The AllTrails App: How one simple tool helped me discover hidden paths and secret trails in my backyard

How one simple tool helped me discover hidden paths and secret trails in my backyardThe temperature was a comfortable, albeit cool, 61 degrees F as we reached our destination – a log cabin located in North Carolina’s high country, which my dad and stepmom had rented for the week. The cabin’s interior was a gorgeous open floor plan featuring exposed wood from floor to ceiling. The exterior … well, the home’s exterior was fine, but the view? Not so much.

After driving on a dirt and gravel road around the mountainous hillside, we couldn’t for the life of us figure out why the cabin was built where it was. It wasn’t for the isolation. There were at least two other homes that shared the same drive with porches visible from any of the cabin’s windows. It wasn’t for the vistas. This was Christmas Tree country and rows upon unnaturally orderly rows of Fraser Firs filled much of the landscape, although even that view was blocked by the cabin’s position on the slope. It wasn’t for the late night dining either as we learned that most of the nearby restaurants closed between eight and eight thirty.

Still, it existed for some reason, so we figured we might as well utilize it the best we knew how – as a launching spot for the always memorable family waterfall hunt. The only problem was we also weren’t near some of the more well-known trails scattered throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we were still in an area with a cell phone signal.

I discovered the AllTrails App.

AllTrails Review - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #appWhat I liked about this app (aside from the price) was the ability to filter out the trails to those that:

  1. contained a waterfall – as it wouldn’t be much of a waterfall hunt without that element
  2. allowed for dogs on the trail – as Her Royal Highness really hates to be left behind during royal tours of her kingdom
  3. are kid-friendly – okay let’s be honest – I needed the trail to be Allie-friendly

A few taps of the filter pane later several trails were suggested within a short drive away and there was even a map to the trail entry point as well as an elevation map of the trail itself and reviews by other hikers so I had a general idea how the hike might go before we found ourselves in the middle of the woods.

What I didn’t like? When I selected my filters, the list of resulting trails didn’t automatically refresh as one might think it should, but I realized the error as soon as I saw a trail marked as HARD still on the list, so it wasn’t too difficult to fix with a manual refresh.

I narrowed the list of options down to two potential trails – one moderate and one described as more of a wooded walking path than hike. We packed lunches, piled into the car, and soon were on our way.

Our first destination was the Crab Orchard Falls trail which begins behind a church and historic mission school near-ish to the North Carolina and Tennessee border. Thank goodness for the GPS with the app or we might never have found the trail’s entrance.

I’m glad we decided to do this one first as the entire first half of the trail was at a steep incline, which wrapped itself around the mountainside. But then, just as my calves were beginning to complain, we heard it. The unmistakable roar of water crashing.

Crab Orchard Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travelCrab Orchard Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travel

It is amazing how much easier it is to complete a difficult task once the goal is in sight.

We spent time among the moss-covered rocks at the base of the falls, snapping photos while ensuring that none of the younger set (including Her Royal Highness) decided to go for an impromptu swim while tossing leaves, rocks, and branches in the current if only to see how fast they can travel.

After returning to our car and eating our packed lunch we made our way to our second destination – the Cascades Trail located off the Blue Ridge Parkway. This time the path was easier to find as well as easier to walk, sloping gently away from one of the parkway’s scenic overlooks. A narrow creek babbled to our side. The creek widened. Water cascaded over the rocks creating tiny rapids. We stopped to take more pictures figuring this had to be the area that gave the trail its name.

It was beautiful to be sure, but hardly impressive after seeing Crab Orchard Falls. Still, we kept going knowing that the trail would loop around and eventually put us back out at the parking lot. We crossed a wooden bridge and saw stairs made out of stone. And that’s when we heard it again. The unmistakable roar of crashing water.

Cascades Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travelCascades Falls NC - www.alliepottswrites.com #hiking #travel

A thin but massive fall with a near vertical drop to the valley below. Gorgeous, wild, and a complete surprise to us all.

It may be easier to achieve a goal when you have it in sight, but it is even more rewarding when you still manage to reach it based on good-faith and follow-through alone.

The cranberry sauce has landed. A thanksgiving perspective

At the time this posts, I will, hopefully, be well on my way to a tryptophan-induced turkey coma or at least surrounded by the smells of food cooking, children playing, and the near-deafening noise of my family squeezed together under a single roof attempting to engage in conversation over the sound of the football game on tv.

