(Article originally published in the Fall Issue of Hike Magazine. Order here)
Kephart Prong trail isn’t one you’ll commonly hear about when hiking in the Smokies. It doesn’t have ridgeline views or waterfalls to speak of, but it’s not lacking in beauty and historical features. It’s a shorter hike that’s easy to moderate which allows for a nice add on hike after you’ve done something challenging such as Chimney Tops or Mt. LeConte.
The hike starts by crossing a bridge over the Oconaluftee River. Take a moment to listen to the water as it rushes over the rocks strewn in the riverbed. The trail follows the Kephart Prong from where it meets with the Oconaluftee River to the Appalachian Trail. If the Kephart names sounds familiar, its because it was named after writer and park advocate Horace Kephart.
At .2 miles, the trail takes you through the remains of a Civilian Conservation Corp camp so you’ll see relics and artifacts such as a water fountain, fireplace and old rock frame for the camp signage. The camp was one of a few in the Smokies which held conscientious objectors during World War II.
A favorite part about hiking this trail is all the water crossings over the footlogs and bridges.
You’ll cross four as you make your ascent up to the termination point of the trail which is Kephart Shelter. One of them bears the mossy stonework from the CCC construction from over 80 years ago.
What I noticed about this particular hike is how green and lush everything was during the summertime. Also it’s one of the quieter hikes in the park, and you won’t find it as crowded as other trails. Some hikers use this trail as the start of an alternative route to Charlie’s Bunion so it avoids the throngs who take the more popular route from Newfound Gap.
The trail follows an old railway and the grade is moderate. Be on the lookout for some old railway irons during the final .2 miles of the hike. These are remnants from the logging that was done in the 1920s.
At 2.1 miles you will the reach the Kephart Shelter where the trail ends and intersects with the Sweat Heifer Creek Trail and the Grassy Branch Trail. Take some time to explore the shelter before retracing your steps back to the Kephart Prong trailhead, making for a nice 4.2 mile hike.
This hike combines historic features, streams and a gentle grade which makes it a nice introductory hike for someone new to being on the trail or who might not be up for a more strenuous hiking experience. So if you’re up for some exploring a bit of Smokies history, consider taking this lesser known trail next time you head to the park.
To learn more about the CCC’s time in the park, listen to my Hike podcast.
There are some hikers who put up their boots in the winter, and dream wistfully about springtime when the ground thaws (and the mud dries) enough to hike again. But if you’re like me, you want to be on the trail all four seasons. I came up with 5 tips to keep us on the trail.
#1 Invest in micro-spikes/crampons
While in lower elevations you might be just fine in your boots, you could end up in icy conditions where it’s critical to have traction. I’ve personally been in situations where I would have felt safer with ice skates on and therefore I’m picking up a pair of micro-spikes this year.
#2 Wear layers
I’ve found even in winter time, I start out cold, but quickly warm up on the trail. I like a pair of liners under my gloves so I can take off the bulkier gloves when it gets too hot. Also base layers are essential and I wear both top and bottoms. Another key must have is to throw on my pair of rain pants. They are great protection when for a moderate hike in the snow and come off really easy. They are my go to for winter hikes, especially when temps hover around freezing. If you are in sub-zero conditions, you’ll want and need some temperature appropriate wear.
Here’s a great article on preparing for winter hikes from REI.
#3 Realistic expectations and lots of planning
Depending on where you are hiking, roads might be closed leading to the trail. I’ve found that it’s critical to have a Plan B and C ready, so if my first hike doesn’t pan out I have some alternatives. Also, don’t expect that you’ll put in the same amount of miles as you might during the warmer weather. Changing weather conditions can derail even the best laid plans.
#4 Hydration is still important (The 10 essentials!)
You may not feel as parched as you do on a hot summer day, but staying hydrated is key to regulating your body temperature and avoiding hypothermia as well. Also while you’re making sure that you have enough water for your hike, also look to make sure you have the 10 Essentials.
Comment below with your winter hiking plans!
It’s Christmas Eve! I hope all of you, dear readers, are enjoying this holiday season. I haven’t been hiking these last several days like I wish I had. I’m crossing my fingers that tomorrow I get out to the trail. Are you hitting up a trail over the holidays? Let me know in the comments.
I’ve been working hard on the podcast. It’s definitely more time consuming that I had anticipated – from lining up content to the post production process. I have a huge appreciation for others who are also doing it on their own.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to share my interview with Britany Freeman of The 11th Essential. She and I had a candid conversation about her hiking experience in Colorado, practicing leave no trace, the impact of social media on the environment and actionable things we all can do to promote good stewardship of public lands. Her passion was evident and contagious! I hope you all give it a listen and let me know your thoughts.
Upcoming on the December 29th episode, you’ll hear my interview with Kathy Dalton of Go Adventure Mom blog and podcast. She’s gives some tips on how to set goals and stay motivated for 2019, including joining a challenge such as the 365 Mile Challenge.
Also I had an early Christmas gift yesterday as the Hike stickers I designed made their way to my mail box. Pretty happy with how they came out for my first foray into sticker design, and I plan on coming up with more sticker designs and merchandise in early 2019. More to come!
As for this batch of stickers, I’m giving them away to Hike listeners and supporters as a thank you. Let me know if you’d like one! Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas! – Lori
Goals. goals. goals. As soon as I have one thing checked off my list, there’s three more to add on. December has me thinking a lot about what I’d like to do in 2019, and where I want to take Hike Magazine and podcast.
First of all, it’s been quite a whirlwind. At the start of 2018, neither the magazine or having a podcast was anywhere in my mind. The only hiking goals I had were to see more mountains and spend more time on the trail.
