided to try this another time.  This year, we had a much clearer morning and we were able to find the trailhead somewhat easily.The Blue Ridge Parkway has actually taken down the parking trailhead marker and it isn’t very well blazed (my guess is because of the danger).  But, we were able to see an opening in the trees and once we were about 25 yards into the woods, we soon came to a sign that we knew we were on the right path.

Christine described the overall hike well. While the elevation gain wasn’t crazy for much of the hike, the footing was fairly horrendous. The overall hike to Yellow Face was not too bad, but the view isn’t that impressive since it is getting sucked away from overgrown flora.  Once you arrive at the saddle, the footing gets very treacherous.

Blackrock Vista

It was mostly in the clouds, but the views opened enough to take in the mountain majesty. Below: Another photo Adam captured at the Black Rock Summit.

Another View

At one point, you climb in a three or four-point stance to go up a very steep terrain on the ridgeline. While we were expecting a nice view from here, it was only a bit of an overgrown one. The trail then takes a precipitous drop down a sheer rock area. Christine decided to stop before descending. I knew the view had to be just ahead, so I pushed forward but it was not something I felt very safe doing. I had to climb down the side of a rock, hanging on to handholds on the rock on the left of me while the width of my foot wasn’t able to fully fit on a step down the rock.  A wrong step here, means that you could easily fall about a hundred feet down to the right.  We didn’t get pictures of this area because it wasn’t safe. Once I got to the bottom, there was another treacherous climb back up where I had to hang onto roots and pull myself up. Once I got to the summit rock, there is also no easy way to get up.  I had to ultimately launch my body up like a wounded sea lion on to the rock and then pull the rest of my weight up with my upper body. Christine was very worried about me making it, so I texted her to let her know that I made it and took some photos, which reduced my heart rate a bit. The views from the summit were impressive, but I could see clouds moving in and it looked like rain was coming.  I texted Christine again to let her know I was leaving again, but that text never went through so my goal of easing her mind didn’t really help.

The Hike Back

We took more photos of the boulder section on the hike back. Below: Some scenes from the slippery, narrow ridge walk.

 Steep Steep

The hike back down and up was equally treacherous, but I was very glad to get reunited.  On our way back, we came across an older couple, who we warned to just turn back (they were planning on it).  We also came across a large group of naturalists (one was even walking the trail barefoot – crazy).  We warned them also, but they said they would likely not make it all the way there since, as one told us, they “get easily distracted by every plant they walk by”.  We were very glad when we got back to our car. While we thought this would have been a beautiful, fun hike, the danger really didn’t provide much enjoyment. So, if you attempt this hike, be very careful and feel free to turn around. I won’t be offended if you steal my pictures of the summit and say they were yours to show your family the summit.

Overgrown

Some more examples of trail overgrowth. Below: The memorial placque; One final blowdown before reaching the car!

Plaque Another Blowdown

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.5 miles
  • Elevation Change – 1800 ft
  • Difficulty – 4.5  While the climbing is never terribly strenuous, this hike is a series of constant ups and downs (some steep), punctuated by flat stretches. The trail isn’t in great shape, so this adds to the challenge factor you’ll experience on this hike.
  • Trail Conditions –  1.5.  The trail was quite overgrown and eroded.  The grass and bramble bushes were tall in sunny places.  The steeper parts of the trail were eroded with loose soil. There were also many blows to negotiate along the route.
  • Views –  5 – We visited on a day with lots of fog and moving clouds, but on clear days the views would be magnificent.  There are views to enjoy along the trail and at the vista.
  • Streams/Waterfalls –  0.  None
  • Wildlife – 1.  The trail was oddly devoid of animals – we heard a few birds, but we didn’t even see pedestrian wildlife like squirrels and chipmunks.
  • Ease to Navigate –  2.5.  There is only one trail to follow, but it is overgrown in many places.  Blowdowns may also take you off course.  There are relatively few blazes along the route.
  • Solitude – 2.  We saw a few people along the way (most turning around at Yellow Face), but generally this trail seems lightly traveled.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Blackrock Elevation

Click to View Larger Elevation Profile

Directions to trailhead:  Parking is along the shoulder of the Blue Ridge Parkway, coordinates: 35.45641, -83.14319

The Pinnacle (NC)

September 1, 2018

North Carolina Hikes

The Pinnacle is a 6.6 mile hike with a strenuous climb for the first two miles. Hikers are rewarded on a clear day with spectacular views from a rocky ridgeline and overlook point.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Split Rock

Split Rock is a landmark just a half mile into the hike. Below: The information board at Pinnacle Park. Make sure you fill out a free permit card before beginning your hike; Trail options starting from Pinnacle Park;

Pinnacle Park Permits Pinnacle Trail Sign

Adam Says…

This hike has an incredibly generic name.  I can’t recall how many hikes we have been on with the name “Pinnacle” in the title.  The same can be said about “bald” (“bald knob”, “bald rock”, etc.), “buzzard” (“buzzard rock”, “buzzard roost”, etc.), “black rock”, and “devil” (“devil’s marbleyard”, “devil’s stairs”, “devil’s bathtub”, etc.).  While the hike name lacks originality, by using the word, “pinnacle”, hikers should expect great views and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Getting there caused us a bit of confusion because the directions we had seemed to want us to drive on private property.  However, we stayed on the main road and it soon came to a dead end at Pinnacle Park.  We parked and completed the permit form at the kiosk, which were quite damp since they were exposed to the elements.  Just past the kiosk was the trailhead that led through a gate.  As we were starting our hike, there was also a couple of women that were getting started as well.  They had backpacks to help carry their toddlers and they were taking the trail all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where they had dropped off another car. They said they were quite familiar with the trail. After we saw the steepness of the terrain, we were impressed with these young moms.

Pretty West Fork

The streams along this trail were incredibly scenic after LOTS of rain. Below: Adam hikes uphill in the fog and drizzle; Mountain Laurel were just starting to bloom; Another small waterfall and stream crossing.

Fog on the West Fork Trail Mountain Laurel Small Stream Crossing

The day started off foggy and incredibly humid from the recent rains, which made the footing a bit tricky for parts of the hike with either slippery rocks or muddy areas.  After going a short distance, you pass by a meadow and then reach a trail junction.  There are some shorter trails that break off to the right of the trail that some families take to get a short walk through the woods next to the stream.  We waited to confirm with the young moms, but our path led us steeply uphill to continue the hike.  As we hiked up, we passed Split Rock and we had several opportunities to get good views of the cascading stream on the left.  The hike had us breathing heavily due to the steepness of the terrain and the humidity made us work extra hard.

