Last weekend we were frozen in snow and ice, today it’s 70 and raining, it may snow again Wednesday but it definitely will be cold again. Real cold. But this weekend is looking hiking perfect. Temperatures Saturday will be around 50, in the upper 30s Sunday, all under mostly sunny skies. So no time to quibble: you need to get out.
At our weekly GetHiking! Triangle hike a couple weeks back, I was approached at the trailhead by a woman who introduced herself as being from Virginia Beach, Va. She, her daughter and a friend were in town asked if they might tag along with our group.
This weekend will feel like mid to late October throughout much of the state.
Consider: As of noon today, the temperature atop Mount Mitchell was 53 degrees, with winds out of the southeast at 14 miles per hour, gusting to 18. Overnight, the temperature dropped to 45, with a wind chill of 40 degrees. Saturday, the temperature is expected to top out at 61.
That’s fleece weather.
Granted, this is on top of the East Coast (though these readings are from a station at 6,200 feet, nearly 500 below the Mount Mitchell summit). But these types of temperatures can be expected throughout the high country this weekend.
Even in the Piedmont, cool temperatures will prevail. Forecast highs for Saturday are in the low 70s with overnight lows dipping into the mid 60s.
This translates to one thing: a fall-like window for hiking.
Be advised, you won’t be the only one to have this thought. The trails are likely to be jammed. Here’s a little advice on how to avoid the expected crowds.
Go long. Probably the most popular trail at popular Umstead State Park in Raleigh is the Company Mill Trail — at least the first mile. That initial mile takes you over three small ridges down to Crabtree Creek. For many, especially those with small kids, Crabtree is a good opportunity to frolic for a few minutes, may have a snack, then head back. The traffic is probably halved by the time you cross Crabtree. And Jon Holliday, founder of the Raleigh Trail Hikers Meetup, says the numbers really dwindle once you hit the 3-mile mark and meet the Sycamore Trail in the center of the park.
Avoid the popular spots. Well, duh. So how do you know what’s popular? A few ways to narrow the list. Is it a place you hear frequently mentioned? If so, don’t go. Does it have a spacious, paved parking lot (or worse yet, a visitor center)? Nix it.
Avoid the popular spots, II. Last year, nearly 1.2 million people visited Umstead State Park in Raleigh. Proximity is part of the reason: about as many people live in Umstead’s MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area). It’s also a great park. But there are a lot of other great State Parks in North Carolina that don’t get near the love they deserve. A prime example: Medoc Mountain State Park, which barely got 100,000 visitors last year. Medoc Mountain is located near … well, that’s the problem, it’s not near or on the way to anywhere of note. But it’s just an hour and a half from the Triangle and well worth the drive. You can find a list of other underloved state parks here.
Avoid the popular spots, III. Another way to find a State Park that may be under visited: Get a state road map that has state parks on it and seek out the more remote ones. Medoc Mountain, again, is one example. Other good one: South Mountains State Park which is just far enough off I-40 and from Morganton to require a little extra effort to get to. South Mountains has 18,000 acres and had only 194,000 visitors last year.
Look for secondary entrances. Most parks have a main, advertised entrance, but they also have lesser-known secondary entrances. Get a map of your favorite place to hike and see where the boundaries brush up against roads. If there’s a trail near that point, you may well have a secondary entrance with roadside parking.
Check out preserves, conservancies and land trusts. They often have smaller, but less popular, trail networks. And because the land is being preserved, you can bet there’s some thing extra special about it. (Find a land trust near you by checking out the Conservation Trust for North Carolina website.)
When I first started writing about fitness and the outdoors back in the early 1990s, there were a handful of ways you could welcome the New Year in most communities. There was usually a 5K run, a bike shop sponsored a casual ride, canoe clubs held members-only paddles, there was a hike or two, and some oddball group was jumping into a local lake (and jumping right back out again). You had options for welcoming the new year, but not a lot.
We’re staring down the first steamy weekend of the summer. Frankly, I’m hard pressed to think of something to do outdoors that doesn’t involve water.
There’s swimming, of course. At your local pool (search for local parks and rec departments with pools at the North Carolina Recreation & Parks Association Web site), at a trusted swimming hole (find 76 in North Carolina at SwimmingHoles.org), at the coast (find Outer Banks beaches here, Wilmington area beaches here and assorted other beaches here.