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)

Durant Nature Preserve: White House Road & South Lakeside Trail

This past Spring we took advantage of warmer days and met friends at Durant Nature Preserve for easy family hiking (about one total mile), playground time and a picnic at the nearby Compass Rose Brewery. Durant Nature Preserve is a quiet, woodsy park with hiking trails, lakes for fishing, playgrounds, a nature play space, butterfly garden, open fields, great engaging programs, and more. We’ve explored this park several times in the past, and love discovering something new each time. For this visit, we drove to the park’s north entrance at 8305 Camp Durant Rd and parked near the small open field to access White House Road Trail.

White House Road Trail is a wide, unpaved trail in a heavily wooded section of the park. Leaves and pine needles covered most of the trail, and its flat surface made it easy for kiddo running. The kids enjoyed sprinting ahead to find flora and fauna. Most of their findings consisted of moss, sticks, and listening for birds. Then, we crossed over the small gravel path that separates the lakes and turned left towards the South Lakeside Trail. 

South Lakeside Trail is a narrow dirt trail that meanders up and down along the south side of the Lower Lake. The kids enjoyed crossing small streams, finding pine cones, and throwing rocks into the lake. The trail’s gentle banks make it easy for younger children to access the water’s edge. After finishing our half mile hike along South Lakeside Trail, we walked across the lake to the playground. Finally, we finished our morning outing with a quick drive to Compass Rose Brewery for beers and a picnic lunch. 

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: quiet outdoorsy park, easy family hiking, variety of activities to do, easy access to water’s edge

Thumbs down: lacks helpful trail signage

Umstead Park: Oak Rock Trail

In January we headed with friends to Umstead Park to explore the super kid-friendly Oak Rock Trail, which is only 1/2 mile long. This is a great hike for young families or large groups with young kids. The trail has easy access to clean restrooms and picnic tables, and shallow stream access for water fun in the warmer months. It’s also part of the Kids in Parks TRACK Trails program that provides self-guided brochures for outdoor adventures.

We accessed Umstead Park from the Highway 70/Glenwood Ave entrance at 8801 Glenwood Ave. Recalling the mobile map, we drove past the Visitor Center and then parked in the first parking lot on the left. Unfortunately there weren’t signs from the main road directing you to the trail. After parking, we walked straight, following the signs for Oak Rock Trail and Kids in Parks.

Since it was wintertime, the leaves covered the ground making it a little tricky to notice tree roots. Luckily, the girls heeded our suggestion for walking slowly. We zig-zagged over the small creek several times, throwing sticks and stones into the water and looking for tadpoles. The girls also enjoyed hopping on large stones to cross the streams.

Even though the trail is short, we spent extra time listening and looking for birds, picking up leaves, and finding moss. The girls enjoyed looking at the tangled tree roots coming out of the ground near the creek and the fallen trees along the way. At the end of the trail we enjoyed a picnic lunch while the girls traversed a large fallen tree. The nearby restrooms were clean and easily accessible. 

Thumbs up: easy family hike, great for young kids, self-guided scavenger hunt brochure, plenty of picnic tables, creek for splashing

Thumbs down: poor signage to trail from main park road