Wandering in the Georgia and North Carolina Mountains

Before we bought our Titanium fifth wheel in 2006, we attended a rally of Titanium owners at the River Vista Mountain Village in Dillard, Georgia. We stayed in one of the cabins at the park and after meeting the owners and touring their fifth wheels, we made our decision to purchase a Titanium. It was one of the best decisions we ever made!

We returned to River Vista this October for a short fall trip. The RV park is a perfect location for exploring the surrounding area. While we were there I spotted another Titanium on our row. We first met the owners when we came to the rally in 2006 and enjoyed visiting with them before they headed for home. What a small world!

Our mountain adventures began in nearby Mountain City, Georgia at Black Rock Mountain State Park, the highest state park in Georgia. The views of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains were spectacular and we crossed the Eastern Continental divide a couple of times.

The Eastern Continental Divide runs through Black Rock Mountain State Park
Black Rock Mountain State Park

We decided on the spur of the moment to take the quarter mile downhill trail to see Ada-hi Falls. The view of the falls was worth hiking down the damp leaf covered trail.

It always pays to stop at the Visitor’s Center to ask about what to see when you are in a new place. When we asked about things to see, as soon as we heard “gravel road” we knew we had to take it to see Black Rock Lake.

We can’t resist driving on gravel roads and one took us to Black Rock Lake
Black Rock Lake

The next day our destination was to see three waterfalls in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina between Highlands and Franklin. The road from Dillard to Highlands has many sharp turns and steep grades and I wouldn’t recommend taking a big RV on it. Our first stop was the Sky Valley overlook in Georgia for a view before crossing into North Carolina a few miles later.

Sky Valley Overlook in Georgia on the road to Highlands, NC

Our journey took us to the outskirts of Highlands before turning onto the narrow, twisting Highway 64 towards Franklin. Bridal Veil Falls was the first waterfall we came to but we couldn’t stop because the parking area was full. We continued to Dry Falls in the Nantahala National Forest. The National Forest has built a good size parking area with pit toilets and a handicapped accessible overlook of the falls. To get a closer look at the falls and even walk behind them we walked down a series of stairs and short trail down to the falls.

Dry Falls near Highlands, NC in the Nantahala National Forest

Our next stop was a few miles down the road at a small waterfall on the Cullasaja River. To see these falls up close we had to park across the road and navigate our way down a short rocky slope.

Small waterfall beside Hwy 64 between Highlands and Franklin, NC

In order to  return to Bridal Veil Falls we had to drive down the narrow road a short way before finding a place to turn around. This time there was plenty of available parking. Walking behind the falls is allowed but cars can no longer drive behind them.

After returning to Georgia we had one more waterfall to see. Sylvan Falls is located next to the Sylvan Falls Mill Bed and Breakfast in Mountain City just a few miles beyond the campground where we were staying.

Four waterfalls in one day! All were easily accessible with no strenuous hiking involved.

Wandering Around America One State at a Time – North Carolina

State 30:

Welcome to the next post in my series highlighting states we have visited throughout the years. I hope you will enjoy coming along for the ride!

I will be featuring the states alphabetically. The next state in my series is

North Carolina

North Carolina became the 12th state on November 21, 1789. The capital is Raleigh.

From the Great Smokey Mountains to the Outer Banks, there is a lot to explore in North Carolina. Waterfalls and beaches, hikes and scenic drives, mountains and racetracks, wildlife and wildflowers  –  these are just a few of the things that make North Carolina memorable.

Back before our RVing days we wandered around the Outer Banks seeing the lighthouses and beaches, visiting the Wright Brothers Monument where they took their first flight, and taking the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke.  Another ferry took us from Ocracoke back to the mainland where we visited Bath where the pirate Blackbeard once lived.

If you love waterfalls, you won’t be disappointed in North Carolina.

It doesn’t get any better than a campsite with a beautiful view. Our campsite at Campfire Lodgings in Asheville was perfect for hanging out after hiking or touring the fabulous Biltmore Estate.

