5 Fall Blue Ridge Hikes: Great Color, No Crowds

If you get the urge to check out fall color in the next couple of weekends, a bit of advice:

Don’t go where the leaf peeping experts say to go.

Their advice gravitates to the easily accessible go-to color hotspots, mostly along the easily accessed Blue Ridge Parkway: Graveyard Fields, Rough Ridge, Price Lake … . Sure, photos taken within the past few days scream chamber-of-commerce-certified color, but they’re screaming it to the tens of thousands of others looking for a quick autumn fix. A fix that can be had without venturing too far from the car. With a classic fall forecast for this weekend, expect those hotspots to be just that in more ways than one. read more

Holiday Adventures with Visiting Family and friends

It’s a common challenge over the holidays: you have family and friends visiting from afar — now, what are you going to do with them?

Take them on an adventure! Or, rather, let us help you take them on an adventure!

We’ve got several outdoor adventures this holiday season that are ideal for getting everyone out of the house and showing off the region’s great outdoor attributes!  read more

Ticks, Mosquitoes, Poison Ivy: Avoid if you can, deal with ’em if you can’t

tick

The following is a post we like to run at the beginning of the warm-weather hiking season.

We’ve made the transfer from cool and budding to warm and lush. The weather is great for hiking — the associated annoyances we face along the way, specifically ticks and mosquitoes,  and poison ivy. 

Here’s a quick look at prevention and treatment for both.

Ticks & mosquitoes

Ticks and mosquitoes are being shown to cause a growing number of maladies, from Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (ticks) to viruses including Zika and chikungunya. Ticks, according to current thought, need to be attached for 24 hours before they become a problem (though removal as soon as possible is best); mosquitoes can do their damage immediately.

Avoid

  • In summer, seek double track trail, especially trail piggybacking on old roadbeds
  • Stick to the center of the trail, avoiding brushes with brush
  • Wear long pants (tucked into your hiking socks) and long-sleeve shirts, especially in tight passages. Yes, we’re heading into summer, but there’s plenty of lightweight clothing out there that will create less of a sauna effect.
  • Especially for mosquitoes, avoid areas that tend to be wet and boggy (remembering that wet and buggy can occur at even the highest elevations),

 

Repel

  • Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Other options: Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD), 2-undecanone.
  • Have the best camping hammock with mosquito net delivered to your house, as an extra layer of protection.
  • Follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.

  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin, which remains protective through several washings. 
  • Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer. Farm to Feet, for instance, now has a No Fly Zone hiking sock that is, says the company, “treated with insect repellent that affects the insect’s nervous system causing ‘hot foot’, making it fly away before it may bite.” Greensboro-based Insect Shield not only makes a spray-on version and treats clothes for major outdoor clothing lines, but you can send in your favorite adventure clothing and have it treated. Prices start at $9.95 for a single item, drop two $8.33 per item for three to 19 pieces, and to $7.95 per item for 20 or more pieces of clothing.
  • Unsure about the best repellant for your needs? The Environmental Protection Agency has an online tool to help you select the repellentthat is best for you and your family (see below).

Post hike

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming off the trail, preferably within two hours.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. If you have a close friend who can assist with the search, all the better. Parents should check their kids for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets.Ticks can ride on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes require washing first, use hot water.
  • If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately

If you find a tick

Follow this four-part removal process recommended by the CDC:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Poison Ivy

ID the plant

Your best bet in avoiding poison ivy is to know what this culprit looks like (see photo) and steer clear — way clear. In general, the vine has leaves that grow in threes; usually, but not always, one side of the leaf is smooth, the other has three serrations. Also, the vine itself is furry: if you see a fuzzy vine growing up the trunk of a tree, resist the urge to pet it. A good rule of thumb is to avoid “leaves of three,” which also covers the poison oak and poison sumac.

Avoidance and prevention

  • Again, do what you can to avoid contact, which includes:
  • Avoid green ground cover along the trail
  • Wear long pants. And immediately upon getting home, gingerly slip them off inside out and toss into the wash.

If you get it …

Even if you only think you’ve been exposed — keeping in mind that it may be hours before symptoms in the form of a rash and really itchy skin — clean the area thoroughly in question thoroughly. There are various recommendations on what to use, including:

  • Soap and water. Preferably a soap with some grit in it to help remove the poison oils from your pores.
  • Hand sanitizer. If you’re on the trail and think you may have brushed up against poison ivy, the alcohol in the hand sanitizer you may well have in your pack should help.
  • Alcohol pads. Ditto the alcohol pads found in most first-aid kits.
  • Tecnu Outdoor Skin Cleanser. Specially formulated to deal with poison ivy oils; keep a small bottle in your daypack if you’re hiking in dense, brushy woods. You can wash your clothes with it as well. Also comes in a scrub.

