Piedmont Explorer: the thrill of discovery

The first time I went to Umstead State Park in Raleigh was in January 1992. It was a bluebird day, the temperature around 30. I’d intended to hike for about an hour; I was there for four. I was smitten.

I’ve hiked, biked or run at Umstead more than 2,000 times since. While I have flash memories of several of those visits, it’s that first day in the park that bubbles to the top. That sense of discovery, the notion that a playground so vast could be right in my own backyard still makes me smile.

It’s a feeling we’ve all had, the feeling that makes us open to exploring new places. It’s a feeling we hope to share with you through our new Piedmont Explorer hiking series.

Piedmont Explorer is a series of monthly hikes designed to take you to places you may not have hiked — yet.

Medoc Mountain State Park, for instance. This 2,300-acre park is less than an hour and a half from the Triangle, and it’s got just about everything you look for in a hike. Its 10 miles of hiking trail (with another 10 miles of multiuse trail) wanders along the banks of Little Fishing Creek, tops a bluff 80 feet above the creek, climbs 160 vertical feet up mighty Mount Medoc (325 feet), and takes you back in time, to a Boy Scout camp dating to the 1920s, as well as through the first attempt in the New World at developing a vineyard (the park is named for the Medoc province in France, located in the Bordeaux wine country).

We’ll be hiking Medoc Mountain this Saturday. Here’s where else we’ll be hiking the first half of the year:

  • Raven Rock State Park along the Cape Fear River near Lillington (February)
  • Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center in the coastal plain just east of I-95 (March)
  • Hanging Rock State Park north of Greensboro (April)
  • Uwharrie National Forest southwest of Asheboro (May)
  • Little River Regional Park on the Durham/Orange county line (June)

Some of these spots you’re probably familiar with. Hanging Rock, for instance, is on nearly every hiker’s list. But have you hiked it on trail that eschews the crowds yet still takes in the park’s sweeping views and intimate waterfalls? Likewise with Raven Rock State Park: lots of folks have descended the 135 steps down the park’s 150-foot namesake cliff face overlooking the Cape Fear, and we’ll do that, too! But have you experienced the serenity of the Campbell Creek Loop Trail as it makes its way through a mixed forest of pine and hardwood down to Lanier Falls on the Cape Fear, then back along mountain like Campbell Creek.

Some you may not know. Like the Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center, home to a swampy area of the Neuse River known as the Let’lones? Or Little River Regional Park, in perhaps the most hilly region of the Triangle. Or even the Uwharrie National Forest? There’s a National Forest in the heart of the Piedmont? Get out!

Hikes in the Piedmont Explorer series are typically in the 5- to 6-mile range. Our goal isn’t to march you down every trail. Rather, we want to expose you to the highlights of each area, to pique your interest. We want to get these spots on your radar for future adventure. Most of all, we want you to experience the thrill of discovery.

Join us as we explore the Piedmont.

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More info

  • For more on the Piedmont Explorer series and to sign up, go here.
  • For additional information on our other hiking and backpacking programs, explore the GetHiking! and GetBackpacking! categories on this page.

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