This Hiking Life

I’m a hiker, hike leader and outdoor writer.

I blog abEdgy in Montreat Wildernessout my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.

I’m writing a book on visiting all the national parks in the Southeast – the battlefields, monuments, historic sites as well as the traditional national parks. My book, titled Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, will come out next year, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.

See my bio if you want to know more.

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Family Nature Summits – The Last Day

2015-07-02FNSBoogerman2Yesterday I led a hike on the Boogerman Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Family Nature Summits.

It rained most of the day and I had told my hikers that there were several unbridged water crossings. We were going to get wet, but still seven hikers came.

The Caldwell Fork Trail has ten crossings over the stream. Several bridges are missing so we had to walk right through the water. That’s what most people remember.

2015-07-02FNSBoogerman1But the Boogerman Trail itself forms a “C” in the forest. Rhododendrons bloom and ferns show off their range of green color. The area never allowed commercial logging so the trees are huge. Huge stonewalls remain from the residents who lived here before the area became a park.

The hike took longer than usual because we needed to be careful with the water crossings. Since it rained most of the day, the river moved quickly and we traversed the water slowly. We ended up muddy and soaked but we all loved it.

20150702FNSDay5 011AWhile I was splashing on the trail, Lenny went on a birding trip, looking for birds in the rain.

Hannah and her group went on a hiking and cultural trip through Cataloochee. Isa went canoeing on Lake Junaluska with her group leader. This was Isa’s first canoe trip.


20150702FNSDay5 026AThis is the beauty of Family Nature Summits. Each member of the family does her or his own activities with a group. We then get together for late afternoon family time and then dinner.

Last night, each group put on a skit, even the faculty. We had a slide show, which recapped the week’s adventures.

Then the moment we’ve all been waiting for: place and date for next year – Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, July 2 to July 8, 2016.

Look at the website to register.

Family Nature Summits – How it works

2015FNSDeepcreekAToday I led a hike through Deep Creek in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Family Nature Summits.

This organization plans a one-week camp for families and individuals all around the country. This year, right now in fact, we’re at Lake Junaluska close to the Smokies. So I’m leading four hikes – two in Deep Creek and two in Cataloochee.  So how does it all work with families?

At the dance
At the dance

We all stay at the same location and eat in the same dining hall. After breakfast , adults drop off their kids at the Junior Naturalist (JN) program at 8 am.

Isa is in the Fern and Jack, the youngest of the JN while Hannah is the oldest JN. Next year, she moves up to the Teen program.

The children went to Cataloochee and the Mountain Farm Museum. The younger ones will canoe while Hannah’s group rafted. They look at plants, play in creeks and do nature drawing.

At 3:30 pm, the children’s program ends. If the adults aren’t back, the younger ones roll over to daycare, where the fun continues. Hannah, meanwhile, hangs out with her friends. But most days, we’ve taken the girls swimming in the Lake Junaluska pool. They see all their friends, but this time, it’s the parents (and grandparents) who supervise them. The group leaders are off duty.

2015NaturalistgirlsAWe seem to have dinner quite early here.

By 7 pm, it’s time for an evening program. This week, we’ve seen birds of prey, listened to a story teller and had a barn dance, complete with a live caller and band. Everyone participates. By eight o’clock, Isa is ready for bed and I’m ready to call it a night as well. I’ve got another hike to lead the next day.

For adults, it’s not all hiking. They can ramble, learn about flowers, draw or visit an organic farm. This year, the adults could raft, canoe or mountain bike. It’s all about using all the resources that the location offers.

Who knows where it will be next year? But it will be exciting.

Same Trails, Different Group

Hannah and Isa
Hannah and Isa

I’m with Family Nature Summits, a national family nature camp, with Lenny, and our granddaughters, Hannah and Isa. Hannah has been going to FNS for six years but this is Isa’s first experience.

FNS goes to a different location every year. This year, it’s in Western North Carolina at Lake Junaluska. I’m on the hiking staff, so I have an opportunity to show off my home park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

FNS12RhodiesAYesterday, I took a group of adult hikers from all over the country on the Lakeshore Trail Loop, informally called the Road to Nowhere.

So much history on this trail and so many rhododendrons in bloom.

I’ve led this hike several times for Friends of the Smokies and Carolina Mountain Club. But how do I relate this history to folks who aren’t familiar with the Smokies?

I explained about Fontana Dam, TVA, and NC 288, the road that was flooded….

