Discovery Trips

horseback tripSUUSI's Discovery trips are where we dive into humans' interaction with Nature. You can visit historic sites and museums or go shopping in nearby towns. Take a walking tour and learn about the area's rich, African American history and sit around a fire listening to stories about the ancient, Native American culture. Go horseback riding, visit waterfalls, learn which plants in your backyard are edible, or learn how to tie and cast a fly for fly fishing. And new this year, we are offering ADA-accessible adventures nearby! We’ve identified many local spots and activities that require little physical exertion and provide a high yield for learning opportunities, exposure to new adventures, and just plain beautiful sites. And, we make sure to keep the fun in every trip we take!

Discovery Difficulty Ratings

Gentle: Level terrain.

Moderate: Slight elevation change, some stairs, some physical exertion required.

Required Equipment for Discovery Trips

It is recommended that you wear sturdy shoes and bring a quart of water and rain gear for all Discovery trips. 

  • 500: Birds of Western North CarolinaLimit 14

    We will join Ellen and Jim Shelton of the Franklin Birding Club to explore the sights and sounds along the Little Tennessee River Greenway. These folks are local birding enthusiasts who meet each week for greenway walks. Perhaps we'll see an Indigo Bunting, Northern Parula, Cliff Swallow, or an Eastern Towhee. Previous SUUSI folks have seen or heard all these and more: 36 unique species! The path is a combination of pavement, earth, gravel, and some stairs and is uneven in places. Bring your binoculars and let's go birding! Drive time: 20 mins one way.

  • 502: Mushroom ForayLimit 14

    There will be a short information session of fungi facts on campus, followed by a foray into the woods to observe and collect mushrooms. We’ll end by working collectively to identify the specimens collected. Drive Time: 15 mins one way.

  • 503: Wildflowers South on the ParkwayLimit 13

    Join us and drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Waterrock Knob. We will stop and get out at 5 overlooks to see what is growing. The stops will allow us to see a waterfall in one place and a rock wall wet with water flowing from springs and covered with rare plants in another. At Waterrock, we will walk into a spruce-fir forest similar to those found in northern New England or Canada, which is a very different experience from walking into a southern forest. Drive Time: 35 mins to the parkway.

  • 504: Wildflowers North on the ParkwayLimit 13

    Bring your camera with you as we drive north on the parkway from Balsam Gap. We will stop and explore for wildflowers at five overlooks. There are at least 35 species of wildflowers to be seen, some in as great abundance as you would see in travel brochures. At least at one stop, we will give you a chance to identify flowers yourself, so if you have a guidebook or plant app you would like to use, please bring it along. Loads of photographing opportunities! Drive Time: 40 mins one way.

  • 505: Waterfalls Tour (Family Friendly)Limit 14

    An easy and mostly effortless way to get off campus and get your Nature on! There are some beautiful waterfalls in Highlands, NC. It is a long and winding road but well worth it to see some of the most picturesque waterfalls around. Bring your camera! Most of the waterfalls can be viewed from the van, but if time allows, we will be able to get out and walk around at some of the falls. Drive Time: 55 mins one way.

  • 506: Campfire Fun (Family Friendly)Limit 27

    Great for the entire family! Join us for a campfire right on campus! Bring your songs and stories as we just let the fun (and marshmallow roasting) happen. There’s nothing like a campfire circle for creating community. It’s BYOC (bring your own chair). Bring the kids!! Walk or ride to this campus location. Children under 8 riding in a car or van must have a car seat or booster seat. Please bring it to the Nature Tent/Office 15 minutes prior to departure.

  • 507: Creating SUUSI Campfire MemoriesLimit 20

    Join us for a campfire right on campus! Bring your songs and stories as we just let the fun happen. There's nothing like a campfire circle for creating community. It's BYOC: bring your own chair. This is an adult event. Look for the child-friendly campfire earlier on Monday evening.

  • 509: A Natural HighLimit 14

    The woods are known for eliciting a sense of awe and ecstasy in those who open themselves to the energies of these pristine natural settings. This guided meditation is especially appropriate for outdoor lovers who are open to the possibilities of a heightened connection with nature. The leader, Phoenix Putney, recommends the following book as being complementary to the spirit of this experience: "The Isle of Is: A Guide to Awakening" by Caroline Cottom and Thom Cronkite, published byThe Center Within, Koro Island, Fiji. The book also will be available in the SUUSI bookstore. Drive Time: 30 min one-way.

