Tuesday, December 31, 2013

45 New Hikes for 2013!

As 2013 draws to a close, I wanted to do a reflection post on how much the Lord has blessed me on the trail this year.  I hiked 45 new trails, eclipsing my previous record of 44 set just last year.  Those 45 hikes came from 11 different states, including 1 new state (New York).  I also upgraded more than 50 of my old hikes by adding new pics.  Overall, it has been a fantastic year.

Looking forward to 2014, I plan to take a couple of months off of the trail to alleviate some problems I am having with my feet.  Later this year, I hope to get back to the Western USA again; I haven't been west of Minnesota since 2011.  I also plan to focus on expanding my reach here in the Carolinas and upgrading more of my old entries.

See you on the trail in 2014!

David, aka The Mathprofhiker

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Barnwell State Park (Blog Hike #454)

Trail: Nature Trail
Hike Location: Barnwell State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Barnwell, SC
Length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A short loop around the park’s lake with numerous boardwalks.

Directions to the trailhead: From Barnwell, drive SR 3 north 7 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  Bear right at the first intersection and park in the medium sized parking lot in front of the park office.

The hike: Established in 1937, 307-acre Barnwell State Park is one of the 16 South Carolina State Parks that were built by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Several of the CCC’s constructions are still in use today, including two picnic shelters and the unusual tiered spillway at the dam that creates the park’s main lake.  Whether you love or hate the CCC, they built things to last.
            Barnwell State Park contains only one hiking trail, a short 1.3 mile nature trail that circumnavigates the park’s main lake.  The trail is not blazed, but it is wide and easy to follow.  While probably not a hiking destination by itself, this park makes a nice add-on to the end of your hiking day.  I came here under exactly those circumstances, squeezing this hike into the last daylight hour of a mild winter day.  Thus, my tour around this lake was quick but pleasant nonetheless.
Start of Nature Trail
            Start by walking to the right of the park office and heading through a gap in a short wooden fence.  This hike circumnavigates the lake counterclockwise, so the lake will be to your left the entire time.  The largest trees in the lakeside forest are loblolly pines, but some live oak and other deciduous trees live in the dense, green understory.
            At 0.1 miles, you pass behind the park’s meeting house where a grassy area gives a fabulous view across the lake.  The long late evening shadows that stretched over the tranquil lake made a perfect picture on my visit.  Back in the forest, some wooden boardwalks take you over some wet areas.
Looking across park lake
            0.3 miles from the trailhead, you reach a small pond that does not appear on the park map.  You could short-cut the loop by turning left and walking across the dam that forms this pond, but the official trail stays to the right to pass a small pondside picnic area.  After another short stint in the forest, you reach a dirt park maintenance road where you should turn left to cross a larger dam.  On the south side of the dam, turn left again to begin the journey down the south side of the lake.
            The trail meanders left and right but never strays more than 30 feet from the lake shore.  Some red interpretive plaques help you identify some of the trees in the lakeside forest.  At 0.7 miles, a picnic shelter appears uphill to the right as a pier extends out into the lake to the left.  My quick journey out the pier allowed me to see a trio of geese in the shallow water near the lake shore.  Note that the ground near the pier can be muddy even if the rest of the trail is dry.
Boardwalk across wet area
            Past the pier, the trail crosses another long wooden boardwalk, and at 1.1 miles you reach the dam that forms the main park lake.  You can walk out the earthen dam to view the spillway and the lake, but the trail does not cross the dam.  Instead, the trail joins the paved park road and curves left to cross the lake’s outlet creek on the park road bridge.  The turn onto the park road is not marked, nor is it clear on the park map, so pay attention at this point in the hike.
Starting final segment of trail
            Immediately after crossing the park road bridge, the trail turns left to leave the park road and begin the final segment back to the park office.  This segment consists of another boardwalk and some stone steps that give a good view of the unusual spillway.  The steps end behind the park office, thus closing the loop and completing the hike.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Magnolia Springs State Park: Fort Lawton Historic Trail (Blog Hike #453)

Trail: Fort Lawton Historic Trail
Hike Location: Magnolia Springs State Park
Geographic Location: north of Millen, GA
Length: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A short nature trail with good wildlife viewing opportunities and the site of a Confederate POW camp.

Directions to the trailhead: Magnolia Springs State Park is located on US 25 5 miles north of Millen.  Enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and park in the Visitor Center parking area.  The trail starts at a large kiosk across the main park road.

