The Blue Ridge Outdoors Ultimate 100 Challenge
Join us on our quest to complete The Ultimate 100.
Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes, from trying a new craft beer to hucking a 30-foot waterfall. If you want adventure, step outside of what you know. With the help of readers, our staff, and our region’s experts, we’ve compiled a list of 100 activities that highlight the best of the Blue Ridge. We’re not just daring you to tackle them; our staff will also be aiming to check off as many as possible in 2014.
Complete as many activities of the Ultimate 100 as possible this year and take photos of each adventure along the way. We’ll include reader photos in the magazine each month and give away gear and swag to standout contributions. Submit one photo for each event completed. Tag photos #BROultimate100 on Facebook and Instagram.
1. THRU-RIDE the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway by bike. Extra credit for adding Skyline Drive and a side-trip to the summit of Mount Mitchell. –Martin Conway, Pisgah Forest, N.C.
2. SUMMIT Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest point. Go mid-June when the rhododendron are blooming and hang with the mini ponies.
3. LOOK UP and see if you can catch the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights in North Carolina. –John Maniscalco, Winston-Salem, N.C.
4. CANOE AND CAMP along the entire length of the French Broad River Trail. If you’re feeling ambitious (and have three months to spare), take the river all the way to the Mississippi and down to the Gulf of Mexico.
5. TEAM UP with your pals to race the 212 miles of the Smoky Mountain Relay.
6. SEA KAYAK around Lake Jocassee.
7. RIDE OR RUN all 34 miles of the Virginia Creeper Trail.
8. SCRAMBLE UP the Via Ferrata at Nelson Rocks.
9. DITCH THE BEACH and hit the slopes for a summer vacation. Ski or snowboard at Liberty Mountain Snowflex Center where winter athletes come to train in the offseason.
10. GO TUBIN’ in Canaan Valley down a 1,200-foot lane, the longest in the East.
11. TEAR UP THE CUPP, a run at Snowshoe Mountain Resort that descends 1,500 vertical feet in a mile. For competitive skiers and snowboarders, check out the Cupp Run Challenge in February.
12. STAND UP AND PADDLE in the newly restored Mountain Lake in southwestern Virginia, the setting for the classic film Dirty Dancing.
13. FLOAT down the New River, from its headwaters in North Carolina to its confluence with the Ohio River. –Derick Page, Roanoke, Va.
14. HIKE NAKED on the summer solstice.
15. SUPPORT LOCAL in every way. Spend an entire week buying only locally produced items.
16. CONFRONT THE DARKNESS and paddle a river under the light of a full moon. (Don’t wear your headlamp on your helmet.)
17. LOOP IT UP on the Bartram Trail for a weekend of challenging terrain, stellar views, and remote hiking. Thru-hike all 100 miles for the ultimate experience.
18. EAT YOUR WEIGHT in pizza at Miguel’s near the Red River Gorge. After a long day on the rock, nothing beats a slice loaded with avocado, sweet potato, and mango salsa (seriously, try it).
19. TRAVEL HUT TO HUT at Whitegrass Touring Center by ski or snowshoe. Whiskey required.
20. BEHOLD THE BEAUTY of the Honey Creek Loop in the Big South Fork National Recreation Area. –Oliver Reed, Knoxville, Tenn.
21. SKINNY DIP—maybe in your neighbor’s pool, maybe somewhere that requires less “trespassing.”
22. BEAT THE BUNION—Charlie’s Bunion that is. Although not nearly as high in elevation as nearby LeConte, Kephart, and Guyot peaks, this peak offers amazing 360-degree views of those very summits and the surrounding Smokies.
23. PARTY ON at West Virginia’s Gauley River Fest after paddling the Gauley River Marathon (Upper, Middle, and Lower sections) in one day.
24. PLAY HOOKY and head to Max Patch Mountain for the day. Appalachian Trail record holder and author Jennifer Pharr Davis says flying a kite or having a family picnic on this open expanse of mountain bald is a must-do in southern Appalachia.
25. COWBOY CAMP under the stars on Roan Mountain.
26. ICE CLIMB on Rabun Bald in Georgia when the weather turns cold.
27. BASK IN the breathtaking views of the Dolly Sods Wilderness. With harsh winds, unpredictable weather, and a thriving snowshoe hare population, you’ll feel like you’re hiking in Canada, not West Virginia. –Christine Letsky Anderson, Massanutten, Va.
