Tag Archives: fall foliage

Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest

Tennessee, North Carolina

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

1,204,847 acres (655,598 federal/ 549,249 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cherokee

Overview

The southern Appalachian Mountains have some of the highest biodiversity in the United States, with more than 20,000 species of plants and animals.  In the heart of this region, Cherokee National Forest is located north and south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee.  Abundant rainfall and steep terrain make whitewater rafting a popular activity, especially on the Ocoee National Wild and Scenic River.

Highlights

Cherohala Skyway, Hiwassee River, Bald River Falls, Ocoee Scenic Byway, Boyd Gap Observation Site, Turtletown Creek Falls Scenic Area, Ocoee Whitewater Center, Coker Creek Scenic Area, Dudley Falls Picnic Area, Watauga Lake, Rock Creek Gorge Scenic Area, Laurel Fork Falls, Bald Mountain Ridge Scenic Area, Unaka Mountains Scenic Area, Doe River Gorge Scenic Area, Backbone Rock, Rogers Ridge Scenic Area, Conasauga River Blue Hole, Gee Creek Falls, Roan High Knob, Falls Branch Falls, Tanasi Trail System, John Muir National Recreation Trail, Margarette Falls Trail, Warrior’s Passage National Recreation Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Cherokee National Forest is celebrated for its numerous waterfalls, two highlights being 60-foot-tall Margarette Falls and 65-foot Benton Falls, both accessible by short hikes.  If you visit during the fall foliage season, popular driving routes include the 26-mile Ocoee Scenic Byway and 43-mile Cherohala Skyway that climbs over 4,500 feet in elevation into North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.  We were intrigued by reading about the Conasauga River Blue Hole, where visitors can snorkel with fish and turtles in the shallows and deep pools. 

Best Trail

On the north side of Ocoee Lake, the Clemmer Trailhead is located right along Highway 30, a quarter mile off Highway 64.  From here one trail follows picturesque Rock Creek Gorge, which is known for its waterfalls.  Mountain bikers can follow several other trails and connect into the trail system around Benton Falls and McCamy Lake in the Chilhowee Recreation Area.  Altogether, the National Forest boasts 700 miles of trail, including a famous stretch of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through the Roan Highlands.

Watchable Wildlife

Large mammals found in Cherokee National Forest include white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, river otters, beavers, squirrels, bobcats, red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, and black bears.  In addition to songbirds common to eastern forests, watch the skies for turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and a variety of hawks.  This area is known for its high diversity of salamanders, including hellbenders and Jordan’s salamanders.  This region also has many reptiles, like eastern box turtles, common snapping turtles, southeastern five-lined skinks, timber rattlesnakes, northern copperheads, and rat snakes (like the one we saw on the Benton Falls Trail). The many streams and rivers support rainbow, brook, and brown trout, while lakes have largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappies.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The whitewater rapids are less intense on the Hiwassee River, which is also followed by Highway 30, the 21-mile long John Muir National Recreation Trail, and a portion of the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail. 

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $3 day-use fee at the Chilhowee Recreation Area and there are likely fees to park elsewhere in this massive National Forest. 

Road Conditions

The scenic byways we drove were all paved, but we found the gravel road up to Chilhowee Recreation Area to be rough and steep, though still easy enough for any passenger car.

Camping

There are countless campgrounds in Cherokee National Forest, but Chilhowee Campground near McKamy Lake seemed nice and provided access to an extensive trail system.

Wilderness Areas

Bald River Gorge Wilderness

Big Frog Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Big Laurel Branch Wilderness

Citico Creek Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Gee Creek Wilderness

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (also in Nantahala National Forest)

Little Frog Mountain Wilderness

Pond Mountain Wilderness

Sampson Mountain Wilderness

Unaka Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (Tennessee)

Manhattan Project National Historical Park (Tennessee-New Mexico-Washington)

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, Table Mountain pine, pitch pine

Flowering Tree Species

tulip-poplar, sassafras, flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, pawpaw, American beech, white basswood, sweet buckeye, sugar maple, red maple, mountain maple, moosewood maple, yellowwood, yellow birch, cucumber magnolia, black cherry, sourwood, pale hickory, mockernut hickory, rock chestnut oak, scarlet oak, black oak, white oak, southern red oak, Catawba rhododendron, yellow birch, sweet bay magnolia, white ash, mountain-ash, mountain-laurel

Explore More – The National Forest’s Ocoee Whitewater Center hosted events during the Summer Olympics in what year?

Learn more about Cherokee and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument

California

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Angeles National Forest

353 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd872458.pdf

Overview

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument was authorized on March 12, 2019 to commemorate the 431 lives that were lost when an 185-foot tall concrete gravity dam failed on the same date 91 years earlier only two years after its completion. The death toll is second in the history of California to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.  Other dams from that time period remain in use as part of the Los Angeles aqueduct system.  Currently, a California Historical Landmark is located 1.5 miles south at Powerhouse No. 2, but there is nothing developed at the actual site.

A detailed historical account is available on Wikipedia.

Highlights

Ruins of dam, California Historical Landmark #919

Must-Do Activity

There are plans to build a National Memorial at the dam, but currently it is a pile of rubble heavily spray-painted by local teenagers.  After its fall in 1928, authorities further toppled the structure with dynamite, bulldozers, and jackhammers to discourage sightseers and souvenir hunters.  The site is located in a scenic canyon where the leaves were just turning yellow for winter during our mid-November visit.  It is less than a mile walk to the site from the unmarked pulloff on the east side of San Francisquito Canyon Road in Angeles National Forest.  The pathway is the heavily overgrown original roadbed that was abandoned after a storm in 2005 and it reeked of urine.  It will be interesting to see how the Forest Service cleans up the area in the future.