The hike: For my general comments on Magnolia Springs State Park, see the previous hike.  This hike explores the site of Camp Lawton, a Civil War prisoner-of-war (POW) camp.  The prison was constructed between August 5 and November 25, 1864 to relieve overcrowding at the Confederacy’s Andersonville POW camp some 150 miles to the west.  Confederate General John Winder chose this site due to its location near Magnolia Spring for its abundant drinking water, near the Augusta Savannah Railroad for its ease of access to drop off new prisoners, and beside a small hill that provided good, high ground for gun batteries to protect the prison.  The prison lasted less than 2 months before General Sherman’s infamous march forced its evacuation, but during its existence it became the Confederates’ largest POW camp, housing over 10,000 captured Union soldiers.
            POW camps are never friendly confines, but during the Civil War they were especially gruesome.  Of every 4 enemy soldiers that walked in, only 3 walked out; the others died of starvation, exposure, disease, or injury.  Interpretive signs bring the camp’s story to life, and on-going archaeological digs continue to unearth remnants of this time.  For example, in 2010 a team from Georgia Southern University unearthed a stockade wall and personal items from soldiers in one of the most significant archaeological finds in recent history.
Information kiosk at trailhead
            Begin your tour of the prison site by crossing the main park road at a marked crosswalk and reading the numerous signs on the large information kiosk.  After learning about the prison, walk uphill along the edge of the woods to begin hiking the Fort Lawton Historic Trail clockwise.  As you climb gradually, look for animal tracks in the soft sandy soil for clues as to what creatures have been here recently.
            At 0.1 miles, you reach the breastworks, all that remains of the prison structures.  The prison had a redoubt construction, meaning that is was enclosed by breastworks on all sides.  Imagine being a captured soldier living in a tent on these grounds, exposed to the elements.
Breastworks at former prison site
            Past the breastworks, the trail heads into the woods and soon comes to the earthworks that housed the gun batteries.  Now near the south park boundary, the trail curves right to pass the highest point on this hike, then curves right again as US 25 can be heard through the trees to the left.
            At 0.4 miles, the trail exits the woods atop a bluff that overlooks the park road and Spring Mill Branch.  Two more interpretive signs and a bench are also located here.  The trail is somewhat undefined from here, but you should walk downhill, cross the park road, and angle left through a gap in a wooden fence.  You are heading for a brown carsonite post in the left corner of a meadow beside the creek.
Hiking through the woods
            From the carsonite post, the remainder of the Fort Lawton Historic Trail parallels the creek, heading upstream.  What has thus far been a history-oriented hike turns into an excellent wildlife observation hike, as Spring Mill Branch’s clear waters teem with wildlife.  On my visit fish swam up and down the creek, some tadpoles were squirming into the water, and some turtles plopped into the water off of an old pier structure on which they were sunning.  One fish squirmed in the jaws of a blue heron that had just caught itself dinner.  A snowy egret sat quietly on a log to observe the whole scene.
Turtles on old pier structure
            I could have spent the entire afternoon beside the creek watching wildlife, but other trails beckoned.  When you manage to tear yourself away from the wildlife show, walk slightly uphill beside the Visitor Center to the Visitor Center parking lot, thus completing the hike.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Magnolia Springs State Park: Sink/Lake/Spring Loop (Blog Hike #452)

Trails: Lime Sink, Beaver, and Woodpecker Trails
Hike Location: Magnolia Springs State Park
Geographic Location: north of Millen, GA
Length: 3.3 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A “grand tour” loop featuring a sink, a lake, and a spring.

Directions to the trailhead: Magnolia Springs State Park is located on US 25 5 miles north of Millen.  Enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and bear right on the signed road for Picnic Area #7 and the playground.  Park in the small blacktop parking area near the playground.

The hike: Located an hour south of Augusta, 1070-acre Magnolia Springs State Park centers around the park’s namesake spring.  The 7 million gallons of clear 67-degree water that spew from the spring each day have drawn visitors here for centuries.  During the Civil War, some of those visitors were Union soldiers who were placed in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp located just uphill from the spring.
            The camp withstanding, most people who come to Magnolia Spring come of their own free will.  Before it became a state park, the spring area comprised a privately-owned recreation retreat, and a fish hatchery was established on adjacent land.  The state park was created in 1939 after a 15-year effort by local citizens to establish a state park on this site.  Shortly thereafter, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built some facilities here.  Park facilities today include a 28 site campground, 8 cottages, 8 picnic shelters, and a playground.
            For hikers, Magnolia Springs State Park is somewhat of a general store: it contains a little of everything without a lot of anything.  The front part of the park contains the historic POW camp site; it is featured in the next hike.  This hike takes you on a grand tour of the park’s interior, which includes a sinkhole, Magnolia Lake, and the spring that makes this park famous.
Trailhead: Lime Sink Trail
            Start your tour by picking up the Lime Sink Trail, which begins at a wooden portal between the playground and the restroom building.  The Lime Sink Trail is the park’s newest trail, so the treadway is not as firmly packed as on most trails.  Keep an eye on the blue paint blazes to avoid getting lost.
            At 0.15 miles, the trail joins an old dirt road, heading almost due east.  If you look to the left at this juncture, you will see the sink for which this trail is named.  Sinks form when water erodes the limestone bedrock roof of a cave, thus causing it to collapse.  The implosion leaves a large depression on the surface such as the one you see here.  This sink appears to be dry, but deeper sinks fall below the water table and thus partially fill with water.
Joining the old road
            The trail follows the old road for a few hundred feet before turning left to exit the roadbed just before reaching an area of the park that was logged recently.  At 0.4 miles, you pass through an area with numerous downed trees.  The largest trees in this forest are loblolly pines, but a few red cedars and broadleaf trees populate the understory.
            0.7 miles into the hike, an unmarked spur trail exits left to the campground.  Keep with the blue blazes by staying right.  An active rail line sits just to the right of this section of trail, but I only heard one train pass by during my 2 hour visit here.  At 1 mile, you reach the north end of the Lime Sink Trail and an intersection with the white-blazed Beaver Trail.  As instructed by a directional sign, turn right here to head for the observation deck, the highlight of the Beaver Trail.
            The firmly packed dirt Beaver Trail descends gradually as it curves left.  A few old wooden benches provide rest for the weary.  At 1.4 miles, you reach a wooden observation deck perched on the upper reaches of Magnolia Lake.  Thick brush prevents any long-distance views, but I did see some songbirds including a chickadee and a sparrow in the brush.  Two hawks were gliding over the group camp located across the lake.  Some benches here allow you to rest and observe the lake.
View from observation deck; Magnolia Lake
            Past the observation deck, the trail parallels the lake’s east shore, heading downstream.  Keep your eyes to the right so as not to miss any wildlife on the lake.  My approach sent a trio of geese into running take-off mode across the water.   At 1.9 miles, the other arm of the Beaver Trail comes in from the left.  Just past this intersection, you cross a boardwalk over an inlet of Magnolia Lake.
Crossing the boardwalk
            After crossing the boardwalk, you come out at a bank fishing area near the campground.  To continue, climb the hill to the left and take a soft right to begin walking out the main park road.  Note that a hard right here would take you across the dam to the group camp.  To pick up the Woodpecker Trail, the last leg of this hike, pass the last park cottage (Cottage #5) and look for a yellow paint blaze on a tree to the right just before you reach a speed bump in the road.  Turn right to leave the road and begin the spur of the Woodpecker Trail.
Yellow blaze announcing spur to Woodpecker Trail
            The spur trail descends gradually and soon meets the red-blazed Woodpecker Trail proper, where you should continue straight.  Marshy Spring Mill Branch comes into view as the trail curves left to parallel the creek downstream.  Just short of 3 miles into the hike, the trail forks.  Take the trail going right to quickly arrive at the boardwalk that overlooks Magnolia Spring.
Hiking near Spring Mill Branch
            Magnolia Spring is not the largest spring I have ever seen, but it is one of the prettiest.  Obvious ripples in the pool mark where water emerges, and the dull grey mud contrasts nicely with the clear to light blue water.  Some Spanish moss draped trees frame the setting perfectly.
Magnolia Spring
            The Woodpecker Trail ends at the parking lot beside Magnolia Spring, so the balance of the hike is a park road walk back to your car.  Angle left and walk uphill through the picnic area.  Pass the campground dump station to reach the parking area beside the playground, thus completing the hike.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pleasant Ridge County Park (Blog Hike #451)

