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Monthly Archives: April 2020

Off the Beaten Path: The South

Part 5 of a 5 part series:

by: Ben Shaw

At the end of this lockdown, I’m going on a trip…. Part 5 of 5, the last stop on our journey around the country, the south. If I have a long weekend, these are the places I run to…

Roan Highlands, Tennessee

Hiking, Backpacking

I’ve done the Tour Du Roan three times, three different ways. I’ve hiked it in the winter, fall and summer, it’s always been a beautiful section of trail. The highlands are several different peaks spanning 20 miles along the North Carolina-Tennessee Boarder, this highest of which is Roan Mountain. Roan stands tall at 6,285’ and is home to the highest shelter on the Appalachian Trail, believe me when I say this, it gets cold up there…. The nice thing about this section of trail is that it offers a great supply of water, a lot of diversity and plenty of points to bail out if you need. My advice is to book a shuttle out of the Mountain Harbor Hostel to Iron Mountain Gap and spend the next four days hiking north towards Highway 19 East. You’ll go through old growth pines, grassy balds, and see some awesome sights along the way. This section of the AT is best done in the late fall and early spring in my opinion, it improves the views! Be warned, this one is a knee bender though, there’s a few thousand feet of elevation change between start and finish.

Best time to go: Year Round

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

Car camping, Kayaking, Hiking

Nestled down by the Florida Georgia Line, sorry, couldn’t help myself, the mystic black swamp of Southern Georgia covers 438,000 acres of wetland protected by both a National Wildlife Refuge and National Wilderness Area. Its boundless with adventure, and unfortunately, I’ve never been there…. Luckily Dalton has, and here’s his two cents on this wonderful destination:

“Okefenokee is primarily a place for those wanting to take a walk or paddle on the wild side. With a wide array of different swampy channels to paddle through, adventurers will pass by breathtaking mangrove fields, wide open plains and of course the mucky murky swamp. Okefenokee boasts an incredible ecosystem containing, raptors, otters, cranes and best of all, a plethora of alligators. You can choose to do kayaking day trips or a multi-day trip, either way you’ll get to see some incredible sites.”

Best time to go: April-October (Maybe not July unless you really like humidity…)

Laurel River Lake, Kentucky

Hiking, Car Camping, Boating , Swimming, Kayaking, Cliff Diving

Laurel River Lake is a man-made reservoir that covers between 5,600 – 6,600 acres and has over 200 miles of shoreline. Most of the surrounding area is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest and is open to boating, swimming, dispersed camping and tons of fun. There’s two boat in campgrounds on the north and south sides of the lake and several developed campgrounds scattered around the lake as well. One of my favorite summer escapes is to snag a spot at the White Oak Campground and spend the weekend exploring the north channels of the lake for cliffs to climb and dive from. If you need a summer escape, this is your place…

Best time to go: April-November

Grayson Highlands / Mount Rogers NRA, Virginia

Hiking, Backpacking, Car Camping

Are you starting to figure out that I like the mountains? The Grayson Highlands and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area encompass 154,816 acres of rolling hills, wild ponies, wilderness and sweeping mountain vistas. At the center of all of this is the 5,729’ high point of Virginia, Mount Rogers, unfortunately the summit isn’t that exciting, sorry Virginia. I will say though, the trails are amazing, with over 200 miles of trail systems, the area offers endless options. You can enjoy a quick weekend along the Appalachian Trail of you can wander off of one of the plentiful side paths and spend a week traversing the entire area. Pro-Tip, there’s cattle all over the place so keep an eye out…. Getting charged by a long horn will get your heart going a little more than you probably asked for.

Best time to go: Year Round

Black Mountains, North Carolina

Hiking, Backpacking, Car Camping

The Black Mountain range contains 6 of the 10 highest peaks east of the Mississippi and the tallest, Mt. Mitchell sitting at 6,684’. The highest part of the range sweeps north to south for 15 miles and creates a famous to me trail, the Black Mountain Crest. It’s a 12.1 mile slog up and down some extremely difficult terrain. The range also hides a “class 3” route up the backside of Celo Knob to 6,327’, it’s an awesome scramble up…. Your three options in the area are setting up a basecamp at the Briar Bottom Campground to explore the area or enjoy a stay at Albert’s Lodge (the owner is a gem of a man). If you’re up to backpacking, you can stay at Deep Gap, but be warned, the area is popular with Black Bears, luckily they’re no larger than your dog!

Best time to go: Year Round

Lake Jocassee, South Carolina

Kayaking, Car Camping, Cliff Diving, Fishing

Lake Jocassee is definitely a hidden gem, it’s a man-made lake covering 7,500 acres and is open for public recreation. Your best bet is to setup camp at Devils Fork State Park, boat in sites are available. From there you can either wander your way around the lake during the day or set out across the lake to find your own spot to hide away on the north shore. There’re hidden waterfalls, too many secluded coves to count and breathtakingly clear water here. The lake even boasts records for some of the largest freshwater fish ever caught in the state of South Carolina. I wish this one was a little closer to home because I’d be there every weekend if I could.

