In the past decade, Jennifer Pharr Davis has clocked more miles in the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains than most people do in their lifetimes. She’s often moving at a high rate of speed. An ‘endurance hiker,’ Pharr Davis holds the record for fastest thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, completing the 2,185 mile journey in an incredible 46 days, but she also finds joy in encouraging anyone to get outside on any trail no matter the pace or place.

Davis hiked the Appalachian Trail solo for the first time in 2005 after graduating from college. She later transformed her trail journal into a really captivating, down-to-earth, and at times, totally shocking book called Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail. After completing the AT, Pharr Davis went on to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (a 2,663-mile route which begins in the desert near Mexico and follows the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges through California, Oregon, and Washington), and she's even completed long-distance hikes in Africa, Australia, South America and Europe.

Jennifer Pharr Davis at Springer Mountain
Jennifer Pharr Davis at Springer Mountain

A second Appalachian Trail hike in 2008 earned Pharr Davis the title of fastest woman completing the trail on a “supported” hike (meaning she wasn’t carrying a pack). Logging 30 to 40 miles a day and sometimes sleeping only a few hours a night, she was able to cover the 2,175 miles in just 57 days, 8 hours and 35 minutes. She topped that record in 2011, becoming the overall record holder for both men and women, the first woman to hold that title. On that attempt, she completed the trail in 46 days, averaging 47 miles a day, with support from AT and Pacific Crest Trail speed record holder David Horton, Warren Doyle, and her husband, Brew Davis.

In 2012, Pharr Davis was a nominee for National Geographic’s Top Adventurer of the Year. She followed up on her first book with Called Again_ _about her second record-breaking hike. She’s also the author of several books about hiking in the Asheville Area, including Five-Star Trails: Asheville: Your Guide to the Area's Most Beautiful Hikes and Best Easy Day Hikes Charlotte.

Davis has been sponsored on her treks by leading outdoor brands like Deuter, Subaru and Vasque.

The Blue Ridge mountains
The Blue Ridge mountains

David Wilson

With her husband Brew, Davis now owns the [Blue Ridge Hiking Company](blueridgehikingco.com:%25E2%2580%258E) , which offers guided hikes through the region for individuals, groups or families. She’s also a motivational speaker on topics such as goal setting, conservation, faith, and her experiences on the trail. We were lucky enough to sit down with this trailblazer (literally) to discuss some more lighthearted hiking topics:

Early spring in the Blue Ridge. It could be pleasant at lower elevations, but snowing higher up. What advice do you have for those getting out this time of year?

It’s a great time to hike, but you never know what you’re going to get. It could be mild in Asheville, but when you get to higher elevations, the next thing you know, you’re in inclement weather. I’d advise people to wear layers (wool or fleece is always a good base) and always bring rain protection, a hat, and gloves.

What should hikers expect to see this time of year?

It’s different every year. This year, everything is going to be late. In April, we’ll get the flame azalea and mountain laurel. Rhododendron comes out in June. One thing that’s unique to the Smokies is the synchronous fireflies. They migrate each year, but it’s a good bet that you’ll see them in the Smokies in early June.

Spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains

You have a little one now. What family-friendly hikes do you recommend?

There are three, actually.

1. The Visitor Center at the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s an easy, fun TRACK trail next to it that gives kids a scavenger hunt of things to look for in the woods, plus there are interactive exhibits inside.

2. Holmes Educational State Forest. It’s located between Brevard and Hendersonville. It’s a short circuit with ‘talking trees’: recorded messages located throughout the trail that tell you about the area’s biodiversity. It’s really engaging.

3. The Carl Sandburg Home, National Park. Kids love the goat barn and there are some easy, short trails and great places to picnic.

Courtesy of Brew and Jennifer
Courtesy of Brew and Jennifer

After your big accomplishments on the AT, what’s next for you?

We’re trying to hike in all 50 states together as a family. We’ve done 30 states so far.

For more information on Jennifer Pharr Davis and her company, check out [Blue Ridge Hiking Company](blueridgehikingco.com).

Written by Joanne O'Sullivan for RootsRated.

Western North Carolina is a land of waterfalls. Countless cascades punctuate the waterways braiding the vast expanses of forest and lofty Appalachian peaks dominating the western corner of the state, lending the landscape an undeniably enchanting quality. Some of the falls are accessible only after delving into wild pockets of backcountry, while others are just steps from the state’s tree-lined byways. With the abundance of waterfalls, narrowing down a short list is a formidable challenge, but these are among the most stunning cascades adorning the western part of the state.

Whitewater Falls

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The towering Whitewater Falls.

Photo Courtesy of JCTDA

Located just outside the town of Cashiers, in the Nantahala National Forest, Whitewater Falls is one of the most awe-inspiring cascades in waterfall-laden western North Carolina—and it has the notable distinction of being the loftiest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains. The mighty cascade announces itself in rushing roar audible from the trailhead for the half-mile path to the overlook for the 411-foot waterfall. A second, lower view platform, accessible after a descending a steep set of stairs, provides another perspective of the falls, highlighting the sheer scope of the towering flume.

Schoolhouse Falls

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Schoolhouse Falls are accessible via a 1.4-mile hike.

Nick Breedlove

Schoolhouse Falls is located in a stunningly wild corner of the Nantahala National Forest known as Panthertown Valley. Even though the hike is fairly brief, stumbling upon Schoolhouse Falls feels like a foray deep into the backcountry. The 25-foot waterfall spills in a broad flume, pouring into a tannin-tainted plunge pool turned swimming hole during spring and summer. The falls are accessible along the Panthertown Valley Trail via a 1.4-mile hike from either the Cold Mountain trailhead, on the eastern side of Panthertown Valley, or a 2.4-mile hike from the Salt Rock Gap trailhead, on the western edge. Be sure to be prepared for the rugged hiking in the area with a reliable map.