Around two miles, we reached the junction with the Pinnacle Trail taking off to the left.  The good news is that the hardest part of the climbing is done.  There is still more climbing to do on this spur trail, but it isn’t nearly as steep and some areas are quite flat.  This section had some places where the trail was under water or extremely muddy due to all the rain, but I’m guessing is damp during lots of the year.  After another 1.3 miles, the trail reaches the summit area.  As we were hiking, we didn’t see any hope of the sun coming out, but we at least thought we could have a nice hike in the woods.  Right before the summit, I decided to step off the trail a bit to urinate and as soon as I started, the sun came out.  Christine got a big laugh since she thought this act had summoned the sun to appear (if you run into the same situation, it is worth a shot).  So, we made a quick dash to the final summit area.  The clouds were still preventing us from getting remarkable views, but we could see some views as the clouds were rolling over the summit path.  We stopped here to eat a snack and take in the limited views.  As soon as we packed up to leave, the clouds completely covered in everything so we lucked out.  On our way back down, we ran into more hikers that were going up to the point.  We almost felt like we were running on the way back down and it amazed us how steep the terrain was in parts.

Hiking into the Clouds

Big clouds moved on an off the mountain throughout our hike.  Below: The trail junction for Blackrock and the Pinnacle; A lot of the trail to the Pinnacle was underwater; This beard-like moss was hanging on everything.

Trail Junction Water on the Trail Mossy

Christine Says…

This hike was quite an adventure and a good cardio-challenge! The trailhead is located in Pinnacle Park, which is an 1,100 acre plot of land owed by the town of Sylva, NC and maintained by the Pinnacle Park Foundation.  It used to provide the town’s watersource, but in the early 1990s it was put into conservation and opened for hiker access.  The park has several backcountry campsites for backpackers. They ask that both dayhikers and backpackers complete a free permit form before beginning their hike. Blank forms are available at the trailhead’s informational kiosk.

When we arrived at the park (which is essentially just the dead end of the road), we had humid, foggy, drizzly conditions. The whole area was under the unsettled outer arms of Tropical Storm Alberto, so the weather was extremely changeable during our visit.  We knew we had a big climb ahead of us, and really hoped the fog would clear off and let us have at least some views.  It always stinks to climb and climb and climb, and then not even get a view. But, that’s the thing about these mountains – even when the valley is sunny, peaks over 4500′ often stay in the clouds and mist. You just never know what your summit weather is going to be until you get there.

The Pinnacle

The Pinnacle is a cool crag with great views all around. Below: The view moved constantly in and out of the clouds; Looking down into the valley; Upon leaving the summit, we went back into the fog.

Moving Clouds Moving Clouds Back into the Fog

After passing a gate, the hike starts off immediately and relentlessly uphill. The first two miles of the hike follow what seems to be an old forest service or logging road.  It’s wide and covered with loose, round stones – a bit of an ankle-turner. In the first couple tenths of a mile, you’ll pass a stream with remnants of its history as a municipal water source.  There are gauges and concrete channels that are now being reclaimed by nature.  After that, you’ll make a wide switchback in a meadow.  There will be a trail that comes in from the left.  Stay to the right, climbing uphill, before eventually reaching a sign with trail mileage for the Pinnacle, Blackrock, and Waterrock Knob (on the Blue Ridge Parkway). Follow the trail toward Pinnacle.  At a half mile into the hike you’ll pass Split Rock – an enormous cracked boulder right along the trail. The crack is big enough for an adult to climb in.

Shortly after the Split Rock, we had our first stream crossing.  Even with the high water flow, all the stream crossings were safe and easy.  I think I remember there being three crossings in the first two miles of hiking.  The beauty of the stream along this trail is definitely something I’ll remember.  I’m sure the water is not normally as impressive, but when we visited it was gorgeous – rapids and little waterfalls everywhere!  Another thing I’ll remember from this hike is the CLIMBING!  The first two miles ascend nearly 2,000 feet before moderating on the Pinnacle spur trail.  It was definitely some of the steepest climbing we’ve done outside of New Hampshire. I guess the third memory from the hike is crossing paths with a Great Horned Owl!  It swooped across the trail. That was an enormous bird – for a minute, we thought it was an eagle because it was so much bigger than any owl or hawk we’d seen before.

Fallen Butterfly

This fallen butterfly still had perfect wings.  Below: There are five official campsites in this trail network; Blooming fire pink; A post hike stop at Innovation Brewing (after an excellent lunch at Haywood Smokehouse.)

Campsites Firepink Innovation Brewing

After climbing steeply for two miles, we were relieved to reach the junction with the Pinnacle Trail.  It was a traditional trail instead of a wide road.  It was very wet and muddy in a few places, but generally in good condition. It follows gentle rolling terrain for about a mile before a steep (but brief) descent into dense rhododendron.  On the other side of the rhododendron, the trail exits out onto a large rocky outcropping at just over 5,000′.  There are views (and precipitous drops) in every direction. We felt so lucky to have the clouds partially clear when we were at the viewpoint. What a gorgeous spot!

We spent some time enjoying the vista and a snack of trail mix before hiking back the way we came up.  Shortly after we left the view, the clouds rolled back around us and we were hiking in the fog again. The hike back went really quickly because it was all downhill! By the time we got to the bottom, it was full sun and blazing hot.  After packing up, we headed into Sylva for some barbecue at the Haywood Smokehouse (so amazing) and beers at Innovation Brewing.  These two places are both on my ‘must list’ for this area.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 6.6 miles
  • Elevation Change – 2,441 ft
  • Difficulty – 4.  The first two miles of climbing is relentless and steep.  You’ll gain 1000 feet for each mile.  Once you reach the junction with the Pinnacle Trail, the climb becomes moderate to flat.
  • Trail Conditions –  4.  The trail follows an old road grade for most of the way.  The footing is a bit challenging with lots of football-sized rocks, but overall the trail is in great shape!
  • Views –  5 – We visited on a day with lots of fog and moving clouds, but still had excellent views at the top.
  • Streams/Waterfalls –  4.  We visited after a time of extremely heavy rain, so the stream along the trail was simply spectacular.  There were many small waterfalls and cascades to enjoy. The stream rating is probably not this high most of the time.
  • Wildlife – 4.  We saw a great horned owl swoop across the trail. There were also salamanders, a snake, and many small mammals.
  • Ease to Navigate –  3.  The first couple tenths of a mile of this trail are a little confusing, but if you keep climbing uphill, you’ll eventually come to a directional sign.  After the directional sign, the trail is very clear and easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 3.  We saw just a few people out for the day.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Pinnacle Elevation

