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The End of a Perfect Day in the Smokies

Nothing is more beautiful than sunset over the placid waters of Fontana Lake. Photographer Aaron Morgan captured this image with fog hovering over the railroad trestle in the Spring.

You can see more of Aaron’s work at the website and Facebook page.

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There’s More To The Nantahala Than Rafting and Kayaking

Each Summer, thousands flock to the Nantahala River for the adventure of whitewater rafting, kayaking, and such headliner events as this weekend’s ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup Finals — activities that have made the river one of the region’s most popular recreational destinations.

All that happens on the Nantahala’s last eight miles before it flows into Fontana Lake. But on the mountain above the rafting put-in, there’s another, quite different section of river known as the Upper Nantahala. Flowing out of Nantahala Lake — at 3000 feet elevation — the river drops almost 1000 feet before reaching the floor of the Nantahala Gorge. Along the way, it passes through a succession of waterfalls including the spectacular cascades (above) viewable from Wayah Road.

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A Preview of Next Year’s Freestyle Kayaking World Championships

Ever since Bryson City and the Nantahala Gorge were named hosts of the 2013 IFC Canoe Freestyle World Championships, there’s been a lot of buzz about an extreme sport that few of us have actually witnessed. Next weekend should change all that when the 2012 Freestyle Kayaking World Cup Championships come to the Nantahala Gorge.

While smaller than next year’s World Championships, the World Cup is attracting athletes from more than 17 countries and 5 continents. Preliminary events were held last week on the on the Caney Fork River in Rock Island, TN, and on the Pigeon River in Hartford, TN. The competition now moves to the Nantahala Gorge for next weekend’s Finals on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 7, 8 and 9.

Freestyle kayaking has been called the X-Games for whitewater. If you’re entertained by the spins, flips, turns and tricks of freestyle snowboarders, surfers and skaters, or the half-pipe freestyle event in skateboarding, you’ll love freestyle kayaking. Legendary kayaker, “Fearless” Pat Keller described it as “doing a floor routine in gymnastics during an earthquake.”

The event is free. Competition will begin at 10 am each day and end around 7 pm. Spectators can expect shaded riverside seating, live DJ and event announcer. On Saturday, there’ll be special riverside kids activities from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Competition will be followed by free live music on Friday and Saturday evening. Parking will be available in remote lots along Silvermine Rd, with free shuttles driving to and from the event site approximately every 10 minutes.

You’ll find more information on the official website FreestyleKayaking2013.com

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One of Cherokee’s Favorite Attractions is Free

It costs nothing to visit the 200-foot high Mingo Falls. But after you’ve climbed the 161 rough-hewn steps from the parking lot, you may feel that your legs have paid a price for admission. Yet that’s a small price to pay for one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Smokies. At the top of the stairway a short path leads to a bridge at the base of the falls, a safe place to stand and enjoy the view.

Mingo Falls is on the Cherokee Indian Reservation just off Big Cove Road. From the Saunooke Village shopping area in downtown Cherokee, drive north on Big Cove approximately 5 miles (past the KOA Campground) to the Mingo Falls parking lot. It will be on your right, across a bridge next to the Mingo Falls Campground.

On his website, NCWaterfalls.com, photographer Rich Stevenson says the above photo was shot following a heavy rain… a time when all waterfalls are at their very best. It’s a beautiful photo, Rich. Thanks for sharing it with us.

For more about waterfalls in the NC Smokies, visit this page on GreatSmokies.com


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If It’s Not a Tube, Is It Still ‘Tubing’?

For generations of Smokies vacationers, ‘tubing’ has meant floating down the river on heavy black truck tubes, with protective disc seats lashed to the center (and making sure the long valve is on the underside of the tube).

Traditionalists call this ‘real’ tubing. They argue that today’s light-weight plastic floats, while round, are not really tubes. “If it’s not a tube, how can you call it tubing?”, they say.

It’s a searing controversy that’s totally ignored by the throngs that simply enjoy floating down the Tuck, the Oconaluftee and Deep Creek on a Summer afternoon. Tubing is a cool, relaxing and inexpensive activity for the whole family. Want to join in? You’ll find a list of tubing outfitters here.

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A Swinging Summer Afternoon at Bryson City’s ‘Beach’

In the mountains, it’s hard to find anything vaguely resembling a beach. Most river and lake banks are simply too steep and too rocky. One exception is the so-called ‘finger lakes’ area of Fontana Lake where you’ll find a small park with picnic tables, public restrooms and a swimming area with rope swing. Since there are no life guards, you naturally swim at your own risk. The park is on the south side of Highway 28 near Almond Boat Park.

Nowhere else in the Smokies will you find as many different ways to enjoy water as the Bryson City area offers. To learn everything you can do in ‘Mother Nature’s Water Park’ go here.

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Soco Falls – An Easily-Missed Cherokee Treasure

Driving the serpentine US-19 from Cherokee to Maggie Valley across Soco Gap requires a driver’s undivided attention, which explains why so many never notice the small sign that says “waterfall .5 mile” (which means ‘keep driving another half-mile’). UPDATE: New, more informative signs have been installed.

