FAVORITE TRAIL: ART LOEB
This perennial champion is a 30.1-mile hiking highlight reel of Pisgah National Forest. With rhodo tunnels, rocky outcroppings, 360-degree views, and ridgeline traversing, some say it’s a condensed version of the A.T. Local Art Loeb expert and owner of Pura Vida Adventures Joe Moerschbacher has fastpacked the trail, backpacked the trail, guided trips on the trail, and now runs shuttles on the trail for other backpackers. The Art Loeb is so popular, he’ll run three shuttle trips a week during the spring and fall peak seasons.“I think what makes this trail so popular is that it’s challenging, but it’s doable in a long weekend,” Moerschbacher says. “Plus, you get a variety of terrain. The Loeb takes you from high elevation balds at 6,000 feet to a valley floor forest at 2,000 feet. You get it all in one weekend.”

Backpackers trek the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail near Black Balsam.

Backpackers trek the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail near Black Balsam.

Of course, you have to pay your dues to reap all that hiking glory. The Art Loeb gains 10,000 cumulative feet from beginning to end, and has few reliable water sources along the way.

NEXT BEST
2. Black Mountain Crest/Deep Gap Trail, Mount Mitchell State Park and Pisgah National Forest, N.C.
3. Tuscarora Trail, Va., W.Va, Md., Pa.
4. Foothills Trail, S.C.
5. Red Creek Trail-Dolly Sods, Monongahela National Forest, W.Va.
6. Linville River Trail, Linville Gorge Wilderness, Pisgah National Forest, N.C.


FAVORITE SECTION OF THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY: PEAKS OF OTTER

Milepost 86, Bedford, Va.
The parkway follows the crest of the ridge into the Peaks of Otter area, which is a valley complete with a small lake surrounded by three distinctive peaks. The three Peaks of Otter are Sharp Top (3,865 feet high), Flat Top (4001 feet high), and Harkening Hill (4,475 feet high). Trails abound in the area, but the favorite is the 1.5-mile trek to the summit of Sharp Top, which has 360-degree views from its boulder-laden peak. The valley’s campground, lodge, restaurant, and visitor center make it a choice family destination.

Scenery:  ****
Solitude:  *
Difficulty:  **

NEXT BEST
2. Graveyard Fields, mp 418, N.C.
3. Humpback Rocks, mp 6, Va.
4. Linn Cove Viaduct, mp 304, N.C.
5. Waterrock Knob, mp 451, N.C.
6. Rocky Knob, mp 169, Va.


FAVORITE WATERFALL: CRABTREE FALLS, VIRGINIA
1,200 Feet
: Total distance Crabtree Falls drops from top to bottom
5:
Number of major cascades along the way, with countless smaller cascades thrown in for good measure.
3:
Number of years BRO readers have voted Crabtree their favorite waterfall
2:
Number of other waterfalls, besides Crabtree Falls, that claim to be the “tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi.”

NEXT BEST
2. Triple Falls, Dupont State Forest, N.C.
3. Apple Orchard Falls, Jefferson National Forest, Va.
4. Blackwater Canyon Falls, Monongahela National Forest, W.Va.
5. Cascades, Pisgah National Forest, N.C.
6. Whitewater Falls (also claims to be the highest east of the Mississippi), Gorges State Park, N.C.
7. Amicalola Falls (also claims to be the highest east of the Mississippi), Amicalola State Park, Ga.


FAVORITE SECTION OF THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL: DRAGON’S TOOTH
Catawba, Va.

It’s gotta be the rock. Or maybe it’s the views from the rock. Whatever the reason, readers love the series of Tuscarora quartzite spires that rise out of Cove Mountain’s ridge along the A.T. They look, not surprisingly, like dragon’s teeth, and the tallest sticks about 35 feet above the ground. Climb to the top of one of these teeth and you’ve got massive exposure with long-range views of the valley below and its surrounding peaks.