Silver Run Falls

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Silver Run Falls is near the town of Cashiers.

Jared

South of the town of Cashiers, in the Nantahala National Forest, Silver Run Falls is a popular summer retreat. Compared to some of western North Carolina’s lofty cascades, the 25-foot drop of Silver Run Falls may sound uninspiring. But the broadly spread wall of water spills into an idyllic swimming hole that’s bordered by sizeable stepping stones, providing a unique access to view the falls. The trek to Silver Run is equally restorative—the falls are accessible courtesy of a quarter-mile trail beginning along North Carolina Highway 107.

Mingo Falls

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Mingo Falls descends 120 feet in a narrow cascade.

Doug Kerr

Just outside the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park within the confines of the Qualla Boundary (and not far from the town of Cherokee), Mingo Falls is a thin but lofty flume. The nearly 120-foot cascade consists of a series of slender strands of water, all of which funnel together just before tumbling into a pint-sized pool in Mingo Creek. The falls are accessible courtesy of a brief but stair-filled climb of about a half a mile to a footbridge at the base of the cascade, accessible from a trailhead located on Big Cove Road.

Glen Falls

A tiered trio of cascades, Glen Falls tumbles over a broad, rocky section of the east fork of aptly named Overflow Creek, which is located in the Nantahala National Forest just outside the town of Highlands. A scenic but strenuous round-trip hike of about 2 miles on the Glen Falls Trail leads to the collection of cascades, with views of Blue Valley early in the trip. The top tier of the falls, which tumbles nearly 70-feet, is visible from an observation area just half a mile down the trail, and the second significant portion of a falls, a wide, 60-foot flume, appears another quarter mile down the trail.

Rufus Morgan Falls

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The 60-foot Rufus Morgan Falls is located just outside the town of Franklin.

Alan Cressler

Tucked away in a wooded cove in the Nantahala National Forest just a few miles outside the town of Franklin, Rufus Morgan Falls seems much farther removed from any traces of civilization. The 60-foot partially rhododendron-shrouded flume falls flatly over a craggy cliff face and seems to tumble almost unexpectedly out of the thickly grown forest. Despite the isolated feel, the falls are easily accessible after a leisurely, half-mile hike on the Rufus Morgan Trail.

Tom’s Branch, Indian Creek Falls, and Juney Whank Falls

These three waterfalls are In a southern corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not far from the Deep Creek entrance. Tom’s Branch and Indian Creek Falls are easily linked on a brief out-and-back hike. Tom’s Branch, the loftier of two flumes, falls 60-feet, stair stepping a weathered rock face. It will emerge after only about a half a mile hike on the Deep Creek Trail, one of the first pathways in the national park constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Barely a quarter of a mile later, after the junction the Indian Creek Trail, the second cascade appears—the 25-foot Indian Creek Falls.

After taking in the first two falls, tack on a trip of Juney Whank Falls. The trailhead for the Juney Whank Trail is also located in the Deep Creek area of the park, adjacent to the starting point for the Deep Creek Trail. Juney Whank Falls, a slender shimmering ribboning falling for nearly 90-feet in two distinct sections, appears after just half a mile on the Juney Whank Falls Trail.

Bridal Veil Falls

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Bridal Veil Falls is outside of Highlands, N.C.

William McKeehan

Just a couple miles outside Highlands, Bridal Veil Falls is one of the few waterfalls in western North Carolina visitors can drive to—and even behind. The cascade is accessible directly from U.S. Highway 64 along a stretch North Carolina’s 98-mile Waterfall Byway. Created by a drop in the Cullasaja River, the falls thin out while spilling over a prominent rock ledge, which juts out far enough people—and even vehicles—to perch behind the plunging flume and admire the tumbling water from underneath.

A note on safety: Heed posted warning signs indicating danger and stay on established trails. Never climb on or around waterfalls and never play in the water above a waterfall. Rocks can be slippery and it's easy to lose your balance especially with bare feet. Currents near waterfalls can be extremely swift even in areas further upstream.

Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools at the base of waterfalls. Rocks and logs can be hidden beneath the surface of the water. Often waterfall pools have swirling water or currents that can drag and keep you underwater. Even if you have seen other people enjoy playing around waterfalls, be aware they have been lucky to escape unharmed.

Waterfalls are constantly changing with varying water flows and erosion of the rocks around them. The current from one place to the next may be faster than you anticipate and the arrangement of rocks or other debris such as logs in the plunge pool is ever-changing.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Alan Cressler

Food tastes better in the outdoors… we’re pretty sure it’s science. But no matter how delicious your favorite freeze-dried meal is, or how much you swear by tortillas and peanut butter, trying something new never hurts.

It’s easy to enhance backcountry meals without much extra effort. Whether you’re car camping, out for a backcountry weekend, or in it for the long haul, here are a few ways to elevate your food game during your next trip.

1. Car Camping

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chow time

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The sky’s the limit regarding weight/packability when car camping. Get a good cooler, bring a spare fuel canister, and stash a few extra garbage bags to pack out waste.

Prep each meal as much as possible

Prepping meals at home helps eliminate food waste to pack out, keeps the campsite organized, and saves time you’re better off enjoying in the great outdoors. Prepping can include pre-scrambling eggs in a tupperware instead of packing the whole carton, slicing and portioning veggies, and throwing seasoning on your food while you have your whole spice rack in front of you.