Blondie taking a break at our campsite at Campfire Lodgings in Asheville
Biltmore Estate in Asheville
Sunset at Campfire Lodgings in Asheville

I felt as if I had gone back in time to Mayberry as we wandered around Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy.

We ended our tour of the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the winner’s circle.

In the Winner’s Circle at Charlotte Motor Speedway

One of the hikes we made was on Whiteside Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest.

Whiteside Mountain in Nantahala National Forest

Whether it’s the leaves showing their fall colors or the flowers showing their brilliant blooms, the vibrant colors of the North Carolina mountains change with the seasons.

Fall Colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway

We explored Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mingus Mill in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park near Cherokee.

And if it’s wildlife you’re looking for, try visiting in the fall where you might see the bugling elk in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

To read previous posts about the states featured in this series just click on the state name: Alabama      Alaska      Arizona      Arkansas      California      Colorado     Florida      Georgia      Hawaii        Idaho  Illinois      Indiana      Iowa     Kansas     Kentucky     Louisiana     Maine     Maryland     Massachusetts     Michigan     Minnesota    Mississippi     Missouri     Montana     Nebraska     Nevada      New Hampshire     New Mexico      New York

Blue Ridge Parkway, Creek Side Camping and Barbeque in North Carolina

After two days of elk watching in Cataloochee Valley we packed a lunch and set out from our campground in Waynesville for a 40 mile drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of fall colors.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile scenic parkway through the southern Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. The northernmost point of the parkway is Mile 0 in Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, Virginia. The southernmost point is Mile 469 near Cherokee, North Carolina. There are scenic overlooks, picnic areas, hiking trails, and campgrounds all along the way.

Although we have traversed several sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the past we had never been on the area in North Carolina north of the Highest Point at Mile 431. On our journey this time we traveled south from  Mile 408 at Mount Pisgah to Maggie Valley at about Mile 455.

The first order of business was a picnic at the Mount Pisgah picnic area at the top of a short paved trail. After lunch under the trees we started our journey south, stopping at several of the scenic overlooks. It was too early in the year for the peak autumn colors but a few of the leaves were beginning to change.

Fall Colors on Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Fall Colors on Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

Looking Glass Rock got it’s name because sunlight will reflect off the granite when there is water collected on it.

Looking Glass Rock Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Looking Glass Rock Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

There was beautiful scenery every where we looked.

Beautiful day for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Beautiful day for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

We found a few more fall colors.

A few fall colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
A few fall colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

There are many folktales surrounding the Devil’s Courthouse. It was getting late and we decided to skip the trail to the top.

Devil's Courthouse Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Devil’s Courthouse Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

The picture on the left was taken 8 years ago when we first stopped at the Highest Point of the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile 431. The one on the right from this visit.

The photo below is the view from the Highest Point.

Highest Point Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Highest Point Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

A few clouds rolled in as we continued south,

Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

Our home base for exploring Cataloochee Valley and the Blue Ridge Parkway was Creekwood RV Park a few miles north of Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Our site backed up to a beautiful creek. It was a perfect place to relax after a day of wandering.

Of course we had to try some North Carolina barbeque while were were there. The Heywood Smokehouse in Waynesville was recommended and the spareribs, chicken, and brisket were done to perfection. And it turns out the owners are originally from Georgia!

Heywood Smokehouse in Waynesville, NC
Heywood Smokehouse in Waynesville, NC

Beautiful fall weather, bugling elk, scenic drives, camping beside a creek, and delicious barbeque. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Cataloochee Valley Elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After a great stay in Virginia we headed south to the Smokies in North Carolina in search of bugling elk. I’ve seen elk in many different places but never thought I would be able to experience the sound of a bull elk bugling without traveling all the way to Yellowstone or the Rocky Mountains. I was wrong. There are elk in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America. We’ve traveled there several times over the years but I had never heard about the elk in Cataloochee Valley until my friend Holly posted last year about the Bugling Elk in Cataloochee Great Smoky Mountains NP.

Elk were once abundant in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Over hunting and habitat loss caused the elk to be eliminated from North Carolina  many years ago.

In February, 2001, the National Park Service began an experimental reintroduction of elk into Cataloochee Valley by releasing 25 elk from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Another 27 elk from Canada were released in 2002.

