Sunday Hikes: The Homestead Trail at Red Top Mountain State Park

Red Top Mountain State Park is nestled along the shores of Lake Allatoona in northwest Georgia.  The state park received its name from the high iron content in its red soil.   This area was originally mined for iron and you can still locate rocks rusting along the shoreline of the lake.  Nowadays, this state park is known for its boating, cycling, swimming, and hiking.

Whoever Red Top SP has in charge of maintaining their hiking trails does a fabulous job.  They are wide, well marked, and routed for maximum viewing enjoyment.

My favorite trail at Red Top is the Homestead Trail.   This 5.5 mile lollipop trail covers much of the park’s geography and provides a great workout as well.   The trail begins at the Visitor Center and for the first 1/2 mile mostly drops in elevation.  This trail uses yellow blazes and has frequent mile markers and signs.  At the bottom of the initial descent, the trail briefly joins the Sweet Gum Trail but after a hundred yards or so kicks off to the left where it ascends the ridge line.  

The top of this ridge is often empty of hikers as it is skipped by many because it follows a creek on the far side of the ridge and rejoins the Sweet Gum Trail near where it initially departed from it.  The two trails run together again for approximately 1/4 mile until the Lodge Road is crossed when the Sweet Gum trail abruptly veers off to the right.  

Almost immediately after the trails diverge, you come upon the 3.5 mile loop portion of the trail.  The scenery and wildlife sightings in this area ramp up as well.  While hiking this trail yesterday the knocking of woodpeckers accompanied me as I repeatedly surprised deer along the trail. 

I normally go left here at the loop which gets the biggest hill out of the way and saves the gorgeous lakeshore for the return trip.  The trail throughout the loop rises and falls repeatedly, but with no sustained incline or descent.  This results in a consistent high heart rate and fresh views around every corner.

The lakeshore area of the loop is my favorite as the emerald green waters lap the shore beside me for over a mile.  Once you complete the loop you cross Lodge Road and follow the lollipop stick portion of the trail back to the Visitor Center.  For variety if you want to see new terrain you can take the Sweet Gum Trail veer just before the Lodge Trail.  This will quickly lead to the Lodge parking lot which if you cross in a straight line you will pick back up Sweet Gum and can follow this around to the opposite side of the Visitor Center.  This doesn’t really add any mileage to the length of the hike but does give you a feeling of having seen most of the state park.

One of the nice things about hiking in this area in August is that the muscadine vines are dropping their fruit everywhere.  Muscadines are a native grape to this area and at ground level look like thick woody vines that climb the trees.  The variety most common at Red Top is a sub variety called a Scuppernong which is green and has a very thick skin.  I think the deer must be having a field day vacuuming these up.
A couple of housekeeping notes before I leave you.  Red Top does use an honor system based $5 parking fee.  Also, since Lake Allatoona is a Corps of Engineers lake, be forewarned that they drain it every winter.  There is no drinking water along the trail but there is a place to fill bottles at the Visitor Center and of course if you have a Lifestraw you could fill from the lake or creeks.  

I hope you get to enjoy this trail sometime and thanks for reading.  rk

Sunday Hikes: Cloudland Canyon State Park Waterfalls Trail

Cloudland Canyon State Park in northeast Georgia is a great place for a day trip or weekend camping trip from Atlanta or Chattanooga. The aptly named Waterfalls Trail takes you to the parks two largest waterfalls, Cherokee and Hemlock falls. The trail is only 2.1 miles round-trip but is also entirely a steep stairway descending into the canyon so going back up will wipe you out. About half a mile in you will reach the 60 foot Cherokee Falls. Cherokee drops into a large pool before turning back into the small Sitton’s Gulch Creek. 

A little over half a mile later you will reach Hemlock Falls. Hemlock is 30 feet taller than its upstream partner and splashes down onto the rocks below. Though Hemlock is more impressive it’s view is somewhat obstructed by a large tree and a giant boulder that can’t help but make you  question where such a large rock fell from.

 A lot of people try to get a better view by leaving the platform and getting closer to the Falls but you have to walk past multiple signs warning you to not leave the trail so you should probably not do this. The trail continues past Hemlock Falls and turns into the Sitton Gulch Trail but most people turn back up towards the canyon’s rim. The hike won’t take you more than an hour and gives you two beautiful waterfalls to enjoy as well as a bit of a workout on the way back up! Whether you live nearby or are traveling by I’d say that Cloudland Canyon is worth the visit for sure! 

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: ┬áThe Ubehebe Crater Trail

If you follow Scotty’s Castle Road north of the main junction of Death Valley National Park, after 33 miles you will arrive at Ubehebe Crater.  This is also where the paved road ends and if you have 4 wheel drive you can continue on to the Racetrack where you can see that mysterious occurrence of rocks that move by themselves.

