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The Blue Ridge Outdoor Bucket List

No, not all of us are going to jump off a bridge, or even leap off a zip-line stand. And hiking 1,000 miles or running 20 miles of whitewater isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either. But between those fairly extreme undertakings and, well, a cup of tea is a mountain region full of some kind of outside adventures for just about all of us. C’mon along. . .

As the first sprigs of spring arrive in the atriums of Alabama and the gardens of Georgia, ambitious, hopeful  hikers are lacing up their boots to start north from Springer Mountain, Ga., toward Mount Katahdin in Maine – a 2,100-mile walk on the Appalachian Trail.

And what better year than 2012 to start scratching off your own long-overdue dreams and turning your Outdoor Bucket List into reality: From wild to mild, here is a primer of places to see and awesome activities to get you moving and grooving to the beat of the Blue Ridge.

1: Run A Zip Line

Nothing equals escape like hanging by your hands and casting yourself atop the world, strapped to a zip line, the wind whipping your face and your feet flapping at the end of weightless legs … Well, whew! You can now find several scattered across the mountains. Among them:
• Beanstalk Journey: a kid-friendly zip line connecting a labyrinth of tree houses at Morganton, N.C. 828-430-3440, thebeanstalkjourney.com
• Big Woods Zip Line and Canopy Tours: Zip through trees at Boonville, N.C. 336/409-3211,
bigwoodszipline.com
• Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours: Soar above a lake in South Carolina’s upstate. 864-482-0164.
• Hawksnest: Ride in winter above snow-tubers at Seven Devils, N.C., and over creeks and through trees. 800-822-4295, hawksnestzipline.com
• Screaming Ziplines: Ride and scream at Zionville, N.C. 828-898-5404, screamingziplines.com

2: Climb a Sheer Rock Face

Overcome fear – and have fun – by clinging to a cliff. Here are some ideas:
• Cherokee Rock Village: Bluffs overlook Weiss Lake near Leesburg, Ala.; can be climbed or simply admired. 256-927-8455. cherokee-chamber.org
• Table Rock State Park: Climbing available by permit in fall months on the southeastern face of Table Rock Mountain, in Pickens, S.C. 864-878-9813
• Whiteside Mountain: Cliffs rise as much as 750 feet, in North Carolina’s Highlands District of the Nantahala National Forest. 828-652-2144.

3: Take a Serious Hike

Put all your troubles in your old backpack and hike, hike, hike! Here’s a sample:
• Allegheny Trail: Travel a 330-mile (mostly completed) corridor from Pearisburg, Va., to the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border. wvscenictrails.org
• Appalachian Trail: Try tackling only the Virginia portion of the famous National Scenic Trail, and you will have covered about one-fourth of the entire route, going more than 550 miles from just below Damascus at Sullivan County, Tenn., to the West Virginia line, at Harpers Ferry. appalachiantrail.org
• Grandfather Mountain: Trails range from gentle walks to navigating rugged terrain by ladders and cables at this classic destination, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina’s High Country. grandfather.com
• Mountains to Sea Trail: About half of the 1,000 miles are built of this trail connecting Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge at North Carolina’s Outer Banks. ncmst.org

4: Take On a Serious Dang River

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: Raft guides always seem to say that the name of the watercourse they are guiding you down is really a Native American word meaning “river of death.” But never mind that. Just make sure you know what you’re doing, and grab an experienced guide. Here are a few possibilities:
• Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area: Take on the challenges of Double Falls Rapids, Washing Machine and The Ell at this must-see destination on the Cumberland Plateau of Kentucky and  Tennessee. 606-376-5073, nps.gov/biso/index.htm
• Breaks Interstate Park: Water releases in October make whitewater runs available on the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River at the Virginia-Kentucky border, near Haysi, Va. 276-865-4413, breakspark.com
• Gauley River: This watercourse boasts Class V rapids in West Virginia, dropping 668 feet through 28 miles of rugged terrain. 304-465-0508, nps.gov/gari/index.htm
• Nantahala Outdoor Center: This North Carolina-based outfitter celebrates 40 years of rafting trips in 2012, with trips now available on rivers called Ocoee, Chattooga, French Broad, Cheoah, Pigeon, Nolichucky – and, of course, the Nantahala. 888-905-7238, noc.com

