Favorite Roadside Waterfalls (NC)

I really got my hiking legs while living in North Carolina, when I realized that where there are mountains, waterfalls also generally exist. There are a ton of waterfalls either right at the road, or within a handful of steps from the road that are easy for anyone of any ability to check out. I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. The images go back as far as 2004, when I was working with a 2 megapixel digital camera.

Here are some of my favorites.

Bridal Veil Falls (Macon County, NC)

Bridal Veil falls is in Macon County, NC, it’s 45 ft tall and is located along US HWY 64 a little west of Highlands. There’s a pull off, making it very easy to get photos of this waterfall. The falls used to fall over the side of the road, onto the rocks below (seen in the right hand image). In December of 2003 a large boulder had fallen from above, you can just see the right side of it in the left hand image. I’ve heard that this boulder has since been cleared away.

Bubbling Springs Branch Cascades (Haywood County, NC)

Bubbling Springs Branch Cascades is 30 ft tall and can be found along Hwy 215, 2.2 miles north of where it intersects with the Blue Ridge Parkway. The above shot is from the road where there’s a pull off where you can park. I had a lot of fun hiking down to the base of this one, as there were a lot of boulders, and it was snowy at the time. This was also one of my times I was thankful for waterproof boots, as my foot slipped off a rock at one point and fell into the creek. I got the below picture on that trip.

The base of Bubbling Springs Branch Cascades

The base of Bubbling Springs Branch Cascades

Cullasaja Falls (Macon County, NC)

Cullasaja Falls

Cullasaja Falls is a beautiful waterfall, and is somewhere between 200 and 250 feet, depending on the source of your information. It’s situated along a very dangerous stretch of Hwy 64, and there’s only room for 2, possibly 3 cars at the tiny pull off here. There’s a path down to the base of the falls, but it was icy the morning I was here and I’m not exactly part billy goat.

Dry Falls (Macon County, NC)

Dry Falls

Dry Falls is between 70 and 80 ft tall, and is about 5.5 away from Cullasaja Falls. There’s a brown and white forest sign along the road that directs you to the falls. I’ve only been here once, and it was at the same time that I visited Cullasaja and Bridal Veil Falls. It was very icy getting down the stairs to the falls, and while this is usually a falls you can walk behind, the fence was closed.

Looking Glass Falls (Transylvania County, NC)

Looking Glass Falls

Looking Glass Falls can be found along US 276 just inside the Pisgah National Forest in Brevard, NC. This one would be hard to miss, since it’s got its own pull off and is generally packed with cars. I’ve been to this falls more times than I can count on one hand. It’s about 60 feet tall and you’re allowed to swim in the pool at the bottom.

Slick Rock Falls (Transylvania County, NC)

Slick Rock Falls

Slick Rock Falls is about 30 feet high, and is just a stones throw from the parking area, which can be found by following Hwy 276 into the Pisgah National Forest, from Brevard, NC, turning left on FR475 and then right gravel road FR475B. The parking area/pull off is just over a mile down the road on the right hand side. This one is best visited after a heavy rain, or the flow is a little light.

Whitewater Falls (Jackson County, NC)

Whitewater Falls

Whitewater Falls is one of the more impressive waterfalls I’ve seen, and at 411 ft, also one of the tallest. If you’re out looking at the other waterfalls I’ve mentioned along Hwy 64, keep heading west until you hit Hwy 281 near Sapphire, NC and take that 9 miles to the massive parking area. There’s a short, 1/4 mile walk (paved) to the top of the lookout, and about 150-160 more stairs leading down to varied views of the falls.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of my favorite roadside waterfalls from my time in North Carolina. If you’re in the area, be sure to check out Transylvania County, NC, which boasts over 250 waterfalls. Also, if you’re looking for an excellent book on NC waterfalls, look for NC Waterfalls by Kevin Adams. I was a novice hiker when I bought my first copy, and used it as a kind of field guide for all of my hikes.

 

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Florida Trail I75 to Lake Okeechobee

Florida Trail Map

Florida Trail Map (Grey circled section is where our hike was to take place).

