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

Obed Wild and Scenic River

Clear Creek in Obed
Clear Creek in Obed

Every national park unit that I visited has some unique characteristic. It seems that Obed  is the only wild and scenic river in the Southeast, managed by the National Park Service.

Little River Canyon, though scenic,  certainly wasn’t wild. We walked to the dam and saw houses above the river. I know that if you look at a picture, both rivers look like they’re at the bottom of a canyon, but it’s the surroundings that count. Chattahoochee outside of Atlanta has really been used, and not just by paddlers.

But the Obed and its tributaries are pristine.The flow of the river carved amazing gorges for thousands of years. Only portions of the four streams that make up the Obed unit are in the Wild and Scenic program.

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Note that I said, managed by the National Park Service. Rivers like the Chatooga are wild and scenic but managed by other agencies. If you make the category small enough, everything is the “only” and “first”.

My first stop is the visitor center in the town of Wartburg, northeast of Oak Ridge. Because the river is so spread out and there are few access to the streams, they probably decided to make the visitor center more accessible. I wonder how many people stop at the visitor center and then drive several miles to the river itself.

The narrator in the film says, God made three beautiful places: Garden of Eden, Obed and then never came back to name the third place. The video stresses the climbing, paddling and fishing opportunities here.  In a climbing scene, a woman slips, gets caught by her rope and recovers nicely. I gasped, but not as loud as when I saw a girl, maybe six years old, walking on the river rocks, barefoot. What was the park service thinking, showing a visitor walking barefoot on slippery rocks?

The Obed River and its two main tributaries, Clear Creek and Daddys Creek, cut into the Cumberland Plateau of East Tennessee, providing some of the most rugged scenery in the Southeast. Paddlers come from all over the world to run this river. Maybe this is what Daniel Boone saw, when he walked west. At the overlook, if you look up and out, you’ll see no sign of civilization.

On the Obed
On the Obed

I drive down to Lily Bridge across Clear Creek. Like a true New Yorker, I stop at the first parking area I see and grab my pack. A steep trail takes me to the Overlook. When I walk around past the Overlook, I realize that I could have driven a little further and walk a flat trail to the view. But I would have missed the layered boulders, that looked like a uneven multi-tiered cake. Climbers have left metal chains with hanging loops on the end.

I’m getting close to the end of my visits to national park units in the Southeast.

I only have a handful left to see. Like the country music song says, “you’re going to miss this.”

I’ll miss discovering new parks. I’ll miss driving backroads, with its small churches, farms and meeting people. I won’t miss driving hours on the interstate at 70 MPH, sandwiched between trucks on either side of me, especially when it’s raining.

You’re gonna miss this / You’re gonna want this back / You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast


We are Family! Group Hiking at its best

20150222snowday MST010AWe are family!
I think about this every time I lead a hike.  Leading hikes for various nonprofit organizations seems to be my day job. I plan and lead hikes for Carolina Mountain ClubFriends of the Smokies, Great Smoky Mountains Association and, this summer, Family Nature Summits.

My granddaughter and I have been going all over the country with Family Nature Summits since 2010 and this year, they’re coming to the Smokies.

Yes, I love to hike but it’s also about building and nurturing my outdoor community. Many people would never get out on the trail, unless they came with a group.  It’s

20141209FOTSKephartprong 001A* The new person in town,
* The one that can no longer drive,
* The person who fell on the trail, recovered, and came back stronger than ever and climbed that hill,
* The hiker who says I am going to take my grandchildren here,
* My visitors from the city,
* The one who has no one to hike with . Hiking alone  in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is very safe but not as fun as being with others.
* Family Nature Summits may be a misnomer. Many singles spend a week with FNS because it’s an inexpensive, simple way of seeing the country.

Anna Lee discussing FOTS work
Anna Lee discussing FOTS work

Hikers share their knowledge of other outdoor sports like fishing or cycling. Some tell stories of their ancestors  who lived in the area. I am amazed at the folks that will drive from Charlotte or North Georgia for a day in Western North Carolina.

One New Zealander joined Friends of the Smokies to come on a guided hike in Cataloochee. For $35, which is the cost of membership for a year, she got an all-day outdoor  experience with a bunch of Americans and lots of stories to tell when she gets home.

Everyone should go outside and play because it keeps you young and active. You connect with nature but you also tell the world that protecting land is important. For many newcomers, walking into Cataloochee is a great adventure.

One FOTS member in my car didn’t know what to expect when he rode in my car as we drove up Cove Creek Rd. He kept asking me “if I knew where I was going.” And when we  rode back down at the end of the day, he was holding on for dear life. Another man didn’t really understand that people lived on the land until we went to a cemetery.

So, you don’t need friends or a spouse to hike with. You need to join an organization which will always run the hike and not be subject to the vagaries of an individual.

Hike and save the outdoors!


Not Without My Father – An entertaining read

NWMFbookcoverAI once knew a man who walked the whole Blue Ridge Parkway, not the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, but the road. I don’t know how he dealt with the logistics.

But Andra Watkins, in Not without my Father, tells you in step by step fashion how she walked the 444-miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway – with her father as support, gadfly and super book salesman. If you want to learn about the Natchez Trace, go to the national park website. But if you want a sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always entertaining memoir about parents and their middle-age children, you’ll love Not without my Father.

The Natchez Trace which goes from Natchez MS to Nashville, TN, hasn’t been walked since steamboats became safe and cheap, about 1820.

Mt. Locust on the Natchez Trace
Mt. Locust on the Natchez Trace

President Jackson brought back his troops from New Orleans to Tennessee after the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. Andra is the only living person who’s walked the whole road.

