Nature & Outdoors

Right: Oak Hill Community Park Eco-Cycle Series

Trail Reports: Summer 2024

By CML Staff

Does your family enjoy hiking, biking, paddling and exploring our region of the world? Follow our “Trail Reports” in each issue for some of the latest developments on trails and public lands, and to learn about opportunities throughout the area.

Blue Ridge Conservancy’s Seasonal Hikes

Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) is offering a series of guided hikes through October, including hikes on properties protected by BRC that are not open to the public.

“The hiking series is a great way to explore beautiful places in the High Country that are not generally open for hiking,” said Leila Jackson, BRC’s Communications Director. “It’s also a chance to learn about how Blue Ridge Conservancy works to protect these properties from development, and to meet other people in the community who have an interest in saving land.”

The July 13 hike is a yearly favorite: a guided hike at Old Orchard Creek Farm in Ashe County, capped off with a blueberry picking session. On August 17, hikers will visit Three Top Mountain Game Land—soon to be part of the Northern Peaks State Trail—to learn about sustainable trail building practices and the progress of the trail. On October 12, the hiking series wraps up with a guided hike at Camp Lutherock in Avery County.

These hikes are considered strenuous, ranging from three to six miles in total length. Generally hikes begin at 9 a.m. Due to limited availability, sign-ups for the hikes open the Monday morning after the previous hike on BRC’s website, Directions and hiking logistics will be emailed the week prior to the hike.

If running is on your radar, join BRC on September 21 for the 24th Annual Blue Ridge Conservancy 5K in the Mayview Neighborhood in Blowing Rock, NC.

About Blue Ridge Conservancy: To date, BRC has protected almost 26,000 acres in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina. The focus region includes Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Wilkes, Watauga, and Yancey counties, which contain significant agricultural, cultural, recreational, ecological, and scenic resources. For more information on these and other events hosted by BRC email [email protected] or visit

Foothills Conservancy Presents the Eco-Cycle Summer Series

Oak Hill Community Park and Forest, 10 miles northwest of downtown Morganton and approximately 40 minutes from Linville, is a free public resource for the citizens of Burke County, NC, and beyond. If you’ve been wanting to try mountain biking but don’t have a bike, or want to experience a fun mountain bike outing before making an investment, sign up for a summer eco-cycle tour at Oak Hill Community Park, hosted by Foothills Conservancy and Overmountain Cycles of Morganton. They’ll provide the bikes and riding gear so you can safely try out mountain biking, while learning about the environment around you.

Events will be held on Saturdays, July 20 and August 3, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Highlights include:

  • Expert-Led Rides: Enjoy a guided tour led by mountain biking experts, ensuring a safe and exhilarating experience for all skill levels (especially beginners!)
  • Conservation Insights: Staff from Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina will accompany the ride, sharing their extensive knowledge of the local ecosystem. Learn about interesting plants, diverse forest types, and sustainable land management practices along the way.
  • Interactive Learning: Discover the unique flora and fauna of Oak Hill, and gain a deeper understanding of local conservation efforts.
  • Community Connection: Meet fellow outdoor enthusiasts and conservation supporters, and enjoy a morning of camaraderie and shared passion for the environment.

These events are free, but spots are limited. Please register in advance at to secure your place on a tour. Oak Hill Community Park and Forest is located at 820 NC126, Morganton, NC. 

Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina is a nationally accredited regional land trust that inspires conservation in Western North Carolina by permanently protecting land and water for the benefit of people and all living things. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Foothills Conservancy has conserved more than 68,000 acres in its eight county service area. Information about Foothills Conservancy, including ways to support its work, can be found online at or by calling 828-437-9930.

Catawba Falls Trail Reopens

Located near Old Fort, NC, the popular Catawba Falls Trail is a 3.5-mile easy to intermediate hike-only loop trail. Follow this trail along the scenic headwaters of the Catawba River to a beautiful 100-ft cascading waterfall. Historic buildings are scattered along the trail, remnants of the 1920s hydropower dam that provided power for the town of Old Fort.

Several years ago, the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest received funding for the Catawba Falls Trail to continue improvements for safe access to beautiful Upper Catawba Falls. To complete this critical work, the Catawba Falls Trail was closed through spring 2024. This summer, the improved trail is once again open to hikers and waterfall enthusiasts.