5: Find a Lover and Take a Leap

Well, wait. Let’s not get hurt when you approach a Lover’s Leap. But, for sure, there are plenty of Lover’s Leaps in the mountains of the South, all places where, as the legend goes, a pair of lovebirds decide leaping into the afterlife together is better than sticking around here. Want to find one? Jump below:
• Cumberland Narrows: a landmark of western Maryland on Wills Mountain, above Alternate U.S. 40
• U.S. 58: an overlook in Patrick County, Va., between Stuart and Vesta.
• Natural Bridge State Resort Park: Kentucky boasts a beauty of a cliff at Slade. 606-663-2214.
• Natural Tunnel State Park: A scenic cliff near the Natural Tunnel of southwest Virginia is called Lover’s Leap. 276-940-2674.

6: Jump off a Really Big Bridge

Celebrate the beauty of West Virginia’s New River Gorge by taking a leap during the Annual Bridge day on Oct. 20, 2012, in Fayette County, W.Va., on the 876-foot-tall New River Gorge Bridge. officialbridgeday.com

7: Three Sports at One Time?!

OK, the workouts are over: It’s time for a triathlon. Here, sample some:
• Escape to Blue Ridge: held July 22, 2012 at Lake Blue Ridge Marina in Blue Ridge, Ga.,
trithemountains.com
• Mountain Empire Challenge: competitions in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee. mtempirechallenge.com
• Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon: held May 5, 2012 at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Huddleston, Va. commonwealthgames.org

8: Roll in the Grass of a Mountaintop Bald

Nothing says spring like jumping into a patch of grass and rolling to your heart’s content. Just as well, what’s greater than finding your own sound-of-music moment and shouting to whoever hears you? Great grassy points are scattered far and wide on mountains. Check out these for whatever your mood fancies:
• Dolly Sods Wilderness: West Virginia’s gorgeous jewel combines a rocky, high-altitude plateau with wind-sculpted boulders and grass meadows.
• Max Patch: Enjoy 360-degree views along the North Carolina-Tennessee border along the Appalachian Trail, near Hot Springs, N.C.
• Roan Mountain: A bald of 1,000 acres atop Roan Mountain covers the peaks called Round Bald, Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge Bald at the Tennessee-North Carolina border, near Ga. 143.

9: Fly Fish Five Great Rivers

Many of the South’s best trout streams are in the mountains – from picturesque creeks like Whitetop Laurel near Damascus, Va., to rampaging rivers like the Chattooga, where 1972’s “Deliverance” was filmed. Cast your line:
• Chattooga River: flows at the tri-state corner of Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.
chattooga-river.net
• Jackson River: fishing above Virginia’s Lake Moomaw. vatrout.com
• South Fork of the Holston River: Weir Dam, just off U.S. 421, Bristol, Tenn. southholstonriverflyshop.com
• Toccoa River: Blue Ridge Ga. blueridgemountains.com
• Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail: Tuckasegee River at Jackson County, N.C. flyfishingtrail.com

10: Take On a River Where You’ll Still Be Able to Breathe

So, you want to just paddle and drift. Well, here are options for riding rapids of a less classy nature:
• Clinch River: Natural Tunnel State Park hosts canoe tours in Scott County, Va. 276-940-2674.
• New River: Both Grayson Highlands State Park and Hungry Mother State Park in southwest Virginia offer canoe tours of the New River near Mouth of Wilson, Va., with outings that are affordable and family-friendly. 276-781-7400.
• Tuckasegee River: The waters are warm and mild on this river at Dillsboro, N.C. 866-586-3797, northcarolinarafting.com
• Shenandoah River Outfitters: canoe or kayak at Luray, Va. 540-743-4159, shenandoahriver.com