Adding protein saves even the most boring meal

Add protein to everything, and cook it ahead of time if you can. Not only does pre-cooking save the ickiness of packing around raw chicken, but it lets you portion and plan better for meals. Adding packaged meat, like tuna or chicken packets, works wonders for generic carb-heavy dinners. Bacon bits on your wrap is a surprisingly delightful addition for lunchtime fuel, and those bacon bits fit in nicely with your morning scramble as well.

Make This: Pesto Pasta with Chicken

At Home:

Season and cook two chicken breasts, cut into chunks, and tuck into your cooler where it’ll stay chilled. Pack a box of pasta, one package sundried tomatoes, and one package dried mushrooms

At Camp:

Bring water to a boil, add pasta, sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms. Cook it. Stir in chicken and pesto. Eat the heck out of it.

2. Overnight / Weekend Trips

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setting up camp

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An overnight trip isn’t long enough to worry too much about food weight, but you still aren’t packing cans of refried beans. Trail recipes are fun to experiment with, and you can plan ahead and bring extra ingredients to have something to look forward to at camp.

Season the heck out of generic meals

Mixing up another Alfredo Pasta Side? Spice it up. Tic-tac boxes make terrific portable spice containers—bring a few staples (garlic powder, paprika, cumin) or create your own blends at home and pack your favorites. Adding a cajun or italian spice blend to couscous or pasta brings it up a few flavor notches while hardly adding any weight to your food bag. Packets of soy sauce, mini bottle of Tabasco, and even a travel-size salt/pepper shaker make a huge difference when you’re craving flavor.

Drink your breakfast

You need fuel for the morning miles, but sometimes the desire for another crumbling PopTart or gummy oatmeal packet isn’t there. Enter Carnation Instant Breakfast. Two packets shaken in a liter of water = quick and easy calories. Feeling fancy? Toss an instant coffee packet in the bottle as well. This is a dirtbag mocha and it tastes better than it sounds.

Make This: Overly Indulgent Breakfast Bag

At Home:

In a Ziplock: Mix one cup of your favorite granola with a handful of freeze-dried fruit, slivered almonds, and dried cranberries. Add ½ cup powdered milk (or protein powder for an extra boost) and zip ‘er up tight.

On Trail:

Wake up, take in the view, add enough water to rehydrate the milk, shake it up, and enjoy a surprisingly fancy breakfast-bowl-in-a-bag.

3. Long-Distance Hiking

This is all about the weight-to-calorie ratio. When you’re packing food for up to a week, or planning resupply boxes for a thru-hike, you want to keep your food weight down while your calories sufficient to fuel long miles with a heavy pack. We don’t differentiate as much between extended trips (1-2 weeks) and thru-hikes (3-6 months) because most hikers won’t be out much longer than a 7-9 days without resupplying.

Stoveless? Try cold-soaking couscous

Many long-distance hikers swear by their cold food. It saves the weight of a cookset and fuel, and the effort of washing dishes and gathering extra water. Couscous can be cold-soaked in a Ziplock bag (allow 30 minutes to fully soften) and devoured right on the spot.

Add olive oil… to everything

A thru-hiker can burn up to 10,000 calories a day, so sneaking calories without extra bulk is important to keep energy high and chewing effort low. Olive oil is a fast, easy, and relatively tasteless way to add extra calories to your meals. Choosing the higher-calorie items, like tuna packed in oil instead of water will also add similar calories without having to eat more.

Resupplying during your hike? Pack out heavy food and eat it the first day

In the battle between weight and calories, fresh foods come out on the losing end, which means you’ll be eating a lot of processed foods during an extended hike. But on resupply days, allow yourself to pack out the heavy things, and eat them on the first day. Thru-hikers often pack out fresh fruit, a pack of deli meat, and sometimes an entire pizza, then eat it during the first day back on trail.

Make This: Low-Cash Lo Mein

Dig a Ramen packet, a handful of beef jerky, and a soy sauce packet out of your dilapidated food bag.

Mix it. Cook it. Enjoy it. The whole thing weighs several ounces at most and is an easy way to make your sad instant noodles more palatable.

Written by RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Ry Glover

If you’re among the outdoors enthusiasts who brave the chill for winter camping, you know how appealing the “off-season” backcountry can be. In addition to bigger helpings of solitude, spectacular snow-scapes, and greater visibility of animals and their tracks, the joys of winter camping—or, hey, winter glamping, if that’s more your style—include night skies of unrivaled clarity.

Colder air can’t hold as much moisture as warmer air, so it’s inherently drier. Less moisture in the atmosphere means less natural haziness: greater sky transparency, to use a technical term. When it comes to viewing with a naked eye or a pair of binoculars—perfectly rewarding for casual skywatching, and easier to tote into the wilds than a telescope setup—winter’s clear, frigid heavens present ideal conditions to enjoy the celestial layout.

If you’re a newbie when it comes to stargazing, here’s a primer on some of the standout features of the Northern Hemisphere winter night sky: awesome outer-space scenery to enjoy around the campfire, along with with a Thermos of hot chocolate, coffee, or hot toddy.

Orion

Chances are you’re familiar with Orion, the defining winter constellation whose three close-set stars in the middle grab the eye and anchor the night sky this time of year.

Orion is the Hunter, and that celestial trio forms his most obvious accessory: Orion’s Belt. Above that are the two stars of his shoulders, including, on the left (east), the enormous red star of Betelgeuse. (That’s BET-el-jooze, by the way, lest you’re tempted to pronounce it as the name of Michael Keaton’s enduring clown-faced ghostly character.) In one hand Orion hoists a club; in the other, a shield held toward the oncoming red-eyed bull Taurus.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Orion was a pompous guy who proclaimed himself invincible against any quarry, so the goddess Hera (or Juno) sent a little-but-packs-a-punch scorpion his way as a reality check. The creature delivered a fatal sting before the hunter could club it flat, and now Orion and his nemesis—pinned to the celestial sphere as the constellation Scorpius—keep to opposite sides of the heavens; Orion sets as Scorpius rises, and vice versa.

