As you’re driving southbound on the parkway from Asheville, it’s hard to miss Looking Glass Rock looming in the distance. Surrounded by a carpet of forest, Looking Glass Rock is instantly recognizable for it’s rounded rock face that almost looks like the top of a giant’s head poking out of the ground below.
While from the overlook it might not look hikable, if you drive down into the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock is a well maintained, easy to follow, beautiful trail. With that being said, if you are trying to avoid crowds, this may not be the hike for you. Even though we went in November after peak leaf season, the trail was packed full of people.
The trail starts by entering into a beautiful forest area, and as you cross over a small walking bridge with cairns in a small creek, the hike truly begins its 1600 foot climb to the top.
Bundled in sweatshirts, pullovers, and hats, we quickly shed our layers as we climbed switchback after switchback. While not an overly long (3.1 miles one way) trail, the elevation gain is sure to make even the most in shape person sweat a bit, and water will be your best friend!
Hiking in North Carolina in the fall is amazing. While trees were mostly barren by the second weekend in November, it was still fun to hear the crunch of the leaves under our feet. Not to mention, while we did feel the effects of the elevation gain in the form of labored breaths and sore calves, I was never overheated. Southern heat and humidity can make hiking much more difficult, but in the fall the weather tends to cooperate.
Max Wilson’s Rock
About 20 minutes from the top, the trail opens up to the left into a giant rock clearing. There were people relaxing in the sun, basking in the chance to take a break before climbing the last section before the summit. For a quick minute I thought that this was the pinnacle of the hike and I’ll admit I was pretty upset.
Sometimes, hikes have been so highly spoken about, but when you do them yourself, the experience is underwhelming.
Fortunately, that’s not what happened here.
We walked out on the rock clearing, noticing it is used as a rescue helipad. Someone named Max Wilson carved his name impressively into the stone face, and I had to laugh at his dedication. We gave the stone a quick loop and then decided to head up to the top.
The Final Ascent
We were tired at this point. After a little more than 2 miles of hiking at a steady incline, we were ready to get to the top. We passed people on the trail, so close to the summit, wondering if they would be able to make it. We pushed through the last little bit of elevation gain…full of three foot rocks that forced you to essentially squat your own body weight continuously.
The trail dips back down, giving your legs a much appreciated rest, and then you’ve arrived.
The tunnel of trees typical to North Carolina trails gives way to a giant rock face that slowly declines into a sheer cliff face. I’ve never seen anything like it. The views of the surrounding mountains offer so much depth, and I felt like I could see forever.
Rather than turn around right away, we sat with the 30 or so other people spread out along the rock face. I brought my back country stove, and made tea for us to enjoy while we sat and took in the view. It was a little chilly at the top, and we were happy we still had those extra clothes we shed earlier. Plus the warm liquid from the tea was soul warming.
We sat at the top of Looking Glass Rock, looking out over the land for what was probably close to an hour. Even though we were shivering, it was hard to pull ourselves away from that summit. Those blue mountains, the endless trees, and the friendly atmosphere at the top were more than enough to make us want to stay. Eventually, with the thought of dinner, we made our way back to our campsite down the road.
All in all, while Looking Glass Rock was decently strenuous for a hike, it was a fabulous way to spend a day. If you are looking for a good workout, a great view, and a reason to fall in love with these mountains, this is a great hike for you.
Hiking Looking Glass Rock will be a 6.2 mile journey round trip with 1600 feet in elevation gain. Bring water with you. The trailhead is located on Fish Hatchery Road, off of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pisgah National Forest, Pisgah Ranger District. There is a small parking lot for 15 cars at the trailhead, but it is often full. Parking is allowed on the street, just make sure to be pulled completely off the road before leaving your vehicle.
The summit sits at 3969 feet. The top of the rock is safe to walk on, but be careful if walking near the bottom because a fall will kill you. The trail is an out-and-back trail, so take the same way back as you came. While most of the trail is shaded, the summit is in direct sunlight so sunscreen could be needed. Dogs are allowed if kept on a leash, but if your dog is not friendly I would not recommend bringing them. There are many people with dogs on the trail, and it can be a tight squeeze past people in some places.