See it for yourself: Hike the A.T. 2.1 miles from route 624. You’ll climb 1,500 feet and have a tough rock scramble just before reaching the teeth.

Scenery:  ****
Solitude:  **
Difficulty:  ***

NEXT BEST
2. Mount Rogers/Grayson Highlands
3. Roan Mountain
4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
5. Shenandoah National Park
6. McAfee Knob


BEST ULTRA: MOUNT MITCHELL 40M

The Mount Mitchell Challenge is a fast-paced climb and descent of the tallest peak in the Eastern United States. 2009 saw the most extreme weather conditions in the entire history of the event, including heavy snow, sleet, and sub-freezing temperatures at the top of Mount Mitchell.

“I’ve never dealt with conditions like we had on race day last year,” says Mark Lundblad, reigning champion of the Challenge. “A pretty hard, cold rain changed over to snow and hypothermic conditions near the top. I was shivering while I was running and I wondered at times if I was going to make it back to the finish. If I hadn’t thrown on my running jacket at the last minute, I’d probably still be up there somewhere on that mountain and you’d be asking someone else about the race.”

NEXT BEST
2. Mountain Masochist, Va.
3. Umstead 100, N.C.
4. Massanutten Mountain 100, Va.
5. JFK 50, Md.


BEST CYCLING EVENT: ASSAULT ON MITCHELL, N.C.
The first 50 or so miles of the Assault on Mount Mitchell are a piece of cake. What you have to worry about on this 102-mile ride from Spartanburg to the top of the tallest mountain in the East is the final push. The majority of the 11,000 feet of elevation gain on this ride comes in the last 24 miles between Marion and the Mitchell summit.

chartHere’s what you need to look out for:
• The climb up route 80 to the Blue Ridge Parkway is brutal. The last four miles switchback endlessly with grades in the 10 percent range.
• The 11-mile section of the Parkway leading to the entrance of Mount Mitchell State Park is mostly uphill with climbs in the 6 to 8 percent range.
• The 4.7-mile road from the Parkway to the summit is pretty much all up hill, gaining close to 1,000 feet, but adrenaline and the realistic prospect of finishing will get you through to the 6,578-foot high finish line.

NEXT BEST
2. Three State, Three Mountain Challenge
, Tenn.
3. Six Gap Century
, Ga.
4. Mountain Mama
, Va.
5. Cheat Mountain Challenge,
W.Va.
6. USA Cycling Pro Championships
, S.C.

Taking the plunge at White Oak Canyon.

Taking the plunge at White Oak Canyon.


BEST SWIMMING HOLE: WHITE OAK CANYON
Shenandoah National Park

White Oak Canyon isn’t just one swimming hole, it’s a string of them tucked inside a narrow gorge within Shenandoah’s park boundaries. Six waterfalls punctuate White Oak’s trip down the canyon, with the uppermost falls topping out at 86 feet. Some say Lower White Oak Falls has the sweetest swimming hole in the canyon, but we suggest you swim, hike, and rock hop the entire chasm to decide for yourself.

Scenery:   ****
Solitude:  **
Difficulty:  **

NEXT BEST
2. Skinny Dip Falls, N.C.
3. Sliding Rock, N.C.
4. Cascade Falls, Va.
5. Blue Hole, Tenn.
6. Edge of the World, Ga.


BEST TRAIL RACES:

SPRINGMAID SPLASH 10K
The course is fun with flat fields and steep hills, the privately-owned Springmaid Mountain and Resort is scenic, the camaraderie between the runners is touching, but what people really love about this 6.2-mile mountain race are the stream crossings. You run through the thigh-high river four times between the start and finish. Not a bad way to beat the South’s August heat.

SHUT-IN RIDGE TRAIL RUN
Many consider this 25-year old race to be the classic mountain run in the Southeast. The course takes runners 18 miles from the North Carolina Arboretum to the trailhead for the Mount Pisgah summit trail, along the Mountains to Sea Trail. The route has 3,000 feet of elevation gain, much of which comes in steep, rugged climbing.