Treatment

If some poison ivy manages to penetrate your best defenses and you develop the really itchy rash, the more popular treatment options include calamine lotion, zinc carbonate, zinc oxide. Baking soda and colloidal oatmeal are also suggested itch remedies. Calamine lotion, though, is easy to apply (dab a little on a cotton ball and apply).

Learn more

Click on the following links for more in-depth insight into ticks, mosquitoes, and poison ivy.

Wondering whether you really need to take precautions against tick and mosquito bites? Read this sobering piece — “Tick and Mosquito Infections Spreading Rapidly, C.D.C. Finds” — that appeared May 1, 2018, in The New York Times.
Learn more about tick bites from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 
For details on dealing with mosquitoes, visit the Environmental Protection Agency here.
Insect Shield
On EPA insect repellant determination tool
Learn more about more natural poison ivy treatments here and

here read more

Why backpack? Here’s why

Why do we backpack?

We could give you a bunch of words explaining why. Or, you could watch this quick video capturing our latest GetBackpacking! trip, the second weekend of May 2021, to the Shining Rock Wilderness Area of North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest.

If you’re not a backpacker but watch the video and think you might want to be, we have an Intro to Backpacking class scheduled for June 2021. Learn about it and register here.

If you are a backpacker but are just starting out and appreciate a little direction, or you’ve been doing it a while and aren’t keen on the planning, check out our upcoming GetBackpacking! trips here.

Heat exhaustion: recognize, treat, prevent

The following is a post we rerun when the temperatures heat up and we’re suddenly, sometimes unexpectedly, at greater risk for heat exhaustion. It has been slightly tweaked from previous versions.

With temperatures possibly hitting 90 today, for the first time this year, we’re reminded that, while we’ve spent the last several months longing for warmer weather, we need to show it the proper respect now that it’s here. Today we share some thoughts about heat exhaustion: how to recognize it at the onset, how to treat it, and, most importantly, how to prevent it.

Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke which can damage the brain and other organs and can lead to death. Fortunately, if you recognize and treat heat exhaustion at the outset you can keep it from devolving into something much more serious.

Recognize the symptoms

The key is recognizing the symptoms, which include:

  • Confusion
  • Dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle or abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Pale skin
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • read more

    GetOut! Spring weather, with the green of summer

    Confluence Natural Area

    On today’s Morning Walk with Joe on Facebook Live we marveled at the unique confluence facing us this weekend: cool temperatures (in the 60s and 70s) and sunny skies, and a fully leafed-out forest. 

    Typically, when we think of a leafed-out forest in the Southeast we also think of hot temperatures and muggy air. Walking through the Seven Mile Creek Nature Preserve this morning I was struck by the full onslaught of green and the fact that, with the temperature around 60, I needed long sleeves. Spring hiking weather with the visual benefits of summer. It’s the best, and that’s what this weekend is about: the chance to take a summerlike hike in spring.

    Here are 5 hikes we like where the hardwoods will be in full leaf this weekend, but where you won’t build a full sweat to enjoy them. We provide a link to both our guide for the hike and the official website.

    Confluence Natural Area

    Hillsborough
    2.23 miles of trail

    Eno River Association

    Especially along the East Branch of the Eno River it’s a full-on jungle during full leaf season. On a summer’s day the air is still, the lush woods close. Your tendency is to rush this area and get to the more open West Branch, which is too bad because the flora here is so diverse, because there’s so much to see. When it’s cool out you’re much more likely to pause and appreciate. 

    Find our guide here

    Fews Ford 7-Miler

    Eno River State Park, Durham

    7-mile loop involving the Buckquarter Creek, Ridge, Shakori, Fieldstone and Holden Mill trails

    So many stretches where a mature forest can be appreciated on this hike, but our favorite is along the most remote run, along the Shakori Trail. The trail spends much of its time in bottomland forest where a variety of hardwoods stand high. The upper reaches of the Ridge Trail head through rich hardwoods as well.