Back in February of 2016, I set out with a group from Trailwalker Gear Outfitters, from Bradenton, FL, to do a 50ish mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FT). We’d planned to hike from the I75 trailhead, which starts at a rest area, and proceed north to Lake Okeechobee, which is a massive man-made lake.
The trek didn’t start out so great. I overslept and woke up about an hour past our scheduled meet up time. I called Jimmy, one of the owners of Trailwalker gear, and made arrangements to meet him and the rest of the group at a restaurant along the way. From the restaurant, we left the west coast of Florida and headed inland to Lake Okeechobee where we left my Jeep Wrangler. From there, we headed south, through the Seminole Indian Reservation and over to the I75 trailhead at the rest area at mile marker 63. This trailhead is 30 miles north of the southern terminus of the trail.

Ready to go

Our 4 packs, ready to go.

 

 

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About to sign the trail register

 

The trail follows Noble’s Rd, 7.4 miles until it reaches the gate to the Seminole Reservation. We planned to hike to the gate, find a spot to camp, and then start out in the morning for Billie Swamp Safari, where we would do a little site seeing, and then make our way to the Big Cypress RV Resort and Campground, where we’d spend our 2nd night. After that, we’d be following a levy for the remainder of our trek.

Shortly after we started out, we were running into animals that I’d never encountered in nature.

First, we ran into a black racer, and shortly thereafter, this rogue crayfish. There was water on both sides of the trail, and as we walked, we’d hear alligators entering the water when we got too close. We did run into a couple of alligators that weren’t quite so skittish.

About 6 miles in, you run into Noble’s Campsite, which is at the end of an old air field. I was pretty impressed with the look of this campsite, it had a fire ring and picnic table. The only downside was, it was flooded.

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Noble’s Campsite

From Noble’s Campsite, it was another 1.5 miles to the gate to the Seminole Reservation.

When we got to the gate, there was no place to really camp, except for on the trail itself, so that’s where we set up camp.

It was pretty early on when we set up camp, so we chilled for a bit, and threw a Frisbee around for while. While we were there, a thru-hiker happened upon our camp, Don’t Panic, said he’d hiked the AT, decided he wasn’t done yet, and made his way to the Florida Trail.

Our second day on the trail started out pre dawn. We had about 6 miles to hike to get to Billie Swamp Safari, and we wanted to get there about the time they opened.

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The trail was so quiet and peaceful, I kept expecting to see animals, but none showed up. We eventually came to a gravel road and took that to the entrance of Billie Swamp Safari. I was starting to have issues with my feet and I knew that blisters were going to be a problem. Any time I do a long distance hike (more that 8 miles or so), I have issues with my feet.

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We spent a good chunk of time at Billie Swamp Safari (I will be writing a separate blog post about this), and early in the afternoon, headed off to the Big Cypress RV Resort and Campground, which is a pretty nice place. They have cabins, a tent area, and plenty of spots for RVs.

We were the only people in the tent area, which is like a wide open field with a pavilion in it.

If you’re in the area, be sure to check out the Sweet Tooth Café, they’ve got excellent food and great service.

 

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Sweet Tooth Cafe

In the middle of the night, we were hit by a thunderstorm, which I’d never experienced while camping. I was impressed with my REI Passage 1, I stayed warm and dry all night. There was a car of people that came sometime after we all went to bed, and when the storm hit, that were trying to set up their tent in the dark. When the storm hit, they ran for their car and left. Their tent didn’t fare very well.

 

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Partly collapsed tent post storm

From here, we headed south, which didn’t make a lot of sense to me, because we were supposed to be heading north. I would later read that there were two ways to follow the FT from the Big Cypress RV Resort and Campground, one going north, and one going south, which is the way we went and added a considerable number of miles.

Heading south we took Josie Billie Hwy to Huff Bridge Rd. to the L3 Canal levy which was 9.7 miles. We saw quite a few animals along the way, cows, donkeys, and even a couple of cowboys (are they still called cowboys?)

