|From Caesar's Head State Park, just north of Greenville|
The Cajun and I are enthusiastic hikers, but sometimes it's difficult to overcome inertia and get our posteriors on the trail, so we haven't been going out nearly as often as we'd like. Fortunately, when my parents come to visit, my mother wants to get OUT and SEE THINGS, so we discovered a couple of state parks while they were here right after Christmas. Caesar's Head and Jones Gap are right next to each other, about 45 minutes north of Greenville, and we visited Caesar's Head first (mostly because it had more geocaches, about which I have spoken before). While perusing the list of hiking trails in the park, we all saw the magic word: "waterfall."
Now, my parents love to hike and are perfectly happy to go wander in the woods just for the sheer pleasure of being outside, but I prefer a bit of a payoff to my hikes. It doesn't have to be huge, but a nice view or watchtower or picnic spot does provide a bit of added incentive to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I love a good waterfall. So when we saw a trail labeled "Raven Cliff Falls Trail," we all immediately said, "That one." It turned out to be a good pick, too; a good two+ miles (each way) of wandering up and down the side of the mountain, strenuous-but-not-too-strenuous, with great views peeking out through the trees periodically. And finally, a brief climb to a shelter overlooking a gorge, and... our payoff.
|Raven Cliff Falls|
Pretty, no? There is a series of trails that will get you over to the falls itself, but it was four times the distance, the trails were all rated "very strenuous," and we were getting tired enough as it was, so we enjoyed the view we had.
The cool thing is that there are views like this all over the place up in the foothills! On the way up the mountain, we stopped off at a scenic overlook to grab a couple of geocaches, and found this:
|Looking south towards Greenville*|
And there's a series of short trails right around the ranger station where you can see things like this:
|I wonder if I could rappel down that?|
We had so much fun with Mom and Dad that we decided, since the weather has been so fabulous this week, that we'd visit the other side of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, and head to Jones Gap State Park, which is next door to Caesar's Head. Where Caesar's Head is up a very twisty series of roads near the top of a mountain, Jones Gap is at the bottom of a valley, next to a stunningly beautiful stream.
|We got to follow this for the first mile or two. Heaven.|
Again, we were seduced by the word, "waterfall," and thus discovered one of our favorite hikes ever: the Rainbow Falls trail. It starts off nice and level along the floor of the valley**, and then, alas, heads UP in a series of switchbacks that had us both gasping and grabbing for the water bottles. Fortunately, there were lots of things to distract us, which is why I love this trail so much. In addition to Rainbow Falls itself, there were at least 4 other falls on the way, plus 6 or 7 bridges (all different), and lovely views as we wound our way around and up.
|A neat bridge. Sturdier than it looks, fortunately.|
|The trail ascends.|
|A view. And a nice place to stop and sit for a few.|
I must admit that the final half mile of this hike seemed to go on FOREVER; we could see the top of the mini-mountain we were on, and we could hear (what we hoped was) the waterfall, but the trail kept going up and up and up and...
And then we came around the corner and saw this:
Rainbow Falls is GORGEOUS, and two things made it even better. One, we've had a lot of rain this week, so the water level was pretty enthusiastic, and Two, it was pretty cold up in the mountains, so there was ice all over the place, making it even more spectacular than it would have been. As you can see, we weren't the only people there, but it was fun to watch everybody scrambling over the rocks and gaping at the scenery and trying to keep their dogs out of the water.
|All that white stuff? Ice. SO COOL.|
|There's a nice view looking downhill, too.|
I'm very much looking forward to doing this hike again in the spring; the bottom of the valley is covered in rhododendrons, and the slopes on the way up are covered in mountain laurel, so this place is going to be stunning when they bloom. Besides, I want to go back when it's warmer so I can stick my feet in all the little pools and streams on the way. They were so tempting, but when there's ice on the rocks, it probably isn't such a great idea.
Our next goal is to hit the new REI store in Greenville and get a couple of hiking sticks and (possibly) a new pair of hiking boots for me. My current, rather elderly, ones have no ankle support, and, after yesterday, everything below my knees is rather tired and grumpy. Still, we have lots more parks to explore, and more exercise to get if we want to be able to keep up with my parents the next time they visit!
*Yes, that's graffiti on the rock. Kind of sad to see, but, on the other hand, it's a HUGE slab of granite, and there's "artwork" all over it, which is rather impressive. Ron Paul supporters, in particular, seem to be quite artistic.
|A very large canvas. This is only about 25% of what's there.|
** "Level" being a somewhat flexible term. There wasn't much change in altitude, but the footing was rather treacherous.
|Is that the stream? No, it's the trail. Sore ankles ensued.|