From Orion’s belt hang the fainter stars of his sword, which are worth zooming in on with even a small telescope. One of them is the shining swirl of the famous Orion Nebula.

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With or without a telescope, winter stargazing is mesmerizing.

Islam Hassan

Canis Major & Sirius

In facing Taurus, Orion enjoys some backup courtesy of his two hunting dogs: Canis Major (the Great Dog) and Canis Minor (the Lesser or Little Dog). Variously reckoned as the Great Dog’s eye or nose is the unmistakable Sirius: the “Dog Star,” the brightest star in the sky. Trace a line southeastward through the line of Orion’s Belt and you’ll run into the blazing Dog Star, among the closest known stars to our solar system (a mere 8.7 or so light years from Earth).

For Ancient Egyptians, the smoldering appearance of Sirius in the eastern sky before sunrise—the star’s “heliacal rising”—heralded the annual, life-sustaining flooding of the Nile River, which marked the start of the year and was associated with the great god of the underworld and rebirth, Osiris. (Some speculation connects the origin of the name Sirius—ostensibly from the Greek word, seirios, for “scorcher”—to Osiris.)

Incidentally, Sirius also is the origin for the phrase “the dog days of summer.” In the Northern Hemisphere summer, the Dog Star rides in the sky invisibly during the day, and a Greek belief held that in those sweltering months the “scorcher” star added to the heat of the sun’s.

Taurus

West of Orion is the distinctive “V” of the stars (the Hyades) that form the face of Taurus the Bull. Taurus is staring down the Hunter with a bloodshot eye: the red giant Aldebaran, one of the most impressive stars in the sky to the naked eye, given its brightness and angry hue.

Another signature feature of the constellation is the star cluster in the Bull’s shoulder: the Pleiades, aka the Seven Sisters. On a chilly night, compete with your fellow campers to see how many stars you can see among the Pleiades—a classic vision test (like determining if you can see the double star of the crook of the Big Dipper’s handle).

Up by the left horn of Taurus, meanwhile, is the Crab Nebula: the vivid bruise of a supernova—the explosive death of a star—whose light reached Earth in July 1054 and was recorded on opposite sides of the globe by Chinese astronomers and American Indians. And from late October through early December, the Taurid meteor shower radiates from around Taurus.

Pegasus

Pegasus—the Winged Horse born of the blood of Medusa—is more of an autumn constellation, but one that’s prominent in the night sky through early winter. It’s huge: the seventh-largest of all constellations. The most dominating feature of the Winged Horse is the Great Square (technically not completely within Pegasus, but whatever), a linchpin of the western sky in November, December, and January. Find the Great Square, and it’s easy to make out the neck, head, and legs of the horse arcing from it.

Cygnus

Cygnus the Swan is a summer constellation: Many a camper and backpacker is familiar with the “Summer Triangle” formed by the stars Deneb in Cygnus, Vega (the Vulture Star) in Lyra the Lyre, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. But the plunge of the Swan—also called the Northern Cross—down to the west in early winter makes one of the most striking astronomical symbols of the seasonal changeover.

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There’s no better way to feel humble than by looking up to the heavens.

Greg Rakozy

Gemini

The bright neighboring stars of Castor and Pollux nicely evoke the constellation Gemini’s symbology as the Twins. Besides being a signal feature of winter’s southern sky—rising higher and higher as the season progresses—Gemini is significant for being the source region for just about the most consistent and “flashy” meteor showers of the year: the Geminids of mid-December, which commonly fire at more than 100 per hour.

You can track down Gemini by tracing a line from Orion’s bright western knee (Rigel) through his belt to his red shoulder Betelgeuse, and then northward to Castor and Pollux.

Winter Stargazing Tips

Layer up for winter stargazing, head to toe: You’re going to be pretty darn sedentary, after all, and the clear skies that offer the best viewing tend to come with a deep chill. A hooded shell and insulated, waterproof boots are ideal elements of your after-hours outfit. If you’ve got ‘em, a mitten/fingerless-glove combo is good for adjusting the focus on those binoculars of yours (and certainly wrangling a telescope or spotting scope, if you’ve brought one). Wrap yourself in a sleeping bag or blanket, too.

Cozy and warm as the campfire is, its light is obviously going to impair your skywatching. For the richest surveying, go without it—or maybe just let it die away through the evening so you’ve got an unimpeded bead on the celestial sphere once the prime late-night hours unfold.

In addition to studying the weather forecast and aiming for clear conditions, you’ll also want to monitor the moon phase. Our lunar satellite is a magnificent sky fixture to admire in and of itself, but moon-glare washes out the heavens. You’ll have optimum stargazing potential around the new moon, or after moonset, which, depending on the phase, may require setting an alarm and emerging from the tent in the wee hours of the morning. Tough to do, but well worth it for the spectacular stuff you’re bound to see this time of year.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated Media in partnership with RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Guthrie Kuckes

It's no secret that the mountains of Western North Carolina have a wide array of wonderful places to live and play. With vibrant mountain towns like Boone, Brevard, and Asheville, as well as well-preserved national forests and serpentine scenic highways, it's easy to see why so many people choose to visit this area (we're talking to you Floridians). If you're going on vacation this holiday season, make sure the Pisgah is on the top of your list. And while you're there, use this weekend guide for a night of camping and a day of hiking and trail running.