Trail: Leroy Smith Nature Trail
Hike Location: Pleasant Ridge County Park
Geographic Location: north of Travelers Rest, SC
Length: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: A short ridgetop and creekside nature trail loop.

Directions to the trailhead: Pleasant Ridge County Park is located on SR 11 2 miles west of US 25 or 2.5 miles east of US 276.  The park entrance is on the north side of the road.  Enter the park and bear right at the first road fork.  Park in the first parking area.

The hike: Originally a state park, pretty Pleasant Ridge County Park has its roots in the ugly days of segregation.  In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, all of the state parks in upstate South Carolina were open only to white people.  When the doctrine of separate-but-equal became the law of the land, the state wanted to keep its parks white-only, so it was forced to establish a separate but equal park for use by black people.  The new “separate but equal” state park is today’s Pleasant Ridge County Park.
            If you visit any of the upstate’s current state parks (Table Rock, Caesar’s Head, Paris Mountain: just pick one) and then come here, you will immediately realize that this park is not “equal” to any of those parks.  The county park has no unique natural features, but it does have some nice picnic areas, a campground, some cabins, a retreat center, and one short nature trail, the one described here.  The trail is named for Leroy Smith, this park’s superintendent from 1951 through 1979 and the first black state park superintendent in South Carolina.  Although the park receives a decent number of visitors, the trail gets little traffic, perhaps for reasons to be described later.
Nature trail trailhead
            From the rear of the parking area where the park road curves right to enter the campground, walk straight across a mown grassy area.  Two signs mark the beginning and end of the nature trail loop, respectively.  The hiking is slightly easier if you hike the loop counterclockwise, so this description will enter on the right trail and return on the left one.
Climbing on eroded trail
            Immediately the rooty and rutted trail begins climbing through young forest on a moderate grade.  This trail is never too steep, but the high level of trail erosion makes the difficulty higher than you might expect for a short county park nature trail.  The trail curves left at 0.2 miles as it nears the highest point of the hike.  On my late fall hike, I passed a maintenance man using a leaf blower to clear leaves from the trail near this point.  Sweet gum and maple are the largest trees up here, but the forest is pretty young and brushy throughout this hike.
            The descent now begins, at first on a gradual grade and then more steeply.  After a particularly steep and eroded section, you reach an old moonshine still site at 0.4 miles.  This site would be hard to identify but for the interpretive sign marking the spot.
Waterfall in creek beside trail
            Past the old still site, ignore a side trail that exits right and leads uphill to the park’s retreat center.  The loop continues by crossing a small creek on a nice wooden bridge and curving left to follow the creek downstream.  Soon a small waterfall appears in the creek to the left, and an old stone wall appears nearby.  After crossing a wet area, the trail emerges from the woods at the mown grassy area, thus marking the end of the loop.  A short walk across the grass is all that remains to complete the hike.


Friday, November 22, 2013

DeSoto State Park: Cabin Trail (to Indian and Lodge Falls) (Blog Hike #450)

Trail: Cabin Trail (to Indian and Lodge Falls)
Hike Location: DeSoto State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Fort Payne, AL
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: A short out-and-back to two wet-weather waterfalls.

Directions to the trailhead: In northeast Alabama, drive I-59 to SR 35 (exit 218).  Exit and go east on SR 35.  Drive SR 35 4.6 miles to CR 89, climbing Lookout Mountain in the process.  Turn left on CR 89.  Drive CR 89 north 5.7 miles to the CCC Pavilion parking area on the right.  Park in the large blacktop parking lot in front of the CCC Pavilion.