However that is a story for another day.  On this fine day, along with fellow Bighornblog contributors Josh and Anya we were preparing to hike the Ubehebe Crater Trail. It was mid morning and being Death Valley, the temperature was rising quickly along with the sun in the blue sky scattered with wispy white clouds.

The Ubehebe Crater trail is a 1.5 mile loop trail that surrounds the namesake crater which is of volcanic origin.  The trail is dry black sand and only has 500 feet of elevation change.  This area is arid, treeless and bleak.  However, the views are expansive and the crater is impressive.  We went right which takes the elevation change head on.  After conquering the small incline, also to the right is the Little Ubehebe Crater Trail which adds .7 miles to make a total distance traveled to 2.2 miles.  

We took the side trip around Little Ubehebe and rejoined the main trail.  On the opposite side of the main crater we stopped to rest and indulge in some Clif Bars.  Behind us was an impressive looking canyon.   We continued around the loop and quickly arrived back at the rental car and lamented our lack of 4 wheel drive.

Ubehebe Crater is a quick fun hike.  This area is very different than the Badwater Basin area and worth the drive up here.  Have you hiked this trail?  I’d love to hear your impressions of this area of Death Valley NP in the comments.  


Sunday Hikes: Sandia Cave Trail

Just east of Albuquerque sit the Sandia Mountains, rising up to twice the height of the city. Every time I have visited Albuquerque I have wanted to go and explore the mountains and on our last trip to New Mexico I finally got to! We entered the Sandia Mountains area going south on 165 which is a dirt 4wd road halfway through the mountains before turning to a paved highway by Sandia Crest (the tallest point in the range). Somewhere along the road we found a small parking lot for the Sandia Cave Trail and decided to check it out! 

The trail was pretty short but gained a good bit of elevation for being less than a mile long. At the end of the trail we came to a small spiral staircase on the side of a cliff that took us up to the cave. The stairs didn’t really feel safe but we didn’t die so I guess they were a little safe. 

At the top of the stairs there is probably ten feet before you hit a waist high brick wall that we climbed over to get into the cave. We didn’t expect to go crawl in the cave so we only had one head lamp and our phone lights with us but thanks to some firefighters at the entrance we were encouraged to go check it out. The cave is very dry and extremely dusty but is a nice cool escape from the New Mexico heat. The end of the cave was probably half of a mile tops from the entrance and we crawled on our bellies or hands and knees most of the way. After crawling to the end and back we emerged looking like Oompa Loompas from all the orange dirt and dust in the cave. We headed back to the Jeep and continued on with our day covered in orange dirt! 

Despite the trail being nothing this hike is really cool and unique compared to any other trails I’ve done. This is the only easily accessible cave I know of in a national forest that is so unregulated. There wasn’t a single warning sign about cave ins or all the dust you will inhale in the cave. I would recommend this trail to anyone unless your claustrophobic and I want to do it again already! 

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: ┬áThe Trails of Capulin Volcano National Momument

There are 5 trails at the Capulin Volcano National Monument in the northeast corner of New Mexico.  Josh and I had arrived into the area later than we expected due to losing a serpentine belt in nearby Clayton NM.  The National Monument had closed but you could still drive in to the visitor center area.  We decided that we would knock out one trail before dinner (we camped nearby) and then come back in the morning.

We decided to do the Lava Flow Trail which is an easy one mile loop plus an overlook.  The lava fields here meet with the prairie and are overgrown with grass and rich with wildlife.  We saw rabbits and turkeys on this quick loop.  Josh took advantage of the opportunity to climb some lava rocks as well.

The Lava Flow Trail

To the Sierra Grande Overlook 

Josh taking wildlife pictures 

Josh climbing lava rocks 

Close up view of lava rocks

After dinner and we hoped some stars (but we slept too hard to get up to see them), we woke early.  The sun was already rising and we returned to the National Monument to complete the hikes.   We quickly knocked out the Nature Trail which was designed for kids and departed for the Boca Trail.  It’s trailhead was located near the picnic area headed up the road towards the summit of the volcano.  The Boca trail was a 2 mile loop that was mostly well marked.  It passed a couple of collapsed lava tubes, an overlook, and an abandoned rock fireplace.  We saw deer everywhere and greatly enjoyed the trail.  

The Boca Trailhead

Collapsed lava tube 

Are we watching the deer or are they watching us?

Not sure the backstory of this rock fireplace along the Boca Trail

After returning to the trailhead, it was about 715am and the road to the top of the volcano (which is where the remaining trailhead are located) was closed until 830am.  We decided since we were partially up the summit road we would continue up the road to the top.  After what I estimated at 1.5 miles we finally came to the summit.  The Crater Rim trailhead is here.  It is a 1 mile loop around the crater at the top of the cinder cone.  The magnificent views from up here were visible for 360 degrees around you.  The wind was blowing heavily and the sun shining brightly and bathing us in its warmth.  The .2 mile Crater Vent Trail to us to the bottom of the crater where the lava chute was filled with lava rocks and according to the many signs, rattlesnakes.

