Our plan for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was to take a group of backpackers to the mountains for three days on the AT between Max Patch and Hot Springs. The goal was to give three-season backpackers a taste of winter. But when the forecast suddenly shifted and called for temperatures near zero and more than just an inch or two of snow, it was time to rethink our plan. Since that wasn’t what this group had signed up for or was properly geared up to do, we postponed the trip.
We’re all wondering the same thing: are my favorite places to explore open post Hurricane Florence?
Here’s a look at what I’ve found for our upcoming GetHiking! and GetBackpacking! adventures. Hopefully, my sleuthing can help you in figuring out your own upcoming adventure plans.
When: This weekend
What we learned: I wasn’t worried about the trail being flooded: it begins above 6,000 feet and stays high for much of its 13.7-mile run. Still, my first check was with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, whose Trail Updates page is a complete rundown of current closings, reroutings and other issues that may affect your hike. The North Carolina section (updates are broken down by state) listed no specific advisory for this stretch, though it did advise caution in general for downed trees and hanging limbs as a result of the storm. Of greater concern were the roads getting to the trailhead: Florence dropped some wet on the mountains, and landslides had been reported. But not on the roads we take, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Travel Information page and its interactive map.
Status: It’s a go
When: This weekend
What we learned: Virginia closed all of its State Parks in preparation for Florence, but all have now reopened, including Grayson Highlands. A look at the Grayson Highlands State Park page shows that only one park facility is closed, and it isn’t our group campsite. As for the Mount Rogers end of the trip, the USDA Forest Service site for both George Washington and Jefferson National Forests reported that all recreation areas were closed. That, though, from a post dated Sept. 12, before the storm. A call to the “customer service desk” for both forests indicated it might be faster to leave a message than to wait for a representative. It was also unclear whether the Virginia Creeper Trail, also part of the trip, was open.
Status: On hold, likely to postpone
When: Weekend of Sept. 28-30
What we learned: Curtis Creek is in the Pisgah National Forest. (In fact, it was the first tract of land in the Pisgah, back in 1913). It’s in a particularly narrow valley that descends from the Black Mountains to the Piedmont, and thus seems especially vulnerable to flooding. And while it, along with the rest of the Pisgah, was closed prior to Florence, it has reopened. Graybeard Mountain is rather unique in that it is part of the Montreat Conference Center’s 2,500-acre Montreat Wilderness. It remains open to hiking as well, according to the website.
Status: It’s a go.
A cool front moves in this weekend, a sign for you to get out and explore. Some thoughts on that front:
=&0=&, Friday thru Sunday, anywhere along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Help our favorite statewide hiking trail celebrate 41 years with a hike! Where? Well, anywhere on the trail. To help with that, we refer you to the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail website, here.
=&1=&, Saturday & Sunday, Moratock Park, Danbury. How about a hike at nearby Hanging Rock and some live music? Or a paddle on the Dan River and some crafts? We’re all about mixing action with relaxation, which is what this weekend’s Stokes Stomp in Danbury is all about. Details here.
=&2=&, Saturday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., Elk Knob State Park, Todd. More mixing of pleasure with pleasure at this annual celebration of Elk Knob. Live music, games, nature activities, hikes, wagon rides, craft and cultural demonstrations, hands-on activities, history and food. Details here.
You can find more opportunities this Labor Day weekend here:
We’ve got a lot going on this fall, for hikers, campers and backpackers.
You love a mountain hike in the fall. What you don’t love is driving there and back in a day. Or paying leaf season rates for a motel. So don’t.
This fall, we’ve got four weekend camping/hiking trips planned to some of the best hiking in the mountains, and one late fall trip to some pretty cool hiking at the coast.
Not a camper, or at least haven’t become one yet? We’ve got a couple of trips that are perfect for you as well. Our weekend base camp trips fall into two categories:
- Experienced Camper. These weekends are geared to established campers, folks who have the gear and have the process and logistics — packing, setting up camp, cooking food — down. We arrange the campground and guide the hikes, we cook one meal, we provide a fun swag bag and you do the rest.