28. GO SOLO on a hike. If you’ve never enjoyed the company of nature by yourself, you’re missing out. Just tell someone where you’re going before you leave.
29. BE OPEN to sleeping in a hammock. Although you feel like a prepackaged burrito for a bear, it’s surprisingly comfortable and looks really cool.
30. JUMP OFF something really high into really deep water. Yeah, you might get some serious smackback from a sloppy jump, but that’s about the worst that can happen. Jump Rock on Dudley’s Dip on the New River Gorge is a good first leap of faith.
31. TRY KAYAKING, even if you’re claustrophobic and aquaphobic. The U.S. National Whitewater Center offers kayak roll lessons, and if it turns out whitewater really isn’t your thing, the USNWC has a host of other activities, from mountain biking to climbing.
32. ZIP DOWN on Adventures On The Gorge’s AdrenaLine, the longest zipline on the East Coast.
33. DESCEND DEEP into the earth via Fantastic Pit, the 586-foot vertical shaft in Georgia’s Ellison’s Cave. –Jennifer Kane, Columbia, S.C.
34. FOLLOW THE PATH less traveled, also known as bushwhacking.
35. SIGN UP for an ultra, then do it. The New River Trail 50K takes place in the fall at the New River Trail State Park. The course is all dirt, flat, and very scenic, making it a great first.
36. GET INSPIRED at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Check The Banff Centre’s website for dates when the tour will be in your neck of the woods.
37. DRIVE BACKROADS and ditch the interstate for a month. Chances are you’ll never go back. Consider a motorcycle tour of the Blue Ridge backcountry.
38. FINISH PITCHELL, the daunting 100K that starts on the summit of Mount Pisgah and follows the Mountains to Sea Trail to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the East. Seasoned ultrarunner (and recent Appalachian Trail record setter) Matt Kirk recommends this as a must-do adventure, quoting Pitchell’s creator, fellow runner Adam Hill: “Pitchell leaves a mark on us that changes the way that we view this sport that we love. It brings us back to our roots.”
38. SUMMIT THE SOUTH PEAK of Seneca Rocks in West Virginia, one of the most iconic places to climb in the Southeast.
40. SLEEP OUT OF YOUR CAR. Even if you spend the night crammed halfway in the trunk of your Honda Accord and decide to never do it again, you’ll get a taste of the dirtbag lifestyle and reevaluate how much stuff you really “need” in life.
41. GET CHAINSAW CERTIFIED with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to help clear trails and give back to the places where we play.
42. TOUR THE CATAWBA RIVER by kayak and marvel at the Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies that bloom in late spring. –Patrice German, Fort Mill, S.C.
43. SLIP AND SLIDE down Sliding Rock near Brevard, N.C., or the Meadow Run natural water slide in Ohiopyle State Park, Pa. (While you’re in the area, hop in a raft and go down the rompin’ class V run on the Upper Youghiogheny.)
44. FLY FISH on the Savage River for some wild brown and brook trout.
45. GET ROOTED in the history and music of Appalachia. Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, the Galax Fiddler’s Convention, and Floyd Fest are great festivals that feature both contemporary and traditional takes on bluegrass and country music.
46. RUN BAREFOOT but start with short distances and ease into it over time. If you’re hesitant to try running sans shoe, try some minimalist footwear.
47. CATCH A SUNSET at Hawksbill Mountain after hiking to the falls in the Linville Gorge.
48. FORGET THE PHONE. In an era of instant gratification, it’s hard to distinguish between living in the moment and capturing the moment. Try capturing the moment with your mind next time.
49. SKYDIVE—and scream the whole way down.
50. DO A HEADSTAND on a standup paddleboard (as if yoga itself wasn’t hard enough). Standup paddleboarder Melanie Seiler says Summersville Lake in West Virginia is a great spot for getting your SUP and/or SUP yoga on.
51. FUEL THE STOKE by crushing the Shenandoah Mountain 100, one of the region’s top endurance events for mountain biking. Pitch a tent at the nearby Stokesville Campground to get the full experience.
52-56. GO BOATING. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to step up your game, Dagger paddler Chris Gragtmans has five things every river rat should try.
- Learn to kayak. The Nantahala River is the best place to do that.