She got the idea as a way of publicizing her first novel, To live forever: An afterlife of Meriwether Lewis. Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, died on the Trace. Was it murder or suicide?

Andra walks fifteen miles a day for six days and rests the seventh. But the Trace isn’t the A.T. She’s walking on a road and it’s hard on her feet. It’s a flat trail, which sounds great to us mountain hikers, until you realize that the repetitive motion stiffens her muscles; she wakes up stiff and goes to bed stiff. The junk food made her sick.

But all of that, though difficult, is nothing compared to her interactions with her father, mother, and female friend of the family. They’re out there supporting her with rides, lodging and fried chicken while constantly telling her to quit. What was she thinking, taking all those people along? The real hero of the story is her loving husband who stays  back and goes to work every day, sending Andra supportive texts.

It would be tempting to compare Andra with Cheryl of Wild but they’re very different. Cheryl had big psychological problems, which she worked out while on the PCT. Her internal life made her book a best-seller, not her hike. I thought the book was more like Jennifer Pharr Davis’ Called Again about her record-setting hike on the A.T. Jennifer also had a support team that she had to deal with but with a lot less drama.

Andra understands the budget challenges facing the Natchez Trace. She encourages readers to support the Trace and donate to the park. Thank you, Andra!

She’s on her way to becoming a national writer. Right now, she’s on a national book tour, getting great publicity. I wonder if she’s already been to Asheville. I could learn a lot about marketing books from her.


Caldwell Fork Loop – Always a surprise

Cataloochee elk in frost
Cataloochee elk in frost

This past week, I scouted the Caldwell Fork Loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yeah, I know, I’ve done this hike so many times. I’ve even written about it in Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains but things change.

The morning started cold but it didn’t stop the elk from being all over the Cataloochee valley.

As we climbed up on Big Fork Ridge, I prepared to stop at the elk pen.

To my surprise, the park had removed the elk pen.

Elk Pen
Elk Pen

My companions, Anna Lee of Friends of the Smokies, Beth and Garrett, Carolina Mountain Club members visiting from Tampa, must have been dubious that there was ever an elk pen.

When the park brought in elk, they didn’t just say “Here you are, elk. Have a nice life.” They built a huge pen to acclimate the elk to their new environment and probably to check that they didn’t bring in diseases. After a few months, they freed the elk to let them wander on their own. But the last elk came here in 2002. The wooden structures deteriorated and finally taken down. So now, this is a historic picture.

Big Fork Ridge Trail
Big Fork Ridge Trail

This has been a rough winter with many blowdowns.

I took a few pictures but the park maintenance folks know that they will have a lot of work to do this spring.

It may be tempting to ask them to clear the trail for our Friends of the Smokies hike but I’m not going to change their priorities. They’ll get to this trail when they get to it.

Beth and Garrett
Beth and Garrett

Lunch was at the big poplars on Caldwell Fork Trail. Here are mother and son, both strong hikers, though it must be tough, coming from the Florida flatlands. We met several hiking groups, including three generations doing a slow backpack around Cataloochee.

A group from Indiana was led by a dog. “You aren’t supposed to bring a dog in the backcountry,” I told the leader quietly. I’m getting better. I used to get more upset with hikers who had a dog. But I added, “If a ranger sees this, you will be fined.” But how are visitors supposed to know that? Unfortunately, you have to go deep within the website to learn that dogs are not allowed in large, nature national parks.

Woody House ceiling
Woody House ceiling

We walked down Rough Fork to the Woody House.

Those new to the historic house were surprised at the amount of graffiti on the walls. Unfortunately I’m accustomed to it. What are people  thinking? Probably not thinking.

But I looked at the ceilings, searching for bats. Instead, I saw this graffiti. Does it signify anything?

We’ll be leading this hike on Tuesday, April 14. To register for a Classic Hike of the Smokies, contact


Outdoor Book Fest at Diamond Brand Outdoors

image_miniCome to Diamond Brand on Wednesday, March 25th from 6 pm to 7:30 pm to check out some great books on the outdoors.

It’s at Diamond Brand Outdoors, 1378 Hendersonville Road • Asheville, NC 28803

Whether you’re looking for a new book to read, or would like to meet the authors of your favorite outdoor books, you’re invited to join us for an Outdoor Book Fest featuring outdoor authors.

The authors will be available for a meet-and-greet and to sign copies of their books. There will be music and light refreshments.

This event is free and open to the public.

For more information, please visit the event on Facebook.

Jennifer Pharr Davis

Authors include:

– Danny Bernstein, author of  “The Mountains to Sea Trail Across North Carolina” and “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains”

– Jennifer Pharr Davis, author of “Becoming Odyssa” and “Called Again”

– Peter Barr, author of “Hiking North Carolina’s Look Out Towers”

– Jim Parham, author of “Waterfalls in Winter” and “A Geography Geek Finds North Georgia” and co-owner of Milestone Press, publisher of my two hiking guides.

– Marci Spencer, author of “Pisgah National Forest: A History”PNF BOOKcoverA

– Johnny Molloy, author of “Hiking North Carolina’s National Forests” and “Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge”

– Bill Hart, author of “3000 Miles in the Great Smokies”

– Bill Walker, will bring his four narratives on the Appalachian Trail, PacificCrest Trail, El Camino de Santiago, and Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

– Sue Wasserman, author of “Walk with Me: Exploring Nature’s Wisdom”

I really look forward to meeting some of my fellow outdoor writers and reconnecting with others.