If hiking after a lot of rain or storms, the trail will be muddy and wet in points. Some of the trail may be flooded out completely but is still passable.
The switchbacks are tiring, but following the trail set helps prevent erosion. Please keep to the trail rather than cutting the switchbacks. Help keep Pisgah as beautiful as she is now! Happy hiking!
There is nothing like fall in North Carolina. Miles upon miles of continuous forest, mornings shrouded in foggy mist, and a respite from the heat of the summer make fall the perfect season for outdoor activities. The color change here is spectacular. With as many as 100 different types of trees within the North Carolina Appalachia Blue Ridge region, each tree changes its own version of fall. Pictures speak a thousand words however, and here are my favorite from our adventures in North Carolina this season.
The best time to visit North Carolina to view the fall colors ranges from early October to early November depending on the elevation. Higher elevations in the mountains will start to change first, and the lower elevations and foothills change last. Romantic Asheville has a great color report that they update, and it is worth following along if you are planning a visit. Asheville Trails also has a great list of hikes in the area that are great for chasing those colors! Leaf chasing is a real sport in North Carolina, with the Blue Ridge Parkway being the best way to traverse the mountainscape in the hunt of fall foliage. While fall is ending for this season, there’s always next year.
As the leaves change into vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges, the best place to view them is from the mountains. We recently spent the weekend at Chetola Mountain Resort in Blowing Rock, North Carolina and it’s safe to say that this is one of the prettiest places we’ve stayed.
As you enter the grounds, you’ll be taken around a small lake by a winding road lined with beautiful trees. In the fall, the lake reflects the trees tinged with the colors of fall, and at night it reflects the festive lights of the resort. As we neared reception, we were amazed at how much land is a part of Chetola Resort. There are roads that go off in many directions from the main road, up to condos and private homes.
We were greeted by a kind hotel staff who checked us in without a hitch. He then offered us a map of the grounds, explained how we were to navigate to our condo, and gave us a rundown of the services provided by the resort.
Some of the onsite amenities include a fitness center, pool, spa, multiple restaurants, and arranging of activities in the area such as fly fishing trips. There is a Sporting Range on the grounds, with the opportunity to shoot clay pigeons or practice archery. If we had more time, I would have definitely rented a bow and arrow for $20 a person!
The resort holds activities for guests as well, and on our first night there they were hosting a bonfire. I believe that there are also events that take place in the bars and restaurants such as happy hours, but we did not attend.
As we reached our condo that we had rented, we were amazed at how spacious it was. We had a full kitchen, two bedrooms, and a living area with a fireplace. It would have been more than enough room for a family to share, and for just us two, it was very large. The condo was decorated with typical mountain decor, and it had the feel of being like a home rather than living in a hotel. Free Wi-Fi was also included, which is always necessary for us.
Walking Distance to Downtown
One of the best parts about Chetola Mountain Resort though, was the proximity to downtown. We saw many similar mountain resorts, but these were all farther away from the downtown area. We were easily able to walk downtown, and we observed many other guests doing the same. Blowing Rock is notorious for their horrible parking. It’s definitely even more hectic in the fall with everyone trying to view the leaves. By following the serene walking path that circles the lake, you will be downtown in 10 minutes.
All in all, I was very impressed with the quality of Chetola Mountain Resort. Their grounds are fabulous and well maintained, and the rooms were comfortable and sparkling clean. The resort gave us more options for activities than we had time. It is a five minute drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway and hikes, and a short walk into downtown. It truly made for the perfect weekend in Blowing Rock.
Western North Carolina can also be described as the “Land of Waterfalls,” due to the 250+ waterfalls that grace it’s landscape. We’re huge waterfall chasers, and we spend most of our free time plotting our next waterfall adventure. Lucky for us, there’s plenty to choose from. Here’s a list of the 7 best North Carolina waterfalls.