- Newbie Camper. These weekends are geared toward people new to camping, people who like the idea of camping, but don’t know where to start. Well, you start here, with us. We arrange the campground, cook the food, arrange activities. All you really need is a tent (and if you don’t have that, we have one of those, too, for an additional fee). Feel free to hang with us and learn the ropes, or kick back, relax and let us do the camp work.
What we love about these trips is that there’s time for both great hiking and relaxing. Arrive anytime after 4 p.m. on Friday, get established, settle in, relax. Saturday, we let you sleep in, hitting the trail between 9 and 9:30 a.m. Saturday’s hike is usually in the 10-mile range, a long day on the trail, but without pushing it. Sunday, we sleep in a little later and hike a little shorter, usually around 5 miles.
Here are our trips for fall, including whether it falls into the Basic or Premier category:
=&2=&, Sept. 21-23. Pampered Camper. Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia. Includes a hike to Mount Rogers, at 5,724 feet the highest point in Virginia, and an optional bike ride on the 17-mile Virginia Creeper Trail, nearly all of which is downhill. (If you’re not interested in the bike ride, a hike is planned in its place.) The Mount Rogers area is known for its vast meadows, rock outcrops, Rocky Mountain feel — and ponies.
=&3=&, Sept. 28-30. Practiced Camper. Pisgah National Forest and Montreat Wilderness. The Curtis Creek campground is in the oldest section of the Pisgah National Forest, dating back to 1913. On Saturday, we’ll summit 5,592-foot Graybeard Mountain in the adjoining Montreat Wilderness; Sunday, we’ll hike from the campground up the Hickory Branch Trail into some of the oldest old growth in the Pisgah.
=&4=&, Oct. 12-14. Pampered Camper. This trip gets a jump on fall color in the mountains by visiting two of the highest points in North Carolina’s northern mountains: 5,520-foot Elk Knob and 4,655-foot Mount Jefferson. Due largely to their high elevation and rich soils, both peaks offer a fall color experience more akin to that found in New England.
=&5=&, Oct. 19-21. Practiced Camper. From base camp at the Briar Bottom Group Campground at the base of Mount Mitchell, we’ll hike from camp up to the Green Knob Tower on Saturday, an 8-mile roundtrip that culminates with great views of the Black Mountains. Sunday, we drive to the highest point on the East Coast, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, for a hike on the Black Mountain Crest Trail. Includes a burrito dinner Saturday evening.
=&6=&, Nov. 2-4. Basic. What better way to close out the fall hiking season than with a trip to the coast. Base camp for the weekend is the National Park Service Campground at Oregon Inlet. From there, we’ll head a short distance up the coast and hike 5 miles through maritime forest at Nags Head Woods Preserve. Sunday, we’ll visit some of the oldest and biggest trees in the state on a 5-mile hike at Pettigrew State Park. Learn more and sign up here.
To learn more about the camping weekends mentioned and to sign up, click the appropriate trip.
Since its launch in 2014, GetBackpacking!’s Intro to Backpacking program has minted more than 200 backpackers. With all those backpackers, we eventually had to offer more advanced skills classes and trips. So, if you’re already a backpacker, if you want to be a backpacker — even if you just think you want to be a backpacker, we’ve got something for you this fall.
=&16=&, September, October sessions. Our comprehensive learn-to-backpack program includes a two-hour session on gear and how to pack a backpack; a six-hour session at Morrow Mountain State Park where we go over everything from finding and setting up camp, to cooking, to hanging food, to breaking down camp; and, finally, a weekend graduation trip to South Mountains State Park. Learn more and sign up here.