The hike: Located about halfway between Chattanooga, TN and Gadsden, AL, DeSoto State Park consists of 3502 acres on the broad, high top of Lookout Mountain.  The park is named for the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who explored this area in the early 1540’s.  Like many Alabama state parks, this park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s.  The CCC built many of the park’s structures including the pavilion near this parking area, and a small museum in the park pays tribute to their contribution.
            DeSoto State Park has almost every amenity imaginable.  Lodging includes a resort lodge, a park motel, 12 cabins, and a 94-site campground.  The park also features a restaurant, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and numerous picnic shelters.
            In terms of natural attractions, the park’s most famous attractions are its numerous waterfalls.  The largest waterfall is 104-foot DeSoto Falls, but it is located 6 miles north of the park and is accessible only by driving, not by hiking.  5 other waterfalls lie in the park’s main area, 2 of which are visited on this hike. 
My October 2013 visit was actually my second to this park; my first came in May 1998 before I started this blog, which leads to the only downside to these waterfalls.  Because DeSoto’s waterfalls sit high in the watershed atop Lookout Mountain, they only flow well after a significant rain.  In particular, the “waterfalls” were merely a dry rock outcrop on my early October visit, but they were quite nice on my May visit many years ago.  Time your visit accordingly.
Trailhead behind picnic shelter
            Start the hike by walking to the right of the picnic shelter at the rear of the parking lot, descending the steep, grassy hill, and entering the woods.  The slightly steep and eroded dirt trail continues its descent for another 0.1 miles to reach an intersection with the DeSoto Scout Trail, which is marked with yellow paint blazes.  The Scout Trail is a 5 mile long moderate/difficult trail along the West Fork of the Little River; it merits serious exploration if you have more time than I did on my visit.  To reach the Cabin Trail and its two waterfalls, turn right here to begin a short stint on the Scout Trail.
            Very quickly another spur trail exits right to head back to the picnic area, and you reach the narrow wooden bridge that crosses a creek just above Indian Falls.  As I mentioned in the introduction, this waterfall was completely dry on my visit, but a spur trail leads to the fall’s base if water flow is higher on your visit.  Just after crossing the bridge, you reach the north end of the Cabin Trail.  Angle right to begin the Cabin Trail, which is marked with lime-green paint blazes.
Wooden bridge above Indian Falls
Cabin and Scout Trails split
            The cabins for which this trail is named come into view on the right as you climb gradually.  The West Fork of the Little River lies sharply downhill to your left, but it usually cannot be seen due to the dense green understory.  At 0.5 miles, the Cabin Trail splits.  The left fork leads down to the base of Lodge Falls, while the right fork gives a view from the top of Lodge FallsLodge Falls is only 0.1 miles away, so you can take in both views with little extra effort.
View from top of Lodge Falls
            Lodge Falls is the last point of interest on this trail, so now you need to get back to the trailhead.  You could simply retrace your steps along the Cabin/Scout Trails, but there is a way to form a loop.  Continuing along the branch of the Cabin Trail above Lodge Falls will bring you to the lodge, where a right turn will take you first to the lodge access road and then to CR 89.
            After walking a short distance on the road shoulder, look for the signed aqua-blazed pedestrian trail on the right.  Pick up this trail as it parallels the road, passes through the parking area for the Lost Falls Trail (perhaps the best trail in this park), and climbs slightly to reach the park’s Country Store.  The CCC pavilion stands uphill and across CR 89, thus signaling the end of the hike.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cloudland Canyon State Park: West Rim Trail (Blog Hike #449)

Trail: West Rim Trail
Hike Location: Cloudland Canyon State Park
Geographic Location: southeast of Trenton, GA
Length: 4.9 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: A lollipop loop featuring multiple overlooks of Sitton Gulch and Daniel Creek Gorge.

Directions to the trailhead: In extreme northwest Georgia, take I-59 to SR 136 (exit 11).  Exit and go east on SR 136.  Drive SR 136 for 6.6 miles, ascending Lookout Mountain in the process, to the state park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, and drive 1.4 miles on the main park road, continuing straight at each intersection.  Park in any of the parking lots near the Interpretive Center.