- Attend Dominion Riverrock in Richmond, Va., and participate in the SUP Cross and Enduro events or the Freestyle Kayaking competition. Hang out all weekend for live music, bouldering, and other outdoor activities.
- SUP the ChattaJack31, a 31-mile paddling race that goes through the heart of the Tennessee River Gorge.
- Paddle the Iceman Race in Columbia, S.C. in January. This grassroots community event requires competitors not only to paddle their boats but also to hike with them and swim with them. It’s like a triathalon, but not really.
- Run multiple laps on the Russell Fork Gorge in the fall. “If you’re hitting every eddy on the Upper Gauley, you should definitely paddle this river. It’s one of my favorites,” Gragtmans says.
57. BE HUMBLED as you gaze up at the towering old growth trees of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. You’ll be surprised at the amount of awe and beauty that can be packed into a two-mile hike.
58. GET WILD on the slopes of Mount Porte Crayon in West Virginia, a largely unknown gem in the world of backcountry skiing.
59. HEAD SOUTH in the winter and float through the mysterious tea-colored, alligator-infested waters of Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp.
60. SURF JAWS on the Nolichucky River.
61. JOIN THE RANKS on a Midnight Mystery Ride. Charleston, S.C. is one of several cities that hosts this ride. –Tyler Roach, Charleston, S.C.
62. TAKE A SEAT atop the Best Seat In The House, a classic 5.9 sport route in the Obed that offers stunning views of the nearby Obed River and Clear Creek.
63. HUCK STATELINE FALLS on the Watauga River.
64. WATCH HAWKS soar over the ridges of Pennsylvania as they make their way south. Kittatinny Ridge and Hawk Mountain are two great places to see the flights.
65. FROLICK WITH THE PONIES on Chincoteague Island. Rent a sea kayak and paddle to neighboring Assateague Island to experience the scenic shoreline and abundant wildlife. –Eliza Beth, Charlottesville, Va.
66. SHRED SINGLETRACK during three days of mountain biking at Tsali Recreation Area, DuPont State Forest, and Pisgah National Forest.
67. RE-LIVE DELIVERANCE, without the squealing like a pig. Paddle or raft the class III and IV sections of the Chattooga River, one of the largest free-flowing rivers in the Southeast and the setting for the 1972 thriller Deliverance. –Jill Moore, Asheville, N.C.
68. BOOZE CRUISE on a bike, in a boat, or, more responsibly, with Asheville’s Brews Cruise. Leave the designated driving to the Brews Cruise crew and enjoy worry-free sampling of the microbrews offered in Beer City, U.S.A.’s multiple craft breweries.
69. NIGHT HIKE up to McAfee’s Knob and have your picture taken on the iconic rock, sunrise in the background.
70-73. TIGHT LINES when you’re out on the water. Check out these four fly fishing challenges as suggested by author and fly angler Beau Beasley.
- Native brookies in Virginia’s Rapdidan River
- Wild rainbows on West Virginia’s Elk River
- Reclusive brown trout in Maryland’s Gunpowder Falls
- Beefy red fish on North Carolina’s Neuse River
74. SUMMIT ONE (or all 40) of the South’s 6,000-foot peaks. Our favorite: Roan Mountain. Bonus points for tackling a summit without an official trail to the top.
75. BIKE THE GAMUT in Roanoke. Ride all 40+ miles of epic singletrack in Carvins Cove in a single day. Many have tried; few have succeeded.
76. TOP OUT on the best bouldering in the region. Hound Ears in Boone, N.C., Horse Pens 40 in Steele, Ala., and The Stone Fort, formerly known as Little Rock City, in Chattanooga, Tenn., make up the Triple Crown Bouldering Series, which takes place every fall.
77. GO BIG or go home at the Blue Ridge Mountain Adventure Race, a 46-mile course that includes everything from kayaking to mountain biking, orienteering, and “mystery challenges.”
78. CATCH GORGE-OUS VIEWS of the Southeast’s highest waterfall, Whitewater Falls in Gorges State Park. The 811-foot waterfall has an upper and lower section that straddles the North Carolina/South Carolina border.
79. GET WEIRD and explore state parks with bizarre names. Hungry Mother, Frozen Head, and Worlds End are just a few to check out.
80. HANG GLIDE at North Carolina’s Jockey’s Ridge State Park, where the East Coast’s largest natural sand dune awaits you.