 

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The end of the Seminole Reservation and the beginning of the L3 Cana

 

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The L3 Canal

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Sunset along the FT

We did a bit of night hiking, just to see how much father we could get down the trail. We figured that would mean we’d have less to hike the next day.

 

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Glad my Black Diamond revolt works really well

We hiked another 8.4 miles (it seemed like longer,) before making camp near the G-342D water control structure.

We woke up the next morning, broke camp, and were able to fill up our water at the G-342D water control structure before heading north again. I knew at this point, that my feet were finished.

 

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Burning sugar cane in the distance

 

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This road, like the levy before it, never seems to end.

It was very slow going. Two of us had messed up feet, and Jimmy and John, our leaders and veteran hikers, were fine. About a mile or two down the road, we all made an executive decision that Jimmy and John would hike ahead, get my Jeep and bring it back to pick us up. This was maybe 11:00 a.m. We would keep hiking, hoping to find some shade along the way.

There was no shade…and eventually Jimmy and John called us, telling us to just stay put and conserve water, they were still quite a ways from the Jeep. I’m not 100% sure how far they hiked beyond where we were, though it had to have been quite a distance. Both of them hike about 3-4 miles an hour and they finally got back to us about 3:30.

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So I didn’t actually make it back to Lake Okeechobee, but that’s okay. I will pick the trail up again, at some point, and section hike the rest of it. Aside from my jacked up feet, which seem to always be an issue, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip.

I need to figure what’s up with my feet, poor shoe choice/fit, bad socks, or something else entirely. When we were at the RV resort and campground, I unloaded a lot of my food, I’d brought a ton of entrees, and just a few snacks. I don’t generally stop to make a meal during the day, but realized I’d rather cook a meal in the morning and at night, and snack throughout the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Madera Outdoors Hammock

Recently, I became an ambassador for Madera Outdoors, a company that sells hammocks, hammock straps and wood watches, which look pretty cool. One thing I really like about this company is that they’ve partnered with Trees for the Future, and plant two trees for every hammock sold. They’re also working to improve the lives of impoverished families in Africa, which I think is commendable.
Madera Outdoors have quite a few different hammocks to choose from, all of which are made with 210 T high tenacity parachute nylon, can hold up to 400 lbs and range between 14.4 (lighter than most of ENO’s hammocks) and 20.8 oz. They also have two different suspension setups, medium duty hammock straps (9.6 oz)  and the heavy duty hammock straps (14.2 oz). Both sets of straps have multiple loops affording you the ability to setup your hammock between two points as far as 26 feet apart.

My hammock is the Indian Paintbrush model and I use the medium duty hammock straps, which gives me a setup that’s just 1 lb 8 oz. Other hammocks I’ve tested have been considerably heavier, so I was quit impressed with the weight from the get go.

Indian Paintbrush Hammock

Setup with this hammock is very simple, pull the hammock out of its own pocket, set up your straps, hang the hammock and adjust, lay back, and enjoy the trees, sky, view, your nap, etc.

Going forward, I’ll be using this hammock for camping, hiking, backpacking, and just because there could be a cool spot to hang and relax.

Madera Outdoors make awesome lightweight hammocks for backpacking, camping, or hanging around your backyard. If you’re looking for a great hammock and want to help support a company that cares about people and the planet, then take a look at what Madera Outdoors have to offer. 

Review: Chef’s Cut Real Jerky

Chef’s Cut Real Jerky & Sticks

*Disclaimer: I want to preface this by saying that I received several samples of Chef’s Cut Real Jerky products for the purpose of this review (see photo above). The views and opinions expressed below are mine and mine alone.

Jerky, originated with the South American tribe called the Quechua, which were originally part of the Inca Empire, as early as 1550. It was called ch’arka “to burn (meat)”. Alpaca and llama meat was used by the Quechua, who would remove bones and fat from the meat, cut it into strips, pounded it thin, rub with salt and then smoke or dry the meat over a fire. 