11: Ride a Rail Trail

Old railroads never die: They just lose their tracks and become rail-trails. That’s happened all over the mountains of the south. Here are a few:
• Great Allegheny Passage: The Maryland portion of this route runs about a dozen miles near the Pennsylvania border and parallels the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. atatrail.org
• Greenbrier River Trail: A 78-mile trail links North Caldwell, W.Va., to Slabtown, W.Va., about a half-mile from Cass, with access points near Lewisburg, W.Va. 304-799-7416, greenbrierrailtrailstatepark.com
• New River Trail State Park: a 57-mile run, mostly following the river in southwest Virginia with headquarters at the frothy Foster Falls. 276-699-6778.
• Virginia Creeper Trail: A 34-mile stretch links Abingdon, Va., to the North Carolina border and features a downhill descent to Damascus, where several shuttles can take you to the top, giving you a 17-mile journey to pedal on return. vacreepertrail.org

12: Crawl Around a Cavern

Going underground obviously offers an easy escape. But, wait: You want more? You really want to go spelunking like some kind of geologist? Well, you don’t always have to hold the handrail and walk the straight-and-narrow path of the guided tour. Here are a few places that offer “wild cave” tours, where you can crawl through places with names like “The Birth Canal.”
• Appalachian Caverns, Blountville, Tenn., appacaverns.com
• Lost Sea, Sweetwater, Tenn., thelostsea.com
• Lost World Caverns, near Lewisburg, W.Va., lostworldcaverns.com
• Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave, Ky., nps.gov/maca/index.htm
• Organ Cave, near Lewisburg, W.Va. organcave.com

13: Climb into a Coal Mine

Maybe hearing Devo’s “Working In a Coal Mine” has you wanting to get underground. But, you really don’t want the adventure of taking a job digging black gold? Well, here are a few places where you can go explore what lies below:
• Exhibition Coal Mine: a classic destination narrated by guides in Beckley, W.Va. 304-256-1747, beckley.org
• Exhibition Mine and Museum: a walk-through mine in Pocahontas, Va. 276-945-9522, pocahontasva.org
• Portal 31 Mine Tour and Kentucky Coal Museum: a railroad-car ride through an animated journey at Lynch, Ky. 606-848-1530. tourseky.com

14: Take on a River in a Daggone Tube

From the frothy Big Falls of McCoy near the Virginia Tech campus to the tubing operations at the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies” at Townsend, Tenn., you’ll find a variety of waters where you can mellow out and simply float. Just remember to bring your beverages, sunscreen and some floppy old shoes. Here, folks, are a few of the many:
• Creekside Tubing: Float Deep Creek near Bryson City, N.C., in the Great Smoky Mountains. 828-488-2587. deepcreeklodgetubing.com
• Green River Cove Tubing: tubing and a shuttle near Saluda, N.C. 828-749-3781. greenrivercovetubing.com
• New River Junction: tubing with a shuttle service near Blacksburg, Va. 540-639-6633,
newriverjunction.com
• River Rage Tubing: floating the Little River, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at Townsend, Tenn. 865-448-8000, riverragetubing.com
• Toccoa Valley Campground: tubing and rafting on Toccoa River at Blue Ridge, Ga. 706-838-4317, toccoavalleycampground.com

15: Wait, You’ve Never Been On A Ski Slope!?

