These days you have to take the back door into Doughton Park, which is next door to Stone Mountain State Park on the east edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. I found that out the hard way when I tried to stop by the park’s Blue Ridge Parkway entrance but ended up taking a 30-mile detour that finally ended on a narrow two-lane blacktop where a couple of tiny gray signs point toward the backcountry entrance to the park.

End of the trail in the afternoon

It was one of those blue-skies-from-here-to-the-hereafter kind of days, so naturally I spent it walking up a tree-covered, vista-challenged trail in search of Caudill Cabin, last remnant of a community that once lived way up in these hills (till a flood wiped it out back in 1916). I never made it to the cabin, but I still got a fine (if frigid) hike in.

Doughton Park is pretty big at over 7,000 acres, and mostly undeveloped once you get beyond the amenities along the Parkway. It has 30 miles of trails, so there’s plenty of walking to be had. Most of the hikes are out-and-backs, unless you’re really ambitious: I saw no loops of less than 10 miles on the map. I like a loop as much as the next guy but I have no objections to out-and-backs; after all you never really know a trail till you’ve taken it both ways.

It’s just under five miles one way to the old Caudill Cabin site — starting out from the trailhead on Longbottom Road (just over 6 miles east of State Highway 18). The first stretch is a wide and easy 1.6 miles along the Grassy Gap Fire Road. After that it’s 3.3 ragged miles in a rocky gorge along the Basin Creek Trail. After about 4 miles I found myself out of trail, trying to insinuate myself up an impossible section of Basin Creek. Whaddya know, missed my turn for what, the 9,413th time this year?

Well, I’d rather be a four-limbed nobody than a famous amputee, so I tend to listen when the trail’s telling me to turn back. Got in a fine eight miles; I’m guessing if that cabin survived the Great Flood, it’ll be there the next time.

Let’s see the pictures:

Lots of blue up there

Some of that excellent blue sky. I figured heck, I know what the Blue Ridge Mountains look like around here and besides, I hadn’t been on an nice creek hike in quite a while. Turns out the Basin Creek Trail is one one of the best creek hikes I’ve done in North Carolina — lots of crossings to keep you occupied (though bear in mind the crossings may be deep in spring and early summer), very few hikers, pretty good trail most of the way.

Rock along Basin Creek.

Some rock-and-reflection action along the way.

Ruins of a fireplace

I got off track not far from this old fireplace. I zigged when I should’ve zagged, heading up into rougher and jaggier terrain while climbing the creekbed. The further I wandered up this way, the crazier it seemed. Finally I was clambering over a fallen tree stump when the old branch I grabbed broke off in my hand and it dawned on me: if anybody’d ever come this way before, they’d have broken off that branch off.

So back I went.

Water cascade

This would be a great place to play around with a camera on cloudy day – this was about the best I could do with the splashing water with so much sunlight.

Leaves upon the water

I’m not sure this is an especially good photograph; I just liked the visual effect.

Last color of the season

This could well be my last “point the camera at the trees and see if any color shows up” shot of the year.

Footbridge over Basin Creek

Here’s a nice footbridge over the first crossing of the Basin Creek. Supposedly there are 16 crossings by the time you reach the Caudill Cabin.

Doughton seems like it’ll be worth a return trip, though I suspect I’ve hiked its best trail (well, most of it).

Links for this hike:

Google map:

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