Grandfather Mountain Profile Trail

img_1603Oh, boy!  It’s been a few weeks since I last posted about our trip to Grandfather Mountain: partly because I’ve been busy with other things, but mostly because I’m still wrapping my head around conquering the Profile Trail and Calloway Peak.  Yes, I used the word “conquered” when describing this hike.

On day 2 of our trip to Western NC, we headed with a few friends to the Profile Trail of Grandfather Mountain.  It’s located just a few miles west of the Grandfather Mountain campground we stayed at and is free to visit, unlike the other entrances to Grandfather Mountain and the Swinging Bridge.

The trail length from NC 105 to the top at Calloway Peak is about 3.5 miles and 2000 ft ascent.  We had Ashley in our new Craigslist Kelty backpack for the trip so it took us about 4.5 hours to do the 7 mile round trip.  The first 1.7 miles until you get to Foscoe View is steep, but relatively easy.  In the beginning you cross several streams, which are great for a cool dip.  The trail is very narrow with lots of roots along the surface so you have to constantly be aware of your footing.

img_1621At 2.3 miles you reach Profile View, which offers a spectacular view of the Grandfather Profile. After you pass Profile View, the terrain gets much steeper and harder to ascend.  At 2.7 miles you reach Shanty Spring, which is known for being the “last sure water” spot.  We refilled here on the way back down the mountain as we did not come prepared with enough water.  Shanty Spring is a great rest area offering a lot of shade and a cool drink before ascending the strenuous path of boulders, which lies next.

The boulders we climbed after Shanty Spring were unlike any we’ve climbed before.  Having short legs didn’t help but, nonetheless, even a 6ft tall person would have to raise their legs to their waist to climb these boulders.  It felt like a straight climb for a solid 20 minutes and it was hard to stop your momentum once you started.

Finally we reached the fork in the trail and headed left towards Calloway Peak.  On the way down the mountain half our group headed right to cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which they said was unbelievable!  But, back at the fork in the trail we still had another .4 miles to go to reach the top!  Finally, this part of the trail started to level out and we felt like we were getting closer to the end.  The fir trees were smaller in height and we could see the sky!  Our first stop was at Watauga View, which offers beautiful views of the mountains and valleys.

img_1644Continuing on, we headed to Calloway Peak, which includes climbing three different ladders suspended between large boulders.  It was unlike anything we’d climbed before, but so were the views at the top: the sky was so blue, the mountains so green and you could see for miles.

The hike down was much quicker than the hike up, but took a toll on our knees.  Having a 24lb baby and a 10lb pack didn’t help, but she was an angel for the full 7 miles and even took a quick nap at the top.  Lucky for us, we were hiking with great friends who encouraged us the entire time (had they not been there, we probably would’ve turned around at Foscoe View)!  Reaching the parking lot was relieving, to say the least!  Reaching the Lowe’s Food grocery store and celebrating with corked beverages and grilled double cheeseburgers was priceless!

Lessons Learned: pack at least 3 bottles of water per person, eat a large breakfast beforehand, pack sandwiches for lunch, hire a sherpa for baby

Thumbs Up: beautiful views, photo ops, great exercise, great day trip

Thumbs Down: hiking with baby strapped to your back, always looking down to avoid tripping

Linville Falls & Boone, NC

img_1574For Memorial Day weekend we headed out to the Grandfather Mountain area on the annual Raleigh Jaycees camping trip for some cabin camping.  This was the first time we had ever been to the Boone/Blowing Rock/Banner Elk area and we can’t wait to go back!

We stayed at the Grandfather Mountain campground, which is not on the state park property, but only about 5 miles away at 125 Profile View, Banner Elk.  Being our first year up there (and with a baby), I was reluctant to jump into tent camping so we opted for one of the nearby cabins.  It was a two-bedroom place with a small kitchen, bathroom, living room, and cable TV…basically a primitive hotel room on a campground, but I was happy! All our friends camped at the nearby open field, so we happily mooched off their campfires and s’mores all weekend!

