A Few Guides to Help You Find Your Way

The temperature is warming. Violets and trout lilies have broken through the wintered ground and stretched their petals toward the sky. Hepatica and bloodroot are sure to follow. The sun warms your skin. The rays effervesce through you, waking your muscles, energizing them. You have to move. Get up. Inhale the mountains, the lowcountry, the banks along the sea and you know....

It's time to get out.

This has been a long winter, and everyone seems ready to experience the outdoors. But where should you go? I'm happy to recommend a few sources to help you figure that out. Below, I've listed the books and websites we use to plan our outings.

Okay, you got me. We rarely plan outings. But we do research a place of interest before, during and after a visit. This list is far from exhaustive. If you have a resource you'd like to recommend, feel free to let me know. I'm always on the hunt for another decent guide.

South Carolina:

I have only a few resources for my favorite state. Much of my information came from my hiking group or was discovered during visits.

State Parks

South Carolina has a lot of them. You can find one near you--or across the state--at:


We often used the South Carolina Trails website (

I love the way this map is set up. The state is divided into counties. Users then click on the county of choice. Icons mark the trails in that area. Users can then either cursor over each icon to get the trail name, or click on the icon for more detailed information. To try it, click on the link above, and then click on Oconee County, located at the far upper left of the state. One of our favorite trails is located in that section.

WARNING! Some information may not be entirely accurate (see my Kings Creek Falls post for an example.) We used this site, and used it often, but we considered it a guide. Kind of like the pirate code.

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Although it covers more than trails, A Day's Drive From Greenville gives visitors a close up look at some of the trails around the Upstate. The author hikes and then writes, and he's braver than I am—he's willing to hike the strenuous Hospital Rock Trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness—so he covers more ground.

In my defense, there's a reason they call it Hospital Rock....


Coastal South Carolina, Welcome to the Lowcountry by Terrance Zepke (Pineapple Press) takes visitors on a scenic trip along the Lowcountry from North Myrtle Beach to islands south of Hilton Head. It breaks down the lowcountry into regions (Myrtle, Georgetown, Charleston, Beaufort) and then lists cities and islands. At the end of each region, Zepke includes sections on recreational activities, nature preserves, parks, etc, and even ghost stories.

We learned about Bear Island, a designated wildlife management area, from this book. We also knew which islands in the Beaufort area were residential or gated. It's packed with information, and because of that, we take it when we travel to South Carolina's exotic shores.


Love wild orchids? So do we. That's why we purchased James Alexander Fowler's, Wild Orchids of South Carolina. Dedicating two-to-four pages per orchid, this well-organized book lists flowers by their scientific name, but provides the common name along with clear photos, descriptions of the flowers, habitats they grow in, the months in which they bloom, and even a tiny map showing the region in which they grow. It helped us identify the grass pink, a crane fly orchid, and a couple other orchids my husband has spotted along the trail.

North Carolina

Several guides help us find our way around North Carolina. Perhaps because the state is larger than its southern sister. Perhaps because we don't mind getting lost in South Carolina. Whatever the reason, nine NC guidebooks sit on our bookshelf near the front door. And I have one more in my Amazon cart. Each is as valuable as the next.

Mountain Hikes (Wildflower and Waterfall):

Kevin Adam's books are a standard among many Carolinians. We own and use two of them when we're in the mountains:

North Carolina Waterfalls is almost required reading in my hiking group. Mr. Adams breaks the state into "hubs" and lists the waterfalls from Eastern North Carolina (yes, ENC has waterfalls!) to the mountains. And once in the mountains, from the High Country, south to the westernmost tip of NC.

The first chapter warns of dangers (please read those) and explains how to use the guidebook. The next give tips on photographing waterfalls. Then Mr. Adams launches into the hubs with plenty of pertinent information on each fall along with his renowned photos.

North Carolina's Best Wildflower Hikes: The Mountains is the second KA book we reference for mountain hikes. Once again moving from the High Country, south to western NC, Mr. Adams lists each hike and provides information such as trail highlights, elevation, trail length, the bloom season, peak bloom time, and more, and then lists the flowers you may find along the path. Along with a generalized trail map (Don't trust your memory. Take a trail map with you. Refer to my Buckhorn Gap post to find out why), Mr. Adams includes some of his photos so you'll know what to look for.

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Another waterfall standard is, owned by Rich Stevenson, aka Waterfall Rich. Rich is constantly scouring the mountains searching for new falls, revisiting known spots, and photographing what he sees. Then he puts it all online for the rest of us to enjoy.

