Laurel River Trail

The Laurel River Trail is one of the flattest hikes around Madison County. It’s 3.6 miles from the parking lot out to the intersection of the Big Laurel and the French Broad River. The walk is not strenuous, but you will have to watch where you put your feet as the trail is rocky in places. There are some nice pools to take a dip or soak your feet along the way.


If you walk the full 7.2 miles round trip, you reach the former town of Runion. There is still evidence of the old town. In fact, the trail you will walk on is the old railroad bed that went to Runion.

I am interested in plants and there is some wonderful plant life along the Big Laurel Creek. (I do not know why the Laurel RIVER Trail runs along the Big Laurel CREEK instead of the nearby Laurel River.)

Look at this shaggy moss. Don’t you want to roll around in that? You could, but someone might call the police – maybe just run your hands through it instead.


This trail has pretty views everywhere you look. I have heard folks say they’ve seen black bears at the river’s edge, but I have not been so lucky! Yet.


If you’d like to experience this hike, take 25/70 from I-26 in Weaverville toward Hot Springs. Go past Marshall and when you’re nearing the intersection of Highway 208 you’ll see a parking lot on the left. The trail head is on the left (south) end of the parking lot. Take the lower path, as the upper is residential private property. Enjoy your walk.

Mad Co Brewing

Mad Co Brewing is located at 49 N. Main Street in Marshall, North Carolina. They been in town for about a year and began serving their own brews this summer. My husband and I like the place a lot. The bartender Jamie is a friendly guy. The view of the French Broad River from the back deck is calming – a wonderful place to sip a cold one. Last weekend a great blue heron made a spectacular landing right in front of us.IMG_6084








Mad Co Brewing makes a very good Porter. I have not tried the Pale yet because they had a BEET beer. YES! BEET.  Where else could I get a beet beer? It was light, refreshing, and I like to think it was beneficial to my liver.  And that color!


We hiked the Big Laurel trail for 5 miles, then  watched the sun drop behind the mountains from Mad Co. We always meet interesting folks there. Mad Co often has live music. They serve local brats. Check it out sometime while the deck weather is still good. Tell them Mary sent you.


There is something mystical about the Cataloochee Valley, something that makes a person expect to hear a centuries-old ballad drift from a porch up the mountain down to the road. History hangs in the air, heavy and unavoidable. My parents first took me there twenty-five years ago and told me the story of the Cataloochee Valley. I love to go back.

During the day, tourists drive and bike the main road hoping to see elk, black bear and other wildlife. Along the road are a chapel, a schoolhouse, an old barn, and one of the family homes left behind. The buildings edge up to either side of a creek along the road. IMG_5224The creek runs behind the chapel on the left side of the road, around the school on the right side, in front of the house and under the spring house next to it on the left again. Ferns spring up around the water and the meadow is lined with mountain laurel. Beyond the road, the dark blue shadows of the forest makes you want to go deeper into it.IMG_5186

IMG_5234Foot bridges offer a mossy path across the water. Go slow, you may spot salamanders or timber rattlesnakes.  (Timber rattler photo courtesy of Ulrike Speirs.)IMG_5274Little butterflies sip minerals on the bank of the creek and you may see trout in the current.IMG_5219

Inside the chapel, you will get a sense of the stark life lived cut off from the world. The silence, the white walls and ceiling, the old hymnal. The 1200 people who once inhabited this valley were isolated and self-sufficient.IMG_5191

In the schoolhouse you can almost picture someone like Ichabod Crane keeping the students in line under threat of whipping.  The school is dark and cool, how anyone stayed alert and attentive is beyond me.  Especially knowing there was clear, adventure-filled creek running by just outside. IMG_5203

The old house really tells a story. It was built well and with love from yellow hickory. In the front hall there is a handwritten letter from an original inhabitant tacked to the wall. In it she tells of memories evoked during a recent visit  – her family left the house in the 1960s, the last people to leave Cataloochee. The house tells the story of a different time. IMG_5207You can stand inside and imagine the cold morning before the fire was stoked. The family’s only entertainment would have been singing and playing a fiddle and telling stories in the low light before bedtime. No radio, no TV, no phone, no electricity.  No contact outside the Valley until the Federal Government decided a park warranted the use of eminent domain.

At dusk when folks line the road, shut off their engines and wait for elk, you might catch a glimpse of the ghosts of people forced to leave in the first half of the 20th century.  The beauty and solitude they left behind is still lovely.


I love these mountains. The trails, the pubs, the sunsets, the food and the music. The fog, the river, the waterfalls and the wildlife. This is my place to share stories and pictures of the unique lifestyle in the hills of western North Carolina.