Best Trail

There is no official trail, and it is quite a steep drop from the paved remnants of old San Francisquito Canyon Road to the actual rubble pile down at creek level.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The dam disaster site is not much to look at right now, but there are some angles where you can avoid getting graffiti in your photo.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

San Francisquito Canyon Road is paved, but exercise caution as there is currently no sign for the parking areas nor is there a turn lane on this high-speed two-lane highway.

Camping

There are numerous Forest Service campgrounds in the area, with Spunky Canyon and South Portal being the closest to the north.

Related Sites

Santa Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Sand to Snow National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Explore More – How many billions of gallons of water were released when the St. Francis Dam failed in 1928?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Overview

If you did not know there was a National Park in Ohio it is understandable since Cuyahoga Valley National Park was not officially designated until 2000.  It is centered around the historic Ohio and Erie Canal, which opened in 1827 to connect Akron to the port of Cleveland on Lake Erie.  Cuyahoga is an American Indian word meaning “crooked” and you will see why if you walk or bike down the 19-mile Towpath Trail where mules once pulled line boats through a series of locks (be sure to stop at Canal Visitor Center at Lock 38).  If you plan it right, you can take your bike on board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a cheap one-way ride.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Brandywine Falls, Lock 38, Hunt Farm, Everett Road Covered Bridge, Gorge Parkway

Must-Do Activity

In the park’s southern end near Akron-Canton, you will find a great blue heron rookery and beaver marsh along the crooked Cuyahoga River.  In the central section, you must stop to see the cascades of Brandywine Falls (see it depicted below in our original logo).  Closer to Cleveland, discover the Bedford Reservation along Gorge Parkway, including beautiful Bridal Veil Falls.  For a little culture in the outdoors, look up the summer schedule for Blossom Music Center or Porthouse Theatre.  Fall is an especially popular time to visit when the leaves change, but with over 100 miles of trails within the park, there is plenty to explore in every season.

Best Trail

We highly recommend a hike on the two-mile Ledges Loop Trail where mossy sandstone cliffs are cloaked by a dense forest of hemlock and hardwood trees.  Once a popular destination on the trail, Ice Box Cave is closed to protect the resident bat population, but similar spots nearby still offer a chance for exploration.

Instagram-worthy Photo

In the southern end of the park, Everett Road Covered Bridge has been rebuilt to demonstrate this once common construction method.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cuva/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is no official campground in the park, but there are a variety of other lodging options including the historic Inn at Brandywine Falls.

Related Sites

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

James A. Garfield National Historic Site (Ohio)

First Ladies National Historic Site (Ohio)

This design we created to celebrate Cuyahoga Valley National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Who manages the Hale Farm and Village where costumed re-enactors bring history to life?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Overview

Near the border of Kansas and Missouri sits Fort Scott, which like Fort Smith (to the south) was an important frontier military post during the Mexican-American War and skirmishes with Plains Indians.  Several buildings were sold off in 1853, two becoming hotels that catered to pro-slavery and anti-slavery clients when this region was dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.”  During the Civil War, the town became a strategic location utilized to quell uprisings and maintain supply lines.  Abandoned by the military after the war, soldiers returned when settlers opposed railroad construction in the 1870s.  This 17-acre historic site was authorized in 1965 but not established as a part of the National Park Service (NPS) system until 1979.

Highlights

Museum, film, Officers’ Quarters, restored tallgrass prairie

Must-Do Activity

The NPS visitor center is located in the old hospital at Fort Scott National Historic Site.  There are 11 original structures here and you can walk through the well-maintained Officers’ Quarters, bake house, and carriage house.  Posted here 1842-1853 were flamboyantly-uniformed dragoons, who were elite fighters on foot or horseback.  Dragoons knew they were only as effective as their horses, so they took good care of them.  In fact, the horse stables remain the largest building at Fort Scott on the edge of the beautifully-landscaped parade ground.

Best Trail

The site may be small and surrounded by roads and development, but it does maintain five acres of restored tallgrass prairie (utilizing controlled burning) with a short nature trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site is especially pretty in November, when the maple leaves turn red and orange in sharp contrast to the white buildings.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fosc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a city-operated campground about two miles from the fort, as well as several state parks in the region.

Related Sites

Fort Smith National Historic Site (Arkansas-Oklahoma)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)

Explore More – What are the three architectural styles reflected in the buildings are Fort Scott?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Overview

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, with both sides offering incredible views.  The park is similar to Shenandoah National Park in that it was mostly purchased from private landowners before its establishment by the federal government in 1934.  With around 11-million visitors annually, it is easily the most visited of the 62 National Parks in the National Park Service system, perhaps because it has no entrance fee.

Highlights

Clingman’s Dome, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Foothills Parkway, Oconaluftee, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Many interesting sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserve the human history of the region, like the popular Cades Cove with its iconic old grist mill.  To learn more about the Cherokee indigenous to this region, visit Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side.  While there you might also spot a herd of reintroduced elk.

Best Trail

Even on the bumper to bumper Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, all you have to do is park and take a hike to find some solitude.  Grotto Falls Trail passes through old-growth hemlock forest, an area very popular with black bears.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you can imagine, this park is incredibly popular in October and November because of the beautiful fall foliage.  Early in the season, head to 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome, then drop in elevation as the autumn progresses.

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Newfound Gap Road is the major thoroughfare connecting the two sides of the park and it is plowed throughout the winter.  The 11-mile loop road through Cades Cove is open year round, but the 7-mile spur road up to Clingman’s Dome and the 6-mile one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are seasonal.

Camping

There are 10 campgrounds within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but if you need RV hookups you will have to find a private campground outside the park.

Related Sites

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina-Virginia)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

This design we created to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – While most National Parks do not allow dogs on trails, what are the two trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that do?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.