The hike: Established in 1938, 3488-acre Cloudland Canyon State Park is one of the crown jewels in Georgia’s state park system.  The park straddles 1100-foot deep Sitton Gulch, which forms in the center of the park at the confluence of Daniel Creek Gorge and Bear Creek Gorge.  Cloudland Canyon State Park has nice facilities, including 102 campsites, 16 cottages, and 5 picnic shelters, but the natural attractions take center stage.
Most of the land on the gulch’s rim belongs to the park, so the views into the gulch are fabulous.  Also, the park’s location on the western edge of Lookout Mountain ensures excellent views to the west as well.  In addition to the views from the rim, the gulch itself contains some goodies, namely two large waterfalls: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls.
           All of the pleasantries Cloudland Canyon has to offer can be accessed by a fine network of hiking trails.  While points along the rim are rather easily accessed, the waterfalls can only be reached by descending several hundred feet via over 1000 wood/metal steps.  I hiked to the waterfalls back in 1998 (before I started writing this blog), so I decided to tour the rim on this visit.  In particular, I chose to hike the West Rim Trail, which is probably the park’s most famous trail.  The West Rim Trail is mostly moderate in difficulty with only a couple of rocky spots, and it tours all of the park’s major rim overlooks.
Carsonite post at trailhead
            From the Interpretive Center, take the paved trail that heads south along the rim with the canyon to your right and the park road to your left.  Immediately views open up over the metal railing on the right.  Daniel Creek Gorge falls immediately before you, and Sitton Gulch extends out behind you to the north.  Hemlock Falls lies deep in the gorge directly in front of you, but it can be neither seen nor heard from the rim.
View into Daniel Creek Gorge
            At 0.2 miles, the trail turns to gravel and heads behind some of the park’s cabins.  Soon the Waterfalls Trail exits right to begin its long descent into the gorge.  The yellow-blazed West Rim Trail descends slightly with Daniel Creek coming into view through dense shrubbery on the right.  At 0.4 miles, you cross Daniel Creek on a wooden footbridge.
            Now on the west side of Daniel Creek, you begin the steepest part of the hike as the trail climbs out of the upper reaches of Daniel Creek Gorge via switchbacks.  Some wild trails head straight up the hillside, but cutting the switchbacks makes the grade steeper and enhances trail erosion.  Thus, intelligent hikers will follow the yellow blazes and stay on the official trail.
Small cave near trail
            Near 0.6 miles, you pass a small cave on the left.  Just past the cave, you reach the west rim proper and the rear of the Yurt Village.  A yurt is a fabric-covered wood camping structure originally used by nomads in central Asia.  Yurts have gained popularity in this country over the past 20 years, and several yurt-making companies exist in America today.
            1 mile into the hike, the trail descends on a moderate but rather rocky grade to reach the first of many Daniel Creek Gorge overlooks.  Some large crevices exist between the rocks here, so take care where you step.  The gorge remains in view to the right as the trail curves left, following the rim.  Stunted pines grow along the rocky rim.  Railings appear when the trail gets extremely close to the gorge edge, so the exposure and the risk of falling are minimal.
Hiking along the west rim
            After some nice rim views, the trail descends somewhat steeply into a side draw as it heads away from the main canyon.  At 1.4 miles, the trail splits to form its loop.  To save the best scenery for the end, this description will continue straight here and use the trail going right across the wooden bridge as the return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.
            The next 0.9 miles form the most unremarkable segment of the hike as the trail climbs on a gradual grade through the sunny forest that covers the park’s interior.  Just past the 2-mile marker, you cross the paved cabin road.  A little more climbing brings you to a trail intersection where the West Rim Trail’s yellow blazes turn right.  Note that turning left here would quickly take you to a secondary parking area.  Vehicles access that parking area via the cabin road, and it makes an alternate starting point for this hike.
            At 2.4 miles, you reach the finest west-facing overlook in the park.  This rocky bluff peers off the west side of Lookout Mountain.  You can see 3 states on a clear day: Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.  Lookout Creek, the town of Trenton, and I-59 appear in the foreground, while Sand Mountain can be seen in the distance.  To your right lies the mouth of Sitton Gulch and the majority of Cloudland Canyon State Park.  This overlook is my favorite overlook on this hike, so spend some time here near the midpoint of the hike.
View to the west

View of mouth of Sitton Gulch
            For the remainder of its loop the trail stays within 30 feet of the rim, so nice views appear through gaps in the trees to the left.  Several spur trails exit right and lead to the cabin area.  At 3.2 miles, you reach the most dramatic overlook on this hike.  A rock outcrop protruding over Sitton Gulch allows views up, down, and across the impressive canyon.  A black iron fence ensures you do not fall over the edge of the outcrop.
Iron fence at rocky overlook
            In another 0.2 miles, you reach the last loop overlook.  This point overlooks the confluence of Bear and Daniel Creeks deep in the canyon.  Some rock ledges cross the trail here and may require you to use your hands to navigate them.  A final slightly steep descent leads to the wooden bridge you passed earlier, thus closing the loop.  A left turn and 1.2 miles of retracing your steps will return you to the trailhead and complete the hike.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Harrison Bay State Park: Nature Trails (Blog Hike #448)

Trails: Lakeshore Nature and Harrison Bay Walking Trails
Hike Location: Harrison Bay State Park
Geographic Location: northeast of Chattanooga, TN
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: Two short but very different nature trails.

Directions to the trailhead: Just outside Chattanooga, take I-75 to SR 153 (exit 4).  Exit and enter north on SR 153, which is a limited-access divided highway.  Drive SR 153 4.6 miles to SR 58 (exit 5A).  Exit and turn right (north) on SR 58.  Drive SR 58 for 8.3 miles to Harrison Bay Road and turn left on Harrison Bay Rd.  Drive Harrison Bay Rd. 1.4 miles to the state park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  The gravel parking area for the Harrison Bay Walking Trail lies on the left 400 feet after entering the park, and the parking area for the Lakeshore Nature Trail is 0.4 miles from the park entrance on the right.

