Sunday, November 1, 2015

Skinny Dip Falls via the Mountains to Sea Trail - Guest Blogger - Dr. Ryan Byrne

This blog is an homage to my good friend and college roommate, Peter Dargatz, who introduced us to the concept of Tyke Hikes on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin.  Carrying his spirit with us, my wife, Shawna, daughter, Ruby, and I decided to embark on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains during our move from Wisconsin to South Carolina.  The hike we decided on was a half mile portion of the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail, which led to a group of small waterfalls known as Skinny Dip Falls.  The Mountains to Sea Trail ( is a partially completed long-distance trail, with the long term goal of creating a continuous route from Clingman's Dome in Smoky Mountain National Park to Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head, NC.  Of note, Jockey's Ridge has the highest elevation sand dunes on the East Coast.  The Mountains To Sea Trail is marked by three inch circle white blazes.  The portion we hiked was located off the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Pisgah National Forest.

The most exciting part of this hike may have been the drive there.  After winding along the Big East Fork of the Pigeon River, we headed up the face of the Pisgah Ridge to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  About halfway to the parkway, we encountered heavy fog.  We soon realized this was not fog, but clouds descending on the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Visibility seemed to be only about 10 yards as we wound our way up the ridge.  Meanwhile, my two backseat passengers were beginning to look a bit pale.  After briefly missing the turn for the parkway in the clouds, we finally made it to the top and drove on the parkway along the crest of the Pisgah Ridge.  We soon encountered the Glass Rock overlook, which was supposed to provide us with a great view of Glass Rock Mountain.  Luckily, there was a picture there to show us what the clouds would not let us see.  We found the trailhead for Skinny Dip Falls and headed out.

The name of the hike held our interest as much as the route itself.  As we were finishing the hike, we learned from a quirky local how the hike got its name.  The story goes that, during the Great Depression, development of recreational land adjacent to the building of the Blue Ridge Parkway was handled by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  The CCC built a trail to this lovely set of waterfalls.  However, upon reaching the falls, the locals asked what they were doing to their favorite skinny dipping spot.  The name stuck.  Skinny dipping is now discouraged in the falls, so we brought our swimsuits along.

The hike quickly took us onto the Mountains to Sea trail and its white blazes.  Ruby had some fun bopping blazes, as taught to her by Peter's daughter, Embry.  We soon came to one of the most amazing trees I have ever seen.  The trunk made an upside down U before shooting back up vertically with two straight branches.  Ruby and I had fun holding it up.  The hike was advertised as "moderate" difficulty on, but it seemed a bit more than moderate in the wet conditions with a three year old on my back and a baby in Shawna's belly.  The trail eased down over stretches of wet boulders and roots, so it was a challenge.  As we went, the sound of rushing water grew to match the volume of chirping birds.  After a sharp bend in the trail, we came to the falls.  Despite the moniker, we did not go swimming, as the fog and wet conditions made the mountain water appear a bit too chilly.  (This was a first for the Byrne family, as we, especially Ruby, will usually take a plunge in any conditions).  Instead, we enjoyed the sights and sounds of nature while munching on some trail mix.  On the way back, we encountered the group of retiree hikers who told us the story of how Skinny Dip Falls got its name.  The trails always have a story to tell.

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