Hike in the holidays

Not a mall person? Avoid the maddening crowds this Black Friday and throughout the remainder of the Thanksgiving holiday with one of these five hikes, culled from “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina.”

Coast

Neusiok Trail, Croatan National Forest
Havelock
20.1 miles (with shorter section hike options)
Getting there: From U.S. 70 in Havelock, go left on NC 101. After 5.3 miles, go left on Ferry Road/NC 306. Go another 3.3 miles, then go left on FR 132; it’s a little over a mile and a half to the trailhead.
More info here and here.

Let’s get right to that shorter section hike: Start at the Neusiok’s northern trailhead at the Pine Cliff Picnic Area and start hiking west, then south and east. That west stretch is a mile or so along the south shore of the Neuse River (yes, here the Neuse is so wide it’s more of a shore than a bank, complete with sandy beaches). Then the trail heads south into a pine savannah, then a coastal forest. At one point, the holly and galax will make you think you’re in the mountains. A lovely ramble on a crisp, cool to cold day. When you hit NC 306 after less than five miles, hang a left, then another left at FR 132 for the surprisingly quick two-mile return trip to the car.

Piedmont

Hanging Rock. Photo courtesy North Carolina State Parks.

Hanging Rock Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
Danbury
1.6 miles, with additional hiking options
Getting there: From Winston-Salem headed north on US 52, go north on NC 8 to Danbury, where the familiar brown state park road signs will lead you to the park entrance on Moores Spring Road/SR 1001
More info here and here.

Psst! The fall color that lures half the state to see a 360-degree show encompassing the Piedmont to the east, Virginia to the north, the Blue Ridge to the west and Winston-Salem to the south, has passed and so have the crowds. You won’t have Hanging Rock to yourself, but you should be able to enjoy a degree of transcendent tranquility atop this quartzite knob, one of five or so remaining “peaks” from the ancient Sauratown Mountains. Once you’re sufficiently blissed out, head back to the trailhead and check out the Hidden Falls and Window Falls trails.

The top of Morrow Mountain. Photo courtesy North Carolina State Parks.

Morrow Mountain and Sugarloaf Trails, Morrow Mountain State Park
Badin
5.4 miles
Getting there: From NC 740 in the town of Badin, follow those familiar brown state park road signs to the park entrance.
More info here and here.

Morrow Mountain, located an hour or so from Charlotte and the Triad, two hours from the Triangle, makes for a good day trip. The Morrow Mountain/Sugarloaf hike is classic Piedmont hiking, through relatively mature hardwood forests, with a dash of altitude thrown in. Part of the ancient Uwharrie mountain range, Morrow Mountain tops out at 936 feet, not exactly Mount Mitchell, but pretty good for this part of the state. Sugarloaf is the more remote of the summits, Morrow Mountain has the views but there’s also a road to the top.

Mountains

Price Lake
2.7 miles
Blowing Rock
Getting there: Located at milepost 297 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, between US 321 to the north and US 221 to the south.
More info here

With all the hiking options along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 2.7-mile loop around Price Lake is probably the most accessible. For starters, there’s a cumulative elevation gain of 18 feet on this nearly 3-mile loop, and you’ll be hard-pressed to figure out where those few feet are. And, the trail is easy to follow and the tread relatively flat (your only potential challenge: crossing Laurel Creek if it’s been raining). A lovely lake ramble with a great view of Grandfather Mountain.

Panthertown Valley

5.5 miles, with additional options
Cashiers
Getting there: From Cashiers to 2 miles east on US 64, then take a left on Cedar Creek Road/SR 1120. After 2.2 miles, go right on Breedlove Road and continue to the trailhead, about 3.7 miles up.
More info here

Panthertown has everything but trail markers and a decent map. Fortunately, it’s hard to get too lost in this 6,300-acre valley that has waterfalls, a frisky mountain creek, a white pine forest, granite cliffs, great views, a rare Appalachian bog and a whole lot more. One of the top places in the state to explore.

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