1. Looking Glass Falls
This easily accessible waterfall is located in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Brevard. And by easily accessible, it’s right off the side off the road! This makes it the perfect place for picnics, families, and summer time hanging out. The summer in the south can get hot, so cool off with a swim in the waterfall’s splash pool. It can get crowded, but there are plenty of waterfalls in the area that require a hike if you prefer less people.
2. Crabtree Falls
This wonderful waterfall requires a bit of a hike, but is worth the effort. The hike is not too strenuous or long, but can be turned into a loop to add about 1.5 miles onto it. The trail meanders its way downhill through a wonderful forest until reaching the waterfall base, at which you can continue across the base on the bridge for the loop trail. I personally love the way the water looks cascading down the rock wall, as it isn’t a full steady stream but rather breaks into many tiny streams due to the uneven rock face before meeting again at the base. The trail head can be found off the Blue Ridge Parkway, 41 miles north of Asheville. This is truly one of the best North Carolina waterfalls, and it’s proximity to Asheville makes it easy to get to.
3. Linville Falls
Linville Falls is maybe one of the best known in the area, and is a great day trip from many different areas in the state. Better yet, after the hike the gorgeous Linville Falls Winery is a 5 minute drive away. Linville Falls has a couple of different options for hiking, and there’s about 4-4.5 miles of trail in the park. There’s five different view of the falls: the top of the falls, the base of the falls, two upper views of the falls, and view of the plunge basin on the opposite side of the base trail. Watch out for Parkway closures which will make getting to the falls difficult, but head to the National Forest Parking Area in the event the Visitor Center lot is closed. Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 316.4, it’s an easy drive from Asheville, or Morganton.
4. Mingo Falls
This waterfall is similar in look to Crabtree, but is a little bit of a trip to get to from most major cities. Located on the Cherokee preservation and a 15 minute drive from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s a wonderful addition to any trip to the area. The trail is well maintained and there are actual stairs to climb the entire time rather than raw trail. After a quick 10 minute hike you reach a wooden platform at the base of the waterfall. The area that the waterfall is in is owned by the Cherokee Native Americans, so if you’re looking for activities before or after your trip to the waterfall, there is a museum, tourist shops, or a massive casino nearby. And then there’s the obvious one, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park which has free admission 100% of the time.
Sadly I don’t have a picture of this one, because it was pouring rain and we decided to sprint from the car to the lookout.
5. High Shoals Falls
This is a personal favorite of Cazzie and I’s, mostly because we live 25 minutes from the South Mountain State Park where the falls are located. The entire park is very well maintained and the High Shoals Falls hike is extremely well built and preserved. There are stairs that will take you up the steep sections, but the climb can get intense due to the steady increase of the trail. There will be a set of mini falls before you reach the actual waterfall, but these are gorgeous as well. Once you reach the falls, there’s a wooden viewing platform and swimming is not allowed. Continue up the stairs just a little farther to get to the loop or more trails.
South Mountain suffered from some pretty severe forest fires last fall, and effects of these fires can be seen in the forested areas of some trails, with some trails still being closed. Just a friendly reminder to always put out your campfires. 🙂
6. North Harper Creek Falls
Located in Wilson’s Creek of the Pisgah National Forest Grandfather Ranger District, this waterfall requires an easy 1.2 mile hike to the falls. The hike is a beautiful representation of Pisgah, with rhododendron forming arching walkways and the sun peeking through the dense forests. The trails in Wilson’s creek can be combined to make a much longer hike, a back country camping trip, or simply just a day full of waterfall chasing. There are at least 7 waterfalls located in Wilson’s Creek area, so exploring here will definitely keep anyone entertained. If you would like more information about Wilson’s Creek area, check out our adventures here.
7. Catawba Upper/Lower Falls
Another short but sweet hike will lead you to the Lower Catawba Falls. This waterfall is best enjoyed after a nice rain because the water will be flowing and everything will be lush. The hike is mostly level but climbs in elevation as you lead up to the lower falls. You’ll have to scramble up some fallen rocks in the path as well! To get to the Upper Falls, it’ll be quite the trek up hill. Be extremely careful, most of the rocks are covered in moss and are very slippery!