Click to View Larger Elevation Profile

Directions to trailhead:  Parking is at Pinnacle Park in Sylva, coordinates: 35.422738, -83.191188

Waonaze Peak

July 7, 2018

This four mile hike offers lots of hiker solitude and some nice obstructed views. The area is popular for dirt-bikes and ATV use, and while they have their own trail system, you may find engine noise distracting at times on this hike.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam on the Massanutten Trail

Adam hikes the Massanutten Trail toward Waonaze Peak. Below: Park in the ATV lot at Edinburg Gap; Look for the orange-blazed Massanutten trail on the other side of 675; Mountain laurel was in full bloom when we did this hike.

Parking at Edinburg Gap Hike Starts Here Loads of Mountain Laurel

Christine Says…

Near the end of May, we met up with our friends, Tony and Linda, to do a little hiking near Edinburg along the Massanutten Trail.  Our original plan was to hike out to Opechee Peak, but the forecast had some pretty fierce thunderstorms, so we cut it short and did a four-mile out and back to Waonaze Peak.  I think both of those peaks have really interesting names for our area. I did a little research into the name origins (probably Algonquian), but didn’t find anything. I also wonder if Waonaze rhymes with mayonnaise. Hmmm…

Overall, the hike was pretty basic.  We started at the big ATV parking area at Edinburg Gap.  ATV trail users must pay a fee to ride the trails, but hiking is free.  There’s a informational kiosk at the parking lot that outlines the different trails in the area.  From the parking lot, we crossed the road and picked up the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail.  The trailhead is a little hidden in the trees, so look for blazes and a mileage sign to make sure you start in the right direction.

For the first mile, the trail meanders gradually uphill through dense stands of mountain laurel.  We were lucky enough to hike during the peak bloom, so it was especially beautiful.  At one mile in, we came to marked spring. Shortly after the spring, we passed a second trail mileage marker.  Funnily, it was identical to the marker at the Edinburg Gap crossing. The Bear Trap Trail was 2 miles away at Edinburg Gap and still two miles away at a little over a mile into the hike.  I guess sometimes trail signs should just be regarded as estimates!

Timber Rattler

We saw a big, fat timber rattlesnake along the trail.  Below: Trail signage was kind of funny. Even after we had come a mile, the distances on the signs had not changed.  Bear Trap Trail was two miles ahead at all times; We passed a spring with a broken sign warning people to treat the water before drinking; A full view of the rattlesnake.

Trail Signage Spring Rattlesnake

After the mileage sign, the  trail gets quite a bit rockier and steeper.  We saw a big timber rattlesnake basking in the sun.  This terrain is ideal for them, so be sure you’re on the lookout.  Timber rattlers are typically non-aggressive and reclusive. Basically, if you ignore them, they’ll ignore you. Someone once told me this quote about timber rattlers — “Timber rattlers are first cowards, then bluffers, and last of all warriors.” I’ve found this to be true with my encounters.

The steeper, rockier section of the hike makes several big switchbacks and passes several big boulder jumbles.  As you climb toward the high point of Waonaze Peak, the view toward Fort Valley and Kennedy Peak opens up.  The overlook itself is nice, but partly obstructed.  It would be much prettier in the winter when leaves are down.  After we reached the high point, the trail quickly begins to descend into a saddle between Waonaze and Opechee peaks.  We turned around at that point, but will tackle Opechee another day.

After the hike, we headed into Woodstock for beers and lunch at Woodstock Brewhouse — always a favorite!

Adam Says…

As Christine mentioned, this is a hike that we plan to do again and get all the way to Opechee.  Seeing that the summit views were a bit overgrown, our plan is to try this one again when it is cooler and leaves are mostly down.  We were the only hikers from this parking lot as this area is primarily used by ATVs on the trail systems nearby.  There were a few times that we could see the ATV riders through the trees (and more occasions that we could hear their engines).  When we started the hike, we had heard there were storms coming in the early afternoon. With the violent storms we have been getting over the summer, we didn’t want to risk doing too long of a hike on this day.

Waonaze Peak Views

The obstructed viewpoint near the top of Waonaze Peak. It would be better in the winter. Below: A rocky descent; The trail has lots of rocky footing and boulder jumbles; More pretty mountain laurel.

Descending from Waonaze Rocks along the Trail Beautiful Laurels

The first mile of the hike was uphill but not terribly tough in terms of elevation or footing.  The mountain laurel in full bloom made this a gorgeous early stretch of trail.  The second mile was a bit more windy and rocky with lots of loose stones, so watch your footing especially on the downhill.  Eventually, we came to an area of trail that gave us some obstructed views of Kennedy Peak.  We thought about calling this hike Kennedy “Peek”, since you get obstructed views but we thought that would be just too confusing.  Tony and Linda stopped at the overview here, but we decided to press on.  We were first trying to see if there were better views at the top of the hill, but then the trail took off away from the view and was leading us through the saddle towards Opechee.  Not wanting to leave our friends too long (and worried about clouds rolling in), we decided to turn back and make our descent.

Post hike refreshment

Post hike refreshment at Woodstock Brewhouse. It’s one of our favorite post-hike hangouts.