And sure, some of this vision is idealized thinking. In reality, the children’s play has likely descended into high pitched chaos by now. Cans of cranberry sauce may have fallen to the floor adding to the kitchen’s new color scheme and grandpa might say something, well… grandpa-y.

But even this less than perfect vision is still reason for me to be grateful.

The scent of smoke filled the air outside my home last week, caused by several forest fires burning in North Carolina’s Western mountains, nearly 200 miles away. On the other side of the state, flood waters from Hurricane Matthew only recently receded. Power was out and roads were closed for weeks. Many have lost everything due to the rain, and will more due to its counterpart just as the weather to turns cold.

And so I might roll my eyes as I pass the gravy but will raise my glass when it comes time to give thanks and drink deeply. For my more realistic vision of the day, as flawed is it may be, is still filled with food, family, and a roof over our heads.

I hope that you might consider participating in #GivingTuesday if you are in a position to do so, and wish you all, whether you observe the holiday or not, a Happy Thanksgiving.


And for those of you who prefer a little extra reading to football, here is a repost of another of my less than ideal Thanksgiving stories.


Has anyone's Thanksgiving ever gone like this?
Has anyone’s Thanksgiving ever gone this smoothly? (image from wikipedia.org)

I considered myself fortunate. We were traveling for Thanksgiving, meaning I wasn’t going to have to cook (a good thing for all involved – just ask my hubby sometime about my poultry cooking skills). I didn’t have to clean. All I was expected to do was to enjoy time with my family. Silly me. I forgot that I was traveling with a toddler.

I had barely closed my eyes on Thanksgiving eve when I heard my toddler’s cry in the adjacent room which he was sharing with his brother. I immediately sprang out of bed to see what was the matter worried that might wake up the rest of the household. I was ready to once again hear, “Where Monkey Man?” This time however it wasn’t merely a request to locate his favorite toy, he was sick, and not just with the sniffles.

I rushed him to the bath while the hubby took care of the linens. Eventually, we were forced to turn the lights on while I rummaged through his bag looking for his spare set of pajamas. It turned out I needn’t worry about waking his brother. My eldest didn’t even bother turning over. (Man, I wish I could still sleep like that!)

Cleaned up, my toddler clung to me like a life raft. The hubby passed by carrying our travel toddler cot. (You could smell it from a distance.) Even if we had a spare set of sheets, kiddo wasn’t going to be able to sleep on it again anytime soon. I had resigned myself to a night on the couch or rocking chair when the hubby came by again. This time with a pillow in hand. He volunteered to stay on the couch so that our son and I might sleep more comfortably on a bed.

In hindsight, I think in the end he may have gotten the better end of the deal.

It was still a loooooonnnnng a night. At home, my toddler’s bed is near the ground and has guard rails. My in-law’s guest bed, on the other hand, is very tall and all sides are completely exposed. Each time my kiddo shifted, I worried he might slip over the side and plummet to the ground. I was afraid that the cries we had already heard that night would be whispers in comparison. I tried to pull him back closer to me, but that only served to wake him up enough to remind him that his tummy was still upset.

Several trips back to the bathroom later (progressively less necessary),  I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. Unless I wanted to be completely worthless the following day, I was going to have to find a way for both of us to sleep. I realized I was going to have to give him more freedom of movement. I placed a few pillows near the bed’s edge, just in case, but then I let him go. Soon I heard soft, contented snores and I allowed myself to also fall into a light sleep.

I awoke hours later to the touch of small fingers on my forehead. (Oh no! Dawn is still hours away – please, please try to go back to sleep!) My little boy whispered, “Where mommy go?”

I answered, “Mommy’s here. Are you okay?” (yep, the couch was definitely the better option)

“I better.” Then no more words. Instead, he snuggled next to me, and the soft snores resumed in short order. Even though I knew right then that it was only a matter of time before I came down with whatever illness my toddler turned outbreak monkey possessed (4 days to be exact), I couldn’t help but smile. I’ll take what I can get.

My toddler used to only want to be with me. Then one day he stopped, and now prefers the company of his dad. All too soon, I know this stage will also be over and he’ll only want to be around his friends. I’ll eventually have to let him find his own way in life, but it is good to know that he’ll still look for mommy now and then.