Spent a wonderful cool overcast weekend hiking and camping near home, but a world away at Van Hook Glade in Nantahala National Forest, just outside Highlands, NC.
On the way to Van Hook, we stopped to visit the Highlands Botanical Garden, we’d heard so much about. It’s was absolutely gorgeous! We hiked around the lake, through the bog, and into a fairy forest on the Lake Loop and Coker Rhododendron Trails. The water lilies were blooming, which was just icing on everything else that was in full bloom throughout. A must when in Highlands. Glad we stopped.
We arrived at Van Hook at dinner time to our favorite large wooded site, #19. We were warned by the campground host of a very active 350lb bear. We, fortunately and unfortunately, didn’t cross paths during our visit, although the trash at the dumpster was strewn Sunday morning.
Saturday, we got up, packed a picnic, and hit the trails. We hiked the 0.3mi Van Hook Trail into Cliffside Lake Recreation Area. We then caught the 1.5mi Cliffside Vista Trail. We enjoyed the long range views at the gazebo overlook at the top. It’s a great hike up the mountain, to the ridge, and back down through such diverse forest. The wet dense forest on the down side towards the lake was my personal fave. The wild flowers and mushrooms had exploded. It was beautiful!
We had our picnic lakeside. There were very tame ducks that were obviously used to being fed. Nigel came unhinged and was squealing like crazy. He’d be a vegetarian in the wild…Huntress Pippa sat quietly and watched them for a long time. They both got excited after hearing a bullfrog then a kerplunk. By the lake, I saw a non-venomous snake. Thankfully, the puppies missed it.
After lunch, we hiked around the lake then back to the campsite. After we rested a bit, we walked across Hwy 64 to the Cullasaja River to let the puppies play fetch and hunt. Nigel played ball and swam while Pippa hunted. They are river puppies. They had a ball!
Sunday, we woke early and headed out. We went to see Cullasaja Falls, which lies down the mountain towards Franklin. We parked in the pull off in the deadly curve on Hwy 64. I chickened out and did not want to get out of the van. I felt like the van was too big and we were sitting ducks in the bend of the road with cars whipping around, crossing the center line on what really is a one lane road. We decided to go back up the mountain to a larger safer pull off at a popular swimming hole with cascades and giant boulders between the fall and Van Hook. We had fun rock hopping.
On the way home, we stopped at Whiteside Mountain, which we haven’t hiked in years, not since moving up here two years ago. We had a nice hike, but hit it early and under complete cloud cover. We’d seen the spectacular views before, but felt sorry for the tourist visiting for the first time. It’s a must visit when in the Highlands Plateau area. We ran into two of my tennis friends, separately, on the hike. It really is a small town. Love it!
It was a great weekend escape. You don’t have to go far from home to get away. Grateful for camping!