  • 510: Fly Fishing for BeginnersLimit 5

    Fly fishing is an angling method in which an artificial "fly" is used to catch fish. The fly is cast by using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line. Casting a nearly weightless fly or "lure" requires casting techniques significantly different from other forms of casting. SUUSI’s resident expert Mark Harris has offered to teach the basics of this technique. Join him on the river for an afternoon of adventure. The water temperature will be cool. Be advised that there can be potentially challenging wading if water levels are high, and be prepared to swim if necessary. If you drop the trip after online registration closes, the fishing license fee (included in the cost of the trip) is non-refundable. Drive Time: 25 mins one way.

  • 511: Foraging at Home Limit 22

    Join us for a Nature trip with no van ride! We will stroll around campus and explore the bounty of edibles found most anywhere. Foraging for wild edible plants is possible in your yard. If you are curious about foraging or want to learn if you have anything edible in your yard or local park (likely, yes), then join Jennifer Sanders as we explore the world of edible wild plants. We'll learn about common weeds you can eat and have time to share what's in your yard and ask questions. This walk is physically accessible. We'll end the trip by enjoying a beverage prepared from Mother Nature's garden.

  • 512: Foraging Around CampusLimit 20

    Can’t get enough foraging? While still on campus with no van ride, we’ll go further afield than Monday’s class, walk some more challenging paths, and seek new forageable plants to identify. We’ll end with a taste of something foraged. Jennifer Sanders started foraging over a decade ago and still geeks out over all the weeds to eat!

  • 516: Waterfall HorseTrail Ride Monday (Family Friendly)Limit 14

    Horseback Riding at its finest! This 2.5-hour trail ride climbs up a mountain trail with beautiful scenery and a waterfall. Smokemont Riding Stable is located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just outside of Cherokee. There is a weight limit of 240 lbs per person. You MUST WEAR LONG PANTS and CLOSED-TOE SHOES, boots would be best. A waiver is required. Drive Time: 60 mins one way. This trip is also offered on Tuesday.

  • 517: Waterfall Horse Trail Ride Tuesday (Family Friendly)Limit 11

    Horseback Riding at its finest! This 2.5-hour trail ride climbs up a mountain trail with beautiful scenery and a waterfall. Smokemont Riding Stable is located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just outside of Cherokee. There is a weight limit of 240 lbs per person. You MUST WEAR LONG PANTS and CLOSED-TOE SHOES, boots would be best. A waiver is required. Drive Time: 60 mins one way.

  • 520: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Family Friendly)Limit 9

    Departing from Bryson City, this 4 ½ hour excursion carries you 44 miles by train to the Nantahala Gorge and back again. Travel along the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers across Fontana Lake and into the magic of the Nantahala River Gorge. A one hour layover at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) allows for sightseeing, having lunch by the river from one of the many eateries, or just plain relaxing. Consider picking up a boxed lunch from the dining hall before leaving if you don't want to purchase lunch at the NOC (bring $$ for purchase on site). Drive Time: 45 mins one way.

  • 527: Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine (Family Friendly)Limit 14

    Get back to nature and get a little dirty on this fun and educational trip to an authentic gem mine. This family-friendly trip is full of options during your visit. We will take a tour of the mine and learn about the geology and history of the gem-mining trade in western North Carolina. You may dig in their mine for gem ore to fill your buckets or select prefilled buckets. Sifting from the creek and exploring the nature trails are additional options. There is an animal rescue on site, and little ones can visit the petting zoo. The mine has a Dark Room where you can check your spoils with a UV light. Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine is the International Gem Society’s #4 Pick in the "Top Places to Mine in the United States". You will mine for gems found only in the Cowee Valley. An array of gems have been found at this mine. Keep your eyes open for pigeon blood-colored rubies, star rubies, star sapphires, star garnets, rhodolite, pyrope garnets, rutile, sillimanite, kyanite, corundum, quartz crystals, and moonstone. Buckets of 100% on-site excavation gemstone ore – NOT “Salted”, “Enhanced”, “Concentrated”, or “Enriched” with low-grade, semi-precious stones from elsewhere are included in the cost of admission. This trip ranges from gentle to strenuous. If you plan to "dig your own" be advised this is a strenuous activity. Drive time: 45 minutes