As you visit the falls this summer, enjoy the sounds of the water, the deep green of the forest, and the cool breeze off the cascades—but be prepared for adventure! Most visitors will choose to walk the trail counter-clockwise using the river trailhead to the right. From this point, you can expect to hike:

  • 0.8 miles to the site of the old hydropower dam and its three-tiered falls
  • 1.1 miles to the 250-ft moss-covered lower falls
  • 1.3 miles to the plunging 80-ft upper falls
  • 3.5 miles back to the parking area on the ridge trail with mountain views.

The journey between the lower and upper falls is equivalent to climbing a 30-story building, gaining over 300 feet of elevation in a tenth of a mile. Although the path is safe, the journey past the lower falls is not easy, so hikers with pre-existing medical conditions should use caution.

Major improvements to the Catawba Falls Trail have been part of a long-term plan since the Forest Service acquired the site from the Foothills Land Conservancy in 2006. Over the nearly two decades since the site became part of the Pisgah National Forest, there have been many improvements to the trail and trailhead including parking, restrooms, and trail bridges. In 2021, Catawba Falls was selected as a Great American Outdoors Act project as part of the historic investment in recreation infrastructure on public lands.

The trailhead can be accessed from Catawba River Road in Old Fort. For more information contact the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144.

Hawksnest Invites You to Enjoy Your Favorite “Whitewater Trail”

Now through October, Hawksnest offers whitewater rafting tours on sections of two of the region’s most popular rivers, the Watauga and Nolichucky. Choose from a variety of high-quality experiences to suit adventurers of all ages, sizes, and abilities.

On the Watauga River, expect a great introduction to whitewater rafting. This experience is suitable for families, first-timers, and experienced rafters alike. The Watauga River is dam-controlled to ensure ideal water levels and a safe, enjoyable rafting trip.

Or choose to raft the Nolichucky, a scenic and wild trip that provides the highest level of adventure for families, featuring more than two dozen rapids as the river carves through the steepest, deepest and most remote river corridor around. Known for its challenging rapids, remote and rugged setting, and constantly shifting water levels, Hawksnest’s Nolichucky trip is sure to impress! This adventure is 9 miles by river lasting 4-5 hours. (Minimum age is 9 years old for the Nolichucky tour.) The outpost and meet-up are located at 857 Rock Creek Road, Erwin, TN.

For participation requirements for both tours, and to book your trip in advance, visit Hawksnest also offers one of the top-rated zipline courses in the Southeast. Learn more at

Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail at the 75th Annual Virginia Highlands Festival

On August 3, join the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy and other riders of all ages and abilities for a Creeper Trail Ride to honor “Lawrence the Legend.” One of many festivities taking place during the 75th Annual Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon (July 26 through August 4), this special ride honors Lawrence Dye, who passed away in November 2023 at the age of 91. Lawrence was known as the “Trail Ambassador,” having logged more than 192,000 miles over the years biking on his beloved Creeper Trail.

Lawrence never met a stranger and was the first to stop to assist a visitor or local user with a flat tire or other bike repair on each of his 68-mile round trips. He served on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy, the sponsor of the August 3 ride, for over two decades, bringing valuable insights on trail conditions and his experience as a trail user to the Board’s attention.

Riders will follow Lawrence’s path from the Abingdon trailhead to Whitetop Station and back. The ride will be led by Conservancy volunteer Phil Hoffer, who will guide riders through Damascus to Whitetop Station and back, a 68-mile round trip. The pace will be moderate with plenty of breaks, and mileage can be shortened by joining or leaving the group at various access points along the trail. Participants should bring their own bikes as well as weather-appropriate clothing, water, snacks, and a tire-repair kit. Registration begins at 8 a.m. on the day of the ride, Saturday, August 3, and runs until about 2 p.m. Riders will meet at the Virginia Creeper Trail Trailhead at 300 Green Spring Road, Abingdon, VA 24210

The Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy (VCTC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of the Creeper Trail corridor—a.k.a. the official “Keeper of the Trail.” A destination for visitors from across the U.S., the Virginia Creeper Trail is best known as a biking trail, yet it is a multi-use trail with opportunities to bike, walk, run, fish, horseback ride, people watch, cross country ski and geocache. For more information, visit or email Other activities taking place throughout the 75th Annual Virginia Highlands Festival include a variety of outdoor adventures, history lectures and walking tours, an arts & crafts show, an antiques & vintage market, music concerts, storytelling events, and culinary arts events.  Learn more at

Return to Featured Content on the Home Page >>