The Crater Rim Trail

Trail Map

View from the summit of Capulin Volcano

View of Little Capulin cinder cone from the summit of Capulin Volcano 

As we began our descent, cars started to arrive up the road as it had finally opened.  Going down the road was much quicker and easier and we were at the bottom where our jeep was parked at the visitor center.  We had completed approx 7.2 miles hiking and greatly enjoyed our time at Capulin Volcano.  I encourage you to visit as well.  rk

Sunday Hikes: Jenny Lake – Inspiration Point

The Teton mountain range stretches for 40 miles and shoots thousands of feet straight up from the ground. It is one of the most impressive mountain ranges I have ever seen with the Grand Teton (the tallest mountain in the range) reaching 13,776 feet above sea level. We began our first hike in Grand Teton National Park at the south end of Jenny Lake. The Jenny Lake trail makes a loop around the lake with a side trail going into Cascade Canyon. We planned to go left (the shorter way) and up into the canyon to Inspiration Point. Unfortunately the section of the trail we had planned to hike was closed due to construction (and snow) so we had to take the long way around doubling the length of our hike. So we set off to reach Inspiration Point. The trail around Lake is fairly flat and follows alongside a scenic drive for most of the trail. 

It was an easy hike despite downed trees and large piles of snow still surviving into summertime. The views from the trail are beautiful with the trees making a natural framing for the mountains in some places and Jenny Lake sparkling blue in the sun. 

After about 2 miles the trail leaves the lake behind to follow a beautiful creek up towards the north Jenny Lake parking lot. 

Once we reached the parking lot there was a cool bridge that crossed the creek and the trail headed back towards the lake and into he mountains. There were a lot of new growth woods in this section of the hike giving us unobstructed views of the Tetons. Right where the creek flowed into the lake we spotted our first ever Marmots running around in the brush. We stopped to take pictures and they seemed unbothered by us completely. One Marmot a little further down the trail even seemed like he was posing on a rock for us. 

Along the way we saw loads more Marmots before trail started upwards a little more and into thicker woods. We soon reached the spur of the trail that lead up to Inspiration Point where half of us decided to turn back and half continued on up into the canyon (Me, Dad, Whit, and two year old Hasten on my back). The trailed gained elevation fairly quickly from this point and soon the entire trail was covered in snow. It was amazing how much snow was there in early summer and it even got so bad I considered putting my microspikes on so I didn’t slip down the mountain (the only reason I didn’t put them on is because I foolishly left them in the car). Somewhere along the way the trail became lost under all the snow and with the help of a few footprints and some fellow hikers we made our way over some fallen trees and into a large snowy opening with a beautiful view of the lake and the Grand Teton looming above our heads. 

It felt as if we had climbed way higher than we actually did but we excitedly decided this was where we wanted to be (partly because we couldn’t find the trail in the snow and partly because it felt like the perfect spot). We let Hasten play in the snow and throw snowballs while we took pictures and made coffee on a nice large rock. There was a very cool waterfall up on the cliffs above us that I wish we could have gotten closer to but without any snow gear at all it was hard to make it up the steep slope. We made our coffee and headed back towards the parking lot where the rest of our family waited for us. We slid down the snow most of the way back which was so much fun. Once we reached the loop trail where there was no more snow we went as fast as we could to get back while on the lookout for a moose that somehow evaded us despite everyone else on the trail telling us they saw it. We reached the parking lot as it began to rain and excitedly told the rest of the family about our adventure before all hopping in the car to eat dinner. This hike is one of my favorite hikes I’ve done and I can’t say I’ve ever had coffee in a more perfect setting. There is nothing like being up on a mountain enjoying nature and coffee. 

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: The Tower Trail at Devil’s Tower National Monument

The Tower Trail is the 1.3 mile loop trail through ponderosa pine forest around Devil’s Tower.  After being cooped up in the car for much of the day driving across Wyoming, I was very excited to hike this quick and easy trail.  

The trailhead is right at the visitors center.  After a walk of a few hundred feet, you come to the rock scramble at the base of the tower.   This is where everyone wants to take their pictures of Devil’s Tower.  Apparently it is acceptable to climb through the rocks to the base of the tower.  With a permit you can climb to the top as well.  

We took the right fork of the paved trail and started our journey around the tower.  There are some minor elevation changes but nothing to worry about.  The views of the tower from each side are slightly different so it was good to go around.  We saw climbers on the backside and that is what really made me appreciate the size of Devil’s Tower.  They looked like specs about 1/3 of the way up the 867 foot tall volcanic rock formation.

As we followed the trail around, we ran into a few deer along with passing several prayer cloth bundles left by native Americans.  

This was a very enjoyable trail and I recommend completing it during your visit to Devil’s Tower.  Also set aside some time to check out the visitors center and climb some rocks during your visit.  Thanks for reading.  rk