It is hard to believe we sold everything to start a new journey a year ago! We didn't even know what state we would be living in next. Now we are settled in a condo in the North Carolina mountains and we could not be happier with our little community. Looking back it is crazy how much has happened and changed in a years time. We have downsized our careers, our home, our cars (no longer plural), our monthly expenses and the number of kids in diapers (possibly my favorite one)!
The purpose of this lifestyle change was to live happier, less stressful lives and to have quality time with our girls. I think we have definitely met those goals. Having said that it is not always easy and there is still stress and sacrifices made to continue this dream. We definitely feel busier now than we did when we were both full-time employees. The difference is this is on our own terms and that feels great!
While we have our own adulting to do like everyone else we are so grateful for the perks of being a full-time family. It is pretty cool to be able to teach your children and watch them flourish. We have had so many adventures and already have so many memories together. We recently began reflecting on the past year and everything it took to get here. Since we began this crazy journey we found and bought a condo and moved out of state. We have been on countless hikes, adventures and day trips. We did not start out thinking we would be a hiking family but it quickly became one of our favorite pass times! Our girls have benefited from this in so many ways. Expanding their vocabulary, learning about and appreciating nature, understanding geography (mapping out our adventures). Not to mention the happy memories they will hopefully keep forever! With this in mind we wanted to share our hiking journey thus far, the good and bad!
Emerald Outback: located on Beech Mountain, North Carolina. These trails are on the back side of the ski slopes on Beech Mountain. We have hiked these trails three times and seen 10+ deer every time. You can opt for a short or long hike depending on the trails you take. We have done both, Austen (our oldest) even toughed out a 4 mile hike on these trails! The gorgeous views from the overlooks was well worth giving her a piggy back ride near the end. These were some of our first hiking trails in spring just after we moved, Ashlynn (our youngest) was quite the snoozer at that time. We were often jealous of her ability to nap in her carrier. This is a great option for families since it has different options for length and difficulty depending on your (or your kids) moods!
Lower Pond Creek Trail: located on Beech Mountain, North Carolina. This trail starts near Lake Coffey. We have partially hiked this trail 4 times.
There is a section you have to hold on to a rope to get by and we are not trying to be that adventurous with two little humans. The first section of the hike is absolutely beautiful with a small waterfall and creek that follows the trail. The girls love to throw rocks in the creek and we usually take a picnic to enjoy at the entry of the trail on the picnic bench. You can take a walk over to the pond and even up the hill to walk around Lake Coffey. Recently, after I had a long day of work calls, Austen asked if we could go to lower pond. So we did! After she declared, "that was a perfect little adventure". I would say this is definitely a kid approved hike!
Linville Falls: located in Linville, north west North Carolina just south of Beech Mountain. We have been 3 times. One of our go to places to take company. This is a great family hike for all ages and levels of physical ability. There are two parking lots and one offers a short hike to the two falls and you can opt to go further for a higher view point. The other parking lots has a few short hikes near a creek but it is a bit further form the main waterfalls. The trail is wide and fairly smooth, while you will get some exercise I would not describe it as strenuous. There are some sections with some incline but if you take it slow it can work for everyone! Another great family option with easy places to stop and rest as well as picnic benches near the parking lot.
Grandfather Mountain: located in Grandfather Mountain State Park, North Carolina. We have visited the state park probably 15+ times, we quickly decided to get the group annual pass. This allows us to take up to 10 other people with us for FREE! Needless to say we take everyone who comes to visit. We absolutely love going and do not miss a
chance to see the mile high swinging bridge or the animal habitats. Having said that we have only actually hiked inside the park twice. The hike up to the mile high bridge while enjoyable was quite steep. Austen did not want to do the return hike so Brant went back alone and drove to the top to pick us up. Don't let this deter you as I think she was just excited and wanted to check out the gift shop more than hiking. We attempted some of the trails that start near the swinging bridge but decided those might be better adult hikes than family hikes. There are still other hiking trails we have not yet completed as well as walking paths. If the animals weren't so darn cool we might venture to more of the park. At least we have the pass so we have time to see it all!
