I'm used to traveling a lot. One of the worst and best parts of this year is that I've been forced to stay in one place (though I made three trips up north in short order to see family, so it doesn't quite count as no travel). Staying home has been great for a lot of reasons, but I've had that travel itch.
When my friend Lori suggested we rent a cabin for a couple days in October, I was all about it. We're on the same "safety level" of quarantine, largely only interacting with our barns and we both felt safe with the risks. Lori had taken her son to this cabin over the summer and had raved how beautiful it was on this mountain, so I was all about taking a few days to go for a quick fall retreat.
Between the two of us, we had four dogs and a kid (the latter obviously belonging to Lori). We took separate cars, got to the cabin on a Sunday evening, and didn't get back in the car until Thursday when we had to leave. It was magical.
|Home sweet home|
The cabin was surprisingly spacious, a two bed two bath space with a gorgeous deck that we could lock the dogs on and a hot tub. We were there Sunday to Thursday, so were planning to work Monday/Tuesday and take off the rest of the week to explore.
I've never heard of Leatherwood Mountain before but apparently it's a hot spot for trail riding in NC. A lot of the cabins you can rent on the mountain have paddocks or little barns attached so you can bring your equine pals for a weekend of trail riding. Um, sign me up! Already getting a group of friends together to plan a weekend away. Considered a "resort", my take on Leatherwood is that it's a mountain community of both private residences or vacation homes and rental cabins with amenities such as a club house, restaurant, and pool (none of which we used). There are miles of hiking and riding trails, and I managed to get a nice glimpse of them while there.
From our cabin, I could walk about a quarter mile up and get to multiple trail heads. The one I took daily was Daniel Boone, often going out at lunch or in the morning before work, and I walked it with Lori and her kid a few times as well. Multiple trails branched off of it, Like Big Pine, Daniel's Pass, and Jingle, but most days I stuck to the one trail as I had figured out where the mile marker was, so I'd do an out and back and get in two miles with the dogs. I felt safe doing that by myself, the trail was clear, wide, and well-maintained, and the dogs loved it. The best part? I only saw another person ONCE on trail the entire week I was there, and I calculated I hiked about 16 miles over four days. My dogs enjoyed a lot of safe off-leash time, though I by no means recommend letting your dogs off leash on a more normal hike where you are going to run into a lot of other people and dogs. My dogs have great recall and are very used to being in the woods with me and staying close.
On Wednesday afternoon, the three of us and our pack of beasts decided to explore more of the trail system. Lori had a great app to reference, so off we went. I'm annoyed that I didn't take a picture of the basic map we were given in our welcome packet nor did I download the map, but I found this online which is only sort of helpful for a visual.
We started on Panhandle which was just a quarter mile down the road from us. The trail here was extremely washed away. There was a ravine in the middle of the trail so we found ourselves going slowly and scrambling from side to side. That paired with my intense fear of coming upon a snake (I definitely don't have PTSD from Zuzu's danger noodle encounter, nope not me), it was slow going for a bit. The trail was definitely passable, but I hope they do a little work on it - I would not take a horse on that trail especially when it's covered in leaves. I was grateful to be able to let the dogs off leash here - managing the two of them and not falling on my ass was proving difficult. The pictures below were all taken on a different trail. I didn't take any pics on Panhandle as I was too busy not falling on my ass.
We came to a few stream crossings on this trail section which all the dogs were grateful for. The temperature had climbed to over 80 degrees, though the woods kept us relatively cool. After a few photo ops, we started looking at the app for our next trail section. We passed the option to jump on Big Pine as we had followed it off of Daniel Boone the previous day and there was a large section closed off due to rain washing it out, so we didn't think that was the safest bet. As we kept going, we ended up on Appletree. After following that for about half a mile, we came to what appeared to be a gravel service road, though I believe it's more of an undeveloped part of the mountain with multiple lots for sale.
|Belly flopping in the water, as one does when one is a Potato|
At this point, we had two options. We could go right down the mountain to a trail head that appeared to bring us close to our cabin pretty quickly, or left up the mountain to the next trail head, appearing to be a little under half a mile up. We chose that option, and started climbing the Gravel Road to Nowhere. It was ROUGH. We started strong but then stopped for multiple breaks. I'm not going to pretend to be super fit, but I was holding my own on these mountain hikes and feeling good whether going up or down. But a half mile of straight uphill? That was rough. We watched our heart rates on our Apple Watch and stopped when it made sense, ultimately reaching the Black Rock trail head. We stopped for a break and then realized that while we could see where the trail head likely was according to the sign, it was completely overgrown and impassable.
|These photos don't really do the incline justice, this is looking down the hill we just climbed up.|
Lori marched down it for a couple dozen yards, coming back quickly to say that nope, it was not a passable option. We checked the map and saw there was a trail head up just another little ways, but I didn't want to keep climbing the mountain to another impassable trail. I called the Leatherwood office with my one bar of service and asked if they knew which trails were passable at this time. The girl told me that no, they did not in fact have any information on which trails were in service though she did know that several were closed. This is my one complaint of the weekend - while I know it's hiking and nature and that it's very much a first world problem that a supposed-to-be-groomed hiking trail was not in fact groomed (it was truly unsafe to take, completely overgrown and would have been bush-whacking with risk of getting lost), I had the expectation that they'd at least be checking trail heads regularly to know which was usable. It's not the end of the world and I'd certainly go back, but that left a bad taste in my mouth.
We decided to risk it and head up to the next trail head and try our luck. Daniel's Pass looked like it would lead us right onto Daniel Boone, and from there we'd be about a mile from the cabin. I'm so glad we chose to go up instead of back down! The gravel road leveled out shortly after we started off again, and it was a short and easy walk to the trailhead. This was a narrow trail, think nose to tail pack horse trails where their feet fall in the same one foot wide space. It was easy enough to navigate, we were all thrilled to do more intermittent climbing rather than one constant steep road, and the forest offered some much-needed shade. I suspect this trail was under half a mile, it was pretty short, and soon we were dumped back out to our familiar Daniel Boone.
Let me tell ya, it felt like home! I love hiking and don't mind a climb, but that gravel road sucked and took a lot out of us. It was right in the hot sun, a constant uphill battle which none of us were fit enough to go up very quickly, and kind of took the fun out of the day. Our spirits lifted again as we wandered back down the familiar trail and the dogs started romping again, glad to be headed home. All in, we did just under four miles with an elevation gain of 774 feet. Nothing too crazy, but with four dogs and a kid it wasn't too shabby. I would have liked to go further and explore some other trails that spidered off of Daniel Boone, but the heat was getting to us so we opted to head back for some snacks.
Wednesday was our last night in the cabin, and we celebrated with some apple cider mules and time spent in the hot tub. The next morning we had planned to leave around 10. I got up early, packed my car, and hit the trail with my girls for a quick two miles. We were pretty tired from the day before but the morning was cool and it was nice to stretch my legs in the wood one more time.
All in all, this is one of my new favorite places in NC. I'm looking forward to going back and hitting the trails both on foot and on Gooseback - hoping to get a trip together, but probably looking at 2021 at this point which is fine by me.