We caught up with our friends and then continued downhill.  I’m not a fan of any snakes, so I was especially cautious when we neared the area where the timber rattler had been spotted earlier.  He had moved on (making me a tad nervous looking around for other spots he could be hiding) and we didn’t see any other snakes on the way back.  When we got back to the cars, we then headed over to one of our favorite post-hike spots – Woodstock Brewhouse.  We always enjoy talking about our hikes over great food and beverages here.  While this peak didn’t lead to an amazing viewpoint, it was a good leg-stretcher that we had not explored before.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change –  1280 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.  It does have just a bit of uphill, but fairly easy if you take your time.
  • Trail Conditions –  3.  The trail isn’t well traveled, which makes it a little tougher on conditions.  There are some rocky, steep sections with loose rock on the trail.
  • Views –  2.  During the winter, it would probably rate higher.  The views of mountains and farms below is nice, but obstructed. 
  • Waterfalls/streams   0.  Non-existent.
  • Wildlife –  3.  We did see lots of small toads and saw the timber rattler.  My guess is that a lot of the bigger animals like bears and deer are scared away by the noise of nearby ATVs.  There were lots of pretty bird calls in the air.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5.  Once you find the trail, it is fairly easy to stay on course.  The signs showing that Bear Trap Trail is always two miles away was quite funny, so I don’t know how much you can trust these.
  • Solitude – 4.5.  The trail you should mostly have to yourself, but you will hear some ATVs early on in the hike on nice weekend days.

Download a trail map (PDF)

waonaze_elev

Click to View Larger Elevation Profile

Directions to trailhead: GPS Coordinates for this hike are 38.789125, -78.519384.  Look for the ATV/OHV parking area at Edinburg Gap. Cross Rt. 675 and look for the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail across the road from the parking lot.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Appalachian Trail – Kimberling Creek to Narrows

May 20, 2018

We did this 27-mile Appalachian Trail section over three days at the tail end of summer 2017. The trail was beautiful and quiet with lots of interesting things to see along the way. We camped one night and spent the other luxuriating at Woods Hole Hostel. This may have been one of Christine’s favorite sections yet!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam Says: Day One – Kimberling Creek to Waipiti Shelter (8.6 miles)

Download a Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats

Kimberling Creek at VA606

Kimberling Creek is beautiful, but not safe to drink from. There is a lot of cattle farming along the stream. Below: Some rocky slopes along the trail; The spur trail to Dismal Falls is well worth the detour; Shallow pools and flat rocks leading up to the falls.

AT Near Kimberling Creek Dismal Falls Spur Trail Dismal Falls

We decided to celebrate Christine’s birthday by completing a section of the Appalachian Trail over a few days.  I had a couple of surprises for her along the way which hopefully made it an even better trip for her. I arranged a shuttle driver to meet us at a parking lot off Narrows Road near Pearisburg, VA. We loaded up and he drove us on some beautiful back roads until we got to our dropoff point at Kimberling Creek.  There was a small parking lot here and a suspension bridge that spanned the creek. We took a few pictures, crossed the road, and then started our trip north on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail on a two day trip back to our car. The trail started off with a bit of a steep climb, which is always a quick reminder of the weight you decided to pack in your backpack.

Adam Sits Atop Dismal Falls

The water level was very low, but Dismal Falls was still beautiful. Below: Another angle on the falls; This area has tons of rhododendron tunnels; Walking through beautiful open forest.

Dismal Falls Rhodie Tunnel Appalachian Trail

The climb was short-lived and after about a mile, the trail started to slope back downhill.  At 1.8 miles, we reached a side trail that showed that Dismal Falls was just .3 miles away.  Since it was early in the day, we decided to check it out and we were so glad we did.  Dismal Falls was one of the more picturesque waterfalls I have seen and the setting just invites you to waste some time there. Even with low amounts of water falling, it is a great swimming hole area with great places to perch above and watch the water.  We ate some snacks, explored the nearby area, and took many pictures before deciding to head on. While we were there, we only had a few other people that came by and they all approached it from the roadside that we could see in the distance behind the waterfall.  We were glad we put the effort to see such a beautiful place.  We grabbed our stuff and then headed back to rejoin the AT, bringing our mileage to 2.4 miles.

ond Along the Appalachian Trail

This pond was a scenic spot along the trail. Below: While the trail was very dry when we hiked, this stretch has lots of bridges and planks to cross wet areas; The Waipiti Shelter used to be along this fire road. It was demolished after a couple hikers were murdered. A new shelter was built a little ways north; More beautiful forest.

Lots of Bridges Fire Road 

Continuing on, most of the hiking for this day was rather pleasant – there was a slight uphill climb but overall was not too tough.  There were lots of footbridges and water crossings along the way, so this was not a day where we felt like we needed to carry much water since we weren’t terribly far from a water source.  Eventually, we hiked next to a large, scenic pond that joined up to a dirt road at about 8.4 miles.  From here, it was just a couple of tenths of a mile to our first stop on our trip, Wapiti Shelter.

Waipiti Shelter

Our camp stop for the first night was the Waipiti Shelter. Below: The turn-off from the AT; Lots of entries in the log make mention of murders and hauntings, but this is not where the crime happened; Our tent site behind the shelter.

Turn off Log Book Tent Site Behind the Shelter

Wapiti Shelter has some dark history to it. Christine had already heard the story before, but she waited to tell me about it until we got there. The old Wapiti shelter was the place where a couple of murders had taken place in 1981. A man named Randall Lee Smith befriended a couple of hikers and then murdered them in their sleeping bags that night. Smith was captured and imprisoned, and then met parole to be released in 1996.  In 2008, Smith returned just a few miles away and tried to kill two fisherman but wrecked his truck in the getaway and died from the injuries he sustained when he was taken to prison.  If you want to read more about this story, check it out here.  Keep in mind, that the shelter today is located a couple miles away from where the murder happened, so ghost stories that the trail journals would like you to believe are simply not true.

As we were setting up camp, I surprised Christine with an additional camp pillow for a birthday present.  She had been complaining recently about how she wish she had multiple pillows when backpacking, because one inflatable pillow just wasn’t enough.  She was thrilled when I brought the extra one out of my pack.  We set up our tent not far from the shelter and a bit later, we were eventually joined by other hikers, including two from Australia and one from Germany. The best water source at this campsite was back the way we came at the bottom of the hill.  We told the other campers about the murder story but only after they asked specifically about it after reading logbook entries.  I think everyone slept well that night despite the ghost tale.

