Tom’s Creek Falls & Roaring Fork Falls

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Roaring Fork FallsFor our next Winnie adventure we headed to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near Marion, NC. We stayed at the Mountain Stream RV Resort off Hwy 80 at 6954 Buck Creek Rd. After making a wrong turn down a one-lane gravel road (Little Buck Creek Rd) we drove a white-knuckling 3 miles to the road’s end. This was not how I expected our first big Winnie adventure to begin. After several deep breaths, I jumped out of the car to instruct Bill on turning around. Easy Peasy!

Nothing will test your marriage’s communication skills like trying to make a 3-point turn with a 20-foot trailer. Cue the Austin Power’s 3-point turn parking scene! Luckily, our family has previous experience driving down harrowing gravel roads (see my Yosemite post), so we tried to remain calm and go back on course!

Mountain Stream RV Resort

DSC_0071The Mountain Stream RV Resort was the perfect spot for camping. They have 40 camp sites situated around a loop gravel road with a grassy median. A cool, clear mountain stream runs behind more than half of the campsites. We stayed in one of their prime spots near the back of the campsite with easy kid-friendly access to the stream. We loved splashing in the water, walking upstream, and sitting at the campsite listening to the babbling stream.

Despite some big thunderstorms that came through during the weekend, we really enjoyed our time in the Winnie. The girls made friends with the neighbors, rode bikes around the gravel loop, and played in the stream. During the daytime downpours, the girls also had downtime playing cards and watching movies. We tried to go fishing, but big floods from past years pretty much wiped out the fish habitats.

We grilled yummy steak tips, broccoli, and potato wedges one night and chicken quesadillas the other night in honor of Bill’s birthday weekend. For Father’s Day breakfast, I made homemade biscuits with my new pie irons. Though they didn’t rise completely, they still tasted delicious smothered with steak, eggs and cheese. The girls gobbled down the Bisquick Shake ‘N Pour pancakes. When we weren’t eating, sleeping or playing at the campsite, we were hiking.

Tom’s Creek Falls

DSC_0115We spent all day Saturday hiking waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest and exploring interesting places off the Blue Ridge Parkway. First, we explored the Tom’s Creek Falls, located about 20 minutes northeast of our campsite. Tom’s Creek Falls trailhead is about 1.3 miles from the intersection of US-221 and Huskins Branch Rd. This trail is about 1-mile roundtrip hike with wide gravel paths, lush green forest, and spots along the way for splashing in the creek. It’s an easy, shaded hike with gentle switchbacks towards the top. It even has benches near a clearing to rest. Along the way we spotted a lot of mica (from old mining days), ferns, and mountain laurel.

We climbed to the overlook area and then followed a narrow path to the right to access the water. Wanting to get a closer look at the falls, both girls scurried up the rocks (with our help) to the bottom of the falls, reaching an elevation of approximately 1800 ft. The water flows at three different levels before dumping into Tom’s Creek. We loved splashing in the water and being so close to the falls. 

Roaring Fork Falls

07402233-DCCE-443C-B72F-47997007596EAfter leaving Tom’s Creek Falls, we drove about 45 minutes northwest to the Roaring Fork Falls trailhead. Roaring Fork Falls trailhead is located near the intersection of S Toe River Rd and State Hwy 80. Follow the signs for about 1/2 mile until the road dead ends into a small parking lot.

Roaring Fork Falls is a 1.5 mile out and back trail, despite the “Falls .5 miles” sign near the parking lot. With the forecast calling for heavy rains, we booked it up this trail. The trail begins on an old logging road in a heavily wooded forest. The trail is slightly uphill and mostly shaded with pockets of sunlight throughout. After crossing a small wooden bridge, we climbed over roots and small stones to reach the falls. The falls cascaded down several levels creating the large roaring effect.

Ashley and Bill climbed down to the bottom of the falls while Claire and I waited on the trail. The heavy rain caused the rocks to become very slick, so we stayed safe on the trail. After a quick dip in the water, they carefully climbed back to the trail and we all rushed to the car. The rain started pouring heavier on our hike back to the car, but carrying Claire on my shoulders kept my back dry! 

The girls changed into dry clothes at the car and we enjoyed a much-deserved picnic lunch. After lunch, we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and visited the NC Minerals Museum (MP 331) and Linville Caverns. After driving at least 100 miles around mountains all day, we returned to our campsite hungry for food and thankful for nature. Watching, touching and listening to the waterfalls made us appreciate the mountains even more.