It’s also easy to miss the gravel roadside pull-off with space for maybe a half-dozen vehicles. But that’s where you’ll find Soco Falls, a beautiful double waterfall where two separate branches meet for spectacular 40 and 50 foot drops into a dark gorge.

The short trail starts at the break in the guardrail and descends about a hundred feet over some steps to the viewing platform. Some people scramble down the bank to the base of the falls, but it’s extremely steep and not recommended.

Soco Falls is on the Qualla Boundary about eleven miles east of Cherokee, on your right. Coming from Maggie Valley, the pull-off is 1.5 miles west of the Blue Ridge Parkway, on your left.

The photo is by Rich Stevenson, an Asheville photographer with a passion for Western North Carolina waterfalls. If you love waterfalls, Rich’s website NCWaterfalls.com is a must-see.

For more about waterfalls in the NC Smokies, visit this page on GreatSmokies.com


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Cherokee Trout Season Kicks Off With Prizes March 31

For most of North Carolina’s hatchery-supported trout waters, trout season begins the first Saturday on April. But in Cherokee, where trout fishing is now permitted year’round, the traditional “opening day” will be celebrated a week earlier, with a special tournament on Saturday, March 31.

The Second Annual Cherokee Opening Day Trout Fishing Tournament will give participants a chance to catch $10,000 worth of tagged trout in the rivers of the Cherokee reservation (excluding the 2.2 miles of catch and release waters). Hundreds of specially tagged fish will be stocked in the Cherokee public fishing waters, and when a tagged fish is caught it can be redeemed for cash prizes ranging from $20 to $500 based on the color of the tag. The tournament is open to all ages and for all legal fishing methods.

The entry fee is just $5 – available everywhere Cherokee fishing permits are sold. Of course, registration is necessary to redeem prizes.

You’ll find more information about fishing on the Cherokee reservation at FishCherokee.com. And for information about fishing throughout the Smokies, go to the fishing page on GreatSmokies.com.

Photo courtesy Eugene Shuler, Fly Fishing in the Smokies

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Where Have I Seen That Before?

If viewing the above photo gives you a sense of deja vu, you probably saw the 1993 movie “The Fugitive” in which Dr. Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford) eludes capture by Deputy Marshall Samuel Garard (Tommy Lee Jones) by jumping off a high dam. The scene was filmed at Cheoah Dam in the western tip of Swain County.

Almost all of the escape sequences were shot in the Bryson City area, including the dramatic train wreck which was staged on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad near Dillsboro. Remnants of the ‘wreck’ remain along the tracks and can be seen on the Railroad’s Bryson City to Dillsboro excursions.

“The Fugitive” is one of several motion pictures filmed in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You’ll find complete list of the books, films, music and celebrities with Bryson City and Swain County ties, at GreatSmokies.com

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Deep Creek’s Waterfalls Are Always In Season

Juneywhank Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Now that it’s too cold to swim or go tubing in Deep Creek, that’s no reason to stay away. The area’s three sparkling waterfalls are a treat any time of the year, and you can see them all in an hour’s walk from the trailhead parking lot. Because they’re on the main trail, Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls are the most-visited. But if you follow the short quarter-mile uphill trail to Juneywhank Falls, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful 80-foot cascade, a quiet out-of-the-way spot that has inspired numerous wedding proposals.

Deep Creek is one of the most accessible areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just two miles north of Bryson City. For more information on these and other area waterfalls, visit the Bryson City online visitors guide, GreatSmokies.com. Download a printable PDF map of Deep Creek’s trails and waterfalls.

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How About That? A Parade With Floats That Actually Float!

The Nantahala River’s summer-long parade of inflatable rafts, kayaks and duckies was recently interrupted for an entirely different kind of parade — the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s annual “Christmas in August” parade of outrageous, oddball rafts.

Each year in early August, NOC closes its facilities for a one-day staff appreciation celebration. The parade is the biggest draw of the event, but there’s also a duckie rodeo in the Nantahala Falls, BBQ, live music and a DJ’d dance party. The “French Broad Express” (above) was just one of many ‘floats’ constructed by NOC staffers, each attempting to out-shine the others. More photos

Thanks to Lloyd Brown, of Miami, for this week’s Postcard photo.

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What do fishing guides do in their spare time? Some go fishing.

Two local fishing guides — Ken Kastorff of Endless River Adventures and Nick Johnson of Rivers Edge Outfitters — fish the scenic Little Tennessee River which flows north out of Macon County into Swain County before entering Fontana Lake.

Ken calls the “Little T” one of the easiest places to catch fish. He adds “and you never know what you’re going to catch” While the river may be best known for small mouth bass, there’s also redeye, redhorse, crappie, walleye, carp and even muskie. And in the springtime, there’s a run of trout.

