For the most part, I believe trails should be treated like a nice wine: savored and not rushed. But every once in a while you find one that begs to be consumed with abandon.
Two years ago we published five trails that we found to be especially speed-friendly, in large part because of their generally rockless and rootless treat. Today, we double the list, adding five more that we feel fit the bill.read more
Summer officially arrived at 6:06 a.m. Thursday, but it sent an advance team early in the week: temperatures in the mid-90s. Thus, our focus for the weekend is wet and wild. Or at least wet.
Some events on tap that will keep you close to water:
=&0=&, New River State Park, Laurel Springs. Saturday, 9 p.m. Double your chances of staying cool by not only being near water, but exploring at night as well. Details here.
=&1=&, Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle. Saturday, 10 a.m. The phrase that hooked us on this event? “Please wear clothing and shoes you can get wet … .” The goal of this one-hour program is to see what lives in a creek. Details here.
=&2=&, Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro, Sunday, 8:30 a.m. “Enjoy this ranger-guided trip through the adjacent marsh water as we explore some of the ecosystems which make this part of North Carolina so special. Kayaks, paddles, and lifejackets will be provided.”
=&3=&, New River State Park, Laurel Springs. Sunday, 1 p.m. “Canoe the New River with a park ranger and learn the history of the river, and basic canoe instruction while you enjoy a leisurely trip down the river.” And yes, “Please wear clothing and shoes suitable for the water … .”
Search for your own adventure through one of these sources:
North Carolina State Parks has a variety of adventures planned for the weekend. Check those options here.
North Carolina Environmental Education Center represents environmental ed centers across the state and has a calendar complete with every class and trip these centers are conducting. Find it here.
As we transition into spring, our hiking genes kick in. We think not only of our favorite two-hour hikes, but also of those hikes that present a greater challenge, that will prepare us for the epic mountain hikes we hope to take this summer, whether in our own Southern Appalachians or beyond.
We’re all about challenges this year, and are keen on the hikes near home that offer good preparation: Lots of distance, with as much elevation as you can find near the Piedmont’s metro areas. Here’s a look at five of our favorite challenging trails.
=&0=&Sections 4-7 (NC 109 to King Mountain Road/Joe Moffitt Trailhead).
Uwharrie National Forest
People scoff at the Uwharries — until they hike ‘em. The relic mountain range tops out at just over 1,000 feet, but located as it is in the low-lying Piedmont, that can result in climbs gaining up to 500 vertical feet in a relatively short distance. And on this particular stretch of the Uwharrie Trail, the trail is constantly going up or down. As training hikes go, this is one of the best. You can build up to the whole 11.4 miles by starting with the NC 109 to Tower Road Stretch (6.3 miles), or continuing on to the Jumping Off Rock Trailhead on Flint Hill Road (8.3 miles). This is also one of the rockier trails around. Shuttle required.
Umstead State Park
Figure 8 loop
This trail gets a lot of tough love from backpackers training for a trip to the high country. It doesn’t have the elevation you’ll find in the Pisgah or Nantahala national forests, but the ongoing ups and downs coupled with the distance give you a good workout and a sense of a long miles carrying weight. It’s also a scenic hike. Starting from the park’s Harrison Avenue entrance, the Company Mill Trail crests three small ridges before crossing Crabtree Creek. There, the trail loops; go left(you’ll be returning on the trail to your right) for a short walk along the river before a gradual climb of a mile or so. Cross the bike & bridle trail for more quick ups-and-downs, before transferring to the Sycamore loop at its namesake creek. More up and down and up and down on this 4-mile loop that reconnects with Company Mill for a return with — you guessed it — more ups and downs.
Pilot Mountain State Park
Experienced hikers tend to shy away from Pilot Mountain in good weather because of the website warning that it can take up to 30 minutes to simply score a parking spot. That, however, is in the main lot, up top. Start from the Pinnacle Hotel Road Access at the base of the mountain and you’ll have your choice of primo spots (and a privy, too!). Start on the Mountain Trail, hiking clockwise, through some mature forest and rock outcrop as you wind your way up the mountain. At the Grindstone Trail, hang a right and then climb, climb, climb to the summit parking area. The Ledge Spring Trail (great views, check out the climbers) returns you to Grindstone, which connects to the Mountain Trail at the ranger office. From there, enjoy a comparatively mellow mile-and-a-half back to the trailhead.
Crowders Mountain State Park
One of the advantages here is that on a nice day when the park’s main parking is packed, you can usually find a spot at the remote Boulders Access. From there, take the Ridgeline Trail north over rolling Piedmont terrain to The Pinnacle. Take the spur to the summit, check out the views, return to the Pinnacle Trail and take it to the Sparrow Springs Access and Visitor Center. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can return to the Boulders on the Ridgeline Trail, for a roughly 15-mile day. This is a good opportunity to log miles with a weighted pack.
