We spent our last day in North Carolina hiking up a mountain. You may be thinking, they have two kids not even school-age – they must be crazy! Naysayers be damned – the kiddos did splendidly!
Keith selected Black Balsam Knob (via the Art Loeb Trail) in the Pisgah National Forest (Mile 420 off the Blue Ridge Parkway) as the location. It’s the second highest mountain in the Great Balsam Mountains at 6,214 feet tall! The weather was freezing for us Floridians – in the 40s! It was quite a shock from the temperature in Asheville, so I took Henry’s hat for myself because he had a hooded coat.
Henry has been preparing his whole life for hiking. He has an abundance of energy, climbs everything in sight, and has been doing trail walks since he took his first steps. Up on the mountain, he acted like a little mountain goat hopping from rock to rock and sprinting the straight-aways. We have a great backpack carrier that Elliot rode in since his walking skills weren’t up to snuff for a mile and half hike. He could look out and see over Keith’s shoulders, and looked quite relaxed so long as we didn’t stop moving.
After the one mile hike to the peak, we took a break for snacks and water, reclining on the grass while enjoying the beautiful view. On a clear day, you can see Shining Rock, Looking Glass Rock, Mt. Pisgah, Cold Mountain, and occasionally Mt. Mitchell (the highest point in the Eastern United States). In other words, the view is pristinely lovely. Henry only needed the tiniest bit of help going down the mountain when the rocks were slippery. We didn’t see any bears (thank goodness!), but ran into a few hiking dogs (much to the Hen’s dismay).
We stopped for ice cream at Dolly’s Dairy Bar (Lutheridge is a special flavor!) on the way back to Amber’s (kids were sleeping so we got to enjoy a mini-date), and ended the day with an evening stroll and playground adventure in her neighborhood. It was such a great visit; I hope we return soon!
Although we spent the majority of our time at our awesome rental house, we took a special trip to Silver Springs State Park, Florida’s first tourist attraction and one of the largest artesian springs on the planet. It’s located on the edge of the Ocala National Forest, and has been habituated since at least the early 1500s when Hernando de Soto explored Florida (a dugout canoe dating back to that time period can be seen underwater).
Since people are not allowed to swim in these particular springs (Florida has many other state parks where you can swim in the chilly water), the park offers 30-minute Glass Bottom Boat tours of the springs ($11 adults, $10 seniors and youth, under 5 is free), and it is totally worth it. We could easily see fish and turtles swimming underneath our boat, spotted an alligator sunning himself nearby, and spied one of sources of the springs. There’s not really anything like it, and it is amazing. The short trip was perfect for traveling with tired toddlers, but if you want a longer voyage the park offers extended boat tours during the season.
There are plenty of hiking trails throughout the park. We walked a short boardwalk path through the forest and along the water. It was an lovely, easy trek, and I wish we had more time to check out some of the other ones. The kids really liked seeing animals inside small, air conditioned (yay!) space outside the boat docks. We didn’t make it to Wild Waters, the water park at the Springs, but I remember always having fun when going as a kid with my swim team (FCC forever!) We will have to plan a return trip soon. I love the Florida State Park system, and want to try to visit all the parks in my lifetime.