Spanish Conquistadors picked up and started utilizing this form of meat preservation as well, refering to it as charqui. When they invaded North America, they noticed that Native Americans were using similar methods to preserve buffalo, elk, and deer. Eventually, the natives started calling it charqui as well. Their accents made it sound like ‘jerky’ which is what we call it today.

The above was aquired from High Country Snack Foods History of Jerky 

I’ve always loved beef jerky. It’s a quick, easy, healthy snack, and is one of my backpacking favorites. For years, I’ve only eaten beef jerky from grocery and chain stores, you know the brands, they usually have a few different flavors, and maybe as many styles. I’ve always found these brands to be delicious, but a bit dry. 

I’d been following Chef’s Cut Real Jerky on social media for a while and was continuously in awe of all the varieties and flavors they made. I wrote a letter to the folks at Chef’s Cut, telling them I was excited about their variety of products and the fact that they’re gluten and nitrate free.

The first style I tried was the original recipe steak jerky. Wow! Not only was it extremely flavorful, but it wasn’t dry like the jerky I’d been used to for as long as I can remember. 

Other flavors that I tried:

Honey BBQ Chicken jerky – This is an excellent combination of honey and BBQ flavor, neither overpowers the other. The BBQ does have a slight kick to it. 

Buffalo Style Chicken jerky- Tender, with just the right amount of kick. The buffalo flavor isn’t too overpowering and you can still taste the chicken. Perfect flavor without the need for ranch or blue cheese dressing. Of the jerkys that I tried this one was hands down my favorite.

Chipotle cracked pepper steak jerky was the most uniquely flavored. I really enjoyed the chipotle with the added flavor of the cracked pepper. Like the others, neither the chipotle or cracked pepper were an excellent mix. 

Teryaki turkey jerky – I don’t like teryaki, so I have to adnit this is the last flavor I tried. I was really imoressed with this one. I really enjoyed the mild teryaki foavor mixed with the flavor of the turkey. 

Buffalo Chicken stick – Awesome flavor with just enough heat. 

Original Smokehouse stick – About a miplion times better than other similar products, full of flavor, awesome.

Jalapeno cheddar stick – Nice mix of meat and cheese. The heat is mellow and sticks with you for a while after you finish eating it.  

Barbecue stick – while this one had a nice overall flavor, I didn’t like it as much as the others, there seemed to be a mustard like flavor to it.

Overall, Chef’s Cut Real Jerky products are the best I’ve had, and I will definitely be ordering more soon. Not only are all of their products tender, full of flavor, and both gluten and nitrate free, but there are so many flavors, there’s something for everyone. 

Review: Trail Manna Subscription Box

Trail Manna’s first box

Are you tired of the same old dehydrated meals, pasta sides, and ramen? So am I. 
Recently, I came across Trail Manna, a new company curating a monthly subscription boxes of delicious and nutritious trail food. These guys search out smaller upcoming companies you won’t find at most local outfitters. Nomad Nutrition was the only company I recognized in their first box.

Subscriptions are available in 1, 3, 6, and 12 month durations.

One of the things I really like about these boxes is that they are built the way I hike, and include a breakfast item, snacks (artisan bars, regional snacks, trail mixes, small batch jerky, etc,) and a dinner. This setup is perfect for me because I don’t like to set up my stove in the middle of the day. I’d rather use my stove for breakfast, snack throughout the day, and then use my stove again for dinner.

Here is the breakdown of the box, as well as the cost of each individual item from the company website.

Breakfast

  • Heather’s Choice Apple Pie Spiced Breakfast, a delicious blend of dried apples, spices and buckwheat ($7)
  • Alpine Start Foods coffee made with 100% Arabica beans, which has a smooth bold flavor (sold in 8 packs $8.99/box – $1.12/per packet)

Snacks

  • Nature Nate’s honey packet (sold in 20 packs $7.99 – $0.40/packet)
  • Kize bars Raw Energy Cocoa ($3.50)
  • Ra Bliss Balls Zesty lemon which are a cookie/donut hybrid that tastes amazing (price not available on Ra Bliss Balls site – $4.50 from Trail Manna site)

Dinner

  • Nomad Nutrition Hungarian Goulash ($12)

Total for all individual items – $28.52

Is there an item in your box that you really liked? Individual items are available for sale from trailmanna.com. 

