National Trails Day at Waterrock Knob

Carolina Mountain Club, North Carolina State Parks and the Blue Ridge Parkway will be celebrating National Trails Day (Saturday June 4) at Waterrock Knob on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. And everyone is invited. Yippee!

All the activities start from the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (MP 451.2) on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Come to one or all the events.

NTD 2016
NTD 2016

Here’s the schedule:

Trail Maintenance
Morning Maintenance – Meet at 9:15 a.m. at Waterrock Knob, located at milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to do rehabilitation of the trail going to the top of the knob.

Morning Hike – Meet at 9:30 a.m. at Waterrock Knob, located at 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to hike four miles of the MST. Although this will be a downhill hike, it will be rocky. You need to wear closed toe shoes such as sneakers or hiking boots. I’ll be leading the hike.

20160526WaterrockKnobtrailADedication  at 1 pm. This is where all the dignitaries will converge and tell us how wonderful this trail work is.

Afternoon Hike – Immediately following the dedication, CMC will offer an easy 2-mile hike leaving from Waterrock Knob on the MST. Wear closed toe shoes such as sneakers or hiking boots. Barbara Morgan will be leading this hike.

CMC is very proud of its trail work over the years. Here are some details:

WaterrockKnob steps
WaterrockKnob steps

In 2002 CMC volunteered to assume responsibility for the building of the new MST section estimated to be 14.7 miles, from Balsam Gap south to Heintooga Road. After much planning, the first recorded work on this section was in 2006. On June 4, 2016, we’ll celebrate the completion of this work.

Multiple crews worked on laying out and building the trail. There were nearly 250 workdays dedicated to this section and almost 25,000 volunteer hours worked by over 250 different individuals over the 10 years of construction.

The Blue Ridge Parkway staff has said that CMC contributes more volunteer hours to Parkway projects than any other organized group.

But the trail is only useful if hikers walk on it. So come and enjoy the fruits of all this labor. it’s all free and open to the public.

Diversity on Rainbow Falls Trail

Family at Bridal Veil Falls
Family at Rainbow Falls

I keep saying that parks aren’t crowded, certainly not the trails.

A couple of days ago, I walked up to Rainbow Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It was beautiful May day. The parking lot was crowded when I arrived about 9:45 am.

Black snake on tree
Black snake on tree

But where were the hikers?

What were all these people doing, if they weren’t on the trail? Yes, they could have chosen to walk to Grotto Falls, but still…

It took me 90 minutes to get to the falls, hardly a speed record, but I’m no speeder, just a plodder who talks to everyone. I  even stopped to look up to see a black snake on a tree. I think it was a black snake?

Rainbow Falls Trail is rocky and could be considered steep. Many folks were obviously not going to get to their destination. They were slow and stopped every ten steps.

With all the concerns about diversity in the national parks, I must mention that I saw a good cross-section of the US population. Hikers of every age and ethnic group were represented.

A group of Mennonite teenager girls with two middle-age female chaperones came down from the falls. They were wearing the traditional long, plain dresses, with good sneakers and high socks. I talked to them at length but didn’t take any photos. You can be sure that they reached the falls.

Two families with small children gave me great hope. Look at the picture of the family above. Their two-year old was carried by the dad in a sturdy, structured backpack. The mother carried the three-month old in a front pack and had a daypack with their equipment on her back. They were prepared.

Bridal Veil Falls
Rainbow Falls

But I saw a lot of diversity I could have done without. These hikers were going up as I came down the trail, so I don’t know if they made it to the top.

Lots of millenials with nothing – no water, pack, snacks, nothing but a phone in their hands.

I learned that a  group of young teens had been told by their leaders to leave their water bottles behind. “They were just going to forget them and litter”. What!@#$@

Several women wearing flip-flops on their manicured feet.

A couple with a large dog on a leash. When I pointed out that dogs aren’t allowed on the trail, they claimed that they didn’t see the sign and ignored me.

Rainbow Falls itself was thin and narrow. Not much rain this last couple of weeks, so a lot of the rock was dry.

But reaching the destination was great–and not crowded at all.

Trail Guides Available for the MST

MST guide example
MST guide example

The MST is finished.

Just because some of the trail is on small roads doesn’t mean that you can’t complete the whole thing. Think the Camino de Santiago, which is probably mostly on roads.

Now, Friends of the MST has just published a set of guidebooks that literally describes every twist and turn along the 1,100-mile route from Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks. I wrote the section which covers from Clingmans Dome to Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“These guides will make the MST more user-friendly, whether you’re hiking an hour, or for weeks,” said Kate Dixon, Executive Director of Friends of the MST.

In addition to east and westbound directions, the guides have information about locations for parking, camping, water, places to eat and resupply. A general description of the route ahead and unique natural features and historic sites along the way are highlighted. So for example,

In the Outer Banks
In the Outer Banks

“Follow steps down to right to cross creek using large boulders. In the next 0.2 mile you climb up and down hills, with a series of cascades in creek on left, followed by 3 sets of wooden steps,” is typical for the thousands of directional entries in the 20-volume guides.

Soon, you’ll be able to buy printed versions of the twenty booklets. Right now, the guides are available online in a printer friendly format at

Each year thousands of hikers use the trail. To date, 58 people have completed the MST, and the number grows every year. So get out there!