You'll find an Index for the falls on the first page, but before you click on it, check out the rest of the information on page one. He loaded it down with good stuff.

Topo or Trail Maps. If you read the Buckhorn Gap post, you'll know we don't use these. A mistake on our part, we know. Consult a local outdoor store, or better yet, an experienced backpacker. Then buy these maps and learn how to read them. Doing so would have kept us out of trouble more than once.

Mountain (Drives):

A few years ago, my husband and I traveled down the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Shenandoah Valley to Boone, NC. Logue, Logue, and Blouin's, Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway (2nd Edition) accompanied us, and we referred to it throughout the trip.

After providing logistical information, this book starts at Milepost 0 and breaks down each point of interest along the parkway. History, hikes, waterfalls, restaurants, campgrounds, it's all there. In the back, you'll find a wildflower bloom calendar, a list of trails, including milepost location, trail length and difficulty. Before the index, you'll find a list of tunnels along the parkway. A very handy guide for those who love to take America's favorite drive.

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Another parkway resource: the Virtual Blue Ridge Parkway:

You'll find maps, a list of trails, lodging, food, and more. You can even take virtual tours.


North Carolina has their share of state parks as well. At home, I rely heavily on the NC State Parks website at This site devotes several pages to each park, and includes all the necessary logistical information along with a list of activities, fees, history, etc.

Another great state park resource is the North Carolina State Parks: A Niche Guide by Lynch and Pendergraft (Niche Publishing LLC). This book lists NC state parks from the mountains to the sea, and includes parks "in the works". Allowing on average two pages per park, Lynch and Pendergraft provide a park overview, list of activities, contact information, an informative little blurb called "Staying Alive", and nearby destinations of interest (state parks, state forests, etc) along with beautiful color photos. Because the parks are listed by region, we consult it often. If we're not exactly sure where we'll end up, we'll toss it in the backseat and take it along. It's a fairly sturdy book.

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The Nature Conservancy's, A Guide to Nature Conservancy Projects in North Carolina, (2000) lists lands protected under their umbrella by four regions: mountains, piedmont, coastal plains, and coast. Dedicating just two pages (which makes the book small and manageable) to each project, the Conservancy provides logistical information on each area along with a description, conservation highlights, directions, and very important: ownership. Some of the lands listed are privately owned or are only accessible through chapter field trips.

Pithy and informative, this book was well worth the ten bucks we shelled out for it. I found destinations not listed in my other guides.

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Regular readers will recognize exploring north carolina's natural areas: parks, nature preserves, and hiking trails, edited by Dirk Frankenberg (The University of North Carolina Press). We've consulted this book on just about every trip we've taken since moving to eastern North Carolina, and we'll use it when we start exploring the Piedmont.

This book begins at the coast, then moves into the coastal plains, the piedmont, and then the mountains, organizing each region into a series of tours. Thirty tours in all are included, and range from driving excursions to hiking trails. At the start of each chapter, you'll find an overview map and information on each area including info on habitat and geology. Next, each stop on the tour is listed along with highlights. This book is extremely informative and imho (in my humble opinion, for those of you who have been wondering), it's a must for those who explore North Carolina.

The disadvantage--the book organizes stops in tours. This means directions to a destination are listed only in terms of the previous stop. To get to a location, you'll need a good map or gazetteer, which is also a must for travelers.

Coastal Plains and Coast:

Four books are piled in a haphazard stack, waiting for me to introduce them. One covers both the coastal plains and the coast (Outer Banks). Another, destinations near and along the coastline. The third, lighthouses, and last, birding trails along the coastal plains and coast.

The Natural Traveler: Along North Carolina's Coast, by John Manuel (John F. Blair, Publisher) was on my wish list for months before we purchased it. Once in my hands, I started kicking myself for not buying it sooner. After providing twenty-six interesting pages of overview, Mr. Manual breaks NC's coast into the manageable nuggets: the Outer Banks, the Sound Country, and the Southern Coast. Notable attractions such as lighthouses and plantations are included, as well as outoor destinations your blog host loves to visit. Also included, lodging and restaurant information, directions, activities in each area, occasional blurbs on interesting subjects such as the *sighs* snow goose, the Carolina water snake, wreck diving off the coast, and more.

Each section begins with an overview of the area. From one, I learned more about marshes than I had in over a year of occasional--but dedicated--online research. A very informative book. So much so, it may have superseded...

Coastal North Carolina: Its Enchanting Islands, Towns, and Communities, by Terrance Zepke (Pineapple Press).