DISCLAIMER: We haven’t been to every waterfall that’s out there. We will update this list as we see fit! There’s still so much exploring to do, and we are still working our way through the state. If you want more waterfall information, Romantic Asheville has an amazing collection!
Asheville is full of wonderful things to do, but if you’re in the area and miss out on going to the Biltmore Estate… you’re not doing it right.
It was my first time visiting the Biltmore Estate and while Cazzie has been before, it was his first time in quite awhile. We planned on spending a couple of hours there during the day and then head camping later at night, but ended up throwing all our other plans away to stay longer. And it was well worth it!
If anyone says that the United States doesn’t have royalty, this estate stands proof to the contrary. Built by George Vanderbilt with construction starting in 1889 , this estate is testament to the standing of his family in the hierarchy of the development of America. The family’s wealth came from Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built railroads across the United States, and was a shipping mogul. As a third generation Vanderbilt, George was still the richest man in the United States at the time of his death.
Walking up to the house felt so immensely surreal, knowing that an entire family once called this enormous estate their home. It stands like a castle, overlooking the never ending waves of the Blue Ridge Mountains on one side, and an endless forest and gardens on the other.
It took six years to build, has 4 acres of floor space, and is still considered the largest private home in the United States. The house has:
- a whopping 250 rooms and 65 fireplaces
- a personal bowling alley
- a very creepy basement swimming pool
- an entire house wing just for the bachelor’s including separate gun, cigar and billiards rooms
- a massive library that houses only half of the 22,000 books that George owned with books in 8 different languages
- a formal dining hall complete with three fireplaces, a seven story high ceiling, and rare Finnish tapestries
- Two electric elevators in a time when most people didn’t have electricity
- A walk in fridge that housed food for the entire house
You might recognize the Biltmore Estate from a bunch of different encounters with the silver screen. Hollywood has recognized it as a great place to film, and the Biltmore has hosted movies such as Forest Gump, Richie Rich, Hannibal, Patch Adams, and The Last of the Mohicans.
There was no expense spared in the building of the Biltmore Estate. This guy had it all. Not only was he extremely philanthropic as well, but he was the first United States landowner to implement scientific forestry. He improved the health of the forests on his 125,000 acre grounds, while also producing sustainable wood resources from his property. After his death, his widow sold 87,000 acres of land to the United States government…which is now a good portion of Pisgah National Forest.
My kinda guy!
True to the historic legacy of the Biltmore House, these sustainability standards are still in the works today. Due to Biltmore’s projects in solar energy and tree protection, the city of Asheville has honored the Biltmore Estate with an award for their strides in staying green. Go Biltmore!
After touring the house, which will take about one or two hours, spend time exploring the Conservatory and surrounding gardens. There are adorable wrought iron tables and benches scattered throughout the Conservatory, and we enjoyed a freezing cold iced tea before venturing off into the heat again.
From the Conservatory, you can head to Antler Village, which I highly recommend! There will be a sign for a waterfall along the way, but it’s actually a dam and it isn’t that amazing, so I wouldn’t stop if I were you.
Right now until the end of August there’s a stunning sunflower field that lines the road from the House to Antler Village. There are biking trails, hiking trails, walking paths, and picnic spots all along this road as well. Honestly, the Estate is really just a giant playground for history lovers, outdoor lovers, and lovers of all things of taste.
Antler Village is where the Winery is, along with the Biltmore farms. There are goats and chickens in an enclosure and you bet we stopped to pet them. You’re not able to feed them, but the caretakers are standing on call to ask any questions you may have. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there during feeding time and can watch the goats headbutt each other away from their food. Territorial little buggers.
With your tour of the house, you will receive a complimentary wine tasting. They say they recommend you try 5-6 wines, and they’ll give you facts about the grapes and differences in wine while you’re tasting. I actually learned quite a bit, and Cazzie even found a red he likes! Even if it was the most expensive bottle they had… Baby steps.