Best time to go: Year Round

Explore more locations from the Off the Beaten Path Series: South, Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, Northwest

Off The Beaten Path: The Southwest

Part 4 of a 5 part series:

by: Ben Shaw

We’re getting close to the end of our journey across the country. We’ve talked about mountain ranges in the northwest, all sorts of hidden gems near our home here in Cincinnati and snow retreats up in the northeast. You won’t find any National Parks on this list, but you will find some of the most amazing car camping spots, backpacking destinations and many more hidden gems.

This week we’re talking about our adventures in the Southwest. Some of my favorite places are down here, there’s awesome desert retreats, amazing mountain ranges and many memories.

Knolls Recreation Area & Salt Flats, Utah

Car camping, Hiking, Off Roading

Located about an hour to the west of Salt Lake City just off I-80, Knolls encompasses 36,000 acres of sand dunes, hills and mud flats. The Bonneville Salt Flats, a little further to the west, protect an additional 30,000 acres both managed by the BLM (my favorite). In the winter months, the area can be covered by up to an inch of water and becomes a sludgy mess, in the heat of summer, the temperature can reach up to 110°F. Definitely a tough place to be, but it’s an off-roader’s paradise. Salt Flats is home to some of the world’s top land speed records and on top of that, Knolls provides an awesome place to get off the road for the night if you’re

passing by and hike around as well as setup camp under a beautiful night sky. Expert advice, don’t explore too far south, there’s bombs leftover in the military testing range…

Best time to go: March-June, August-November

Maroon Bells Wilderness, Colorado

Backpacking, Hiking, Mountaineering

The Bells, also known at the Death Bells, are a 181,535-acre wilderness area surrounded by 6 of Colorado’s legendary 14ers and 9 other 12,000’ peaks. There’s also over 100 miles of trails and several beautiful alpine lakes. Dalton from our RRT Crew visited here in August of 2019, he completed the entire twenty-seven-mile Four Pass Loop in a day and climbed several of the 14ers with some partners. Here’s what he had to say:

“The Maroon Bells-Snow Mass Wilderness is a must see (and do) for anyone with even a slight interest in the outdoors. A roughly 27-mile backpacking loop circles the looming 14ers (Maroon Peak and North Maroon peak). The loop goes up and down over and over again reaching elevations of over 12,500’ several times and has some of the best views I have ever seen. If you want a little more thrill try climbing some of the surrounding 14ers (Pyramid Peak, North Maroon, and Maroon peak), be warned all these summits are extremely difficult and have a rating over class 3. The area can easily be accessed from the 4-Pass Loop parking lot where you can also obtain a permit.

Best time to go: June-September

Superstition Wilderness, Arizona

Backpacking, Hiking, Climbing

Located just outside of Phoenix, the Superstition Wilderness is as mysterious as it sounds…. With legends of gold hidden in the mountains and petroglyphs scattered around the canyon walls, it’s a mystical place to be. The wilderness area protects 159,757 acres of scrub land, dessert canyons and saguaro cacti, it’s also home to over 100 miles of trails including a section of the 800-mile Arizona Trail. The place can be absolutely brutal during the summer, and water typically doesn’t return in the fall, best time to visit, is definitely the spring. For the past two years, the springs have been magically green, with more water than they’ve had in the area in 20 years. My recommendation is to start your hike from the Peralta Trailhead, hiking up to Weaver’s Needle. From there you have endless options for day hikes, or you can begin a several days long journey into the wilderness, be warned, you probably won’t see many others, so have fun! If you need a spring retreat, definitely recommend…

Best time to go: March-June, August-D

Kiavah Wilderness, California

Car Camping, Backpacking, Off-Roading

The Kiavah Wilderness located in the Sequoia National Forest about three hours north of Los Angeles is the final push through the Mojave Desert on the way into the Sierra Nevada Mountains and just a few days short of Kennedy Meadows. In total there are 88,290 acres of protected land and 20 miles of trail

with several off-road routes open to recreation as well. For those long-distance hikers, this makes a great section to test your metal in the desert, its 20 miles from Bird Spring Pass to Walker Pass Campground, from there you’re only 50 short miles from the mecca of Kennedy Meadows. The area provides a beautiful intro to the Pacific Crest Trail. If you’re not into backpacking and just want an easy hike, basecamp at Walker Pass and wander your way into the mountains for the day. Pro-tip, bring extra snacks, the PCT hikers you pass will love you forever and point out all the cool stuff.

Best time to go: May-October

Monument Rocks, Kansas

Hiking, Car Camping

Monument Rocks is an other worldly place, sticking 70’ up out of the grassland of Kansas. It’s an area rich in fossils, cool to kick off the side of the road for and a great place to spend the night between points A and B. Professional tip, checkout the area around sunrise or sunset, the sky is amazing. Not a place to plan an entire trip to, but again, good place to pop off the highway between point A and B. We wanted to get Kanas included on this too…. You’re welcome Colleen…

Best time to go: April-September

Explore more locations from the Off the Beaten Path Series: South, Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, Northwest

Off the Beaten Path: The Northeast

Part 3 of a 5 part series:

by: Ben Shaw

For those of you who may not have seen our previous “Off the Beaten Path” blogs, check out the Northwest & Midwest articles. Over the next several weeks we’ll be breaking down our favorite places we’ve found across the country when we go off the beaten path. You won’t find any National Parks on this list, but you will find some of the most amazing car camping spots, kayaking destinations, backpacking trails and many more hidden gems.