Christine Says: Day Two – Wapiti Shelter to Woods Hole Hostel (7.8 miles)

Download a Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats

Rhododendron Tunnel

This section of Appalachian Trail had so many long, dark rhododendron tunnels. Below: Even when the rhododendron wasn’t a full tunnel, it was still very dense; The footbed was almost paved with flat, shale-like rock; I love trees with ‘arms’

Rhododendron Tunnel Paved Trailbed Appalachian Trail

Brrr – that was a cold night!  I was glad to have spent it bundled up in my warmer sleeping bag with two pillows.  Eventually we got moving, packed up, ate breakfast, and started our hiking for the day. We had all day to go eight miles, so we set out at a leisurely pace. We had about three straight miles of moderate uphill to our first view of the day.  The trail was all green tunnel. We passed through thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron and traversed lush beds of ferns.

At 2.7 miles in we reached a pretty outcropping of rocks with a great view of the valley below. We stopped briefly to enjoy the vista, but weren’t ready for a snack or a long break. The next 2.3 miles covered rolling terrain with lots of small ups and downs.  The trail was pretty, but not remarkable.  At five miles into our day, we reached the radio tower on Flat Top mountain.  The tower viewpoint is about .1 miles off the trail and worth making the small detour.  Behind the tower, there is a series of small cliffs with a commanding view.  It’s the perfect place to take a lunch break.

Nice Views on the AT

There were several nice views near between Waipiti and Woods Hole. Below: Views from the trail.

Napping in the Sun AT Views View at a Distance

The day had warmed up a bit and we were both running really low on water.  Thankfully, we had enough to make Pack-It Gourmet cheese spread for lunch. We had cheese and crackers with candy and dried fruit for our mid-day meal. We also took a good long break and rested atop the rocks. It was peaceful to watch hawks and buzzards soaring on the breeze.

After a full hour of resting, we packed back up and set out to cover our final 2.8 miles of the day.  The rest of the route was mostly downhill with only a few brief bumps to climb.  In about .7 miles, we crossed the Ribble Trail.  The sign indicated that supplies (like propane) were available somewhere down the Ribble Trail, but I would think most people would just continue on to Woods Hole or even Pearisburg if they needed something. Apparently, there is also a nice AT-Ribble Trail loop that is popular with locals.  If we were to have followed the Ribble Trail, it would have rejoined the AT near Waipiti shelter, where we spent the prior night. Maybe one day, we’ll go back and explore the area more.

Flat Top Tower

As long as you don’t look behind you, the view is pretty and pristine. Below: Descending toward Sugar Run Gap.

Side Trails Almost to Sugar Hollow Sugar Run Road

After crossing the junction with the Ribble Trail, we continued downhill; crossing Big Horse Gap/USFS 103 just a tenth of a mile later. In another 1.2 mile, we crossed another forest road. From this point, the last .5 miles of hiking went steeply downhill. The trail was a bit rocky and overgrown.  At this point, I was starting to hit a wall.  I was out of water and feeling really parched. We hadn’t passed a spring since first thing in the morning and the sun had been beating down on us all day.  I told Adam I wanted to rest at the road crossing before we hiked down to Woods Hole Hostel – our destination for the evening.  He said to me ‘But wouldn’t a massage be way more relaxing?’  It turned out he booked an hour long massage for me at the hostel. Say no more – I was up and ready to cover that last .5 miles of road walking to get to Woods Hole.

Normally, we wouldn’t stay at a hostel on a two-night backpacking trip, but Woods Hole is special.  Family-run for decades, the quaint, old farmhouse is an Appalachian Trail legend and a beloved tradition for many hikers.  The old farmhouse opened its doors to hikers in the 1980s.  The hostel was originally run by Tillie and Roy Wood, but was taken over by their granddaughter Neville in 2007. Since then, she and her husband Michael have expanded on the hostel’s offerings, creating a mountain oasis that is simultaneously rugged and luxurious.  There’s no television or cell phone signal, but there is beautiful organic food (that you get to help prepare!), massage services, and group yoga.

Woods Hole Hostel

What a welcome site! Woods Hole Hostel was a luxurious stop on our backpacking trip.  Below: Woods Hole scenes.

Bunk House Rules Porch Swing Bunk House

We arrived at the hostel around 2:00 p.m.  Neville was still working on cleaning the house, so we bought a couple soda’s from the bunkhouse fridge, and settled into the swing on the front porch. We played with the dogs, said hello to the roaming duck, and peeked into the goat and pig sheds.  The garden was still beautiful and abundant in late summer – tons of peppers, tomatoes, and squash. If you stay at the hostel, you can camp, stay in the bunkhouse, or stay in a private room inside the farmhouse. We chose to stay in ‘Tillie’s Room.’  It had a comfortable queen bed, private sink/vanity, and shared full bath. It was quite luxurious for trail accommodations.  Even if you choose the more humble bunkhouse, it is still comfortable and neat as a pin.  There are beds with fresh linens provided, a big common area with a couch, and a nice offering of snacks and supplies available for purchase. There are also shower and laundry facilities available for those staying in the bunkhouse.

We visited during a really quiet time of year.  There was a smattering of SoBo thru-hikers on the trail, but in mid-September we had the entire house to ourselves. Once we got checked in, I decided to shower and spend some time in the farmhouse’s library. It was full of all kinds of books and mementos. I especially enjoyed looking through scrapbooks chronicling the hostel’s history over the years. Around 5:00, Neville said she was ready to do my massage.  It was a wonderful treat and felt fantastic on my tired shoulders and calves.

Woods Hole Doggy

Aumakua – one of Woods Hole’s sweet dogs. Below: Our comfortable lodging.

Tilly;s Room  

After the massage, we started to think about dinner!  In the meantime, one southbound thruhiker arrived and booked a bed in the bunkhouse.  Neville’s husband had errands to run, so it was just four of us for dinner. Neville and Michael typically prepare community meals with the help of hikers staying for the night. Everyone has a task and chips in to prepare and clean up after the meal.  We had an amazing tomato-pepper-cucumber salad, homemade bread with aioli, locally raised pork, and a flavorful yellow Thai vegetarian curry for dinner.  Everything was delicious, but the salad was a favorite and is something I’ve made at home ever since.  Dessert was Neville’s homemade vanilla ice cream.

After dinner, Adam and I relaxed in the library and read until it was time for bed.  It was lovely being lulled to sleep by the sound of a breeze in the trees outside.  We both slept great!