The hike: Like many state parks along the Tennessee River, Harrison Bay State Park has its roots with the depression-era Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  The TVA built many dams and lakes along the Tennessee River through Knoxville, Chattanooga, and points downstream.  This section of the Tennessee River is known as Chickamauga Lake, a 60-mile long lake created in 1940 by the construction of Chickamauga Dam only a few miles south of here.  Harrison Bay is a large inlet of Chickamauga Lake named for the town of Harrison, which you drove through on SR 58 on your way to the park.
            The Civilian Conservation Corps also left its mark here: between 1938 and 1942 they built many of the structures you see in the park today.  The state leased the park from the TVA until 1950 when it purchased the land for one dollar.  The park features a fine Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, a large marina, and a 128-site campground.
            The park also boasts 3 trails: the 4.5 mile Bay Point Loop Trail, the 0.5 mile gravel Harrison Bay Walking Trail, and the 0.5 mile Lakeshore Nature Trail.  The Bay Point Loop Trail was built by mountain bikers primarily for mountain bikers, and I didn’t feel like dodging mountain bikes on the cool fall Saturday morning I came here.  Thus, I stuck with the two short nature trails.  The two trailheads are separated by 0.3 miles along the main park road, so either a short drive or road walk will be required between hiking these two trails.
Trailhead: Harrison Bay Walking Trail
            Start with the Harrison Bay Walking Trail, the trailhead of which is marked by a brown metal sign.  This trail features a restored tallgrass prairie, a now rare but once common habitat in the southeast. The gravel path goes right and left, but for the best prairie study, you should take the grassy trail that goes straight through the center of the prairie.  My shoes kicked the dew off the grass as I walked through the prairie.
Hiking through the tallgrass prairie
            On my visit the tallgrass prairie was a dull dead-looking yellow except for white some fleabane wildflowers, but in late summer the prairie comes alive with prairie wildflowers of various colors, dragonflies, and butterflies.  Only a few young trees dot the grassy expanse.  At the south side of the prairie, the grassy trail intersects the gravel loop trail.  You could go either way to walk around the perimeter of the prairie and close the loop.
Descending toward the lake shore
            Next, drive the short distance to the parking area for the Lakeshore Nature Trail, and pick up the trail as it exits the back of the gravel parking area at an information kiosk.  This trail appears to be the only one of the park’s three trails that dates to the opening of the park, but I could not confirm my hunch.  The trail descends on a gradual but slightly rocky grade to reach the lake shore at 0.2 miles.  The lake shore here is a pair of broad, quiet inlets.  You may see anglers in boats trying to get a bite in the shallow waters.
Shore of Harrison Bay
            The trail follows the lakeshore as it curves right and offers more nice lake views to the left.  At 0.3 miles, you reach a trail intersection.  The spur trail to the group camp goes left, but the main loop trail turns right to head back for the trailhead.  The trail climbs somewhat steeply but only for a short distance through a forest dominated by maple and sweetgum.  After topping the hill, a short level walk will bring you to a picnic table at the parking area, thus completing the hike.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The University of the South: Beckwith's Point Trail (Blog Hike #447)

Trail: Beckwith’s Point Trail
Hike Location: The University of the South
Geographic Location: north side of Sewanee, TN
Length: 4.2 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: An out-and-back along the rim of Shakerag Hollow to a grand overlook.

Directions to the trailhead: Take I-24 to US 41A (exit 134).  Exit and go west/southwest on US 41A.  Drive US 41A 3.5 miles to the entrance gates for Sewanee University.  Just after passing the entrance gate, look for a small gravel parking area on the right.  Park here; this is the Shakerag Hollow parking area.

The hike: Opened in 1868, the University of the South, also known as Sewanee University, was established on 10,000 mostly wooded acres donated by the Sewanee Mining Company.  Perhaps the university’s most famous achievement came via its athletic department in 1932 when it became a founding member of the Southeastern Conference (yes, the one with Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and the like).  The university left the conference in 1940, and these days its teams compete at the NCAA Division III level.
            Today the university has still developed only a fraction of its donated land, and the campus is surrounded by a ring of old growth forest.  Included in the forested land is the university’s 21-mile Perimeter Trail, which circumnavigates the campus.  Though the entire Perimeter Trail is too long for a dayhike, several segments make shorter but equally worthwhile journeys.  The Beckwith’s Point Trail described here is a one of the Perimeter Trail’s many side trails.  I did this hike as an out-and-back, but I suggest a couple of options at the end of this trail description to minimize the retracing of steps.
Shakerag Hollow Trailhead
            The Perimeter Trail crosses US 41A at this parking area.  To get to the Beckwith’s Point Trail, stay on the north side of the road and enter the woods at the back of the parking area.  A wooden signboard just into the woods announces your approach to Shakerag Hollow.
            Only a couple hundred feet into the woods, the Beckwith’s Point Trail exits left where the Perimeter Trail continues straight.  Wooden directional signs mark this intersection.  Turn left to begin the Beckwith’s Point Trail.  The wide dirt trail heads gradually downhill before curving sharply left at the edge of Shakerag Hollow’s sheer but low rock walls.  This point represents this trail’s best view into Shakerag Hollow, so take a minute to observe the rugged setting.
Trail near Shakerag Hollow
            After climbing gradually along the hollow’s rim, the trail crosses a gravel maintenance road at 0.4 miles.  For the next 0.5 miles the trail stays just downhill from busy University Avenue as it dips in and out of several shallow ravines, crossing the creeks on narrow wooden bridges.  Sounds of cars zooming along the road will be a constant nuisance.  1 mile into the hike you reach a high point where a partially obstructed view off the Cumberland escarpment opens up to the right.
            After passing through a couple more shallow ravines, the university’s golf course comes very close to the trail on the left.  Take care not to distract golfers, as one tee area is less than 10 feet from the trail.  At 1.6 miles, the signed spur to Beckwith’s Point exits to the right.  Feel free to hike the short distance out to the rocky ledge called Beckwith’s Point, but no views can be had in the warm months due to the dense broadleaf forest.
Hiking near the golf course
            After two more close calls with the golf course (I felt like the gopher on Caddyshack because I popped out on the golf course so often), the trail ducks into the woods for good.  Near 2 miles into the hike, a signed connector to the Perimeter Trail exits at a sharp angle to the right.  This 0.1 mile connector trail is steep and rocky, but it may be useful to form a loop, as described later.
            The final segment of the Beckwith’s Point Trail climbs on a moderate, slightly rocky grade to reach Green’s View, where the Beckwith’s Point Trail ends.  Green’s View sits right on the edge of the Cumberland escarpment, and a wide clearing offers a world-class view of the forest and fields to the northwest.  A bench here makes a fine place to rest at this trail’s end, but do not expect to be alone: a gravel parking area nearby makes Green’s View one of the most popular places on Sewanee’s campus during the warmer months.
View northwest from Green's View
            No other trails go to Green’s View, but a couple of options present themselves to avoid retracing your steps for 2.1 miles to complete the hike.  Obviously you could park a car shuttle at the Green’s View parking area, which is reached by driving University Ave. to the signed Green’s View Road.  Alternatively, you could descend the connector trail described above and hike back up on the Perimeter Trail, thus making a semi-loop.  Note that such a route is quite steep and rocky, so make sure you are prepared for this difficulty before you choose this option to return to the Shakerag Hollow trailhead.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Savage Gulf State Natural Area: Savage Day Loop (Blog Hike #446)