Since I moved to the mountains of North Carolina, people have been asking if I’ve been to the Biltmore House yet. I sort of shrugged them off and thought “it’s just an old house, how cool can it be?” I WAS SO WRONG. It’s seriously one of the better “touristy” things I’ve done. So much awesome history, and it just makes it all better that George Vanderbilt was a stand up guy.
Last weekend, we headed back to my old stomping grounds to celebrate our engagement with my family. For those of you who don’t know, I’m originally from outside the magnificent city of Chicago. While I will always treasure my time there, ultimately the winters were too harsh and I was forced to flee to warmer weather.
Chicago in the summer is truly magical. After the long, freezing cold winter, the people of Chicago come out of hibernation and celebrate the three good months of the year…and they know how to celebrate.
While the actual city of Chicago is huge, their public transportation system is one of the best in the world. Fondly called the “El,” or Elevated train, the system will take you essentially everywhere around the city you need to go. And it’s generally clean!
Most of the favorite tourist attractions are located in the Loop, or the centrally located grouping of skyscrapers that the El makes a loop around. Get it? Clever, huh.
I recently was asked create walking city maps on Walkli.com. This website is a great way to see how other people toured a city by walking, and different routes are uploaded by different users. It’s pretty cool! If you’re more interested on the route we took to tour downtown Chicago, click here to their website to see it!
We started near the Willis Tower, or what was once formally known as the Sears Tower. Growing up, this was the tallest building in the world for a little while. For some odd reason, I still harbor a little bit of pride for that fact.
Next up on the list of “must-sees” for Chicago is Millennium Park and the famous “Bean” art piece. Quite literally a giant metallic bean, the park is in the forefront of the Chicago skyline. It creates quite the scene, and draws quite the crowd.
A nice stroll around Millennium Park on the path will take you further from downtown into Maggie Daley Park if you wish. Most of the time the grass is closed around the music pavilion, but if you’re in town for a night that they’re holding a concert or movie, definitely bring a blanket and picnic!
From Millenium Park, it’s an easy walk down the glitzy Michigan Avenue to the Chicago Riverfront walk. The river walk is truly one of my favorite parts about the city.
There are tons of super cute restaurants along the River Walk. City Winery is a great place to stop and cool off from the sun! They also have live music if you check their event schedule.
Part of the fun of the River Walk is to gawk at the giant yachts that pull in and out of the harbors. Seriously….how can I get one? If you’re into boats and want to take one out on the lake for the day, you can rent one from various rental places around downtown. Half the fun of having a city on a lake should be being on the lake, so take advantage!
Trump Tower is also visible from the River Walk. The City of Chicago currently has an art installment that “is not a political statement in any form,” but you can judge for yourself. I personally love it.
Be sure to walk out on one of the bridges. Dearborn is one of my personal favorites. The view of the river and the buildings towering over you is gorgeous. The Dark Knight was filmed in Chicago, and the bridges give Chicago that eerie feeling of Gotham City.
Don’t miss the iconic Chicago Theater. Built in 1921, this grand theater has a dazzling marquis and is host to many live events. If there’s a show there that you would like to see, I would recommend snagging tickets. The interior is marvelous.
That about sums it up for the downtown portion of Chicago must-sees. Of course, there is always something to see in Chicago, so don’t stop your tour of the city there. Head out to one of the many “neighborhoods” that make up so much of the charm of the city.
Colorado is a true dream. One of those places that outdoor lovers can’t help but fall in love with, and never want to leave. Cazzie used to live in Colorado when we first started dating, which now seems like ages ago! Sometimes I forget we were long distance for the first 8 months of our relationship, but I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.
I was slightly enamored with both Cazzie and the Rocky Mountains, so my trips to visit were long and frequent. I don’t think I ever asked him if I could come, I just booked flights there and would stay until I absolutely had to return to avoid getting fired from my job. Each time I visited, we had the best times together. Hiking, skiing, going to concerts…we owe a big part of our relationship to Colorado. I was even thinking about moving there before we chose to move to Nicaragua instead!
