Our two favorite times to be in the trail in winter: sunrise and sunset. They’re great year-round, frankly, but much more accessible in winter: Sunrise today is at 7:21 a.m., sunset at 5:34 p.m.
If you have to ask what’s so special about these two golden hours of the day, then you’re probably not a hiker. Or possibly in possession of a pulse. Personally, we love the moment-to-moment change as the sky evolves from yellow to pink to orange to crimson to purple. If we sense the conditions for a good sunset, we’ll dash to the local summit in town, Occoneechee Mountain, which affords an open view to the west: sunset over the Eno River Valley is one of the best. We’re pretty crazy about certain other sunsets as well: from Shortoff Mountain at the south end of Linville Gorge, from atop Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest, from Little Long Mountain in the Uwharrie National Forest, from Hump Mountain on the Appalachian Trail. We’ve even seen the queen mother of sunset phenomena: the elusive green flash, a prismatic neon burst that lasts just a second or two, which we saw over the Pacific Ocean years ago in Hawaii.