Trail: Savage Day Loop Trail
Hike Location: Savage Gulf State Natural Area
Geographic Location: northeast of Monteagle, TN
Length: 4.2 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: A fairly flat hike to a fantastic overlook of Savage Gulf.

Directions to the trailhead: Take I-24 to US 41A (exit 134).  Exit and go east on US 41A.  Drive US 41A 1.1 miles to SR 56 and turn left on SR 56.  Stay on SR 56 as it turns left in Tracy City.  Drive SR 56 an additional 10 miles past Tracy City to SR 108 and turn right on SR 108.  Drive SR 108 7.2 miles to SR 399 and turn left on SR 399.  Drive SR 399 5.1 miles to the ranger station for Savage Gulf State Natural Area on the left.  Turn left and park in the medium-sized parking lot.  The hike begins at the ranger station.

The hike: When most people in the southern United States think of a gulf, the Gulf of Mexico is the first item to come to mind.  Yet a gulf is simply a wide separation into which many streams flow, and the western edge of the Appalachians contain many gulfs.  Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, these gulfs are above sea level.
            One of the Appalachians’ larger gulfs is Savage Gulf, located at the edge of the Cumberland escarpment in southeastern Tennessee.  Before the land became state property, it was purchased by Samuel H. Werner of Tracy City, TN in 1924.  Fortunately for those of us in later generations, Mr. Werner saw the area’s natural value and protected the land in its natural state.  Today the land is officially part of massive South Cumberland State Park.  More specifically, Savage Gulf was declared a Class II Natural Scientific Area in 1973, meaning that development in and near the gulf is very restricted. 
Because of these restrictions, access to the gulf is only possible via rocky and difficult trails, and the area’s remote location ensures that such a trip requires a multi-day backpacking excursion.  For dayhikers, several trails traverse the rim of the gulf, allowing for fantastic views into the chasm.  Perhaps the most popular of these trails is the 4.2 mile Savage Day Loop described here.  This trail gives nice views into the gulf, but it also connects to one of the gulf access trails.  Thus, if you hike this trail in the morning like I did, you will likely share the trail with several backpackers headed for the gulf.
Trailhead: Savage Day Loop
            Only one trail leaves the ranger station, and it is the common entrance trail that feeds all of Savage Gulf’s trails.  Before you head down the trail, be sure to register at the dayhiker kiosk at the trailhead, as required by park rules.  With legalities out of the way, head down the common entrance trail as it heads over some wooden waterbars and short boardwalks, descending slightly.  The first 2 miles of this hike pass through open upland forest that gives no clue that a great gulf is nearby.
            At 0.3 miles, you come to a wooden suspension bridge held up by steel cables.  The bridge shakes rather severely, but persistent forward stepping will get you across.  Some mountain laurel grows along the creek near the bridge.  At 0.8 miles, you pass through an area that has recently felt the chainsaw.  Cut trees lined either side of the trail on my visit.
Wooden suspension bridge
            1 mile into the hike, the trail splits to form its loop.  A large wooden directional sign stands at this intersection.  I chose to hike the loop counterclockwise by turning right here and using the left trail as my return route.
Savage Day Loop splits to form its loop
             The next mile takes you through more of the same nice but unremarkable upland forest as the trail ascends and descends gradually to top a small high area.  At 2 miles, the North Rim Trail exits to the right at another signed trail junction.  The North Rim Trail leads to the trails that enter the gulf, so any backpackers that have accompanied you thus far will turn right here.  To stay on the Savage Day Loop, continue straight.
Another 0.2 mile of downhill hiking brings you to Rattlesnake Point overlook, the highlight of this hike.  From this rocky point, you look down the length of Savage Gulf, the bottom of which lies almost 1000 vertical feet below you.  Some vertical rock cliffs can be seen on either side of the gorge, giving you an appreciation of the gulf’s rugged nature.  This overlook sits near the midpoint of this hike, so take some time to rest here and take in the view.
View into Savage Gulf from Rattlesnake Point
Past the overlook, the trail undulates somewhat with the gulf out of sight to the right.  At 2.7 miles, the blue-blazed spur trail to Savage Falls exits to the right.  The spur trail descends a somewhat steep 0.1 miles to an unprotected overlook of Savage Falls, which is Savage Creek’s entrance into the gulf.  On my visit during the dry season, Savage Falls had the water volume of a garden hose, so plan a visit after a good rain if you want to see the waterfall in full form.
Savage Falls
Back on the main trail, continue your gently undulating course through upland forest.  3 miles into the hike, the South Rim Trail exits to the right.  The South Rim Trail provides another long, difficult route into the gulf, so you need to turn left to stay on the Savage Day Loop.  The trail now joins an old narrow-gage railroad bed, a remnant of the local logging industry, as it climbs gently to close the loop at 3.2 miles.  Continue straight to retrace your steps down the 1 mile entrance trail and complete the hike.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Fort Mountain State Park: Stone Wall Loop (Blog Hike #445)