    Find our guide here 

    Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Day-Hike Section T

    Durham

    4.1 miles (one way)

    From the eastern trailhead off Red Mill Road you’re in sheltering forest from the start. But  bottomland woods a little more than a mile in offer the most impressive show of tall trees and impenetrable canopy. This woods continue to dominate even as you climb out of the floodplain at mile 1.8, follow a bluff, then drop back down at trail’s end, near Old Oxford Road and Penny’s Bend. 

    Find our guide here

    Sycamore Trail (short loop)

    Umstead State Park

    Raleigh

    4.4 miles

    The main trailhead for Sycamore (overall distance: 7 miles) is at the end of the road leading into the park from Glenwood Avenue. But you can get to the heart of the trail — and avoid the crowds as well — by picking up the trail at the bike & bridle trailhead. The heart of the trail: the mile-andf-a-half stretch along Sycamore Creek, which winds its way through floodplain forest. 

    Find our guide here.

    Knight Brown Nature Preserve

    Piedmont Land Conservancy

    Stokesdale

    3.1 miles of trail

    This 189-acre preserve north of Greensboro (pictured at top) is enveloped  by ridges protecting Belews Creek on its peaceful tumble through mature hardwoods, including some especially impressive beech trees. So expansive is the canopy here that it protects the world below like a massive green dome. An especially good Wow! factor: if you’ve got people on the fence about hiking, this preserve will have them hopping down on the side of taking a long ramble.

    Find our guide here

    * * *

    GetHiking! Southeast Podcast read more

    The Campfire (and 5 great places to have one)

    Hunt-fish Falls

    The waterfalls, the mountaintop views, the wildflowers blooming in spring, the trees changing color in fall — all things I love about hiking and backpacking. But what I think I love most — and have missed the most in the past year — is gathering around a campfire at day’s end and simply talking. Talking about who’s having what for dinner, about past trips together, about the simple things … about then Seinfeldian nature of life. The Vicious Circle had their Algonquin Roundtable, campers have their campfire.

    Non-campers believe the purpose of the campfire is to keep warm, maybe cook food. But backpackers know otherwise. Yes, a good fire helps us stay awake past 6 o’clock on a winter trip. But it’s also the nexus of conversation, of talk about anything, and everything, and nothing.

    This week on the GetHiking! Southeast Podcast we share snippets of conversation from ’round the campfire from a recent weekend trip to the Wilson Creek area of North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. Even if you have no idea what’s being discussed, if you’re a camper, the conversation will sound familiar.

    Check out the podcast here.

    And while great campfire discussion can happen just about anywhere, here are the five sites we’ve found most conducive to a good fireside chat.

    1. Hunt-fish Falls 

    Primitive site (1.4-mile hike in)

    Wilson Creek area of the Pisgah National Forest

    Mortimer, NC

    The site where our podcast conversation took place, but the site of many great conversations before it. Located in a narrow valley along Little Lost Cove Creek, there’s an intimacy here that encourages folks to let their guard down.

    More info here.

    2. Standing Indian Group Campground

    Drive-up, Site B

    Standing Indian Recreation Area, Nantahala National Forest

    Franklin, NC

    At 3,000 feet, the nights are cool even in the dead of summer at this campsite along chatty Kimsey Creek. An ample stone fire ring accommodates a sizable fire with seasoned wood available at the campsite.

    More info here.

    3. Little Long Mountain

    Primitive (0.8-mile hike in)

    Uwharrie National Forest

    Asheboro, NC

    Who would guess that one of the best campfire sunsets (and sunrises, if you’re so inclined) to be had is in the Piedmont? Actually, in the Uwharrie Mountains, a relic mountain chain rising more than 1,000 feet in an area where elevations much above 400 feet are rare. The fire pit has a sweeping 180-degree view, from east to south to west (pictured at top).

    More info here.

    4. Dogwood Camp

    Primitive (0.75-mile hike in from NC 101)

    Neusiok Trail, Croatan National Forest

    Havelock, NC

    There’s something bewitching about bering gathered around a campfire in a dense coastal forest. Who knows what lurks beyond the glow cast by your fire, the only clues offered by the chatter of a diverse (and unseen) animal world.

    More info here.

    5. Naked Ground

    Primitive (4.4-mile hike in)

    Joyce Kilmer/Slickrock Wilderness, Nantahala National Forest

    Robbinsville, NC

    A campfire in a wilderness, especially at a campsite you had to work like the dickens to reach, holds a special allure. And in this wilderness, home to some of the oldest trees on the East Coast, the allure is downright primal. The farther from civilization, it seems, the more revealing the conversations.

    More info here.

    Explore the outdoors, discover yourself.