Why, there’s likely a patch of ice waiting within just a few miles for your first ski lesson, a snowboarding session or a friendly slide on an innertube. Hey! Get sliding:
• Appalachian Ski Mountain: Blowing Rock, N.C., 828-295-7828.
• Beech Mountain Resort: Beech Mountain, N.C., 800-438-2093.
• Bryce Resort: Basye, Va., 540-856-2121.
• Canaan Valley Resort: Davis, W.Va., 800-622-4121.
• Cataloochee Ski Resort: Maggie Valley, N.C., 828-926-0285.
• Cloudmont Ski Resort: Mentone, Ala. 256-634-4344.
• The Homestead: Hot Springs, Va., 540-839-7721.
• Liberty Mountain Snowflex: Lynchburg, Va. 434-582-3539.
• Massanutten Resort: Massanutten, Va. 540-289-4954.
• Ober Gatlinburg: Gatlinburg, Tenn., 865-436-5423.
• Ski Sapphire Valley: Sapphire, N.C. 828-743-1169
• Snowshoe Mountain: Snowshoe, W.Va. 877-441-4386.
• Sugar Mountain: Banner Elk, N.C., 800-784-2768.
• Timberline: Davis, W.Va., 304/866-4828.
• Wintergreen: Wintergreen, Va. 434-325-2200.
• Winterplace: Flat Top, W.Va., 800-607-7669
• Wisp Resort: McHenry, Md., 301-387-4911.
• Wolf Ridge Ski Resort: Mars Hill, N.C., 800-817-4111

16: Ride a Motorcycle Over a Mountain Road Named for a Wild Thing

Winding roads have gained new life all over the mountains, where motorcycle enthusiasts have graced wild nicknames on two-lane roads that have more curvy contours than Marilyn Monroe. So hop on your Harley and try to catch these creatures:
• Tail of the Dragon: 318 curves in 11 miles, at Deals Gap, on N.C. 129. tailofthedragon.com
• Back of the Dragon: crosses three mountains in 32 miles between Marion and Tazewell on Va. 16. backofthedragon.com
• The Snake: follows U.S 421 in northeast Tennessee between Shady Valley and Mountain City. shadyvalleycountrystore.com
• The Hellbender: slips down N.C. 28 near Fontana Dam. hellbender28.com

17: Run like Forrest Gump

In the Tom Hanks blockbuster hit “Forrest Gump” (1994), the main character takes off running and winds up in western North Carolina, where you, too, can visit:
Blue Ridge Parkway: Forrest Gump can be seen running along the split-rail fences, between miles 339 and 341 near Alleghany County’s Doughton Park.
• Grandfather Mountain: Pedestrians may be prohibited on the mountain-climbing road going to the Grandfather, but you can clearly see the sign noting “Forrest Gump Curve.”

18: Walk (or Ride) in the Path of Daniel Boone

Famed frontiersman Daniel Boone (1734-1820) blazed a trail to the bluegrass of Kentucky in the late 1700s and spent many a night in the woods, leaving his mark on the landscapes. Today, in many places, you can hike parts of Boone’s path in restored sections. Among them:
• Cumberland Gap National Historical Park: restored trail links about three miles of Virginia and Tennessee with Kentucky. 606-248-2817,
nps.gov/cuga
• Leatherwood Mountains: paths include the Daniel Boone Trail, once traversed by Boone and other pioneers. leatherwoodmountains.com
• Wilderness Road Trail: A rail-trail project follows about eight miles on the path of the old Louisville & Nashville Railroad in southwest Virginia, built largely along Boone’s path. dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/wil.shtml

19: Walk (or Ride or Drive) a Mile High

“Bagging” peaks of 5,000 feet (or, better yet, of 5,280 feet – a mile above sea level) has become a favorite of hikers, especially with a GPS tucked into a pack, letting them know of an exact elevation. Here are a few ideas once you get a mile in the sky:
• Brave Beech Mountain on a Bicycle: Trace the route of champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong on Beech Mountain Parkway in the North Carolina High Country and reach a mile-high elevation in Eastern America’s Highest Town (elevation 5,506 feet). beechmtn.com
• Drive on Whitetop Mountain: The elevation of what was once called “Meadow Mountain” at 5,520 feet is traversed by Virginia’s highest navigable road, a site that was once home to music festivals in the 1930s, including a 1933 event visited by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt plus 20,000 spectators, near Whitetop, Va., just off U.S. 58.
• Emerald Outback Trails: Beech Mountain, N.C., features 10 miles of trails – up to 5,400 feet in elevation. emeraldoutback.com
• Roam the Roan’s Rhododendron: Roan Mountain’s highest point reaches an elevation of 6,285 feet, and the mountain also boasts a natural rhododendron garden, claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world. roanmountain.com
• Swing on the Swinging Bridge: A 228-foot suspension bridge has spanned an 80-foot chasm at Grandfather Mountain since 1952 at a 5,280-foot elevation; it’s good for kids of all ages. 800-468-7325, grandfather.com