Friday Night (4:30pm – 7:00am): Davidson Campground

Car camping at Davidson Campground
Car camping at Davidson Campground

Jake Wheeler

Open year-around with over 160 campsites for tents and cars, the Davidson River Campground is a great place to make a home base for your weekend in the Pisgah. Nestled just inside the Pisgah National Forest, and only three miles from Brevard , the campground is at the foot of the Art Loeb Trail and just minutes from other well-known destinations like John Rock and Looking Glass Rock.

And with Brevard being so nearby, you have the ability to grab any last minute supplies you may need before entering the park for the weekend. Even better, the Pisgah Ranger Station is conveniently located across the street to help with any last minute adventure questions before you start your day. We suggest finding a campsite that sits along the Davidson River, offering you quick access to a trail that runs along the river—great for a moonlight hike.

Saturday Morning Hike (7:30am – 11:30am): John Rock Loop

John Rock Loop
John Rock Loop

Jake Wheeler

Only a few miles from the Davidson Campground, start your day off by experiencing the stunning views of Pisgah's gorgeous wilderness and mountains. Primitive tent camping is allowed here as well, so if you want to set up camp at the foot of John Rock, you may.

With over 1,000-feet of elevation gain, this 5.5 mile hike will get your blood pumping and your heart thumping. You will find yourself quickly shedding layers, as you walk through tunnels of rhododendron forests with the rising sun guiding you playfully along the trail. Once you get the top of John Rock, you are greeted with a huge rock slab that offers breathtaking views of the outstretching valley below, the Pisgah Ridge, and across the way to Looking Glass Rock.

Enjoy a light snack at the top, a quick drink of water, and prepare for a brisk walk down to the trailhead for your next stop… lunch!

Lunch (12:00pm – 1:00pm): Looking Glass Falls

Only a short three minute drive from the John Rock Loop Trailhead, enjoy a mountain meal with the accompanying sounds of the roaring 60-foot Looking Glass Falls. Pack your picnic basket and head just a few hundred yards from the parking lot and witness one of North Carolina's most pristine and powerful waterfalls. Steps lead down to the base of the falls, making it easy to carry any lunchtime supplies and offering you a perspective that will truly humble you. Scramble around the rocks, watch out for ice in the winter seasons, and find a scenic spot to fuel up for your next adventure . . . Looking Glass Rock!

Saturday Afternoon Hike (1:30pm – 4:30pm): Looking Glass Rock

Looking Glass Rock
Looking Glass Rock

Jake Wheeler

Fill up your hydration pack and throw some nutrition in your pocket—you'll need it. The trail to Looking Glass Rock is steep—climbing 1,700-feet in just over three miles and taking hikers and runners along a cascading mountain stream and through granite rock outcroppings and root gardens, which only add to the challenge. But after you weave through these hairpin switchback turns, and along trails coated with blankets of fall leaves, you'll be rewarded with one of the most majestic views on the East Coast. The views are simply stunning! Definitely worth the physical expenditure.

The Pisgah National Forest offers great outdoor recreation possibilities for all ages and abilities. This is a great weekend trip for anyone looking to escape to the mountains. We recommend grabbing all your food needs in the town of Brevard before you escape. Whether it is your first time pitching a tent, or you're a seasoned trail running vet, the Pisgah is a true slice of weekend adventure heaven.

Written by Jake Wheeler for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Jake Wheeler

It’s 10 p.m., and the already quiet Davidson River Campground has been completely muted by the steady whoosh of rain pelting our tent. Through some on-the-fly engineering, we’ve avoided the potential doom of a couple minor leaks. Settling into a movie in our cozy monoplex (with the help of a laptop), we’re drying out from a day spent exploring the waterlogged trails of the Pisgah National Forest and warming our insides with a flask of bourbon.

Sure, bluebird days make for idyllic lunch spots, and a sun-soaked afternoon landscape is the stuff of photographer’s dreams. But exploring this area of North Carolina’s second largest National Forest in the rain has its own charms. Here are 4 reasons why your long-awaited visit to Pisgah doesn’t have to be a complete washout when wet weather is in the forecast.

1. Experience the Forest Shrouded in Mist

Mossy logs, brilliantly green, stand in contrast to a gray day.
Mossy logs, brilliantly green, stand in contrast to a gray day.

Rob Glover

Like a heavy blanket, dense fog tamped down any movement, creating an eerie stillness in the forest. Mountain laurel seemed to edge closer to the trail while towering hardwoods, their tops barely visible through the mist, stood silent guard. Ancient Appalachia is full of secrets, and it’s never more mysterious than when clouds settle low among its peaks.

When visibility sits at around 4 feet, the million-dollar views from legendary destinations like Shining Rock don’t hold quite the same magnificence. But these days are tailor-made for a more intimate exploration of Pisgah’s heavily forested trails.

The easiest to access hike begins right from the campground. Look for the trail kiosk along the main campground road, and just next to it lies the North Slope trailhead. This 3.7-mile loop is, at times, a rugged mountain trail and, at others, a gentle walk along the Davidson River. About halfway around, the North Slope Connector links to the famous Art Loeb Trail. To create a 7-mile loop, walk out on the North Slope and return via the Art Loeb. This is a favorite for area trail runners.

There are 1,600 miles of trails in Pisgah’s half-million acres. You don’t have to go far to find a dozen excellent walks. For a variable-length loop that allows a choice of distances, head a few miles up 276 and park at the Pink Beds lot just past the Cradle of Forestry. Connect the flat and easy Pink Bed trail with the steep Burnett Branch for a real taste of backwoods hiking that’s never more than a few miles from a main road. The parking area has covered benches–a great place to towel-off before getting back in your car. (Note: You’ll have to walk a short distance along 276 to return to your car.)