Pinnacle Inn Trail: located on Beech Mountain, North Carolina. This trail starts at Perry Park, this is not an "official" trail head as parts do go through private property. We started out intending to do a different trail but saw a sign to an overlook and kept going. To our surprise it goes right back up to our condo complex! It was a nice hike, steep in sections but goes past the parkway overlook. An absolutely can't miss view, if you are not up for hiking make sure to stop by car, the overlook is just off the main road on Beech Mountain. Unless you want to pop in and say hi to us, after the overlook head back down to Perry Park. There is not too much to see as you go higher. This is also where you get into private property. We saw a ton of deer on this trail which always helps keep the girls interest while hiking. There was a cool waterfall at the start which you can see before starting the hike. However, as we found out later the waterfall is not always as impressive as we saw it, the flow very much depends on the season and the rain fall/snow melting.
Upper Pond Creek Trail: located on Beech Mountain, North Carolina. This also starts at Perry Park. This is the trail we had planned on when we found the hike above. This trail goes along a creek the entire time down to the start of Lower Pond Creek Trail. It was such a peaceful hike listening to the creek. We also loved that they had signs along the way with fun facts about the plants and animals you might see on the trail. This was so helpful in keeping Austen interested and not "getting tired" right away. While it was extremely peaceful on the way down, not gonna lie we were questioning our life choices on the way back. HA! It was much steeper (going up hill), Austen had lost interest in the fun facts since we had already read them all. It was tough! I don't want to discourage anyone from going because it was worth it but if you have littles just understand what you (and they) can handle. We resorted to small breaks and funny faces to make it all the way with no piggy back rides!
Elk Falls: located in Elk River in north west North Carolina. This is a hidden gem. It is a bit of a winding road off the beaten path but a great short hike to a wonderful waterfall. While the hike turned out not all that strenuous we were hesitate starting out. There were caution signs all over the start of the trail. Warnings about the dangers of the falls and that dozens of people had died there. Yikes!
I guess really any waterfall has hazards but of course with little ones we take extra precaution. We really enjoyed this hike and the waterfall! We were thankful it was not as dangerous as it sounded. It was a relatively short hike and only took the morning. Great waterfall with easy access! You can also swim as many people do but I am guessing that is when it becomes more dangerous.
Chimney Rock: located at Chimney Rock State Park, south west North Carolina near Lake Lure. This is an all day visit! Learn from our mistake and make sure you have the time. We were able to do quite a bit getting to the park as it opened and leaving around 1:30 but there is so much more we could have done. We decided to take the trail to the waterfall first. We are suckers for waterfalls plus had just been sprucing up our waterfall photography skills. If this is not your thing you may opt for another area first. The hike it's self was not bad but you do have quite a few stairs to get back up to the gift shop and start of the other trails, however, there is an elevator option to the other trails. Our second area of interest was making it to the American flag. We debated hiking up but ended up taking the elevator. We knew that would be the only chance we had to hike further. As you can see the views were incredible! We did attempt to go higher than the famous American flag overlook but we did not get much further than the hawks nest. There are a lot of stairs (even after the elevator) and with one of us carrying Ashlynn on our backs and Austen being exhausted we called it quits. The memories and view were well worth the exhaustion. If we had to do it over again we would have planned for naps and exploring more in the after noon.
