Showing posts with label North Carolina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Carolina. Show all posts

Adventures in North Carolina: Ziplines, Foot Golf, Hiking and Mountain Biking

Yesterday I shared my experiences while fly fishing in North Carolina last weekend, and while that was a fantastic part of the trip, it wasn't the only thing I did while I was there. On the contrary, the visit was brief – just three days – but filled with some fantastic outdoor activities, including hiking and mountain biking in various parts of Jackson County, the setting for my trip. And while there, I discovered plenty of outdoor adventures to keep me occupied, but also found that the region has a lot to offer in terms of culinary delights as well.

One of the first things on the agenda upon arriving and checking into the hotel was a visit to the Sapphire Valley Resort. During the summer months, Sapphire Valley offers visitors a host of activities, including a full 18-hole golf course set in the tranquil mountains of western North Carolina. In the winter, the resort switches over to skiing, offering a great place for beginners to cut pick up the skills need to hit the slopes, while keeping more advanced skiers occupied too.

While fall is definitely in the air in North Carolina, we were along way off from anyone shredding on the ski slopes. So instead, we climbed high into the trees to try out the on-site zipline experience. The Sapphire Valley zipline was first built back in 2014, and has since been expanded to 14 different platforms to fly off of. And while the activity will certainly give you an adrenaline rush, it isn't so intense that you can't bring the whole family along for the fun.

The team at Sapphire Valley helped us to gear up and get on the lines as quickly as possible, providing a nice introduction to zipping, as well as providing some handy safety tips too. After climbing into our harnesses, putting on our helmets, and learning the ropes so to speak, we soon found ourselves flying through the trees at breakneck speed. The course is shorter than some that I've done in the past, but the setting was great and it was a lot of fun to be so high up in the trees as the leaves were changing color. I'm told the course is open in the winter too, which means anyone ziplining at that time is soaring above the skiers passing below.

After we completed the zipline course, I was introduced to a completely new sport that I had never seen before. In addition to its traditional golf course, Sapphire Valley happens to be home to a "foot golf" course as well. What's foot golf you ask? Well, it's a new activity growing in popularity in which you try to kick a soccer ball into a suitably sized hole. You keep score just as you would in regular golf, with each hole being rated for par and given a handicap as well. Best of all, the foot golf course runs parallel to the standard golf course, meaning some family members can play one sport, while some play the other.

I only had time to play four or five holes of foot golf, but I can tell you that it was a lot of fun. I'm not much of a soccer player, but after a bit of practice we were starting to get the hang of it. Before long, we were even flirting with par on a regular basis as we picked up the nuances of the sport. In reality though, it was just another great excuse to spend some time outdoors in the beautiful North Carolina setting.

Ziplining and foot golf are fun of course, but anyone who knows me knows that I also enjoy more active pursuits when I travel. That's why I was so happy to see some hiking and mountain biking on the agenda too. For those two items on our agenda we traveled out to Panthertown Valley, a wonderful wilderness setting that is perfect for all of our favorite outdoor activities, including camping, fishing, horseback riding, climbing, and more.

Once at Panthertown we were joined by a guide from Play On Adventures who took us on a short hike along the School House Falls Loop. The trail is only about two miles in length – we extended it with another hike to a nearby beach – but it is incredibly scenic and ends at a the wonderful School House Falls.

Once again, walking in the Carolina woods during autumn made for the perfect setting, as the colors of the leaves helped to set the perfect tone. The warm sun shining brightly through the crimson, orange, and gold foliage made it an ideal place for a walk, and while we only got a brief taste of what Panthertown has to offer, it was evident that it is a spectacular outdoor playground for anyone who lives or visits Jackson County.

Fortunately for us, we had the chance to explore the area a bit further from the back of a mountain bike too. Most of Panthertown's trails are mixed-use, which means you can hike, trail run, mountain bike, and go horseback riding on them too. So, after our hike was ended, we climbed aboard some full-suspension mountain bikes – also courtesy of Play On Adventures – and rode some of the trails that we had also just hiked. Covering that ground again quickly however, we also had the chance to press on into some new areas we hadn't yet seen.

The fall leaves made mountain biking a trickier affair than it would have otherwise been. While covering the ground, the leaves brought a level of slickness to the trail that wasn't quite so evident when walking it. They also covered hidden obstacles from time to time too, although it didn't tend to slow us down too much.

The trail we rode began as mostly downhill, which provided a nice sense of speed at the beginning. But, in order to test our legs some, we did ride up to a stunning ridge that gave us a nice view over the entire Panthertown Valley. From that vantage point – along the Devil's Elbow route – we could see how far this wilderness setting stretched. Once again, it was incredibly intriguing, and provided good incentive for me to want to return and explore it further.

Our long descent at the start of the ride provided a good workout as we made our return trip to the parking lot. As with the hike, the mountain bike ride was far to short, but it as already time to start thinking about heading home. As is often the case on these kinds of trips, I only got a taste of everything that a destination has to offer. Now, I simply want to go back to Jackson County to experience more of it at my own pace.

When it comes to outdoor adventure, the western states in the U.S. seem to get the bulk the attention. Those places are wonderful of course, and are deserving of the accolades that they receive. But, the eastern part of the country has plenty to offer too, with North Carolina being right up there with the best spots for outdoor enthusiasts.

If you're looking for a new destination to add to your bucket list, I think you'll find Jackson County is a great option. There are so many things to see and do there that you'll likely be overwhelmed with the possibilities. Whether you want to go hiking, camping, mountain biking, climbing, or fly fishing, you'll find some utterly spectacular places to pursue those passions. You'll also find plenty of wonderful and outgoing people that are extremely accommodating, as well as a host of declines restaurants, wonderful brew pubs, and eclectic shops to visit too. It is a great mix of mountain lifestyle and urban sophistication. I think you'll find that you'll enjoy it just as much as I did. I can't wait to go back.