Adam Says: Day Three – Woods Hole Hostel to Narrows (11.8 miles)

Download a Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats

Woods Hole to Narrows

Our last day of hiking started in a blanket of fog. Below: Hiking up Sugar Run Road; The Appalachian Trail; Foggy views

Sugar Run Road Appalachian Trail There Should Have Been a View

We had our longest day on the trail ahead of us with the third day. We got up, packed up our gear, and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast prepared by Neville.  We had asked if we could leave most of our gear there during the day to be able to “slackpack” without the weight.  We carried water, some lunch, and a few layers of clothes but we were able to dump out so much of the weight.  With this extra added comfort, we started on our hike for the day.  We climbed up the steep gravel road and we quickly were so thankful we had dropped off our weight.  We rejoined the AT at .5 miles and began our hike.

Views from the Trail

As we climbed higher the view opened and the fog lifted. Below: Docs Knob Shelter; Views from the trail; Thick overgrowth.

Docs Knob Trail Views Overgrown Appalachian Trail

The morning started off foggy and cold and the section of AT started off uphill. At 1.9 miles, we reached a viewpoint, but it was completely socked in the fog so there was no point staying. The trail then took a descent and at 2.8 miles, we came upon Docs Knob Shelter.  It was a nice shelter, but we were glad we had luxurious accommodations at Woods Hole Hostel the night before. The trail was up and down for a bit, before rising a bit to a nice viewpoint at 6.5 miles. The fog had lifted so we enjoyed nice views of the river cutting through a scenic mountain view.  We stopped and ate some lunch here, but had to eat a bit away from the viewpoint since there were strong, cold winds.  We pushed on as the trail became to climb very slowly and at 8.6 miles we reached another viewpoint. This was probably the nicest one in our opinion of the trip, since you had panoramic views of farmlands and mountains around you.

Ridge Walking

We had miles of easy walking along a ridge.  Below: Late summer vegetation; Views from the trail; Descending to Angels Rest.

Trail Views Trail Views 

We continued the pleasant ridge walking and eventually the trail began to descend through an area that cut a path between very large rock boulders.  We reached a sign that pointed to Angels Rest (a short .1 mile sidetrail) at 9.2 miles.  Angels Rest is a large boulder that requires you to scale up it to get the view.  We climbed up and the view is being combated by growing trees.  The view in the distance is nice, but in my opinion the eyesore of looking down on a town (and correctional facility to boot) isn’t one that I particularly enjoy.  I know lots of people hike up to this point from Pearisburg and return, but the better view would be if people would just continue a bit further.  We climbed down disappointed this was the last view and then rejoined the trail.

Angels Rest

Angels Rest and a view into Pearisburg.  Below: New signage around Angels Rest; The rock at Angels Rest; Descending into Pearisburg.

 Angels Rest 

The hike down from Angels Rest was extremely steep.  We made the downward trip the rest of the way fairly quickly.  At 11 miles we crossed over Cross Avenue, VA 634.  We then crossed over Lane Street at 11.4 miles and then made it to Narrows Road and our car at 11.8 miles.  When we got back to our car, we drove back to pick up our gear at Woods Hole Hostel (and also bought a nice soup bowl crafted by the owner) and then made our way to Ballast Point for some post-hike dinner and flight of beers.  It was such a great birthday celebration and we had a wonderful experience!

The road to Pearisburg. Below: The trail between Pearisburg and Narrows; Parking.

Between Pearisburg and Narrows Between Pearisburg and Narrows Between Pearisburg and Narrows

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 27 miles (plus a couple extra miles to access views, shelters, and Woods Hole Hostel)
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike* [Day One] [Day Two][Day Three])
  • Elevation Change – 4,885 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.5.  The second day was the toughest climbing.  Overall, it wasn’t very tough, but it was 27 miles. 
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  Some of the trail was overgrown in parts, but overall was fairly maintained and footing was reliable through most of the hike.
  • Views  4.  The views leading up to Angels Rest was the best.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 4.  Lots of stream crossings, but the highlight was early in the hike with Dismal Falls.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We didn’t run into many signs of wildlife on the trail, but did see an occasional deer.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  Sticking to the AT, you just look for white blazes.  The side trails we took were well marked.
  • Solitude – 4.  We had most of the trail to ourselves.  Expect people at Dismal Falls and Angels Rest and not much in between.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Directions to trailhead:  Coordinates to drop off car and meet shuttle: 37.3341, -80.7553 (Narrows AT Parking Lot Off road, room for quite a few cars.) Shuttle drop-off/hike start coordinates: 37.1757, -80.9083 (Kimberling Creek Suspension Bridge has a a small parking area along VA606)

Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak (NH)

April 24, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

We did this 4.6 mile hike on an especially beautiful, misty summer morning.  It was a moderate climb with lots of interesting things to see along the way – from an old sugar house to the headwaters of a flume gorge, to the lovely viewpoint.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Beautiful Misty Sunshine on the Kinsman Trail

Beautiful misty sunshine on the Kinsman Trail. Below: Trailhead sign; Early parts of the trail.

Parking at Kinsman Trail Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak

Christine Says…

This was the last hike of our 2017 trip up north. By the end of two weeks that involved five different dayhikes and a three-day overnight backpacking trip, we were both sore, bruised, and covered with bug bites and scratches. We were both pretty tired, but the weather was nice and we felt we should squeeze one more quick hike in before the long 12-hour drive home.  The hike up the Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak was close to my parents’ house and didn’t look too grueling, so we decided it would be the perfect grace note on our wonderful summer vacation.

We parked in the lot for the Kinsman Trail on Route 116. We arrived early and there were plenty of open spots, however it was overflowing by the time we got back to the car around 11:00 a.m.  The trailhead is popular as it provides access to the 4,000 footer, Mount Kinsman. Bald Peak isn’t a true summit, it’s a rocky outcropping on the shoulder of a mountain. While it might not be the pinnacle, it provides nice views and is well worth doing.

The first half mile of the hike meanders along single-track trail through the forest. The terrain is rolling and there are abundant ferns and shady hemlocks along the way.  At .5 miles in, the trail will arrive a a junction with a wider, road-like trail.  Take a right onto the wide trail.  In a tenth of a mile, you’ll pass a neat, but overgrown, sugar house. It didn’t look like it had been used in many years.  Follow the road/trail for another half mile before coming to another junction. Bear to the right, continuing to follow the steepening blue-blazed Kinsman Trail. Keep an eye out for the blue blazes to keep yourself on track.