The water is exceptionally clean with no commercial development to spoil the scenery. Wildlife sightings are commonplace, including deer, bald eagles and osprey.

The future is bright for the continued health of the Little Tennessee thanks to the efforts of the Little Tennessee Watershed Association and the Little Tennessee Land Trust, owners of the 4400-acre Needmore Game Lands, which encompasses a 27-mile stretch of the Little Tennessee.  The game lands are managed by NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

To learn more about fishing in the North Carolina Smokies go here.

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It’s not really a ‘swinging’ bridge, but it can be a little ‘bouncy’

Patricia and James Fields of Crossville, Tennessee explore the 275-foot, double-span Needmore suspension footbridge over the Little Tennessee River. It’s one of two suspension footbridges in Swain County. A smaller one spans the Nantahala River west of Wesser.

Suspension bridges were originally built to allow children from local farms to cross the river to catch the school bus in the days before good roads lined both sides of the river. The Needmore bridge is now part of the 4,525-acre Needmore Game Lands, located in Macon and Swain counties and managed by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

To visit this bridge, from Bryson City drive west on US 74 approximately ten miles. Turn left on Needmore Road at Smoky Mountain Jetboats (just before Hwy 28 North). Continue south on Needmore for about four miles to the bridge. The GPS coordinates are N 35.32544, W 83.52328.

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The Nantahala River – eight miles of whitewater fun

A group of colorful rafts emerge from the morning mist. They’ve just begun their eight-mile journey down the wild and scenic Nantahala River.

The first few minutes of a Nantahala rafting trip are rather calm and uneventful, giving everyone in the boat time to get settled and practice paddling. Guides will take this time to discuss maneuvering techniques and teamwork. But just around the bend is one of the most exciting whitewater features on the river — Patton’s Run. And that’s when the fun begins.

For more about whitewater rafting in the Smokies, including a directory of outfitters, visit the Travel Guide to Bryson City and The Great Smoky Mountains.

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In the Smokies, you CAN lead a horse to water

While their horses enjoy the cool water, these riders drink in the beauty of Fontana Lake and the surrounding Smoky Mountains. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 800 miles of trails, and most are open to horseback riding. Water features — streams, cascades, waterfalls — are plentiful, including the massive Fontana Lake with its more than 240 miles of shoreline.

You’ll find more information about trails, Fontana Lake and horseback riding in the Smokies at the Bryson City area online travel guide.

Photo courtesy of James Clark, Deep Creek Boarding Stables

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As Fontana Fills, Fields of Spring Wildflowers Become Lake Bottom

Each Spring, while Fontana’s lake levels are still rising, fields of grasses and wildflowers briefly appear, but their flowering season is short-lived. As the lake gradually swells to full pool, scenes like this patch of Purple Toadflax give way to the rising lake.

Photo by Scot Warf

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Hammer Branch – A Beautiful Little Mountain Stream

Just below the third bridge on the Deep Creek Trail, little Hammer Branch bursts out of the thick Rhododendrons and tumbles into Deep Creek. Writer and Deep Creek historian Jim Casada tells us that this spot was once the home of Sam Hunnicutt, a legendary mountain sportsman and author of the extremely rare book, Twenty Years Hunting & Fishing in the Great Smokies. Casada added “You can still see the yellow bells (forsythia) blooming there about this time of year. Old Sam was a mighty bear hunter. He always wore high boots, thanks to having been snake bitten at some point in his life.”

Click here for a PDF map of Deep Creek’s trails and waterfalls.

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Indian Creek Falls – Beautiful Any Time of The Year

Any time of the year is a great time to visit Deep Creek’s three waterfalls, especially the largest – Indian Creek Falls (above). You can see them all in an hour’s walk from the trailhead parking lot at the Deep Creek Recreation Area.

Deep Creek is one of the most accessible areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just two miles north of Bryson City. For more information on these and other area waterfalls in the North Carolina Smokies, visit the Bryson City online travel guide, GreatSmokies.com. Download a printable PDF map of Deep Creek’s trails and waterfalls.

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Everywhere You Looked, a Picture Postcard Scene

The January 10th snow created an endless tableau of winter scenes worthy of a Postcard From The Smokies …like this view of Alarka Creek, photographed by Faye Bumgarner.

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Competitive Kayaking Is No Casual Float Trip

Best known for whitewater rafting, the Nantahala River is now the focus of a different group of paddlers — the world-class athletes who will compete in two upcoming international events to be held in the Nantahala Gorge. In 2012, a Junior World Cup Freestyle Kayaking competition will be held on the river. And that’s merely a warm-up for the World Freestyle Kayaking Championships, which will focus worldwide attention on Bryson City and the Nantahala River Gorge in 2013.

This week’s postcard, a photo entitled “Cartwheeling” by Erin Worley of Bryson City, captures a paddler performing an acrobatic maneuver  typical of freestyle kayaking. It also captured the third place in the Marianna Black Library’s “Life in Swain” photo contest.

To learn more about freestyle kayaking, visit the International Canoe Federation’s website.

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