FNS group at the tunnel
FNS group at the tunnel

The group was impressed with the tunnel since it was something the hikers could relate to. The whole controversy was big to us living in the Southern Appalachians but never made a blip in their lives.

We weren’t on the trail for 30 minutes when we saw a mama bear and three bear cubs. The cubs ran up a tree while the mama waited in the bushes. What a sighting. We watched in amazement as the cubs climbed higher and higher. Some tried to take pictures but the photos probably came out as pencil points. I got a lot of brownie points for that sighting but nothing topped this the rest of the day.

Big Poplars
Big Poplars

Today, I took another group to the Caldwell Fork Loop in Cataloochee. Where was Cataloochee? Who lived here? All these buildings in the Smokies are left open to visitors. Wow!

We had lunch at the Big Poplars as we marveled at the size of the trees. Unlike the Lakeshore Trail area, wholesale loggings wasn’t allowed in Cataloochee. So we’re left with big trees.

I have done these two trails often but the group was different. It was a different experience for me.


Craggy on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

2015-06-26CraggyPinnacle1AWhat does it take to get kids on the trail? Not much, other than

* an early enthusiastic start
* water and snacks
* a clear destination
* and an adult who’s going to enjoy the hike as much as the kids.

Today, I took Hannah, twelve-years old, and Isa, five-years old, up to the Craggys on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We went on two short trails, each with a clear destination.

First, we went up to Craggy Pinnacle, a classic walk up to the fantastic 360-degree view. See above. When we first got up there, we had the viewpoint to ourselves but frankly, it’s more fun with a few people around. Isa was so excited that it was difficult to keep her from running both up and down. The trail is is great shape but it is rocky and I was concerned that she would fall and skin her knees.

2015-06-26CraggyVCAWe came down and drove south on the parkway to stop at the Craggy visitor center where we stamped our national park passports.

Then we met Ranger Amy Duernberger, where I took a picture of the girls with the ranger.

Our last stop was the Craggy Picnic Gardens. We walked up the Mountains-to-Sea Trail up to the gardens, stopping at the shelter.

Though the rhododendrons and azaleas were no longer blooming, it was still an exciting place. So different from Craggy Pinnacle.


2015-06-26Craggygardensshelter2A By then, there were several groups going up or down, or just wandering through the gardens. We even saw a couple of families that had also gone up the Pinnacle.

The morning ended with a picnic. After all, we were at the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area.


Scouting off Trail

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I like to stay on the trail. Whether it’s on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail or in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I like blazes, and trails on maps.

2015-06-22Purchasescout 012A So what was I doing scouting a hike which involves a lot of non-official trails and even private land?

All legal and above board, but even so–OMG. What was I doing on private land?

Anna Lee of Friends of the Smokies and I scouted our October Purchase Knob hike in the Smokies.

We started at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob, located at 5,000 feet. As the name implies, the center hosts scientists and school children to work on science projects. Though there’s nothing to stop the public from parking up there to hike, it’s best to call ahead to make sure that the gate is open, if you’re not coming for a project.

On Cataloochee Ranch
On Cataloochee Ranch

We started down toward the Ferguson Cabin and then on the Cataloochee Divide Trail. Now we were on a trail, but not for long.

We headed toward The Swag, an upscale bed and breakfast and  then to Cataloochee Ranch.

We weren’t interested in going to Hemphill Bald; that was this June’s hike. Instead, we explored the ins and out of Thunderbolt Mountain, meeting other hikers and horseback riders.

On the way back, we stopped at the Swag and walked their nature trail.

But first, we had to admire the view. Anna Lee did a series of cartwheels – see the first picture above.  We didn’t have the dress to twirl to the The Hills are Alive to the Sound of Music but that would be the place to be Maria.

The Swag Nature Trail has several follies, structures that are chiefly decorative rather than serving any purpose.2015-06-22Purchasescout 020A Dan’s Hideway and Deener Hideway, little comfortable areas to hide, have hammocks. I took a picture of Anna Lee “sleeping on the job” in a hammock but I’m not going to show that. Dan and Deener Matthews own The Swag.

We stopped at the lily pond, which might be a good place for lunch with the group. Then we walked back to Purchase Knob and our car.

Though there’s nothing secret about this hike, it might be a difficult hike to do on your own. That’s why we scout the hikes for you.

Intrigued? You know the drill by now. Contact Anna Lee Zanetti at at Friends of the Smokies on 828.452.0720.