For a chance to enjoy one of the most popular hikes in the park, sans crowds, talk a stroll through the ominously named Graveyard Fields. The burnt stubs of trees left behind by a devastating fire nearly 100 years ago gave this area its moniker. A wet, gray day puts the green valley in a contemplative mood.

2. Rain-Spiked Waterfalls are Unparalleled

Looking Glass Falls thunders under rain swollen skies.
Looking Glass Falls thunders under rain swollen skies.

Rob Glover

All the water that was collected at the top of Pisgah’s peaks during this shower make a mad dash to lower ground. This mass aquatic exodus creates waterfalls that don’t exist on dry days and turn gently flowing cascades into dramatic, thundering cataracts. Three beautiful examples lie just a few miles up the road from Davidson River Campground.

The broad, 60-foot plunge of Looking Glass Falls is probably the most popular waterfall in the park. The roadside attraction, available for closer inspection via a set of stairs to its base, holds a significant flow year-round. After a good storm, though, the pile-driving force of water can be heard for miles around.

Keep driving up 276 and you’ll soon see the entrance to Sliding Rock. There is a fee to park here during peak season but not in the winter. Those familiar with this 60-foot natural water slide will notice a decidedly different temperament after a significant storm as it morphs from Sliding Rock to “shove you violently down a river” rock. While it’s not safe to slide, it is an amazing transformation to view.

Between Looking Glass and Sliding Rock, the walk to Moore Cove Falls is one of the most pleasant in the park. Spring and summer wildflowers peak though a carpet of fern, all of it shaded by stands of yellow poplar. But that’s nothing compared to what waits at the end of the easy, .75-mile trail. Falling 50 feet over the edge of the broad but shallow cave, Moore Cove Falls completely envelopes the senses. Surrounded by forest in every direction, there is no better immersion into Pisgah than this spot. Trumped up by excess water, the normally gentle, wispy falls only become more dramatic in the rain.

3. You’ll Have Plenty of Space to Yourself

A cozy tent is made cozier by the melodic tapping of a rain shower.
A cozy tent is made cozier by the melodic tapping of a rain shower.

Rob Glover

Davidson River Campground is one of the best appointed government-run facilities of its kind in the area. And that’s no secret. It’s typical of fair-weather weekends to see every reservable site booked weeks in advance. The non-crowded bathrooms and extra quiet that follow a dodgy forecast may have you doing a rain dance.

Perhaps the greatest features in the campground, particularly during inclement weather, are the heated bathrooms. The warm showers are operated by timer button and require about 56 pushes to remove 3 pounds of muddy trail that’s stuck to your legs. But after a one-legged “don’t let my clean pants touch the shower floor” dance, slipping into a fresh set of clothes is a comfort beyond compare.

4. Brevard is Always an Option

Crank Coffee is the perfect place to ride out the storms that keep you from riding the trails.
Crank Coffee is the perfect place to ride out the storms that keep you from riding the trails.

Rob Glover

Lacking pretension and oozing southern mountain-town sensibility, Brevard, North Carolina, has avoided much of the over-done kitsch that sometimes permeates such a well-located tourist town. The restaurants, from gourmet to pub-grub, are cozy and inviting but rarely “fancy.” A 10-minute drive from the campground, Brevard is a quick escape.

Hot java and cool conversation are just down the road at Crank Coffee. Home to both fat tires and skinny lattes, the bike shop/coffee café is as laid back as you can get. Grab a soul-warming mocha and browse the selection of mountain and street bikes. With free Wi-Fi, hot soups, and tasty pastries it’s a great place to ride out the storm when you can’t ride on the trails.

Conversations at Brevard Brewing echo through their large, simply ornamented tasting room on Main Street. The beers aren’t wild or eccentric—you’re not likely to find a stout that tastes like pretzels or salted caramel anything on the menu. But each option is true to style and easy to sip. Best of all, you’re only a few steps from multiple dinner options.

You’ll often be greeted by Big Mike when you pop into his namesake eatery in downtown Brevard. Even on busy nights he’ll stop to chat up the guests and talk his favorite topic—pizza. The brightly lit restaurant serves pies from a stone oven. Crusts are hand-tossed, medium-thick New York style with a decent crunch on the edges. The beer selection isn’t huge, but the list of local and craft brews offers enough variety to please most anyone.

While the rain gushed outside, we decided to delay our return to the campsite with a stop in The Phoenix for a nightcap. Just next door to Big Mike’s, we didn’t even need to put our rain jackets on to get there. The farm-to-table gastropub is a fantastic choice for a meal, but the cozy couch with faux fireplace was also a fine location to warm up with a cocktail.

After a night’s steady deluge, we woke to find that our tent was now on the shores of the  newly formed Site 43 Lake. The morning sun dried out our gear while we hiked a quick loop. While we certainly missed the campfire, seeing the forest in a whole different light was a pretty good trade-off.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Rob Glover

New year, new you, right? Nah, you’re doing just fine—no need for a complete overhaul. If you live around Asheville and you love spending time in the outdoors, then you’re probably a happy camper. However, the start of a new year does provide the perfect opportunity to introduce a few new challenges into our already adventurous lives. Here are five New Year’s resolutions for more outdoor adventure in Western Carolina that will help keep you healthy, wealthy (in terms of experiences, anyway), and wise.

1. Get Involved

A community ride with Asheville on Bikes, Asheville's premier cycling advocacy group.
A community ride with Asheville on Bikes, Asheville's premier cycling advocacy group.

