Monday, August 1, 2022

Blue Ridge Parkway: Richland Balsam Nature Trail (Blog Hike #895)

Trail: Richland Balsam Nature Trail
Hike Location: Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 431.0
Geographic Location: south of Waynesville, NC (35.36000, -82.98694)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2022
Overview: A high elevation lollipop loop with occasional views from Richland Mountain.
Parkway Information:
Hike Route Map:
Summary Video:
Photo Highlight:
Directions to the trailhead: The parking area for this hike is shared with the Haywood Jackson Overlook, which is located at milepost 431.0 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This milepost is located 7.7 miles south of SR 215 or 12.4 miles north of US 74 as north and south are defined on the Parkway.

The hike: The southern-most section of the Blue Ridge Parkway traces a serpentine route through some of the highest terrain east of the Mississippi River.  One of the highest peaks near the Parkway is Richland Balsam Mountain, which is one of 10 peaks in the southern Appalachians to exhibit the unique high elevation balsam forest.  The name balsam is simply a colloquial term for spruce/fir forest.  The Haywood Jackson Overlook is so-named because it sits on the boundary of Haywood and Jackson Counties, as does Richland Balsam Mountain.
            Located less than 1 mile from the highest overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Richland Balsam Nature Trail comprises a lollipop loop on the south side of its namesake mountain.  This trail stays above 6000 feet of elevation for its entirety, and it offers the Parkway's best opportunity to explore the spruce/fir forest that typifies these high elevations.  Though only 1.5 miles long with just under 400 feet of elevation gain, the high elevation guarantees harsh, wet, and windy conditions.  Also, the persistently rocky, rooty, and wet trail will make for tricky footing and slow progress.  It took me just over 1 hour to complete this hike.
Trailhead at Haywood Jackson Overlook
        The hike begins at a small marker located at the north end (according to the compass) of the Haywood Jackson Overlook parking area.  This end of the parking area is the south end in Parkway geography, which is inverted from compass geography here due to the Parkway's serpentine route.  The trail surface starts as asphalt, but soon it changes to dirt, roots, and rocks.  An interpretive guide corresponds to 24 wooden posts that appear along the trail, but the metal guide dispenser was empty when I came here.
Climbing Richland Mountain
        At 0.2 miles, the trail splits to form its loop.  If you want to get to the best view quickly (maybe because clouds are rolling in), then you should turn left here.  To save the best for last, I chose to turn right here and use the left trail as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.
            Never exceptionally steep, the trail continues its rocky and rooty course up the south face of Richland Balsam Mountain.  Occasional benches provide rest for the weary, and every tree, bench, and rock was covered by a thin film of water when I hiked here on a seasonal afternoon in late July.  The southern Appalachians get over 60 inches of rain per year, making this area one of the wettest in the United States.  Also, although the trail was very passable, some of the sunnier areas were starting to grow in, and this trail will need to be re-cleared in the near future.
Sign at mountain summit
        Just past 0.6 miles, you reach the summit of Richland Balsam Mountain.  A sign and bench mark the summit, but the dense spruce/fir forest precludes any hint of a view.  Continuing past the summit, the trail curves left and begins a descent that is equal in terms of rockiness and rootiness to the climb you just endured.  While I have definitely hiked harder trails, this trail is more of a serious hiking trail than your typical nature trail.
Steep, rocky descent
View from side of Richland Balsam Mountain
        Traffic noise from the Parkway becomes audible downhill and to the right when, just past 1.1 miles into the hike, you reach a small gap in the trees that is this hike's best view.  This view faces south with Pisgah National Forest's Piney Mountain and Hickory Flat Knob visible below.  After a few hundred more feet, you close the loop.  Turn right and retrace your steps 0.2 miles to the overlook parking area to complete the hike.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Mountain View Park in Clemson, SC (Blog Hike #894)

Trail: Mountainview Walking Trail
Hike Location: Mountain View Park
Geographic Location: Clemson, SC (34.70100, -82.83907)
Length: 0.75 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2022
Overview: A short loop with gentle grades and good views across Lake Hartwell.
Park Information:
Hike Route Map:
Full Hike Video:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 76 and SR 133 in downtown Clemson, take SR 133 north 3 blocks to Mountain View Lane and turn left on Mountain View Ln.  Winding and residential Mountain View Ln. dead-ends at the park in 0.6 miles.  Park in the only blacktop parking lot.

The hike: Tucked on the north side of Clemson less than 2 miles from Clemson University, tiny Mountain View Park occupies a peninsula that juts west into the northern-most part of Lake Hartwell.  The park's location in a residential area ensures that only aquatic traffic on Lake Hartwell breaks the serenity here.  The park is owned and maintained by the City of Clemson.
            In terms of amenities, Mountain View Park offers only a boat launch on Lake Hartwell, some picnic tables, a 9 hole disc golf course (reviewed in my Disc Golf Reviews), and the short walking trail described here.  The park's website says that this trail is 1 mile long, but the distance I have given here is more accurate based on my calculations.  While certainly not a destination hike, this trail offers a quick quiet outing in the woods if you have a free hour while in Clemson.
Trailhead at parking area
        A wooden sign
 on the west side of the parking lot that says "Mountain View Walking Trail" marks the trailhead.  The dirt trail enters the forest, which is dominated by oak, pine, and sweetgum trees.  Some large pockets of poison ivy grow beside the trail, but the wide trail makes them easy to avoid.
Approaching the lakeshore
        After only a few hundred feet, the trail curves left and descends gradually toward Lake Hartwell.  The main loop never reaches the lake shore, but several short spur trails take you down to the waterside for great views across the lake.  The City of Clemson appears to the south, and the wooded Keowee Heights portion of the vast Clemson Experimental Forest appears to the west.
Peering across Lake Hartwell
Hiking along the sewer corridor
        Past the spur trails, the main loop trail climbs gradually to intersect a sewer line corridor.  Now near the top of this peninsula's main ridge, the trail runs atop the sewer line all of the way back to the parking area.  The trail ends at the wooden gate that marks the end of the entrance road, and the parking area is just past the gate on the right.