Adventures in North Carolina: Fly Fishing the Western North Carolina Trail

This past weekend I had the chance to visit a part of the country I hadn't seen before. The good folks in Jackson County, North Carolina invited me to drop by to check out everything that the region has to offer in terms of outdoor activities. And while I was there for the better part of three days, it was quickly evident that it would take longer than that to experience everything there was to do there. As a result, even though my stay was brief, I'm already thinking about making a return trip to explore the area more fully.

During my travels this year I've been fortunate enough to get the chance to learn how to fly fish in a number of different places across the country. On the three or four occasions where I've been able to try the sport this year, I've come to discover that not only is it a lot of fun, it is incredibly calming too. There is nothing quite like being out on the water, casting your line, and finding yourself completely immersed in nature. So, when I saw that fly fishing was on the agenda I got pretty excited. I would later learn that I had plenty of reason to get excited, because Jackson County is one of the best spots to go fly fishing in the eastern U.S., if not the entire country.

As it turns out, Jackson County happens to be home to the very first fly fishing trail in the United States. The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail was created a few years back, and remains a labor of love for those involved. It was created to spotlight some of the amazing places for anglers to ply their craft, and trail maps are available for anyone who is coming to visit. Those maps share 15 top spots that are found in the area, providing both locals and visitors with some fantastic options.

While I was there, we traveled out to Tuckaseigee River to see if we could catch anything. Rainbow, brook, and brown trout are all found in the waters in this part of North Carolina, and on the Tuckseigee the can often be found in large numbers.

It was a cool, crisp morning when we donned our waders and boots, grabbed our poles and shuffled out into the river. The sky overhead was clear blue, without a cloud in sight. And while the sun hadn't yet climbed high enough to top out over the surrounding ridge lines, it was clear that it would eventually be a warm day.

Our guide for the morning's activities was Alex Bell, a retired school teacher and principal turned fishing guide who has been instrumental in getting the Fly Fishing Trail off the ground. For Alex, the project is something he is passionate about, and he wanders to other parts of the country to share the story of why Jackson County is such a great place to fish. He is also the owner of AB Fly Fishing, which specializes in taking travelers out to the water and teaching them the tools of the trade. In fact, Alex mentioned that the majority of his customers are beginners to the sport, and that he very much enjoys introducing them to the nuances that go along with it.

Wading out into the river, we discovered that its water levels were down as a result of a summer drought in the area. Despite those conditions however, we could spot a number of other fly fishers in the water both up and down the stream, several of whom were routinely pulling in – and releasing – trout.

For anyone who hasn't fly-fished yet, it is tough to describe the experience. Learning to use just the right flies to lure in a fish, and experiencing the zen of the cast, is a lot of fun. There is a skill involved with this type of fishing that you don't find elsewhere, which is why it is such a passion for so many anglers.

It doesn't hurt that the best fly fishing usually takes place in extremely scenic places. Standing in a river, surrounded by trees lining the banks and towering mountains looming overhead can be a powerful experience indeed. It is a different way to connect with nature, but no less satisfying than say hiking a trail or climbing a mountain.

The scenery we found in Jackson County certainly helped to convey that feeling. Visiting in fall – even after peak leaf-season – was dramatic. The trees were still ablaze with bright oranges, reds, and yellows, and while the days were warm, the air felt crisp, letting us know that fall was truly lurking, and that winter is indeed coming. While we stood in the water, tall ridges cast long shadows over us, keeping the morning air cool for longer than it should have been. But, it made the conditions ripe for fishing, and we were eager to take advantage of the time we had out on the water.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to reel any fish in on that day, although some other members of my group managed to catch a couple of trout. That's the nature of fly fishing of course, as sometimes it is action packed, and other times it's tough to even get  bite. Learning exactly which flies work for the conditions you're fishing is crucial, and being willing to experiment can pay nice dividends. But just being out on the water is its own reward too. On that morning, standing in the Tuckaseigee, there was no place I'd rather have been, even though I didn't even get a nibble.

Before we knew it, our time on the river had come to and end. We had a busy schedule for the weekend, and only one morning set aside for fly fishing. That was barely enough to get a taste for what the Jackson County and the Fishing Trail have to offer, but it was also enough for me to know that I'd very much like to go back to hone my skills on those waters further.

It was also enough of a taste for me to confidently share with others that there is indeed great fly fishing to be had in the eastern U.S., and particularly in North Carolina. It is a spot that is more accessible to many travelers than booking a long trip out west, and the waters are well stocked with plenty of fish. Sure, places like Montana, Colorado, and Idaho receive a lot of accolades for their great fly fishing spots – and rightfully so – but Jackson County is a place that should not be overlooked, as it is right up there with the best of them in terms of setting, quality fishing spots, and numbers of fish.

If you're looking for new places to test your skills, or you want to fly fish for the first time, you need to have the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail on your radar. You certainly won't be disappointed.

Find out more about the trail by clicking here.

Video: Take a Hike Through the Highlands of North Carolina

When we think about the beautiful landscapes of the U.S., the western states tend to get an inordinate amount of attention. Those places are spectacularly beautiful of course, but sometimes other parts of the country get overlooked. Case in point, this video takes us to the highlands of North Carolina, where we get a good look at some of the amazing things that state has to offer visitors and outdoor lovers.

HIGHLANDS from Patrick Clement on Vimeo.