  • 529: Explore Highlands: Shop and StrollLimit 14

    Shopping, Shopping, Shopping – starting with a stop at Reclamations, a salvage yard to beat all salvage yards. Want a cupola for your house? A 1967 Airstream trailer? Antique hinges, bread mixing bowls, yard sculptures made out of hubcaps, and so much more? Reclamations is your spot. Afterward, we will move on to Highlands N.C. for a luxury shopping excursion with lovely outdoor restaurants for afternoon tea or ice cream. On our return, we will stop for a few minutes at Bridal Veil Falls, which is stunning AND right off the road! Drive Time: 45 mins one way.

  • 530: Jackson County Greenway (Accessible, Family Friendly - Register under Hiking #600)Unlimited

    Register for this trip under Hiking, #600 // Stroll or roll as you are able on this wide-paved, shared-use path following the forested sides of the Tuckasegee River, very close to the WCU campus. Find creatively designed bluebird houses mounted in the trees, and watch the river. The start point has ADA restroom facilities and is continuously paved between the parking lot and the path. The smooth-surface bridge over the Tuckasegee has ramp approaches. Periodically there are sitting benches. The route is out-and-back, and a group with varying physical abilities can enjoy a nature hike together. Drive time: 10 minutes. Distance: up to 2.3 miles. SUUSI can not provide ADA transport; personal vehicles will be required.

  • 531: Little Tennessee River Greenway (Accessible, Family Friendly - Register under Hiking #601)Unlimited

    Stroll or roll as you are able on this wide paved shared-use path following the sides of the Little Tennessee River, near Franklin NC. Watch wildlife and the plants along the rapidly moving water. The start point has ADA restroom facilities and is continuously paved between the parking lot and the path. There is the large Wesley’s Playground near the parking lot in Big Register for this trip under Hiking, #601 // Bear Park, in case younger hikers need to be entertained. A little way down the Greenway, across the road, (transportation required) is a butterfly garden maintained by the Friends of the Greenway (FROG). FROG’s headquarters has a coffee and gift shop on Main St as well. A group with varying physical abilities can enjoy a nature hike together. Drive time: 30 minutes. Distance: up to 2 miles. SUUSI can not provide ADA transport; personal vehicles will be required.

  • 545: Glenville Lake Waterfall Boat Cruise WednesdayLimit 11

    Experience a private cruise with a United States Coast Guard Licensed Master Sea Captain with over 40 years of boating experience aboard a 28 ft. luxury pontoon yacht. Guests will enjoy a 2-hour boat cruise along 15 miles of water - on the highest alpine lake in the oldest mountains on earth. Captain Wise is entertaining and educational and delivers a phenomenal tour of some of the fantastic hidden waterfalls, which are only accessible by boat because they are surrounded by private property. Bald Eagles nest on the lake and we hope to see them. Lunch on campus. Drive time: 30 mins one way. This trip is also offered on Thursday.

  • 546: Glenville Lake Waterfall Boat Cruise ThursdayLimit 11

    Experience a private cruise with a United States Coast Guard Licensed Master Sea Captain with over 40 years of boating experience aboard a 28 ft. luxury pontoon yacht. Guests will enjoy a 2-hour boat cruise along 15 miles of water - on the highest alpine lake in the oldest mountains on earth. Captain Wise is entertaining and educational and delivers a phenomenal tour of some of the fantastic hidden waterfalls, which are only accessible by boat because they are surrounded by private property. Bald Eagles nest on the lake and we hope to see them. Lunch on campus. Drive time: 30 mins one way. This trip is also offered on Wednesday.

  • 548: Asheville Cultural Walking TourLimit 9

    The past, present, and future of African Americans in Asheville is a story of resilience and ingenuity. Learn about this powerful story and gain new insight into this mountain town in an intimate, interactive, walking tour exploring East End Valley Street in Downtown Asheville, home to shops and galleries featuring merchandise and art from African American artisans and artists, YMI Cultural Center, Stephens Lee Community Center, The Block, and significant African American architecture.Walking distance is approximately 1.5 miles and hilly terrain at times. Drive time 60 minutes one one way.