My goal for the weekend was to make sure we had enough fun outdoorsy things to do during the day to keep baby entertained.  I researched a few things ahead of time and got some advice from friends so our weekend was pretty jam-packed, but just the way I wanted it.

On Saturday morning we headed out to Linville Falls, which is about 10 miles southwest of where we stayed.  It is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway and maintained by the National Park Service.  From Grandfather Mountain campground on 105, you follow 105 south, turn onto 221 south and then north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  In about a mile onto the BRP, you’ll take a right into Linville Falls.  Follow the road for a few miles where you can take pictures near the unexciting overlooks and then it’ll dead end into the parking lot for the park.

Earlier last week I found an amazing Craigslist deal on a Kelty 2.0 child carrier.  It was a crucial purchase for this weekend.  We quickly strapped Ashley in and away we started for the visitor center and maps.  Linville Falls has  three main trails – Erwin’s View Trail (moderate), Plunge Basin Trail (difficult) and Dugger’s Creek Loop Trail (easy).  Each one has a few different overlooks to hike to and the map clearly notes the length of each trail, which are all under 1.5 miles.  Being our first major hike with Ashley and the backpack we opted for Erwin’s View Trail.  Here’s a link to a Linville Falls map.

The first overlook we came to was the Upper Falls Overlook.  The narrow pathway of stones led to a large rock outcrop where you had gorgeous views of several falls.  Upstream the river was rather wide and then near this overlook the river narrowed creating a gushing of water down below.  Large rocks lined the downstream falls making the last section of waterfalls look like an infinity pool.

Next we continued on towards the northern most falls – Chimney View (closed due to fallen tree branch) and Erwin’s View.  The hike up there was very moderate.  In general, the majority of the paths were very easily travelled with 10ft+ wide paths sprinkled lightly with tree roots and stones.  At the clearing near the top is where Chimney View is located, which was closed.  There was also a nearby pavilion with some benches.  A little further up the path was Erwin’s View.  We had to climb a few stairs to get to this section, but it was well worth it.  As you look across the river you see the opposite view from the upper falls.  Even though the view of the falls is far away, the mountain views were gorgeous.  We stuck around here for about 20 minutes to let Ashley get out and enjoy a quick snack before heading back down.

After leaving Linville Falls we tried going to Linville Caverns, which is only about 5 miles away but decided to leave it for another trip after we found out that child backpack carriers weren’t allowed.  So, we headed back north to downtown Boone in search of lunch.  Back at VT, our club field hockey team once travelled to App State for a game, but we never had the chance to explore anything besides the football field.  Downtown Boone definitely reminded us of being back in Blacksburg with the local shops and restaurants and college students and families out and about, except downtown Boone was much busier than any summer day we’d ever seen in Blacksburg.  We stopped in at Our Daily Bread and scarfed down some yummy sandwiches and cups of water.

After our fun adventures on day 1, it was time for showers followed by yummy campfire burgers and s’mores!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views, relatively easy hike, photo ops

Thumbs down: get there early in the morning as it gets busy with tourists

P.S. Yay for my one-year blog anniversary!

Boyce Farms

Looking for a way to spend a gorgeous Sunday Funday outside while celebrating the Christmas season?!  Why not pack up the family (don’t forget the dog) and head out to your local Christmas tree farm at Boyce Farms in North Raleigh. Since volunteering here as part of the Raleigh Jaycees fundraiser, I’ve made choosing our tree at Boyce Farms part of our Christmas tradition.