81. PACK THE CAR and head to the Outer Banks for a surfing road trip. Frigid water temperatures keep the lightweights at bay in the winter and spring, but for equally good surf and warmer weather, the fall season offers amazing swells, on-point pits, and tourist-free beaches.
82. PLAY SANTA and rappel or climb Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park.
83-84. CLIMB THE CRAGS of the Southeast. Climber and photographer Harrison Shull has been an icon in the region since the early ‘90s and recommends these two places for getting a taste of the area’s rock climbing.
- Hike to the top of Shortoff Mountain and follow the descent gully to the bottom of the 400ft wall. Climb the 5.7 route Maginot Line back to the top of the gorge. “It does not get much more wild and remote than this for an Eastern U.S. climbing experience.”
- If you’re looking for a test, try the 5.12a Arm and Hammer, the “easiest” and “safest” route up the Headwall at Whiteside Mountain near Cashiers. Climbing guru Jeff Achey once said about Whiteside, “The challenge exists in non-numerical space. You pass the bolt at the 5.12 ‘crux,’ and then the real ordeal begins. The essence—the justification, if there is any—lies in obscure, ineffable moments.”
85. FLY BY FOOT down the Foothills Trail, a 77-mile footpath that follows the Blue Ridge Escarpment in Upper South Carolina and heads into North Carolina. Put yourself to the test and try running it in a day.
86. AIRSCREW, DONKEY FLIP, Green Grind, Pistol Flip—whatever moves you’ve got, bring ‘em to the New. The New River Dries is one of the best places for big wave playboating in the winter and early springtime.
87. TREK THROUGH TRANSYLVANIA in search of waterfalls. This North Carolina county is appropriately nicknamed Land of Waterfalls for its 250 majestic cascades. See how many you can visit in one day. –Lydia Nemeth Odell, Brevard, N.C.,
88. ROCK HOP at Devil’s Marbleyard, a three-mile hike near Glasgow, Va. –Stuart Hickey, Troutville, Va.
89. BUY A SLACKLINE and then use it. A great pastime for base camp or lunch breaks, slacklining is a great workout for your core. It’s like tight rope walking, but without the spandex.
90-93. GO BIG ON YOUR BIKE for these next adventures. Chris Scott, longtime mountain biker and owner of Shenandoah Mountain Touring, recommends the following four rides near his home base in Harrisonburg, Va.
- Douthat State Park, located in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia, offers not only prime singletrack but also a 50-acre lake for swimming, boating, and fishing.
- The Virginia Mountain Bike Trail is a 480-mile off-road trail that starts in Strasburg and ends in Damascus.
- Professional biker Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo has been called “an American classic” by many and “the most challenging and adventurous Gran Fondo in the States.” The course winds through western Virginia backroads and covers 105 miles, 11,000 feet of climbing, and two dirt road climbs.
- Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic, a weeklong race in central Pennsylvania, is the longest bike stage race experience in the United States and attracts the best riders from across the country.
94. FREESTYLE, BACKSTROKE, DOGGY PADDLE—do what you gotta do to complete the Peluso Open Water 10-mile swim to the bridge and back on the Upper James River.
95. MAKE IT MULTISPORT on your next weekend excursion. For your first multisport trip, try floating the Upper New and bouldering at Bozoo in the Gorge.
96. BEAT THE CROWDS and hike up to Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park in the dead of winter, before the sun rises, on a Tuesday.
97. TAKE A BREAK during your workday and go for a lunchtime ride or run. Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, and Charlottesville’s Albemarle Greenway are all great examples of trail getaways located right in town.
98. TOUR THE BREW RIDGE TRAIL in Nelson County, Va. Although the trail mainly refers to the numerous breweries located on VA-151, this stretch of road is also home to a cidery and a number of wineries. Before you booze, hike up to Crabtree Falls just down the road to justify those extra calories.
99. RUN OR HIKE the 31-mile Art Loeb Trail from Brevard to Shining Rock Wilderness, and take the side-hike to the top of Cold Mountain, made famous by the novel and film.
100. CELEBRATE, DON’T HIBERNATE when winter rolls around. Jumpstart the cold season with a Polar Plunge; nothing gets the heart thumping like submerging your body in frigid water. Blowing Rock, N.C., holds one each year at Chetola Lake.