Circumstances through the year though led me to want to put something out there that I could share with others. And that’s where the magazine came about. I love to photograph while in nature and document time on the trail. I enjoy being able to share that experience. And that’s where the magazine seed started germinating. While there’s a lot of outdoors and backpacking magazines out there, there isn’t really anything that just simply speaks and focuses on experiencing a certain area via hiking. For me, it was essential to start in the Smokies and the communities around that area.
The podcast was another way to venture into the hiking community and collaborating and learning from others who hike and support hikers. I have loved it. I’ve been inspired, enlightened and humbled. And am thankful that I listened to my friend who asked the question of why I hadn’t yet done a podcast. (Challenge accepted!)
In many ways, I feel like the new kid on the block. But that’s not entirely a bad thing. I’m learning as I go and love being exposed to such an amazing group of fellow bloggers, podcasters and hikers. As they say, hike your own hike. And in this case it definitely applies!
I’m pretty excited about what 2019 is going to bring. More content – from the basics to life experiences on the trail. I’m working on building partnerships with like minded people who can share gear reviews, trail tips and some old fashioned conversation. All of that I plan to bring to my listeners.
In 2019, I am also planning on setting some hike experience goals – such as getting out to some new summits and breaking out of my comfort zones which means hiking new places and conditions. However, I still got lots of love for North Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee – so expect to see lots of me in those Southern Appalachians mountains.
Today, I recorded a podcast with Kathy Dalton of Go Adventure Mom podcast and we shared some thoughts about how to incorporate getting out with our busy lives and setting goals in 2019, including the 365 Mile Challenge. That episode will be coming to my podcast on December 29th. Stay tuned for more info here on the blog and my social media.
Readers, now it’s your turn. Tell me what hiking goals you have set for 2019.
See you on the trail!
~ Lori the Explorer
I sit here in my windowless office, staring at the photos that I’ve placed on my desk of happy moments. Hikes at Mount St. Helens. Ones with majestic views of Mt. Jefferson. Feeling that pull to be somewhere so far away from where I am. Sometimes it feels so impossible, yet I know that shouldn’t be the case. But there is a sadness in knowing my heart is somewhere else my body is not.
There is an overused quote that is slapped on everything from books to t-shirts – “The mountains are calling and I must go.” For me though it isn’t the mountains. It’s my heart. It’s my heart calling me back to places that feel like home. Roots gnarled and rocks that are sure to trip me. The feeling I get when I walk along a ridge line. The layered vista of mountains rolling like gentle waves in the distance.
Many hikes have been alone with my soul finding refuge in the spaces between the blazes. Somehow it’s on those mountain walks where I feel strongest and most alive. It’s in those moments that I forget about the insecurities that are threaded through me – attaching themselves into every fiber within my body. I stop comparing myself to the ones who came before me and seemed to have what I cannot hold. In the mountains, I find my worth.
Yet, it’s in the shared hikes where love shines. In the mountains, it’s goofy smiles at the summit. Eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sipping water from our Nalgene bottles. Heads resting on shoulders and hands pulling each other up when our bodies need help.
I hike for those moments. I set my boots to the trail for the strength it gives my body and the clarity it provides my mind. I hike because my heart needs to write these love letters when my mouth has no words.
And it’s in these afternoons when my mind drifts to dreams of the crisp mountain air, I realize I hike to remember the love that surrounds me on the trail.
Starting the Hike: Explore | Wander | Live podcast really wasn’t something that I ever thought about doing. In fact, I have been struggling to finish up my Hike Magazine issue after everything seemed to go on creative hold when my focus shifted to my father’s ailing health. I didn’t even have a podcast app on my phone. But all of that changed when someone very special to me talked about the podcasts that he was listening to. And when he casually added that he was surprised I hadn’t started a podcast. In hindsight that may have been because I tend to start a lot of projects.
However, that’s when it clicked. I wanted to lend my voice to this space in an effort to share both my hiking stories and those with much more interesting ones to tell. Creating isn’t entirely new to me. I had spent some time crafting two minute videos about my hiking adventures which I called the Hiking Bedtime Stories series. They were meant to be fun and to not be taken ultra seriously. I was just sharing my thoughts and scenes I took in on the trail. I realized I enjoyed the creation of content – blogging, vlogging, photo layouts – and bringing it all together.
So a podcast? What would I do when there were no visuals? And so I spent the better part of an afternoon researching how to start a podcast. I downloaded the open source audio software Audacity. I put in an order for an inexpensive microphone. I made a list of all the topics I was interested in as a hiker and someone who wanted to support those who supported the hiking community. I started “cold calling” by sending out emails and direct messages requesting interviews. For the most part, people have been super supportive and willing to share their stories. And if they weren’t interested in going on air, they recommended those who would.
Yes, there were a couple who weren’t interested in taking a chance on someone unestablished. I had to be okay with that. Because after all, this project for me is more about sharing the love of the hike. I’ve been lucky to connect with others with a shared passion for hiking and the outdoors. I’m not really one to spend too much time focused on the closed doors, when there is so much out there ready to explore.
My first two interviews were with hikers who shared some common trails. Both Plug-It In and Danny Bernstein have completed the 900 miler club, which is a challenge within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to complete all of the official trails. Danny’s interview is up now and Plug-It In’s posts on December 1st. I hope you subscribe and take a listen to both as they share their unique and inspirational experiences with me
I’m learning that interviewing is an art and just as challenging as the mountains I love to hike. There are times I stumble, but like the advice Danny gives me when it comes to taking on a challenge such as the 900 miler – it’s about perseverance. How true that is.
Hearing other peoples hiking stories has led to an even deeper discovery that we find ourselves and happiness in the space between the blazes.
I hope you’ll join me on my podcast adventure. This wouldn’t be possible without having the support of someone who loves me and encourages me to be my best. And during this Thanksgiving Day weekend, that is something I am especially grateful for.