Subscription boxes may not be for everyone, but I like being able to try new products from companies/brands I’ve never heard of before. Also, snacks and foods that are regional aren’t available elsewhere, like the Ra Bliss Balls, which are only available in and around Brooklyn, NY, where they’re produced. 

Overall, Trail Manna is a good value. I’m excited to see what their boxes contain in the upcoming months. 

Review: Flowfold Minimalist Card Holder

Empty Flowfold Minimalist

Empty Flowfold Minimalist

I received a flowfold minimalist card holder in a Cairn subscription Box some time ago and I remember the first time I looked at it and thought, it’s crazy light (12 g/.4 oz) and small (4.2″ x 2.75″ x 0.06″). The materials used to make this card holder are: High performance racing sailcloth with X-ply™️ technology and Ballistic nylon webbing, which I think, aside from making it feather light, also make it look very cool. I figured I could probably only fit my driver’s license and maybe a credit card in it, which would work great for hiking.

Hiking Ready

Hiking Ready

The first time I used the flowfold, was on an overnight backpacking trip a few months ago. I was able to get my driver’s license, credit card, insurance card, and a couple of $5’s in it, with room to spare. I was a shocked. This was much more than I’d anticipated from this feather light wallet. The Minimalist fit perfectly in my front pocket, but it would also fit fine in your back pocket, or even in your pack.

Old wallet vs. new flowfold

Old wallet vs. new flowfold

When I returned home from my backpacking trip, I decided I wasn’t going to carry my bulky wallet anymore and that the minimalist card holder was going to be my wallet going forward. I’m able to fit all of the items I need in it (it holds from 6-8 cards, and a few folded bills perfectly. In the three months I’ve been using the minimalist, I’ve realized that less is definitely more.

I’m really impressed with the overall quality of the minimalist. I’ve had no issues with fraying edges, deterioration or any breakdown in materials. Flowfold has a lifetime warranty, if you do run into any issues like that.

If you’re looking for something small to hold your ID/credit cards/cash on hiking or backpacking trips, or a minimalist wallet, they’ve got plenty of designs and colors to choose from and will have one that fits your needs.

Review: LuminAID Packlite 16

LuminAID Packlite 16

LuminAID Packlite 16

In 2010, an earthquake wreaked havoc on Haiti, in response, a couple of architect graduate students, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, were approached to create a product to help with relief efforts. At that time, tent cities were very dangerous places after dark, so they collaborated to create a way for residents to be safer, the fruit of their labors was born in the form of the LuminAID Packlite.

The LuminAID Packlite 16 is a solar powered, waterproof (it floats, too), inflatable lantern that is an integral piece of gear for hikers, backpackers, and campers, rescue workers, anyone, really.

The Packlite 16 is reliable and extremely lightweight at just 3.2 oz. It packs down small, 3″ x 5″ x 0.25″. It takes 7-10 hours for the battery to fully charge, I keep mine clipped on my pack so it charges while I hike. With a fully charged battery, this lantern can remain lit for up to 30 hours, and has a max output of 70 Lumens.

LuminAID

LuminAID

There are four light settings on it, cycled via the power button, high, medium, and low (pictured below), as well as blinking.

I’ve had my lantern for about two years and it’s still performing extremely well. For a while, my son even used it as a nightlight, until we got him a proper one. There has been a little discoloration of the lantern itself, but that hasn’t affected its functionality at all.

LuminAID has evolved since the introduction of their original packlite, to include 5 larger packlites, accessories (carabiners, USB cords, stickers, and the ability to donate a light to someone in need). Custom printing is also available, (get your logo on a packlite). They also continue to bring light to those who desperately need safe, rechargeable and reliable light sources through their Give Light, Get Light program.  

The compact design and multiple light settings of the LuminAID 16 make it an excellent choice for your kit, whether for a potential emergency, or your next big backpacking trip. Check out, LuminAID, you won’t be disappointed.