20 Go Hug a Really Big Boulder!

Odd outcrops rise out of mountains from Alabama to Maryland. But where can you get up close and lay your hands on some weird rocks – without actually rock climbing? Well, here you go:
• Chained Rock: a half-mile-long trail leads to the famous chain that, according to legend, keeps a giant boulder from falling down on Pineville, Ky., at Pine Mountain State Resort Park. 800-325-1712, parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/pine-mountain
• Great Channels of Virginia: Channels State Forest near Abingdon, Va., includes primitive trail, overlook and access to sandstone boulders that resemble a roofless cave. dof.virginia.gov/stforest/channels.htm
• Pilot Mountain State Park: a half-mile-long trail leads to an up-close view around the famed “Mount Pilot” (as referenced on TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show”) rising out of the Piedmont at Pilot Mountain, N.C. 336-325-2355, ncparks.gov/visit/parks/pimo.php
• Rock City: practically every old barn in Tennessee tells you to go “See Rock City.” This icon of Lookout Mountain Ga., near Chattanooga, boasts tours of its rock gardens and a waterfall. 800-854-0675, seerockcity.com

21: Tempt the Devil in the Woods

Used to be, places got to be named for the devil because they ran through rough territory or attracted crass characters. Today, you can find places where you walk on the wild side and chase down places named for the devil. Try these – if you dare:
• Devil’s Bathtub: hiking trail leads about two miles to a hole in the Devils Fork, which looks like a bathtub in the Jefferson National Forest near Fort Blackmore, Va. 276-679-0961.
• Devil’s Courthouse: hiking trail leads to mountaintop rock formation near Sylva, N.C., just off Blue Ridge Parkway, said to be where the devil held court. 828-298-5330.
• Devil’s Den Nature Preserve: a 250-acre park near Fancy Gap, Va., contains a cave and large rock formations, just off Blue Ridge Parkway. 276-728-2494
• Devil’s Head: rock formation along Skyline Trail at Chimney Rock State Park looks like the head of the devil, Chimney Rock, N.C. 800-277-9611.
chimneyrockpark.com
• Little Devils Stairs: hiking trail with waterfall at Shenandoah National Park. nps.gov/shen

22: Hike to the Highest Waterfall

More than one state has one of these: a place that claims to be the East Coast’s highest waterfall (or highest of the Mississippi, or highest east of the Rockies, or highest in Eastern North America – you get it). Well, let’s get out your measuring rulers, get into the forests and check out these giants:
• Buckeye Falls: This plunge of 700 feet of northeast Tennessee near Erwin is not particularly easy to reach but makes the claim to being “the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi.” netta.com/waterfalls
• Crabtree Falls: A series of drops and cascades at this Virginia beauty total 1,200 feet in George Washington National Forest and have been made famous for being mentioned often on TV’s “The Waltons.” fs.usda.gov/gwjnf/
• Whitewater Falls: An easy trail leads to this magnificent 411-foot drop in Jackson County, N.C., in the Nantahala National Forest. fs.usda.gov/nfsnc

23: Chase Waterfalls on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Water falls in scattered spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway in both Virginia and North Carolina. Want to stop and see some? Try these places to brake:
• White Rock Falls, near Milepost 19.9
• Wigwam Falls, near Milepost 34.4
• Apple Orchard Falls, near Milepost 78.4
• Fallingwater Cascades, near Milepost 83.1
• Cascades, near Milepost 271.9
• Boone Fork Falls, near Milepost 296.4
• Linville Falls and Duggers Creek Falls, near Milepost 316.4
• Crabtree Falls, near Milepost 339.5
• Glassmine Falls, near Milepost 361.2
• Douglas Falls, near Milepost 364.6

