Yesterday I may have been a tad premature with my early morning proclamation that the sun, after a week’s hiatus, had returned. But eventually, at least here in Cary, it was out in full force by mid-afternoon. At which point, after a morning of vigorous wet-leaf raking, we piled the family into the minivan and spend the remainder at the day at one of our favorite, off-the-beaten-path parklands: Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.
Every Wednesday through Thanksgiving, GetGoingNC.com will feature a hike in North Carolina that just about anyone can do. It won’t be a long hike (though we may throw in a recommendation for going long), it won’t be strenuous hike (thought there could be a hill-climb option as well). The hikes will be timed to coincide with the changing colors of fall. This week, three loop trail options totaling 5 miles at Medoc Mountain State Park.
Medoc Mountain State Park
Distance: Variable, from .75 miles to 5 miles.
Type of route: Loops.
Getting there: From the east: From I-95, take exit 160 and go west on NC 561 for nine miles. Turn left on SR 1322, which will take you into the park. For the trails recommended, go past the Visitor Center to the second parking area. From the south: Take NC 561 east from Louisburg for 30 miles, then turn right on SR 1002. Go 0.9 miles, then go left on NC 322 for another 0.9 miles, the the park entrance.
Map: A trail map is available at the Visitor Center. You can also find one here.
Highlights: Solitude. Even on a peak fall afternoon, the place is pretty much yours at this off-the-beaten-path park. (In August, Medoc Mountain had just 5,338, compared with 69,912 visitors to Crowders Mountain State Park in August, 65,105 visitors to Umstead State Park and 63,063 to Pilot Mountain State Park.)
Why it’s easy and what you’ll see: Medoc Mountain is on the fringe of the Piedmont, where rolling hills give out to coastal plain. But the hiking reflects both geographic regions, with the trails relatively flat and easy, the landscape pure Piedmont hardwood forest. The park also boasts an unusual human history. Whereas most other state parks in the region are on retired farmland, Medoc Mountain was the site of a 19th vineyard, one of the first in the nation. In fact, local vintner Sidney Weller named the park’s namesake, 325-foot “peak” after a French province known for its vineyards. Begin your journey at Medoc Mountain on the 0.75-mile Stream Loop, taking on the 1.25-mile Discovery Loop midway. If you’re up for more upon your return, the 3.0-mile Bluff Loop offers some especially nice encounters with Little Fishing Creek, which bisects the park.
More info: Call the park office at 252.586.6588, or visit the Web site.
I rounded the bend and came to an abrupt stop. Not 10 yards away a woman on all fours wearing a jester’s hat and a full backpack was shinnying across a downed hemlock that crossed the creek. On the far side of the creek were two other female backpackers: one taking pictures, the other encouraging the scooter. “You’ve got another photographer!” one of the landed women informed the scooter.
The scooter turned her head. “Oh! Hi!”
Curious as the scene was, it was to about get curiouser. “Joe Miller!” yelled the woman with the camera.
A Thursday afternoon, first week of November, on a backcountry trail bridging Mt. Sterling and the Cataloochee area in the Smokies: What were the odds of running into someone I knew? Pretty good, if it was fellow guidebook writer Danny Bernstein.
Danny, a retired college professor, and her husband moved to the high country not long ago. In 2007, her “Hiking the Carolina Mounains” was published, and this past April her “Hiking North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Heritage” came out in. Her latest adventure: section hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. She and Sharon McCarthy, the jester-hatted scooter (she wound up walking most of the log), are doing the whole trail. “Carolyn [Hoopes, the third hiker in their party] comes along when she feels like it.”
It was late in the day and we were all racing the sun, Danny, Sharon and Carolyn to get to campsite 40, about 4 miles down the trail, me to loop back to my car 6 miles up the way. Thus, I didn’t get much time to find out what else Danny was up to. Fortunately, she keeps an active blog.
“It’s crazy running into someone you know on such a remote trail,” I said just before we parted ways.
“Acutally,” Danny corrected me, “it’s not so remote. It’s the Smokies.”
Tuesday evening I sat against a log, just off the Appalachian Trail, bundled against the cold, and watched the sun set. At 4,000 feet on a ridgeline, several miles from civilization, it was a long, slow show. When the curtain turned a deep crimson, I noticed it wasn’t getting darker. I glanced over my shoulder to find a full moon cresting over a near ridge to the east. I switched position and sat for another half hour. It took seven miles of hiking up more than 2,000 vertical feet with 35 pounds on my back, but it was worth it. I’m pretty sure I had the best seat in the house to see November 3rd come to a close in North Carolina.
With the end of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, GetGoingNC.com is looking at various ways you can keep active during the dark times ahead.
For maybe the fifth time in five minutes Alan stopped to comment on the trail. “This is a great trail,” he commented. And for the fifth time in maybe five minutes I reminded him that we had hiked this same trail maybe a half dozen times. His sense of discovery was justified, though. This was the first time we’d hiked the trail in daylight.