Boyce Farms is a family-owned and operated farm located at 2813 Mount Vernon Church Rd. The tree farm is open Mon-Fri from noon-7pm and Sat-Sun from 9am-7pm.  You can choose from a huge selection of fresh cut fraser firs from the NC mountains or choose and cut your own tree right on the farm.  Every year I’ve gotten a tree from Boyce Farms, I’ve always been incredibly pleased with the quality of the tree.  The tree needles stay on longer, the fresh fir scent lasts through the New Year, and even with our slack watering the tree doesn’t dry out.  The prices are also incredibly reasonable…this year our 7ft tree only cost $42!

The experience at Boyce Farms wouldn’t be complete without the help from the friendly staff.  Once you pick out your tree, they carry it to the tree shaking machine to clear away the few dead needles, cut off any branches near the trunk, run it through the netting machine, and then securely tie it to your car.  They also have a great selection of pine roping, fresh wreaths or centerpieces, tree stands, and more.

The Raleigh Jaycees will be out there again today selling treats and helping folks find the perfect tree, so be sure to stop by and you’ll quickly make it part of your Christmas tradition too!

Thumbs up: friendly staff, quality trees, reasonable prices, fun Christmas atmosphere

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Naylor Family Farm & All Things Halloween

Pumpkins, beer, Hokies & family…those were on the agenda a few weeks ago when my in-laws came into town. After some suggestions from my mommy group, we decided to head down to the new Naylor Family Farm in Fuquay-Varina to visit the pumpkin patch. Before setting out on the search for the best pumpkins, we stopped at Aviator’s Smokehouse restaurant in downtown Fuquay-Varina to enjoy a yummy lunch and tasty microbrews. I would recommend the wings paired with a beer flight while Bill would recommend the Monster sandwich and its four different types of meat with the Oktoberfest.

After lunch, we headed a few miles south to Naylor Family Farm. It’s not the typical “park” I should be blogging about, but it has great outdoor activities for the entire family.  Being new, there wasn’t a crowd on hand so we were able to leisurely take our time through everything. We paid $15/person for a Master Pass to all the different areas. There are different admission passes depending on what you’re interested in doing. They have a large corn maze, relaxing hayride to the pumpkin patch, petting zoo, barrel slides, straw bale playground, and larger pumpkins/fall produce for sale. The family was extremely nice to chat with and excited about their first year of operation so be sure to check them out.  After the pumpkin patch, we headed over to Carolina Ale House with the RTP Hokies to watch the Hokies beat Wake Forest!

With the last weekend in October coming up, I encourage you to get out and enjoy some of these fall activities. Naylor Family Farm is open until Nov 5th; Aviator Brewing Company still has the Oktoberfest, and the Hokies are playing at Duke at 12:30pm! In addition, be sure to check out these other favorite Halloween activities of mine:

Happy Halloween to all!

Weekend Agenda

So, BOB arrived this week! He’s navy blue and black with hints of gray, very sturdy and reliable, and was a complete surprise! BOB is not another BT rescue (2 is plenty) or a weekend guest; he’s my new jogging stroller! Everyone I’ve talked to who runs with their baby and young kids swears by BOB. Despite the price tag, it’ll be something you’ll still be using with kid 2+. So my sweet mom and mom-in-law conspired (on the advice of my husband I’m sure) to get me this early birthday present and I can’t be more excited! We love our current stroller deeply and will use it 75% of the time, but with the uneven sidewalks and gravel trails around here, Ashley looked like she was going to catapult out if I didn’t do a wheelie over every little bump.

BOB allows us to take our park exploration to a whole other level, so tomorrow morning we’ll be heading over to Umstead Park to probably hike the S. Turkey Creek Trail and Reedy Creek Lake Trail. These are ones we’ve biked pre-baby and they should be nice, shady trails for Ashley and the BTs.

But before we head to Umstead tomorrow, we’ll be heading out to Thomas Brooks park tonight at 5pm to watch the 16u and 18u PONY softball championship games.  Today is the last day of the tournament, which was co-hosted by the Raleigh Jaycees and NC ChallengersThomas Brooks park is run by the Town of Cary and it’s a first class softball complex.