NEXT BEST
3. Stump Jump 11 Miler, Tenn.
4. XTERRA Richmond Trail Run, Va.
5. Dupont Forest 12K, N.C.
6. Dirty Dog 15K, W.Va.
7. Rock 2 Rock 10K, N.C.


BEST ROAD RACE: KOMEN RACE FOR THE CURE

The Komen Race for the Cure isn’t one race, it’s a series of races taking place all over the country. The love affair with the Komen is more about the cause than the course: This 5K series has raised more than $1 billion for breast cancer research since its inception in 1982, making it the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.

NEXT BEST
2. Blue Ridge Relay, Va./N.C.
3. Peachtree Road Race, Ga.
4. Crazy 8s 8K, Tenn.
5. Charlottesville 10-Miler, Va.
6. Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K, Va.


BEST MTB EVENT: SHENANDOAH 100
Some say it’s a 24-hour party, others say it’s a suffer-fest. The Shenandoah 100 starts and finishes at the Stokesville Campground, but what comes between is a legitimate tour of the finest singletrack and fire road riding in Virginia.

NEXT BEST
2. Assault on Mount Mitchell, N.C.
3. 24 Hours of Big Bear, W.Va.
4. Cohutta 100, Ga.
5. Middle Mountain Momma, Va.
6. 12 Hours of Tsali, N.C.

The Green River Race attracts the world’s best paddlers to tackle beastly rapids like Gorilla.

The Green River Race attracts the world’s best paddlers to tackle beastly rapids like Gorilla.


PADDLING EVENT: GREEN RIVER RACE, N.C.
Regarded as the most extreme kayak race in the world, the course is a half-mile of back-to-back class V rapids including the intimidating Gorilla, a narrow, billowing drop with a series of technical moves that have to be hit perfectly before the entrance. Boaters paddle one after another while hundreds of onlookers fill the riverbanks.

“That’s the hardest aspect of the race: quieting my mind and shutting out the crowd of people filling this normally quiet and lonely gorge. That and paddling into Gorilla when my arms feel like limp noodles,” says Chris Galloway, Green boater and maker of the documentary, The Green Race Movie.

NEXT BEST
2. Cheat Downriver Race, W.Va.
3. Animal Upper Gauley, W.Va.
4. Russell Fork Rendezvous, Ky.
5. Great Falls Race, Washington, D.C.


ADVENTURE RACE: ODYSSEY ENDORPHIN FIX

This classic expedition-length adventure race has gone through some changes in the last few years. Originally set in the New River Gorge, it moved to the rugged Pipestem State Park in 2009, and the race directors added half a day to the challenge, making it a full 3.5-day challenge. In 2010, the “E-Fix” is going back to its original two-day format with a new venue that will be disclosed in March. This is the Fix’s 20th year. The only details that race director Ronny Angell will let slip is that the new location will be within an hour’s drive of Hinton, W.Va.

NEXT BEST
2. Blue Ridge Mountain Adventure Race, Ga.
3. Odyssey One Day Extreme, Va.
4. Equinox Traverse, Va.
5. Sheltowee Extreme, Ky.
6. Nature Cure Black Beard, N.C.


BEST TRIATHLON: LAKE LOGAN TRIATHLON

This tri is so popular, it’s been expanded into the two-day Lake Logan Multi-Sport Festival. The two-day event features the traditional international distance race and a sprint distance race. What makes this particular triathlon so popular? The course, which runs through the gorgeous Lake Logan Episcopal Center grounds and features no major climbs whatsoever. You’re in a valley surrounded by the mountains, but you don’t have to run up them.

NEXT BEST
2. Duke Live Center Half-Ironman, N.C.
3. Luray Sprint, Va.
4. Tsali Challenge, N.C.
5. Xterra Fort Yargo, Ga.
6. Big Lick, Va.
7. Xterra Uwharrie, N.C.