Sugar House

This rundown, old sugar house is right along the trail. Below: Scenes along the Kinsman Trail

Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak

About .35 miles later, you’ll make your first stream crossing – there are several on this hike, along with several lovely (albeit small) waterfalls. The waterfall pictured below was at the second stream crossing. Continue following the Kinsman Trail for .65 miles to your third stream. This is Flume Brook.  Once you cross the water, look for a small sign pointing to the right.  Follow a spur trail steeply downhill along the gorge.  The rock walls that make the flume are steep and deep, but you will hear water rushing in the gorge below.  Be careful looking down into the gorge – the terrain around it is extremely steep and slippery. A fall here would necessitate a dangerous rescue operation if you even survived the initial plunge.

After enjoying the flume, backtrack up to the main Kinsman Trail. Hike a couple more short tenths of a mile uphill, and you’ll reach the next junction.  Bearing to the left will take you up the Kinsmans, so stay to the right and head along the Bald Peak spur.  The trail is blazed yellow and follows a short series of ups and downs for about a quarter mile.  The spur was a beautiful mix of evergreens, moss, and granite.  At the end of the spur, you’ll come out onto a wide rocky ledge. From the viewpoint, you should be able to see Mount Kinsman, Mount Moosilauke, and a great peek into Vermont.  Once you’ve enjoyed the view, return to your car the same way you hiked up for a round trip of 4.6 miles.

Small Waterfall on the Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak

Small waterfall on the Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak. Below: Mist in the forest; Small cascades; A look into the gorge.

Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak Flume

Adam Says…

The Bald Peak hike had a lot of things that made us pick it – close by to where we were staying, waterfalls, plunging gorge, and view.  This hike doesn’t get a lot of traffic except by locals since people will opt for bigger, grander views, but this one has a nice sampling of things to see.

The trail always seemed more of a gradual uphill and never felt too tough for us.  In that first half mile, we came across the sugar house on the side of the trail.  I peaked through the spaces in between the boards and saw some of the old materials used to collect maple sap inside.

Mosses on the Kinsman Trail

Mosses on the Kinsman Trail. Below: The spur to Bald Peak; Hiking along the spur

Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak Kinsman Trail to Bald Peak

We had picked a morning to hike this right after rain the previous day.  The morning mist rising up through the trees caught the morning sunlight and the beams of light cast a mystical picture across the forest.  The rain also made the hike slippery over some of the roots and rocks that you always have to step on in a hike in New Hampshire.

As Christine mentioned, when you pass over Flume Brook there is a small sign to view the gorge.  We both started down this side trail, but it was incredibly slick.  Christine stopped, but I decided I wanted to go further to see if I could actually be able to look down into the gorge.  Christine was freaking out a bit that I was pushing on, but I did want to see if I could get some pictures.  I went a bit further and actually slipped, sliding about 10 feet before I caught myself on the trail.  One false step here could mean your death. The gorge was located just a few feet away from the trail and all I could see was that it went down quite a bit.  There was never a good place to actually be able to see down into the gorge, so I would recommend skipping this feature – it’s too dangerous, anyway.

Bald Peak views

Bald Peak views. Below: More perspectives on the viewpoint.

Bald Peak views Bald Peak views Bald Peak views

When we reached the view at the top, I was impressed.  It was a fairly clear morning so we could see all around us and far off to Vermont.  We talked with a couple of women that loved to hike together that lived locally.  They had been working on the 48 peaks above 4000 feet and had a lot of advice on places to hike in the future.  We love picking the brains of local people for hiking suggestions.  Many people that you may come across use this trail to go all the way to Mt. Kinsman without taking this spur trail to Bald Peak for an extra view.  You will likely have solitude on this peak during most days.  This was a nice final spot to take in some views of New England before heading back to Virginia.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.6 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1400 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3. Moderate and well-graded.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  The trail was nice, with some rocks and roots typical to the area.
  • Views – 4. Very nice, but not quite 360.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 4. The headwaters of the flume are pretty cool and there are several small waterfalls along the trail.
  • Wildlife – 3. Typical squirrels and birds.
  • Ease to Navigate –  4. The route was well-blazed/marked and easy to follow.
  • Solitude –  4. We only saw a handful of others along the way. This trail gets far less traffic than more popular hikes in the area.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Bald Peak Elevation

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are: 44.165952, -71.766186.  There is parking for about 8 cars.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

North and Middle Sugarloaf (NH)

April 23, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 3.6 mile, family-friendly hike has a bit of steady climbing to reach the ridgeline, but with two summits – both with amazing vistas – it’s a hike that should not be missed when visiting this area.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Middle Sugarloaf

Adam takes in the amazing views from Middle Sugarloaf.

Adam Says…

If you are visiting the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I would definitely put Sugarloaf on your list of must-do hikes.  With a total of just 3.6 miles to cover both summits, it’s a great family hike and the views on a clear day are hard to beat.

From the parking lot, cross the bridge.  You will see the yellow-blazed trail head off to the right just past the bridge.  This is the Trestle Trail and it goes along the Zealand River.  There are a few places to duck off the trail and get some gorgeous water views.  In just a quarter of a mile, the junction for the Sugarloaf summits branches off to the left. The trail goes over some boggy areas at first before coming to a boulder field. You will see two huge boulders (among others), that were dropped off by glacial melt many years ago. The trail really starts to climb at this point and at one mile, you will reach a junction sign that points to the left for Middle Sugarloaf and to the right for North Sugarloaf.

The Zealand River

The hike starts off along the scenic Zealand River. Below: Trailhead parking along Zealand Road. For some reason, the pay stations were covered; Adam follows the Sugarloaf Trail away from the road; The trail follows the stream for a little while.

 Sugarloaf Trail Sugarloaf Trail

We opted to go to Middle Sugarloaf first. The trail continues to climb, often through some very rocky areas.  Eventually, you come to a ladder staircase that is your last climb before reaching the summit area at 1.4 miles.  After the staircase, the trail opens up from the trees and the vast expanse of views are all around you on a large open ledge. When you first emerge, straight ahead of you is Mt. Hale looking to the south.  If you wind around towards the right, you will have great views of North Twin and South Twin mountains.  If you wind around to the left, you will come to a viewpoint to the east where you can see the far-off Presidential Range and a keen eye may even see the tower at the top of Mount Washington on a clear day. This open area is a photographer’s dream, as there are gorgeous views no matter which way you look and it is easy to lose track of time exploring the summit area.