Justin Mitchell

Getting involved in an outdoor advocacy group is a fantastic New Year’s resolution because it reaps in the benefits on so many levels. Getting involved, whether it’s donating your time, energy or money, can infuse you with a great sense of purpose, belonging, and joy. Not to mention the benefit you’re helping to provide for your community: access to climbing areas, cleaner rivers, land conservation, well-maintained trails, new bike lanes…

Many local organizations come with social perks, like attending Bike Love withAsheville on Bikesor spending a day maintaining trails with Pisgah SORBA. Check out Carolina Climbers Coalition, Southern Appalachian Highland Conservancy, American Whitewater, or choose from a list of fantastic local orgs that you can support in a variety of ways.

2. Get Outside Every Day

A heavenly winter trek on Mt. Mitchell. Winter in the Blue Ridge is not to be missed.
A heavenly winter trek on Mt. Mitchell. Winter in the Blue Ridge is not to be missed.

Brendon Connelly

Resolution lore informs us that in order to turn something into a habit, you must do it every day for 21 days in a row. So button up your jacket, set the alarm an hour earlier, or equip yourself with reflective gear for your evening jog, because January is going to be the most challenging month of the year to get outside. Once this first cold month passes, however, getting outside every day will have become a habit, one that will benefit you for the rest of the year.

That’s right: This year resolve to spend some time in the great outdoors every single day, regardless of weather, your packed schedule, or your burning desire to settle in and watch Netflix for the evening. Some days, you may find yourself exploring frozen waterfalls in DuPont State Forest, running the quiet trails in the Pisgah, or breathing in the sharp winter air on the summit of Mt. Mitchell.

More often, your daily adventure may be closer to home: exploring the winding trails at Bent Creek or Richmond Hill, or pausing for a moment beside the river at Hominy Creek Park. On other days, the extent of your excursion may be a taking a walk around the block: as long as you’re outside, breathing fresh air and moving your body, it counts.

3. Try Something New

Kite flying on Max Patch may not be the most extreme sport...and that's why we love it.
Kite flying on Max Patch may not be the most extreme sport…and that's why we love it.

Jarrod Doll

Hey, we get it. You live in Western Carolina because it has the best whitewater/mountain biking/trad-climbing/etc. Why would you ever spend a day outside doing anything but your pastime/obsession of choice? Actually, there are a few compelling reasons to try a new outdoor venture, just for the fun of it. For one, it can be a soft way to introduce someone in your life to the outdoors. (For the record, teaching your hapless coworker how to roll a kayak in the river in February….not a soft intro.) Grab your brother, neighbor, friend, anyone who has expressed interest in getting outdoors but is not sure how to begin, and invite him or her along as you try out some of the adventurous fun Asheville has to offer.

Another great reason to try your hand at a new activity: Science has proven that developing new skills and approaching new challenges benefits the neuroplasticity of the brain. This can lead to a boost in creativity, adaptation, and problem solving….all useful skills when you’re faced with an unrunnable rapid at the bottom of a canyon as night falls. Just think of it as cross-training for your brain.

So get out there: go zip lining or tackle a canopy ropes course, cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway on an electric trike, see whatgeocaching is all about, try SUP yoga, or bring a kite to Max Patch. Leave the training logs, mapping apps, step counters, and your insatiable appetite for adrenaline at home, and allow yourself to just relax. At least once. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

4. Watch (Not Just Any) Sunrise

Sunrise from Rough Ridge, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a spectacular sight.
Sunrise from Rough Ridge, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a spectacular sight.

Larry Lamb

So most people at one point or another in their lives have resolved to watch a sunrise in the new year. There’s something about the promise of new beginnings, the lure a blank slate and that expansive feeling of limitless opportunities that accompany the dawning of a new day that perfectly matches the hopeful sentiment of New Year’s Resolutions.

As dawn patrollers, campers, photographers, and explorers, we’ve probably seen more of those delicate first moments of light than most people. This year, we challenge you to not only seek out a sunrise, but seek out the ultimate sunrise. Consider this your mission. You may need to do a little research (or let us do that for you), study a map, scrutinize those contour lines, and stake your claim. The top of a firetower, the spindly summit of Chimney Tops, local hikes that are renowned for their views and vistas…these are all optimal places to enjoy some serious atmospheric refraction. You may have to spend the night out, but that’s half the fun.

5. Keep an Adventurous Inspiration Jar

Tuck away every excursion, and watch your adventures accumulate.
Tuck away every excursion, and watch your adventures accumulate.

Abdul Rahman

In an age where positive thinking and gratitude are dominating pop psychology, the inspiration jar has become a popular New Year’s practice. Traditionally, people record one positive thing that occurred during each day on a slip a paper, and store the slips inside a clear glass jar. As the year progresses, it’s satisfying to observe the happiness accumulate. As adventure lovers, why not try an outdoor spin on the inspiration jar? Every time you complete a new trail, visit a new waterfall, claim your first descent of a river, tick off a route at the crag, or run one mile further than you have before, write it down and store it in the jar. Adding to your collection of accomplishments can feel a little bit addicting, and it could be just the motivation you need to head out of doors on a grey winter Saturday. Save the pleasure of reviewing them all until next New Year’s Day.

Written by Melina Coogan for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Melina Coogan

Why waste the winter months hibernating indoors? Snow, ice, and frosty temperatures provide plenty of fodder for outdoor adventure. When winter weather rolls into the Southeast, North Carolina’s wild spaces are briefly and beautifully transformed—with much more to offer beyond black diamond downhill runs.