BEST OUTDOOR FESTIVAL: FLOYD FEST

It’s not the oldest festival in the region (Floyd Fest didn’t get kicking until 2002), but it’s definitely your favorite. Four days of camping, seven stages packed with rock, folk, bluegrass, world, and Appalachian music, local artists, music and dance workshops, yoga sessions, storytelling, local beer and wine, and even a dude practicing macrobiotic barefoot shiatsu (google it).

NEXT BEST
2. Mountain Sports Fest, Asheville, N.C.
3. Trail Days, Damascus, Va.
4. Woolly Worm Festival, Banner Elk, N.C.
5. GauleyFest, Summersville, N.C.
6. Bonnaroo, Manchester, Tenn.


CLIMBING EVENT: TRIPLE CROWN

The Triple Crown is three separate bouldering competitions at three distinctive Southern boulder fields, attracting the best climbers in the region and beyond. Even big hitters like Alex Puccio, Alex Johnson, and Paul Robinson have competed in the last few years. The best part? The competition series raises funds for the Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition and the Carolina Climbers Coalition–two of the most pro-active access groups in the country.

• Hound Ears: Boone, N.C. (October)
• Horse Pens 40: Steele, Al. (November)
• Stone Fort: Chattanooga, Tenn. (December)

Want to compete in 2010? Plan ahead. Hound Ears filled up well in advance of the October competition.

Visit blueridgeoutdoors.com to see The Beta, a video series by local photographer/videographer Andrew Kornylak featuring Triple Crown competitors dishing about classic Triple Crown problems.

NEXT BEST
2. Boat Rock Bouldering Competition, Ga.
3. New River Rendezvous, W.Va.
4. Rocktoberfest, Ky.
5. Fall Flash Fest, N.C.


SKI EVENT: CRESCENT CUP

Most people are surprised to hear that the most well-respected amateur ski race series takes place here in the Southeast, but it’s true. The Crescent Ski Council puts on a six-race series for Southern and Mid-Atlantic ski clubs. Each year, nearly 20 clubs participate in the races, with multiple club members racing slalom and giant slalom disciplines at mountains throughout the region. The season culminates with the Crescent Cup, a stand-alone race held at Silvercreek Resort in West Virginia, where the winning club takes home the coveted five-foot tall Crescent Cup.

“It’s like the Olympics for our ski clubs,” says Mark Dison, race director for the Eastern Tennessee Mogul Mashers, current owners of the Crescent Cup. “We race against these clubs all year long and it all comes to a head at Silvercreek. The rivalry builds. You could have a great season, but if you don’t race well on the Crescent Cup weekend, you’re not bringing home the Cup.”

NEXT BEST
2. USSA Sugar Giant Slalom and Slalom, Sugar Mountain, N.C.
3. Bryce Resort Open, Bryce Resort, Va.
4. West Virginia Governor’s Cup, Timberline, W.Va.
5. Cataloochee Challenge Cup, Cataloochee Ski Area, N.C.


FAVORITE SKI RUN: CUPP RUN

1.5 miles long. 1,500 foot vertical drop. It’s the steepest run in the region, and it’s one of the longest to boot. Sometimes it’s packed with moguls, sometimes it’s groomed for speed–either way, if you ski it from top to bottom without resting, your thighs will be begging for mercy. Luckily, there’s a cabin at the bottom that serves hot food and cold beer.

NEXT BEST
2. Cliffhanger, Wintergreen, N.C.
3. Oz, Ski Beech, N.C.
4. White Lightning, Bryce, Va.
5. Salamander, Timberline, W.Va.
6. Devil’s Drop, Wisp, Md.


SNOWBOARD EVENT: BLUE RIDGE DOUBLE CROSS
Wintergreen, Va.

This head-to-head skiing and snowboard competition pits racers against each other on Wintergreen’s terrain park. Each heat features jumps, hits, berms, and more than a little friendly “muscling” to be the first to cross the finish line.