Go see the moonbow Cumberland Falls State Resort Park near Corbin, Ky., features a thundering waterfall dropping 68 feet and also one of the few mysterious moonbows in the world, visible on moonlit evenings. 606-528-8860, corbinkytourism.com

24: Look out a Lookout Tower

Lookout towers range from platforms in national forests to decades-old fire towers. Among the many, here are some worth finding:
• Birch Knob: A nearly unknown overlook sits atop a boulder bluff along the Kentucky-Virginia border at Dickenson County, Va., just off The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, near Clintwood, in the Jefferson National Forest. dickensoncountyvirginia.org
• Clingmans Dome: Observe the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from a 6,643-foot elevation, the highest point in Tennessee. 865-436-1200, nps.gov/grsm/index.htm
• Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower: located just off Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 409.6, with five flights of steps leading to sweeping sights, in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. nclookouts.com
• Mount Mitchell State Park: Observation tower sits on this peak in North Carolina, the highest point in Eastern North America, at 6,684 feet. 828-675-4611.
• Spruce Knob Observation Tower: A 360-degree view can be found on this stone tower, sitting on West Virginia’s highest point at a 4,863-foot elevation near Harman in the Monongahela National Forest. 304-636-1800.

25: Cruise the Mountain Waters on a Really Big Boat

Want to really lap up a lake or roll down a river? Then get aboard one of these cruising vessels and hit the high waters in style:
• Southern Belle Riverboat: See Chattanooga on the scenic Tennessee River. 800-766-2784,
chattanoogariverboat.com
• Tennessee Riverboat Company: Cruise on the Star of Knoxville. 800-509-2628, tnriverboat.com
• Virginia Dare: Float on Smith Mountain Lake near Moneta, Va., on a side-wheeler replica. 540-297-7100, vadarecruises.com

26: Roll Through the Mountains on a Scenic Train

Nothing spells more fun and romance than a smooth journey on a passenger train, with mountains on the horizon of each bend. Here are just a few possibilities:

• Blue Ridge Scenic Railway: Blue Ridge, Ga., 877-413-8724, brscenic.com
• Cass Scenic Railroad State Park: Cass, W.Va., 304-456-4300, cassrailroad.com
• Great Smoky Mountains Railroad: Bryson City, N.C., 800-872-4681, gsmr.com
• Mountain Rail Adventures: Elkins, W.Va., 877-686-7245, mountainrailwv.com
• Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum: Chattanooga, Tenn., 423-894-8028. tvrail.com
• Three Rivers Rambler: Knoxville, Tenn., 865-524-9411, threeriversrambler.com

27: Reach the Highest and Lowest Points of the Parkway

Obviously, driving (or walking or bicycling) the entire Blue Ridge Parkway should be on everyone’s bucket list. But, so should simply reaching the highs and lows:

• Highest point: reach an elevation of 6,047 feet at highest point in Jackson County, N.C., at Richland Balsam Overlook, at Milepost 431.4.

• Lowest Point: dip down to only 649 feet above sea level at the James River and accompanying visitor center in Virginia, at Milepost 63.6.

28: Stop, Look and Listen on the Skyline Drive

If the Blue Ridge Parkway is not enough, slow down to 35 mph, and head north on the Skyline Drive, a 105-mile journey with 75 overlooks between Rockfish Gap and Front Royal along the Shenandoah National Park. The park’s blend of vistas, hikes, waterfalls, meadows and mountains, camping, nature interpretation and beautifully rustic lodges offers its own little bucket list of great things to discover and explore. nps.gov.shen/index.htm

For more: Joe Tennis’s latest book, “Washington County, Virginia: Then & Now” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99, 2012), profiles adventures and history of the Virginia Creeper Trail, Appalachian Trail, Holston River, Whitetop Mountain and others. 888-313-2665, arcadiapublishing.com

 

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