1. Snowshoeing

Requiring far less finesse than downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing is ideal for ski school dropouts, and sturdily-built snowshoes can go places skis can’t. In the High Country just north of Boone, Elk Knob State Park consistently gets a more-than-generous dusting of snow. Even better, the park remains open throughout the winter, meaning after a coating of fresh powder, Elk Knob’s trails are prime for exploring by snowshoe.

In Beech Mountain, the loftiest town in the eastern United States (sitting at 5,506 feet), visitors can explore 30 miles of maintained trails, and snowshoe rentals are available at the local Buckeye Recreation Center. Novices can warm up on the recreation center’s 1/3-mile loop, while pros can head for the 8 miles of alpine tracks at the Emerald Outback, the town’s picturesque trail park. Tentative snowshoe converts can ease into the sport with a guided tour at Sugar Mountain Resort outside Banner Elk.

2. Cross-Country Skiing

While snowy forecasts may keep drivers off roadways, predictions of wintery weather will have cross-country skiers chomping at the bit. When snow and ice render North Carolina’s most stunning roadway—the Blue Ridge Parkway—inaccessible, at times, for vehicles, the thoroughfare is transformed into an extensive Nordic track for cross-country skiers. The High Country section of the parkway skirting Grandfather Mountain between Blowing Rock and Linville is beloved by local Nordic enthusiasts. Near the parkway’s southern terminus, the stretch of roadway around Soco Gap can also become skiable, and it is loaded with close-ups of the frosty peaks of the Great Smoky and Plott Balsam mountains. Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 292.7), the more than 20 miles of carriage-roads lacing the 3,500-acre Moses Cone Memorial Park morph into Nordic wonderland with a blanketing of snow.

3. Rock Climbing

Some crags are better in winter, including some of North Carolina’s premier routes, which are best tackled after autumn’s crisp chill arrives. Slopes that are too toasty in spring and summer become climbable. Rising dramatically above a thickly wooded expanse of the Pisgah National Forest,Looking Glass Rock, just a few miles outside Brevard, is one of the largest monoliths in the country, providing unparalleled climbing opportunities. The massive granite dome is best climbed in fall and winter. For bouldering aficionados, Looking Glass also has plenty of problems, primarily collected along the base of the North Side of the monolith, accessible along the North Side Trail.

Southeast of Asheville in Chimney Rock State Park, the southern cliffs of Rumbling Bald make for another ideal winter climb, and the Rumbling Bald Trail also meanders past three boulder fields loaded with nearly a thousand problems. Tackle the terrain with the recently published *Rumbling Bald Bouldering Guidebook *by Chris Dorrity.

4. Winter Hiking

Head for North Carolina’s most popular trails when temperatures plunge, and less hearty hikers have gone home to roost for the winter. Waterfalls are among the state’s most popular hiking destinations, and in winter, most cascades are equally stunning, transformed into gravity-defying ice sculptures. Outside Brevard, head for Moore Cove Falls, in the Pisgah National Forest, accessible after a brief 0.7-mile hike. Or strike for the state’s most popular flume, Linville Falls. You can hike there via the trails that begin along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 316). Even when the parkway is closed for winter weather, the falls are still accessible courtesy of trailhead located off NC 183 (on Wiseman’s’ View Road, NC 1238), outside the town of Linville Falls.

Or you can set out for one of the state’s most popular peaks, Max Patch, without the fall and summer crowds. An iconic southern Appalachian Bald outside the town of Hot Springs, the 4,629-foot Max Patch is crowned with more than 300 acres of airy alpine meadows. The view-laden summit is accessible via a number of approaches, including the Appalachian Trail, but the most direct route is the 2.6-mile loop beginning at the parking area on Max Patch Road (SR 1182).

5. Canopy Tours

North Carolina’s stunning landscapes become even more spectacular when viewed from above, and for outdoor-lovers immune to frosty temperatures, canopy tours aren’t just limited to spring or summer. Soar above the snow-frosted landscape in the North Carolina High Country with the two-hour Snowbird Tour at Hawksnest outside the town of Banner Elk. Or get a bird’s eye view of southern Appalachia with a winter zipline adventure at Navitat in Asheville.

6. Ice Climbing

During icy winters, the land of waterfalls becomes a frozen wonderland, making North Carolina of the best ice climbing destinations in the south. For novices, Fox Mountain Guides operates in the Pisgah National Forest and offers expert-led trips. North Carolina is the only state aside from New Hampshire where the climbing school offers ice-scaling expeditions.

For experts, when wintery conditions prevail along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ice-glazed bluffs and crags of Doughton Park (milepost 240), provide an abundance of climbing options, including tackling the rock ledges framing the iconic roadway (climbing is permitted when the parkway is closed to vehicles). In the Nantahala National Forest, just outside Cashiers, the soaring cliff faces of Whiteside Mountain appear glazed with ice year-round. However, when the cliffs truly are iced over, Whiteside is transformed into one of the East’s top destinations for unflappable, peak-bagging pros—with options like Starshine, an iconic 200-foot route.

7. Backpacking

Winter camping makes for a singular outdoor adventure. Familiar landscapes can take on a different dimension—and present new challenges. Tackle a bite-sized thru hike in western North Carolina on the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail, rambling through the Shining Rock Wilderness and over some of the loftiest peaks in the Black Balsam mountains. The trail can be broken up into shorter sections for backpackers wanting to cut their teeth with a quick winter overnight.

For ambitious backcountry snow-bunnies, the Bartram Trail, named for 18th century naturalist William Bartram, winds through North Carolina and Georgia for 100-miles, mingling with the Appalachian Trail several times. The western North Carolina stretch rambles through pristine expanses of the Nantahala National Forest, culminating at the summit of 5,062-foot Cheoah Bald.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated in partnership with Visit North Carolina .

Featured image provided by Adam Fagen