NEXT BEST
2. WV Open, Snowshoe Mountain, W.Va.
3. Burton Friday Night Rail Jam Series, Wisp Resort, Md.
4. Motown Throwdown, Morganton, W.Va.
5. Shred for the Cup, Appalachian Ski Mountain, N.C.


FAVORITE TERRAIN PARK: APPALACHIAN SKI MOUNTAIN

Two massive terrain parks with creative features, more boxes than FedEx, more rails than Amtrak, and bigger hits than Britney Spears. And it’s all lovingly manicured by the most dedicated park crew in the region. That’s why you guys love Appalachian’s park, and that’s why this small mountain has become ground zero for park culture in the Southeast.

For the 09/10 season, Appalachian has added a Burton Progression Park, for those of us who wish we could ride park, but need to work on the fundamentals first.

NEXT BEST
2.  The Spot, Seven Springs, Pa. “The guys at Seven Springs build quality terrain every year that rivals anything outside Transworld’s Top 10 terrain parks.” —Bruce Persinger, owner of Latitude39 Films, a park-based movie company that shoots at regional resorts.
3. Pro Park, Wisp, Md.
4. CMB, Massanutten, Va.
5. Spruce, Snowshoe, W.Va.
6. Wintergreen Terrain Park, Wintergreen, Va.

Visit blueridgeoutdoors.com for footage of a rail session at Appalachian’s Terrain Park


MOST IMPORTANT OUTDOOR ISSUE: AIR POLLUTION

Sixty percent of Americans now live in areas with unhealthy air quality, according to a recent study performed by the American Lung Association.

The following counties had the highest number of unhealthy air quality days in the South in 2009, according to the EPA. Unhealthy air quality days pose a significant threat to children, the elderly, anyone with lung disease, and anyone who exercises outside.

Rowan County, N.C. 97
Sevier County, Tenn. 79
Fairfax County, Va. 78
Blount County, Tenn: 77
Mecklenburg County, N.C. 74
Knox County, Tenn. 70
Gwinett County, Ga. 58


FAVORITE  CAMPGROUND: SHERANDO LAKE
GeorgeWashington National Forest, Va.

Surrounding a 25-acre spring-fed lake (with a smaller 7-acre lake nearby), and packed with stone and timber buildings, Sherando Lake is Civilian Conservation Corps planning at its finest. Built in 1936, today the recreation area has 65 impeccable campsites and its own trail system branching off from the lakes through the George Washington National Forest and up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Scenery:   ***
Solitude:  *

NEXT BEST
2. Hungry Mother State Park, Va.
3. Standing Indian, Franklin, N.C.
4. Elizabeth Furnace, Front Royal, Va.
5. Carolina Hemlock, Black Mountain, N.C.
6. Laurel Fork, Elkins, W.Va.

carvins_cove_02_FIX copy

Not your average city park: Roanoke’s Carvins Cove is the second largest municipal park in the country.


BEST URBAN PARK: CARVINS COVE RESERVE

Roanoke, Va.It’s 12,700 acres, making it the second largest municipal park in the country, has an 800-acre lake at its heart, features 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, borders 14 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and it’s only eight miles from downtown. Feel free to start looking for a job in Roanoke.

Scenery:  ***
Solitude:  **
Difficulty:  **

NEXT BEST
2. James River Park, Richmond, Va.
3. Crowders Mountain, Charlotte, N.C.
4. Chattahoochee National Recreation Area, Atlanta, Ga.
5. Great Falls Park, Washington, D.C.
6. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, Marietta, Ga.


BEST MOUNTAIN SUMMIT: ROAN MOUNTAIN

Roan Mountain is actually a chain of mountain summits, all of which are connected by the Appalachian Trail. The rhodo blooms purple during the summer, the cross-country skiing is borderline epic during heavy winter snows, and the elevation peaks at 6,285 feet. Oh, and then there are the high grassy balds and dense spruce-fir forests.