Getting to Cataloochee Valley

Cataloochee Valley is located on the eastern side of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The nearest towns are Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

Getting to the valley involves an 11 mile drive on Cove Creek Road. This is a road that is not for the faint of heart. The turnoff to Cove Creek Road is only about a mile from Interstate 40 and the first part of the drive is on a narrow, curved paved road that passes by homes tucked away on the side of the mountain. After a few miles, the pavement is replaced by gravel. All along the way are few guardrails, many switchbacks, blind curves, and hairpin turns. As we continued on the road I felt like we were millions of miles away from civilization.

We stopped at an national park overlook for a spectacular view before continuing into the valley.

Cows on first day

We made two trips into Cataloochee Valley. On our first visit we were thrilled to see elk by the first field. A young elk was grazing in the field with a large cow in the woods across the road. We stopped to watch a large bull elk at the far end of another field and had another bull cross the road in front of the truck. Alas, I wasn’t able to get pictures of them.

Mama Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Cow Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Elk Calf in Cataloochee Valley
Young  elk  in Cataloochee Valley
Bugling Bulls

The breeding season, also known as the rutting season, is in the fall. During this time the bull elk make their bugling calls to attract females and challenge other bulls. We ventured down Cove Creek Road again a second day in hopes of seeing and hearing some bugling bulls.

The best time to view elk is late in the afternoon before sunset so we arrived later in the afternoon than we had the first day. We weren’t disappointed. There were several elk in the first field we came to and as we continued down the road a lone bull stood in a small field. As we pulled off the road and rolled down the windows we watched him raise is head and we heard him make his bugle sound. We could hear more bugliing far off in the distance.

Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley

Later on we came across another bugling bull. We think he was trying to attract a female we saw in the woods. She wasn’t paying any attention to him.

Bull Elk Bugling in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk Bugling in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Bull Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Young elk

We didn’t witness any large bulls sparring but we did enjoy watching two young elk locking antlers right beside the truck. After a few minutes, they went back to grazing.

Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Two young male elk lock antlers in Cataloochee Valley
Face Off
Face Off
Elk in Cataloochee Valley
Elk in Cataloochee Valley
History of Cataloochee

The first people to visit Cataloochee Valley were Native Americans who fished and hunted but did not settle there permanently. In the early 1800’s white settlers moved into the valley.

By the early 1900’s Cataloochee was the largest settlement in the Smokies with almost 200 buildings. Today a few of the remaining buildings  can be seen as you drive through the valley and others are accessible by one of the many trails.

By 1938, most of the families had moved out of the valley after selling their land to the government for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We camped at Creekwood Farm RV Park in Waynesville, NC. The campground is less than a mile from the turnoff to Cove Creek Road.

Exploring Mount Airy and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Andy and Opie
Andy and Opie

Many of us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s have fond memories of watching The Andy Griffith Show. I loved watching Andy and Opie walking down the path with their fishing poles at the beginning of each of the older episodes. It was this image that was chosen for a statue in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Mount Airy is the birthplace of Andy Griffith. A walk down Main Street is like walking through the fictional town of Mayberry. Just a few blocks from Floyd’s Barber Shop you can visit Wally’s Service Station and the Mayberry Courthouse.

After breakfast at the Snappy lunch (famous for their pork chop sandwich) we visited the Andy Griffith museum which contains exhibits from Andy’s long acting career. In addition to playing Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, he was in several movies and later played TV’s Matlock. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2005.

After the museum we walked through an exhibit about Chang and Eng Bunker, Siamese twins who settled in the area and raised their families in the 1800’s. We couldn’t leave town without stopping at Wally’s Service Station for a look around. After driving by Andy Griffith’s home place we drove north on Highway 52 for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile Marker 199 in Fancy Gap, Virginia and continued going north. After stopping to take a short hike we arrived at Mabry Mill to discover that none of the facilities on the parkway are open until May 1. No worries. I was able to take pictures from the parking lot.

We spent 2 nights at the Mayberry Campground in Mount Airy.