We eventually returned the way we came and reached the junction at 1.8 miles (keep in mind if you are tracking distances, you may have walked a couple of tenths around the summit of the Middle Sugarloaf).  We then headed toward the North Sugarloaf summit, which is not as steep but winds around until it reaches the summit at 2.1 miles.  The summit here gives you views of US-302 cutting through the landscape before the Presidential range, but you still have gorgeous views of mountains all around.  This summit would look outstanding on most hikes but we were a little spoiled from the views at Middle Sugarloaf.  Since North Sugarloaf is usually less crowded (many people just do an out-and-back to Middle Sugarloaf), you may have a little more solitude.  We did come up to some families that were staying at the Sugarloaf campgrounds near the initial parking lot, that were alternating doing hikes to both summits on different days.

Junction Trail on Sugarloaf

After a bit of climbing, you’ll reach this junction. We visited Middle Sugarloaf first. Below: A few scenes from the climb up to the ridge: wooden trestles over a muddy area, a giant boulder you can walk by (or through… see photo later in post), typical New Hampshire rockiness.

Climbing Sugarloaf Climbing Sugarloaf Climbing Sugarloaf

After taking in the views at North Sugarloaf, we headed back the way we came, reaching the junction at 2.5 miles and then getting back to our car around 3.6 miles.  These peaks were ones that I’m sure we will come back to time and time again on a clear day. When you want a relatively easy hike for this region with a big payoff, look no further than this one.  I would recommend hitting it in the early morning since this is an extremely popular hike so you can pick your prime place to sit down and soak in the beauty of the White Mountains.

Christine Says…

I don’t know what took us so long to do this hike. It’s been on our radar for years – ever since my parents initially moved to New Hampshire. I guess there are just so many amazing trails in the area, that sometimes we overlook the short/popular hikes for fear of them being overrun by crowds.

Honestly, the key for maximizing solitude on hiking is simply getting up early. I find it’s true everywhere. If you can get to trailhead parking just as the sun is coming up, you’ll almost always beat the big crowds of casual hikers that come out mid-morning.

Ladder to Middle Sugarloaf

There is a ladder-stair to reach Middle Sugarloaf. Below: The forest along the ridgeline was lush and gorgeous; Adam standing on Middle Sugarloaf; Middle Sugarloaf offers views in every direction.

Beautiful Forest on Sugarloaf Middle Sugarloaf Middle Sugarloaf

We got a little bit turned around when we first started this hike.  There is a trail that leads directly away from the parking area. We missed the fact that we had to cross the bridge to get to the Sugarloaf Trail and instead started walking along the closer trail. In a couple tenths of a mile, we reached a campground and knew we were going the wrong way. We backtracked, reread our guidebook, and were set straight a couple minutes later.

The early part of the hike followed the scenic Zealand river. The boggy areas Adam described were extremely buggy – mosquitoes everywhere! We had to stop and coat ourselves with OFF in order to proceed. The big climb starts pretty quickly after passing the huge boulders.  It’s a steady climb until the junction. Once you reach the ridgeline, the hike becomes more moderate. We opted to visit the prettier Middle Sugarloaf first.  As we were walking along, I wondered why there was a north and middle summit, but no mention of a South Sugarloaf. Apparently, there is a south summit, but it’s a total bushwhack and is therefore rarely visited. I found photos of that summit on another hiking blog, and it looks like a beautiful spot for people who have orienteering skills and enjoy exploring off-trail.

Middle Sugarloaf

The views from Middle Sugarloaf are truly spectacular. Below: After passing the junction, we climbed up North Sugarloaf; The forest had a lot of evergreens, The summit had a some trees between two different places to take in the view.

On to North Sugarloaf On to North Sugarloaf On to North Sugarloaf

On Middle Sugarloaf, we enjoyed the summit all to ourselves for a good 30 minutes.  I basked in the sun and ate my traditional New England hiking snack of a whoopie pie.  I rarely eat them in Virginia, but I have to have them on the trail in New England.  It just seems right – possibly mandatory. 🙂

When a few more hiking groups began arriving at the summit, we decided it was time to make our way over to North Sugarloaf.  The hike was pleasant and easy.  When we got to the vista, we were a bit disappointed.  It was just a small rock ledge with a partial view.  It was packed with a large family group.  Luckily, we realized this wasn’t the actual viewpoint – the trail continued from one opening back into the trees before coming out on a larger open area with another panoramic view.  North Sugarloaf still doesn’t impress as much as Middle, but it was definitely worth checking out.

After enjoying a few more minutes of the view, we hiked down and made our way to one of our favorite post-hike hangouts in the area – the AMC Highlands Center.  The rustic lodge serves as the main hub and information center for the White Mountain’s Presidential range. There is a gear shop, lodging, a lounge, and a decent cafe. We got sandwiches and beers and sat at a table outside so we could take in the view and sunshine. What a great day!

North Sugarloaf

The views from North Sugarloaf are different, but also very nice! Below: Another North Sugarloaf view; This is the boulder you can walk through. There is a big slit in the middle; Another look at the beautiful Zealand River.

North Sugarloaf Boulder Slit Zealand River

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.6 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 925 ft
  • Difficulty –  2.5.  There is some climbing on this one, but since the distance is shorter take your time.  Great for a family hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  This hike is very popular, so the trail is well worn.
  • Views –  5.  On a clear day, you can see for hundreds of miles around you. 
  • Waterfalls/streams – 4.  Passing by the Zealand River in the very beginning of the hike gives you gorgeous river views.
  • Wildlife – 1.  Other than birds, you likely won’t see a lot of wildlife due to the popularity of the hike.
  • Ease to Navigate –  4.  There are a couple of turns to make, but overall the trail is well-blazed and signs at the junctions are helpful. 
  • Solitude – 1.5. On a clear day in the summer, this will be a popular hike.  There is typically more solitude on North Sugarloaf.  Start early to avoid crowds and get good parking. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

Sugarloaf Elevation

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are: 44.254858, -71.503993.  The trail begins on the far side of the bridge on the right, on the same side of the road as the parking area.  There is normally a fee station box here, but the box was sealed when we were there.  Typically, the hikes here would charge $3 for parking, so bring some cash for an envelope to pay the fee.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.