Scenery: ****
Solitude:  ***
Difficulty:  **

NEXT BEST
2. Old Rag, Va.
3. Max Patch, N.C.
4. Mount Mitchell, N.C.
5. Cheoah Bald, N.C.
6. Mount LeConte, Tenn.

A paddler navigates the tumultuous Upper Gauley.

A paddler navigates the tumultuous Upper Gauley.


BEST WHITEWATER RIVER: UPPER GAULEY

9 miles of big water dropping 335 feet

40: Number of major rapids on this nine-mile stretch of river.

5: Number of class V rapids you’ll encounter, including Sweet’s Falls, a mega-photogenic 14-foot drop.

For the biggest water, plan your trip around Gauley Season, which revs up in the fall, but don’t count the Gauley out the rest of the year. Outside of Gauley season, the river still runs, so you get the big rapids, fun creek lines, quality playspots, and beautiful scenery all to yourself.

NEXT BEST
2. Russell Fork, Va.
3. Nolichucky, Tenn.
4. Maury River, Va.
5. Wilson Creek, N.C.
6. Green River, N.C.

Visit blueridgeoutdoors.com for video of the Upper Gauley’s big water from the perspective of a kayaker.


FAVORITE OUTDOOR ORGANIZATION: APPALACHIAN TRAIL CONSERVANCY

The ATC coordinates volunteers and works with federal and state land managers to make sure your favorite footpath is in top shape. And in 2009, they were instrumental in protecting the Rocky Fork tract in Tennessee and White Rocks in Pennsylvania, two large privately owned tracts of land adjoining the A.T.


BEST RAIL TRAIL: VIRGINIA CREEPER TRAIL

Why does the Creeper get your vote year after year? Because the pedaling is optional. The 35-mile rail trail drops 2,000 feet from White Top Mountain into downtown Damascus, and then continues for 18 more miles of flat ground into Abingdon. Where else can you ride 35 miles and barely break a sweat?

NEXT BEST
2. Silver Comet, Ga.
3. Greenbriar, W.Va.
4. C&O Towpath, Washington, D.C.
5. W&OD Trail, Arlington, Va.
6. Allegheny Highlands Trail, W.Va.


TOP MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL: DUPONT STATE FOREST
The only problem with riding Dupont? There’s too much to choose from. The state forest boasts 80 miles of bikeable singletrack and forest roads, some of which cruise by massive waterfalls and traverse rare eastern slickrock. IMBA liked Dupont so much, they picked it as one of the first Epic Rides in the South. For slickrock, head to Cedar Rock Mountain and ride Big Rock Trail for a mile long downhill filled with rock, drops, and swooping turns.

NEXT BEST
2. Explore Park, Va.
3. Kitsuma, N.C.
4. Bennett Gap, N.C.
5. Pandapas, Va.
6. Pinhoti, Ga.


BEST RUNNING TRAIL: MOSES CONE MEMORIAL PARK
The terrain at Moses Cone just makes you want to run: 25 miles of gently graded carriage trails, superbly manicured grounds, and elevations that range from 3,560 feet at Bass Lake to 4,558 feet at Flat Top Mountain. That’s why everyone from Olympic hopefuls to back of the packers love this place. If you only have time to run one trail, try the Flat Top Mountain, for a gradual climb and views of nearby Grandfather Mountain.

NEXT BEST
2. Bent Creek, N.C.
3. Tanawha Trail, N.C.
4. Prince William Forest Trails, Va.
5. Pandapas Pond, Va.
6. North Fork Mountain, W.Va.


BEST CLIMBING SPOT: RED RIVER GORGE, KY

The Red, with close to 2,000 recognized routes, has it all. And new routes go up all the time. “There seems to be a new world class crag discovered every other week. You could spend the rest of your life there and never climb everything,” says Spencer Victory, climbing film producer and Red devotee.

NEXT BEST
2. New River Gorge, W.Va.
3. Linville Gorge, N.C.
4. Seneca Rocks, W.Va.
5. Sunset Rock, Tenn.
6. Looking Glass Rock, N.C.