This week we’re talking about our adventures in the Northeast. Some of RRT’s favorite destinations are up here, there’s beginner friendly whitewater, sea-kayaking, some of the most beautiful backpacking and mountains whose unpredictable weather can make Colorado 14ers

sound like cake.

Youghiogheny River & Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

Car camping, Whitewater Rafting, Hiking, Backpacking, Hunting

Nestled in the rolling hills of southeast Pennsylvania sits a little town called Ohiopyle, its been drawings visitors from all over since the 1920s and is smackdab in the middle of the Laurel Highlands, 3,000 square miles of Pennsylvania’s highest peaks. Ohiopyle and the Yough (Yok), boast some very beginner friendly class II-III whitewater rafting as well as some great class V on the upper section of the river. There’re numerous different outfitters in the area that can get you on the river if you’re interested in getting wet! On top of the draw of the river, there’s also the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, a 150-mile

trail connecting Pittsburg, PA with Washington, D.C. If 150 miles is too much of a commitment, the Laurel Highlands hiking trail, comes in at a very doable 70 miles long, stretching from just outside of Ohiopyle to Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown, PA. There’s plenty to do in the area, between hunting for waterfalls, playing in the river or hiking the hills so I definitely recommend a visit this summer if you get the chance, makes for a great long weekend.

Best time to go: May-September

Lake Willoughby, Vermont

Backpacking, Hiking, Kayaking

Okay, so this is another one that I’ve never been to but it looks and sounds absolutely amazing…. From our glorious Colleen and her husband:

“You can rent kayaks from the small lodge on the lake and paddle around for hours. There are trails in the surrounding mountains that overlook that lake offering beautiful views of the area. They’re well maintained, easily accessible and open to day hiking as well as some overnight camping. Hill Farmstead Brewery, just a short drive away offers some delicious brews and was nominated as the “Best new brewery in the world” since 2012. The beach makes an amazing place to lounge and swim during the summer heat.”

Definitely getting added to my summer escape list…

Best time to go: June-September

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Backpacking, Climbing, Mountaineering

The White Mountains are a backpacker’s paradise. Covering over 750,000 acres with over 1,200 miles of hiking trails including over 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail this place is a must visit for any backpacker or hardcore day hiker. The forest contains 6 different wilderness areas as well as the summit of Mt. Washington, the 6,288’ highpoint of New Hampshire. A small minus of the area (or plus depending on how you look at this), the US Forest Service had several signs that warn you when approaching tree line that “mountain summit areas have the worst weather in America” and to come prepared. Mt. Washington has experience over 230mph winds at the summit and over 135 people have died trying to attempt the summit. The White Mountains also have some of the best skiing in the east and draw backcountry skiers from around the world to Huntington’s and Tuckerman’s Ravines in the Great Gulf Wilderness for world class runs. The White’s hold a special place in my heart and have been the location of some major successes (two winter summits of Mt. Washington) as well as some low points (my own and several other’s unsuccessful summit attempts). With out a doubt, if you have the time and want an adventure, this is the place to be. For those of you who like fall colors, head north in the second week of October and the trees will be on fire with color as the cold winter air begins to settle in.

Best time to go: Year-Round (If you like winter activities)

Adirondack Mountains (High Peaks Wilderness), New York

Car Camping, Backpacking, Climbing, Mountaineering

I’ve driven through the Adirondacks in the winter and fall and have always wanted to stop and explore the area…. Quite a few of the RRT crew has stopped by the area throughout their adventures around the country and the world. The last to go was Dalton during the fall of 2019, here’s what he had to say:

“With an unreal number of trails, you can make mix and match to create your ideal backpacking itinerary. Almost all campsites include a shelter and an outhouse so it’s as close to glamping as you can get while still carrying everything on your back. Year round the 46er peaks will give you a tough climb with some of the most breathtaking views this side of the Mississippi.”

The Adirondacks are also home to Mt. Marcy, the 5,344’ highpoint of New York with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. It makes for a challenging climb in the warm seasons and an even more fun climb in cold weather (micro-spikes recommended). Next time I get to New England, definitely stopping by.

Best time to go: May-October

Delaware Seashore State Park, Delaware

Hiking, Sea-Kayaking, Fishing, Beach Bummin

This little gem sits just north of the Chesapeake Bay along the Coastal Highway, it covers 2,825 acres and protects 6 miles of Atlantic coast shoreline. The park offers two different car campgrounds as well as lifeguard patrolled beaches and quiet coastal inlets for more protected kayaking. In the summer you can find surfers on the beach as well as ample opportunities to fish. Some areas in the bay also allow public clamming and crabbing. In all, a cool place to visit if you’re ever traveling up and down the Atlantic Coast.

Best time to go: June-September

Explore more locations from the Off the Beaten Path Series: South, Southwest, Northeast, Midwest, Northwest