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Outdoors in the Carolinas.

The warm days of summer are here; now is the time to dust off your kayak, lube your bike, take the cobwebs out of your canoe, waterproof your hiking boots, and squeeze your feet back into those climbing shoes. There are many places to explore both in the WNC mountains and in the rolling hills of upstate South Carolina. Nature beckons to us no matter where we live. Maintaining our connection to the earth brings sanity to our hectic lives. Make the time to explore the sprawling forests and flowing rivers that surround you. We are lucky to live in such diversified terrain: rolling hills and rugged mountains, white water and placid lakes, gentle boulder fields and steep pitch climbs. You don't need to be an expert climber, paddler, biker, or hiker; there is something just for you, regardless of your fitness level. So get ready to get outside and enjoy: we know a whole lot of places that you'll want to go.

Hiking is a fantastic way to get to know the natural world surrounding you while getting great exercise. Long upward winding trails burn the muscles in your legs. Sweat pours down your face, tickling your nose as each drop descends. A sudden look up from the trail you have been staring at and you realize you are walking through one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is the feeling of hiking in Shining Rock Wilderness. Huge trees, rushing water, long unobstructed vistas are all part of the wilderness experience. There is a great loop hike that leaves from the Big East Fork parking area off of Rte 276 near Canton in western NC. Easily accessible by North and South Carolinians, this eight-mile loop trail will give you a monster workout, offer you great views, and provide you with a few places to swim. It is a steep climb over Old Butt Knob and Dog Loser Knob, so bring lots of water to keep hydrated. The last four miles take you along the North Prong of Shining Creek which hosts a bevy of waterfalls and places to get wet, but treat the water before you drink it.

If you are looking for something with less muscle commitment, perhaps a meander through the woods or a walk to gorgeous waterfalls fifty paces from your car, check out Linville Gorge. "The falls are spectacular, and in less than a mile you can see both the upper and lower falls. If you are feeling slightly more adventurous, Linville offers great hikes for everyone. Wiseman's View is a short of walk a few hundred yards from the parking area. It gives one of the best views into and down the length of the gorge. Or, hike down into the gorge via the Babel Tower Trail. Take this mile long trail to the top of Babel Tower for a great view and then hook up to the Linville Gorge Trail and walk along the cool floor of the gorge next to the river. Come back the same way you went in.

Dupont State Forest, just southeast of Brevard, NC offers you the chance to do a little of everything. It boasts over 10,000 acres of mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails. Keep in mind that a lot of these trails are multi-use. Triple Falls are beautiful and very easy to get to on foot, only a seven minute uphill stroll. From there, keep walking another fifteen minutes and you arrive at High Falls. So much beauty for so little effort! Mountain bikers should check out the Cedar Rock/Burnt Mountain loop on the west side of the park. It is a technical trail used by more bikers and fewer horses than most of the other trails. The east side offers easier trails for beginner mountain bikers. An interesting thing to note about trail riding here, is that unlike other places in the East where you are mostly riding on dirt, here you are tiding over large domes of granite, otherwise known as slick rock, the likes of which can be found out West, in places like Moab. Be careful! It is called slick rock for a reason.

Getting in the water is easy in the Carolinas. Saluda Shoals Park in northwestern South Carolina boasts several easy hiking trails, as well as good places to launch your canoe or raft. It is a popular place to go canoeing, but the river is long and you can easily drift without seeing anyone. Bring your fishing pole if you are so inclined, and catch a trout for dinner. Make sure to check with the park ranger for permit information. Mills River in North Carolina is a favorite canoeing and rafting place. It is an easy river to float along on, it is quite shallow in some places, but it does have a few good swimming holes. There are many places for a picnic lunch along the river's banks. A good place to "put in" the water is off of South Mills River Rd in Hendersonville. If lakes are more your style, Fontana Lake and Santeetlah Lake. just south of Great Smoky Mountain National Park are both worth going to. There are lots of coves to explore, swimming holes to jump into, and a few places to camp for the night. Why not make a weekend of it!

Kayakers from all over the Southeast come to the Nantahala River in North Carolina for fast fun river riding. There are several spots to put in, including in Beechertown off of Rte 19/24 and at the privately-owned Nantahala Outdoor Center. Be forewarned that this river is not for the faint at heart! It has several class III and IV sections and should be treated with respect and caution. An easier trip is the gentle French Broad River, where you can also canoe. You can go for an hour or spend a day just paddling along and relaxing. Also check out the Green, Tuckasegee, and Pigeon rivers for more kayaking adventures. If you are a complete novice or have only been paddling a few times, consider going with a group or guide that knows the river. Understand that safety comes first: wear a flotation device, a helmet, and never go through rapids above your ability level. And remember to always check out the water conditions from an area outfitter or guide service: they might know something you don't.

There are many wonderful places to climb in the Carolina Mountains. And even if it rains, there are several indoor climbing gyms at our disposal. Most climbers agree that Looking Glass Rock is one of the best places to go. There are climbs for everyone, from easy single pitch, to top rope climbs, to some pretty technical multi-pitch climbs. Linville Gorge has great climbs that range from easy to hard; know your skill level before beginning any climb. Consider hiking and climbing Linville Gorge all in one day for a good, full-body workout. Granite-cliffed Table Rock Mountain, off of Hwy 11 in South Carolina, offers some fantastic places for multi-pitch climbing. Regardless of where you go, do not overestimate your ability; you do not want to put yourself in a situation you can't get out of safely. Consider going with a certified guide who can help you climb safely and can give you some good pointers along the way.

Being outside climbing, paddling, or sitting under a waterfall is a wonderful way to recharge our spirits. We get so caught up working that we forget that nature is blooming all around us, giving us lots of ways to escape the daily grind. If even for a few minutes a week you sit with your feet in a river, or go for a twenty-minute bike ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will come away feeling rejuvenated. No matter what adventure you choose, stop and look around you, feel the wind in your face, the rock under your fingers, or the water on your toes. Get out there and find yourself again.

Teresa Soule is the editorial manager for New Life Journal. She loves exploring the western NC mountains and rivers. If you have a special place you like to go, let her know! Email her at submissions@newlifejournal.
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Author:Soule, Teresa
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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