Once upon a time, Coastal North Carolina sat in my back seat beside exploring north carolina's natural areas during our excursions. Zepke breaks down the coastal area into three sections: Outer Banks, Crystal Coast, and Lower Coast, then gives readers a glimpse into the, well, islands, towns and communities in each of those areas. Fast facts and history are included, as are recreational and sports activities—fishing, golf and boating are given their own sections—then nature preserves and parks. Even ghost tales. What's the Outer Banks without a good ghost tale?

Leafing through it now, I'm reminded that Zepke included a calendar of annual events, a quiz (and answers) to test your knowledge of each area, a section on NC's pirates and hey, the pirate code!

They're really more like guidelines, you know.

After taking another look at this book, I've decided to once again take it along on coastal trips. We have three seatbelts in the back. That's more than enough room for exploring, Natural Traveler, and Coastal NC.

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Lighthouses from North Carolina's Outer Banks down to Hilton Head, SC are the subject of Lighthouses of the Carolinas, A Short History and Guide, by Terrance Zepke (I'm beginning to like this gal.) Fast facts, history, and other points of interest are listed for each structure. I not only learned about each lighthouse—when it was built, how much it cost, which were blown up when Union forces paid a visit—I learned about the Fresnel lenses which shines light across the water, the reasons behind the various patterns, and the incredible base that forms the foundation for each structure.

It also helped me figure out which lighthouses I wanted to visit, and which I didn't.

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Last on the list is The North Carolina Birding Trail: Coastal Plain Trail Guide. This spiral-bound softcover breaks down the coastal plains and coast into sixteen areas. One to two pages is then dedicated to recognized birding trails within each of those areas.

Included is a short description of the trail, bird species of interest, that area's habitat, parking, direction, and coordinates that correspond to the NC Gazetteer. We have a nominal interest in birding, but this resource is handy because it lists short, or out of the way trails that aren't listed in our other guides.

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On the "To Get List": 100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina by Joe Miller.

A member of my hiking group just informed us Kevin Adam's Backroads of North Carolina is now on sale. From the looks of it, it may be on our shelf soon as well. I'll get back to you on that one.

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We love exploring the Carolinas and sharing our journeys with you, but the goal of this blog is to encourage you to visit the destinations we cover, as well as those we intend to explore. I hope that along with my blog, one or more of these resources will help you find your way there.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the mention Kimberli.

Kimberli said...

My pleasure. While I'm updating my earlier, lukewarm-writing-and-in-sorry-need-of-photos blog posts, which I wrote while living in the Upstate, I can't cover that ground as much as I'd like. A Day's Drive is a good compliment.

We really need to pull you into our hiking group...

Kelvin Taylor said...

Excellent read on special places in the Carolinas. As VisitNC says, explore your own homestate.

Kimberli said...

Thanks, KT. And hmm, I should have included I receive their weekly events calendar and other goodies. If I don't have it linked on this page, I'll do so today.

Anonymous said...

I am thrilled to have all this great information...links, books, etc. Thanks so much for putting it all together.

As a person who grew up in one of those beautiful backroad areas, I'll have to say that hikers were our best visitors. The ones I met loved nature, didn't litter, and treated us with respect.

Thanks again for all of the work you do here. I'm sure it's a labor of love for you, but it's like a goldmine for me!

Kimberli said...

Hi, Julie! You're very welcome, and yes, it's my pleasure. I love doing this.

I'd been planning this post for awhile, but after searching for the Pilot Mountain info, and with the weather (at times) warming up, I knew it was time. I'll do a review for addition resources we purchase as well.

Hope you've been able to get out and have some fun on those NC Trails despite our finicky temperatures!

Elena said...

Hi Kimberli

Thanks for mentioning my blog! I'll do my best to keep it fun and useful. There are so many wonderful places to visit in our state...we are truly blessed to live here.

I love your pictures, especially the ones from Cypress Gardens and Table Rock.


Kimberli said...

You're welcome, Elena! I can't pass up another blog that focuses on the Carolinas, especially since you cover so many SC destinations that time doesn't permit me to explore as often as I'd like. So thank you for all your work.

CNelson917 said...

Just wanted to pass along my website, Carolina Outdoors Guide - - a comprehensive directory of national and state outdoor recreation sites in North Carolina, from national and state parks and forests to state coastal reserves, Corps of Engineers and TVA reservoirs, wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, and more.

Kimberli said...

Thanks, C! Love the website. I think I've accessed it on the past. Thanks for sharing!