Trails: West Overlook, Tower, and Stone Wall Trails
Hike Location: Fort Mountain State Park
Geographic Location: east of Chatsworth, GA
Length: 1.1 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: October 2013
Overview: A mountaintop hike featuring a grand overlook and a prehistoric stone wall.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Chatsworth, drive east on SR 52 7.2 miles to the park entrance on the left. Turn left to enter the park.  Stay on the main park road as the spur road to the park office exits right and the campground road exits left.  Follow the main park road to its very end at the Old Fort Picnic Area.  Park in the picnic area parking lot.

The hike: Located on the western fringe of north Georgia’s Cohutta Mountains, Fort Mountain is most famous for its mysterious prehistoric “walls of stone.”  Many people think the walls were built around 500A.D. by an unknown tribe of American Indians.  Some people think they were built in the 1300’s by Welsh explorers as a defense against American Indians.  Another theory attributes the walls to Hernando de Soto or other Spanish conquistadors.  Cherokee legend states that the walls were built by the Moon Eyes, a light-skinned people who could only see at night.
            While the wall’s ancient builders remain a mystery, Fort Mountain State Park’s appeal to modern visitors is clear.  Established in 1938 as a result of a land donation by Ivan Allen, the park’s 3712 acres not only contain the mysterious walls of stone, but the mature forest has become a recreation paradise.  In terms of lodging, the park features a 70-site campground and 15 cottages.  The park also has a small lake near the campground, and several picnic areas dot the park.
            In terms of trails, Fort Mountain State Park features 25 miles of horse trails and 27 miles of mountain bike trails including the 14.6 mile East-West Bike Loop, which is rated as one of the best bike trails in the southeast.  For hikers, the best and most famous option is the 8.2 mile Gahuti Trail, a hiker-only loop trail that involves a lot of up-and-down as it circles Fort Mountain’s summit.  I arrived too late in the afternoon to attempt the Gahuti Trail, so I chose to hike the short loop described here.  Not only does this route take you to the mysterious walls of stone, but it also features a fine west-facing overlook and a stone tower built by the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Directional sign at trailhead
            To start the hike, pick up the yellow-blazed West Overlook Trail where it leaves the picnic area road at the north end of the parking area.  A wooden information kiosk and a metal brown directional sign mark this point.  The wide, slightly rocky trail immediately heads into the mature broadleaf forest and climbs on a gradual to moderate grade.  Some numbered red markers attached to trees correspond to a trail guide available at the park office that helps you identify some of the trees.
Climbing on West Overlook Trail
            After climbing roughly 150 feet over 0.3 miles, the trail forks with the yellow-blazed trail continuing to climb to the right and a red-blazed trail leveling out to the left.  For the shortest and easiest route to the overlook, angle left on the newer red-blazed trail.  This short, slightly descending trail takes you around a rock outcrop to a set of wood/metal steps, where another left turn quickly brings you to West Overlook.
            Because Fort Mountain is the western-most peak in the Cohutta Mountains, the view here extends for 80 miles on a clear day.  Famous Lookout Mountain can be seen in the distance, and the cities of Chatsworth and Dalton can be seen in the valley below.  On the partly cloudy afternoon of my visit, the scattered clouds created patchwork shadows on the valley below.  This overlook gives one of the best views in Georgia, so take some time to see what you can see.
View from West Overlook
            After viewing the overlook, do an about face and climb all of the wood/metal steps, some 100 in all, passing the trail you came in on along the way.  At the top of the steps, you reach a major trail junction.  To head for the CCC tower, continue straight.  A little more climbing brings you to the clearing that contains the stone tower.  Visitors are no longer allowed to climb the tower to get views from the top, but the stone tower still makes an unusual architectural structure to study at the highest elevation on this hike.
CCC's stone tower
            After studying the tower, continue straight across the clearing and reenter the forest, still heading east.  The trail descends slightly to reach an intersection with the blue-blazed Stone Wall Trail.  To see the mysterious stone wall, turn right here to begin the Stone Wall Trail.
            The Stone Wall Trail descends gradually and curves to the right with the highest land to your right.  At 0.8 miles, you reach the east end of the stone wall.  This point is unmarked, but the wall is obvious.  The wall continues for 800 feet and varies between 2 and 6 feet high.  Historians think the wall was even higher before it succumbed to centuries of plunder by treasure hunters.  The wall is not straight, but 30 “pits” were built into the wall for unknown reasons.  The trail parallels the wall, so you can study the wall while you walk.
Wall of stones
            0.9 miles into the hike, you reach an intersection with the CCC Stone Tower Trail.  To get back to the parking lot, turn left and begin following the red blazes on a moderate downhill grade.  This rocky and rooty trail is the original one built by the CCC in the 1930’s.  A 0.2 mile descent on this rough trail will return you to the trailhead and complete the hike.