On Sunday morning I’m heading up to DC to meet my sisters and friends for the Britney concert…!  While I’m out of town I’m putting my husband on assignment (he’s finding this out while reading now) to explore a new park with Ashley and write about it for next week.  He’ll be so excited!  Happy weekend to you all!

Our week at-a-glance: PONY & Parks

This week I’m doing something slightly different with our park visits. Instead of being a regular patron exploring the parks, I’ll be a volunteer with the Raleigh Jayeces during the 2011 PONY National Softball Tournament. This girls youth softball tournament brings teams from mainly the east coast and Canada to parks throughout Cary, Garner, Holly Springs, and Morrisville. Pool play began this past Saturday, but since I was out of town this weekend, I’m catching up on my volunteering with a few evening shifts this week (with Ashley in tow). The stormy weather in Richmond, VA on Saturday prevented Ashley from seeing the Richmond Squirrels baseball game so I’m sure she’s excited to catch a glimpse of her first live softball game.

PONY Baseball and Softball is designed to “Protect Our Nation’s Youth” by providing experiences in youth baseball and softball that will help young people grow into healthier and happier adults. Since 2007 the Raleigh Jaycees have hosted the tournament and this year they are co-hosting the tournament with the NC Challengers.  Check the PONY website for the tournament schedule of age groups and games.

As a member of the Raleigh Jaycees I get this unique opportunity to volunteer during the girls softball tournament, which is quickly becoming one of the area’s signature sporting events. So, come on out to a park this week, purchase a day pass, and catch some thrilling softball games. You’ll certainly be greeted by folks with a friendly smile and helpful information!

Adventures at Jaycee Park

Oh the Jaycee Park…something for everyone!  As a member of the Raleigh Jaycees since 2007, I’m proud of this park and what it provides to the community. The Jaycee Park was built in the 1960’s and the Raleigh Jaycees were instrumental in helping raise funds by selling targets at the Turkey Shoot at the NC State Fair. Since then it has provided years of recreation for people of all ages.  There’s such a wide variety of things to do here, it’ll take you half a day to explore them all.

If you’re looking for recreational activities, this is the park!  It has 3 lit baseball fields, a large community center, 6 lit sand volleyball courts, 2 lit tennis courts, and a large sandy playground. Next to the sand volleyball courts there’s even a shower faucet for post-game rinses.  The shade trees and benches next to the playground provide great picnic spots. There is also a large recycling drop-off area, community center, administration building, pavilion with charcoal grill and restrooms, and a hemerocallis (daylily) garden.

This park is located at 2405 Wade Avenue inside the beltline and has two entrances with parking lots, one from Wade Ave and one from Chamberlain St.  From Wade Ave, you can easily get to the community center, administration building, and hemerocallis garden.  To get to the recreational areas you can walk up a hill or drive around to the other parking area.  The hill isn’t very steep, but there’s not a paved path so I don’t recommend it with a stroller.

Views of the baseball fields

Tennis courts and sand volleyball courts

Wade Ave entrance, administration building, and community center

Pavilion with restrooms and charcoal grill and playground

Ashley enjoying a shady spot near the playground

Raleigh Hemerocallis Garden and gazebo within the garden

3 of the 50+ different species of daylilies featured in the garden

Brick path that allows you to meander through the daylily garden

A plaque memorializing the daylily gardens in honor of Charles Benjamin “Ben” Huyett

Enjoy your time at Jaycee Park and don’t forget to appreciate how it came to be!  If you’re interested in learning more about the Raleigh Jaycees come visit us at a meeting or better yet…come out to the Beer & Wine Tasting tomorrow night at Tir Na Nog to benefit the HOBY NC East program.

Thumbs up:  condition of tennis/volleyball courts and baseball fields, landscaping, shady spots for picnics, daylily gardens, playground, parking

Thumbs down: Wade Ave entrance, lack of sidewalks near Wade Ave entrance, lack of signage