Crabtree Falls: located in Grassy Creek, North Carolina just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is by far the most amazing waterfall we have seen to date. It was so grand with the water hitting off of so many rocks. It was just stunning! Not gonna lie, the hike to get there was tough! It was well worth it for the waterfall but if you have kids be warned it is quite steep. There are also not a lot of great stopping points. The forest is fairly thick surrounding most of the trail. It is a little decieving as it is only about 1.5 miles round trip, which sounds like no big deal. Austen is great during hikes and at this point had quite a few long & steep hikes under her belt. She even needed to be carried towards the end. I don't blame her we were all pretty exhausted. Brant likes to power through to the end of hikes but this was a learning lesson that Austen and I would take breaks when needed and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Craborchard Falls Trail: located in Valle Crucis, North Carolina. This was a cool trail that was a bit of a surprise. You start the trail behind the Valle Crucis Convention Center. It is not a well known trail but seems to be a local favorite. It was a pretty easy walk and beautiful surroundings. Any trail ending at a waterfall is a good thing in my opinion. There were plenty of areas to sit and play around the waterfall. This is not always the case so it made it nice to be able to let Ashlynn out of the carrier and stretch her legs a bit. We made this a quick morning hike. If you are short on time but want to take in nature and all of its beauty, this is a great option! You could also opt to extend your stay and bring water clothes depending on the season and let the kids play, eat lunch and enjoy.
Otter Trail: located in Seven Devils, North Carolina just east of Beech Mountain. This was a another quick morning hike for us. We would absolutely recommend checking it out! Considering how tough some waterfall hikes are this was a breeze. The waterfall was pretty impressive as well! Sometimes that is the trade off, tough hike with the reward of a great waterfall. This was a perfect middle ground if you are not looking for a difficult hike but want to the reward at the end. This is also near Hawks Nest so you could opt to do a little bit of everything while in Seven Devils. You won't need more than a few hours to complete this hike and enjoy the waterfall. You may notice a theme starting. It did not take long for us to start searching out waterfall hikes. They are just magical!
Roan Mountain State Park: located on Roan Mountain, Tennessee. We have not even scratched the surface with all this state park has to offer. We have been twice and hiked two separate areas. Part of the Appalachian trail also goes through the park. We were fortunate to be able to enjoy this location with some friends who also have a toddler. They are a bit more advanced as they actually have hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail and had been through this part of the park. Very cool! We hiked the Cloudland Trail on our first visit which takes you to the peak. I absolutely loved this trail! It was so peaceful and the aroma of pine from the evergreen trees was intoxicating. It was quite windy the day we went so we did not stay at the peak too long but the view was breathtaking. You were truly at the top of the world! Our second visit was with our app trail friends and did a partial hike of Carvers Gap. Another great trail with amazing views. This was a great trail for little ones with lots of great spots to sit and rest/snack while taking in incredible views. There is still so much to explore in this park and we can't wait for our next visit! This was a kid approved location.
Glen Burney Trail: located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Shockingly this trail is just a short distance from downtown Blowing Rock which is also a great place to visit and walk around. I would not suggest doing both downtown and the trail in the same day. This by far was one of the most challenging trails we have done to date. Two different groups warned us that it got pretty steep as they were heading out. I am proud to say we did make it to the waterfall but holy moly it WAS steep. I hate to say anything bad about a waterfall because they are amazing but it definitely felt anti climatic getting to the falls after such a difficult hike. We are absolutely glad we did it and enjoy a good challenge. Just be aware of your groups capabilities and your time frame. If your goal is a breathtaking waterfall you can find more impressive falls on less difficult hikes. If you are training for American Ninja Warrior this one is for you!! Jokes, I've got jokes. It felt like it at the time but it wasn't quite to that level.
I guess you could say we have taken to hiking. We try to go at least on a short hike every week, weather permitting. Most of our nature photography has come from these amazing hikes and the all around beauty North Carolina & Beech Mountain have to offer. If you haven't been to North Carolina put it on your travel list, you will not regret it!
If you are coming to Beech Mountain stop by the visitors center when you get here, they are always super helpful and will load you up with information to enjoy everything Beech has to offer. I encourage you to also check out the Buckeye Recreation Center, they are always putting on great events including guided hikes during the spring, summer & fall seasons!
We hope to see you on the trails! #GomezPartyof4
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