It started two weeks ago with a serenade by spring peepers in a pond at Horton Grove Nature Preserve. It was reinforced a day later by the sudden appearance of perky yellow daffodils near an old homestead along the Eno River. Then, last Friday, on a hike through bottomland forest at Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, I got the sign I’d been waiting for: a trout lily unfurling its delicate yellow and maroon petals.
The first wildflower of spring.
For some, the first sign of spring is when pitchers and catchers report to Florida. For others, it’s the closeout deals on winter wear at the mall. For me, it’s that first trout lily making its way through the leaf litter of the forest floor.
Come these first signs of spring, folks arise from their winter slumber, eager to take on the trails they abandoned in November. Temperatures climb into the 60s and 70s, and the trout lilies are followed by fields of spring beauties and bluets. The oaks, tulip poplars and hickories fill the canopy with pastel pinks and yellows and reds.
Everyone, it seems, wants to hike, and that’s great.
But it also presents a challenge, starting with finding a place to park at the more popular trailheads.
Come the first sunny, warm weekend of March, the two main parking lots at Umstead State Park in Raleigh — off Glenwood Avenue and Harrison Avenue — fill early; late arrivals park willy nilly where they can. Pilot Mountain State Park’s website includes an advisory that it can take up to 30 minutes to find a parking space. Crowders Mountain State Park has shuttle bus service from Gastonia.
That’s not to say you can’t find solitude, even on the most gorgeous of spring days.
At Umstead, for instance, the bike & bridle trailhead on the Glenwood Avenue side almost always has space, with access to Umstead’s best hiking, in the center of the park. The Pinnacle Hotel Access at Pilot Mountain usually has spaces, from which you can catch the Mountain Trail and climb to the summit via the Grindstone, Ledge Spring and Jomeoke trails. At Crowders Mountain, the remote Boulders Access feeds the Ridgeline Trail, from which you can take on a long romp into South Carolina.
Or, follow in the footsteps of our GetHiking! hike leaders, who take into account the potential spring surge. We aim to start from these and other lesser-known trailheads, to get you out on the trails sooner and with less angst.
In addition to the weekly hikes offered through our seven GetHiking! chapters, we have two special programs designed to avoid spring’s crowds while enjoying its offerings:
- The GetHiking! Triangle Spring Series begins March 11. We’ll hike every Sunday afternoon for eight weeks at a different location. For each hike, we offer a short (2-4 miles) and long (5-7 miles) version. The hikes in this series are designed to explore areas where spring wildflowers typically are blooming.
- In the GetHiking! Piedmont Explorer series, on the second Saturday of each month, we hike an area that may not be on your radar (but should be!). The hikes are 5 to 8 miles, start at noon, and last about three hours.
Join us as we hike the trails less traveled.
GetHiking! this spring
To find the GetHiking! hike nearest you, click on your local chapter.
GetHiking! Triangle Spring Series: Learn more about the program and sign up here.
GetHiking! Piedmont Explorer: Learn more about the series and sign up here.