Long story short, we love Colorado. Everything from the Flatirons in Boulder to the San Juans in Telluride are magical and inspiring. Our recent visit there was mainly for a wedding in Telluride, but we were lucky to be able to extend the trip to squeeze in a camping trip in Aspen.
We flew into Denver and had friends pick us up from the airport. With a fully packed car, we began our 4 hour drive to Aspen. On our way to Aspen, we were lucky to take the absolutely stunning Independence Pass. Talk about a super sketchy mountain road, but it was totally worth the insane views! The road winds through the mountains with a million switchbacks, with mere inches between you and sudden death. At the top of the pass, we stopped at the Western Continental Divide. I suggest everyone do this if traveling through this area to gawk at the giant and beautiful mountains!
Free. Dispersed. Camping. Ever heard of it? Because it’s the way to go, hands down. It’s primitive camping with no facilities that normal built up campgrounds will have. Pros: secluded, quiet, and a true nature experience. Cons: there’s no bathroom…so you know what that means.
Because we were near Aspen, during one of the days while camping we decided to visit the gorgeouis Maroon Bells. The most photographed mountain peaks in all of North America, (whoa!) it’s easy to see why the crowds flock. The lake mirrors the peaks on nice days, and there’s many beautiful hikes to alpine lakes, waterfalls, or vistas throughout the park.
Maroon Bells is famous during the fall, when the leaves on the Aspens turn a vibrant yellow orange color. While we weren’t there for the changing of the colors, the aspen trees still form a vibrant green blanket for the mountains even in the summer. Aspen trees are a beautifully intricate species, in that they generally grow from one seedling and are all interconnected with their root systems. While individual trees live for 40-150 years, the root systems are able to live for thousands of years by sprouting new trees from the roots when one dies.
The park doesn’t allow any motorized vehicles on the road from 8am-5pm, so you will have to take a shuttle bus from the Aspen Highlands Ski Area. Tickets are $8 per adult, and there is a $5 parking fee for the lot at the bus pickup. If driving outside of the restricted hours, it costs $10 per car.
Also located near our campsite were the ice grottos and Devil’s Punchbowl. Due to a mix up of getting ice for the campsite too soon and not wanting the ice to melt, we never got to actually see either places.. When we got back to camp, we actually got so immersed in a game of Slam Ball that we forgot about going back out to those places until it was almost dark.
I feel like some of you right now are asking “what’s Slam Ball?” We had seen people playing at the beach before, but when our friend brought a game camping, we were hooked. It’s a four person game that consists of a small trampoline like net, and a ball. Points can be scored various ways between teams of two, and it’s mildly to extremely addicting.
Check it out using the link below. I highly recommend it if you have any group trips coming up! It’s so much fun for all skill levels, and can keep you entertained for hours.
As the sun went down, we all stopped to watch the sky turn colors over the mountains. It had been cloudy and misty all day but when it came time for the daily show, Mother Nature decided to open up the skies to let us see.
Colorado seems to get a bad reputation now as a “weed smokers” paradise. And yea, that’s probably true. But the immense beauty the state has…from the ski resorts, to the national forests, to the beautiful 14,000 feet mountains that dominate the landscape…give the state an even bigger outdoorsy culture as well. Being from the Midwest, it’s a refreshing change to be immersed in nature like that. Because how could you not want to be outside in a state like Colorado?
Basic Tips for Camping:
- DO protect yourself from bear attacks. Use bear canisters and DO NOT leave your food anywhere in the open near your tents.
- Bring lots of layers! It gets cold up in the mountains after the sun goes down, and you’ll want appropriate gear.
- DO bring a headlamp. Going to the bathroom in the woods is scary enough, be sure to have some light with you!
- DO Leave No Trace. This is a big one guys. Don’t be “that person” and leave garbage and other things. Protect where we play and leave it as close to natural nature as you can. If you haven’t before, I highly recommend reading the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.