  • 549: Asheville Music History Walking TourLimit 14

    Join us for a cultural immersion in Asheville's eclectic music roots. Expect fun facts and insider insights from our host, Alli Marshall, a longtime Asheville resident and arts/music journalist. Asheville is known for its history of bluegrass, country, folk, and other forms of mountain music - but the city’s legacy, though, goes well beyond that. “People are surprised about the eclecticism of Asheville’s music scene — how many genres are represented,” says Marshall, former Arts & Entertainment editor for Mountain Xpress. “But that’s always been the case. For more than a century, Asheville has been at the intersection of innovation and sophistication as well as deep-seated tradition.” The two-hour, 1.5-mile stroll winds its way through several downtown areas such as Lexington Avenue and The Block – Asheville's historic African-American business district. We'll stop by the Moogseum, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, famed music venue The Orange Peel, and more. There will be plenty of photo ops and an accompanying soundtrack. The Asheville walking terrain is hilly - please consider your abilities. Lunch provided. Drive time 60 minutes one way.

  • 551: The African American Experience in the SmokiesLimit 14

    An initiative of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the African American Experience Project is a collaborative effort with the National Park Service, park partners, and the community to document and share the untold stories of African Americans in and outside the Smokies. The goal of the project is to add the stories of African Americans to the stories of the early white settlers and Cherokees who lived in the area, This trip will take us to Mingus Mill and the access trailhead to the Enloe Cemetery site where enslaved African Americans are known to be buried. A project facilitator will lead an open discussion on the history and current research, including a partnership with WCU, which performed ground-penetrating radar at the Enloe Cemetery. There is a very short but steep, natural, rooted trail to the site. It is recommended that you bring something to sit on. The trip departs and ends at Oconaluftee Visitor Center where there are bathroom facilities. Time permitting, some additional exploration of the area is possible. Lunch provided. Drive time 40 minutes on way. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

  • 552: Cherokee Bonfire and Storytelling (Family Friendly)Limit 28

    We'll go to the Qualla Boundary at the Oconaluftee Islands Park near downtown Cherokee, and join this popular community and family-friendly event. Gather around a crackling fire and hear the Cherokee people tell their story. The program is designed to inform, enlighten, and entertain. Guests are encouraged to interact with the storytellers as part of this cultural experience. Benches are positioned around the bonfire circle, and during the break, marshmallows are handed out for roasting! Be advised this is a public event, and crowd size varies and can't be determined. Please arrive early to the Nature Tent/Office if you are bringing a child requiring a safety seat. Just in case, bringing a ground cloth to sit on is recommended. Drive time 30 minutes one way.

  • 560: Forest Bathing at Pinnacle Park - Register under hiking #602Unlimited

    Register for this trip under hiking, #602. // We start the week with an early morning reverent immersion in the forest, at the base of Pinnacle Peak near Sylva. Enjoy the silent mindfulness practice of Forest Bathing on the Bridges Loop Trail. It’s the perfect opportunity to center yourself and begin your SUUSI week energized by the coolness of the early morning in slow movement, silent meditation, and acute observation of the forest flora and fauna. Drive Time: 20 mins.

  • 561: Forest Bathing at Moses CreekLimit 14

    Refresh in the middle of the week with a deep, sensory immersion in the forest, on the side of Moses Creek not far from WCU. Enjoy the outdoor mindfulness practice of Forest Bathing on a relatively flat trail where we can commune with the living earth. Learn how to walk like a fox, listen like a deer, and see like an owl. We will spend the morning in slow movement, silent meditation, and acute observation of the forest flora and fauna. Drive Time: 25 mins.

  • 570: Cullowee Creek Evening Dip - MondayLimit 10

    Take an easy 10-minute walk on paved sidewalks and a grassy trail from the WCU campus to a small swimming hole. The water is refreshingly very cold and there is a deep section. Footwear that you can wear in the water is encouraged as the rock surfaces are slippery and a towel is recommended. Rain and/or thunder cancels.

  • 571: Cullowee Creek Evening Dip - ThursdayLimit 10

    Take an easy 10-minute walk on paved sidewalks and a grassy trail from the WCU campus to a small swimming hole. The water is refreshingly very cold and there is a deep section. Footwear that you can wear in the water is encouraged as the rock surfaces are slippery and a towel is recommended. Rain and/or thunder cancels.