For the past 25 years, the first Saturday of June has been—by decree of the American Hiking Society—National Trails Day, a day dedicated to celebrating our nation’s thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails. Sometimes, that celebration takes the form of a hike, sometimes a bike ride. Often, it’s a trail workday, reminding us that the vast majority of our natural surface trails would not be possible without volunteers. A professional land manager may oversee the blazing and design of the trails, but when it comes to the work of actually clearing the paths— and maintaining them—that’s largely the work of volunteers.
For instance, on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail—which spans North Carolina from Clingman’s Dome in the west to Jockey’s Ridge on the Atlantic— all of the nearly 700 miles of trail that currently exist were built by volunteers. In 2017 alone, volunteers put in 36,000 hours on the trail, according to Friends of the MST Outreach Manager Betsy Brown. On the Appalachian Trail, the 2,190-mile length is maintained by 31 regional hiking clubs in 14 states. (See below for clubs in North Carolina and Virginia.)
We do love our trails. And Saturday is an especially good day to show that love by participating in one of the nearly 1,000 NTD events planned nationwide (including 55 in Virginia and 35 in North Carolina). Here’s a sampling of 10 in North Carolina and Virginia:
GetHiking! Mountains-to-Sea Trail at Falls Lake
GetHiking! celebrates National Trails Day with a 6-mile hike on the MST through the Triangle. This particular stretch follows edge forest, passes old farm ponds, crosses meadows, explores Piedmont history dating back a half century and more.
Troutville Trail Days
Along the line of the big Trails Day in Damascus, Va., Troutville, also located on the AT, has it’s own AT celebration, with guided hikes, live music and a range of vendors.
Beyond the Trailhead
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
For anyone who’s ever driven Skyline Drive and wondered what those trail signs were about, Shenandoah National Park and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Trail Patrol aim to show you with guided hikes.
Celebrate the Park
Newport News, VA
Mariners’ Museum hosts a trail extravaganza, with hikes, food and lots of stuff for kids to do.
National Trails Day and Clean the Bay
York River State Park, Williamsburg, VA
8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
A clean-up followed by a Past Plantation Tour, hike of the Osprey Trail, and kids fishing tournament.
Uwharrie Trail Hike
Sponsor: Uwharrie Trailblazers hiking club
Six-mile hike that culminates with a climb to the top of Little Long Mountain, a cleared plateau that offers the best views of central North Carolina’s Uwharrie Mountains.
NTD at Durant Nature Preserve
9 a.m. to noon
Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks & Rec.
Get hands-on experience maintaining a trail. Rakes, pitchforks and wheelbarrows provided; you bring a water bottle, sturdy boots and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
Take a Hike at Brunswick Nature Park
Winnabow (near Wilmington)
Sponsor: NC Coastal Land Trust
North Carolina’s land trusts play an often unsung role in protecting valuable natural areas and providing us with unique places to explore. This 2.5-mile hike lead by the NC Coastal Land Trust takes you through one of them.
Panthertown Valley Picnic and Expo
Glenville (near Cashiers)
Hike, bike ride
Sponsor: Friends of Panthertown Valley
There’s a picnic at Salt Rock Gap (one of the main entrances to Panthertown), followed by a hike. You can also learn more about mountain biking, fishing, rock climbing and more in the area.
NTD on the Carolina Thread Trail
Cramerton (Charlotte area)
Hike, kids activities
Sponsor: Hike It Baby
Some day, the Carolina Thread Trail hopes to link 15 counties in the Charlotte area with trails; this hike is on one of segment of that emerging chain — the 0.7-mile Goat Island Greenway and South Fork River Blueway (a paddle trail running 8.4 miles downstream; it is not part of the day’s adventure).
For more events in North Carolina, Virginia and elsewhere, visit the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day page here.
AT maintenance clubs in NC and Virginia:
North Carolina clubs are the Carolina Mountain Club, Nantahala Hiking Club and the Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers, and in Virginia, there’s the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club, Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club, Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club,
Outdoor Club at Virginia Tech