Hike Info

Thumbs up: little traffic along hikes, beautiful views, exciting waterfalls, easy family hikes, comfortable campsites

Thumbs down: no cell phone reception (although I’d put this in the thumbs up column)

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: Poplar Point Campground

For our maiden voyage in the Winnie, we headed to Jordan Lake State Recreation Area for a quick 24-hr overnight trip. We wanted to get a small sample of camping while staying close to home. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is located about 30 minutes west of Raleigh off US-64. Whether you’re going for a short trip or several days, Jordan Lake has lots of outdoor experiences and recreational activities to offer.

Camping

A few weeks before our trip we reserved a campsite online with electric and water hook-ups at Poplar Point Campground. The entrance for Poplar Point Campground is located at 558 Beaver Creek Rd in Apex. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is enormous with over 1,000 RV and tent campsites scattered over five different areas. We chose Poplar Point Campground because it has many waterfront campsites available with water and electric hook-ups and a recreation beach at Loop E. We reserved spot 58 at Loop H, which is a back-in spot, like most at the park. The NC State Park registration system is very useful. You can search by amenities, whether you need a pull-through spot, and length of site. Similar to hotel room booking systems, it also shows multiple pictures of each campsite.

We arrived early on a Saturday morning and checked-in at the Poplar Point front gate. The ranger confirmed that we could switch our spot for the more popular first-come, first-serve spots at Loop E if we wanted. Loop E features a beach area, playground and more waterfront sites. But, after driving by our site at Loop H, we decided to stick with our original plan. We were anxious to set-up the Winnie and explore the campground. 

IMG_2418Our partially shaded campsite featured a flat gravel pad, picnic table and grill. There’s a short walk to the water, which we were hoping to use for fishing access, but unfortunately there was more poison ivy than we wanted to dodge. We found another access to the water, but the low-lying trees made casting difficult for the girls. Surprisingly, we didn’t have any neighbors during our entire stay. Though the girls were sad because they couldn’t play with new friends, it also meant they could run around like maniacs without worrying about traffic.

We spent about 45 minutes setting up camp by rolling out the rug, organizing the outdoor food station, hooking up the water and electric, and making sure the party lights hung perfectly. This park (and most state parks) features a dump station near the entrance, which we used on the way out to empty our gray and black tanks. For lunch, we quickly cooked hot dogs and grilled deli sandwiches on the griddle before heading to the beach. 

Recreation Area

4After lunch we headed to the recreation area to cool off in the beach. The recreation area at Loop E features a large sandy shoreline with designated swimming area. The water was refreshing and the boats racing by made fun waves for the girls. The girls loved catching the waves with their inner tubes and building sand castles on the shore. They enjoyed racing into the water and diving into the calm water. Even though the water was a little murky, they didn’t seem to mind.

The recreation area has a narrow forested area near the parking lot with picnic tables and benches. We spotted several fishermen fishing further down the shoreline. We also saw a pontoon boat selling shave ice and snacks on the shoreline. Even though we just missed the shave ice, we watched the boat motor to the recreation area on the opposite side of the lake.

Unfortunately we left several of our beach essentials (beach chairs, umbrellas, sand toys) at home, placing greater attention on our camping items. We bought inner tubes at the convenience store off US-64, which proved crucial beach toys. Despite not having all our regular beach things, we spent over two hours at the lake beach having a fabulous time.

Dinner Camping

IMG_2425After playing at the beach we headed back to our campsite for showers and dinner prep. The girls helped shuck corn for grilling on the fire pit while I made mac n cheese on the trailer range. We grilled chicken sausages, corn on the cob, hot dogs and cinnamon sugar filled apples for dessert. 

After cleaning up dinner we settled in for puzzles and Uno. I also taught the girls how to play the card game, War, which immediately became their favorite game! Once the sun went down, we chased fireflies around the loop and used our campfire to make s’mores. Then, we read a bit of Wind in the Willows around the campfire before tucking the girls into their bunks.  

Though it took the girls a little longer to fall asleep, they slept soundly until morning. Bill and I enjoyed some music around the campfire while listening to insects chirp near the water. Overall, our first overnight trailer trip was a big success! Camping in the trailer was an exciting, but relaxing experience while Jordan Lake offered lots of fun at a quick drive away. 

Thumbs up: campsite space, large beach recreation area, affordable family camping, 

Thumbs down: poison ivy down to the water near campground