Our favorite training hike — and yes, it’s technically a mountain hike, located as it is on the face of the Blue Ridge Escarpment. But it’s easily doable in a day from the Triad, Triangle and Charlotte, qualifying it for our purposes. Plus, it’s one of our favorite hikes. If 17 miles seems like too long a distance, consider the layout. You start from the base of the escarpment, from the Long Bottom Road Access, and climb the Cedar Ridge Trail. Cedar Ridge pulls no punches, starting with some challenging switchback climbing. But before you can say uncle, it eases up the remaining ridge to the Bluff Mountain Trail: about 95 percent of your climbing for the day is behind you. Here, go south on the Bluff Mountain Trail (also part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail), which begins in a hemlock woods, then spends most of its time rolling through scenic mountaintop meadows. Another climb or two awaits before you hit the Flat Rock Ridge Trail, which has one short but steep climb initially, but then is a delightful long downhill back to the trailhead. One of the best circuits you’ll do all year.
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We’re planning to do several Challenge hikes this year, hikes that live up to the label of “epic.” We launched our Challenge series earlier this month with a series of training hikes that will help prepare hikers for March 10th’s Five Peaks Challenge at Hanging Rock State Park. We’re also looking at a hike in the Shining Rock area of around 15 miles in June and an end-to-end hike of the 13-mile Black Mountain Crest Trail, from Bowlen Creek to the summit of Mount Mitchell, in July. We’re also looking at a hike in the Slickrock Wilderness area of the Nantahala National Forest in late summer/early fall.
We’ll announce dates for these hikes soon. If you’d like to get on our early notice list (each hike will be limited to 10 participants), drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the trails listed above:
Uwharrie Trail: “Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide,” by Don Childrey (Second Edition, 2014, Earthbound Sports).
Moving is good. Learning something while you’re on the move is even better. This weekend is a good one for learning on the move.
For many, the key to getting active is to resist the urge to overindulge at the start and expect immediate results. That’s why so many New Year’s resolutions go kaput before January is over: you expect to become Charles (or Charlene) Atlas in just two weeks.
That’s why we like events such as Saturday’s =&1=& in Wilmington. On this hour-and-a-half walk you’ll take a leisurely pace through the historic Forest Hills section of Wilmington, learning about “architecture and landscape design within the neighborhood, highlighting the economic, social, and community development. These tours bring attention to the special qualities of the neighborhoods and how they contribute to the city’s quality of life.”
Learning and moving. Pretty good combination.
Logistics: Guided Walking Tour of Forest Hills, Saturday, July 15, 10 a.m., Wilmington. $10. Pre-registration required, by calling 910.762.2511.
Looking ahead: Can’t make Sunday’s walk? It repeats on July 29. More info here.
Conquering our fears: that’s part of why we go outside. We hike at night to get past fearing a dark forest. We go off trail — with map and compass — to explore the less-visited and feel more comfortable navigating the woods. We embrace water crossings as refreshing rather than reject them for the possibility of getting wet.
And yet, we remain fearful of snakes. All snakes.
Sunday, take the first step toward getting past your ophidiophobia by attending =&3=& At Pilot Mountain State Park. Learn how to identify snakes (including the venomous ones), learn about their lives. Learn to appreciate them as one of one of your incentives for heading outdoors.
Logistics: Snakes!, Sunday, July 16, 10 a.m., Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle. More information here.
Looking ahead: Canoe the Yadkin, Thursday, July 27, 10 a.m., Yadkin River Access of Pilot Mountain State Park. More info here.
Hiking in the spruce and pine forests at North Carolina’s highest elevations is like hiking in a different world. Or Canada. If you’re accustomed to the ecozones of the lower Southern Appalachian hardwood forests, you likely find yourself asking, like a confused tourist, “What the heck is that?”
Find out “what the heck” on Sunday’s =&5=& hike at Mount Mitchell State Park. “Join a ranger to understand why the Black Mountain Range and Mt. Mitchell are so unique in North Carolina in terms of its ecology and wildlife,” says the hike description. Then, take a few minutes to head north on the Black Mountain Crest Trail to put your newfound knowledge to work identifying this curious land of boreal delights.
Logistics: High Elevation Peaks, Sunday, July 16, 2 p.m., Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville. More info here.
Looking ahead: Balsam Nature Trail Guided Hike, Sunday, Sept. 10, Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville. More info here.
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Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.
Looking ahead: Can’t make Saturday morning’s Build-a-Boat? The event repeats Saturday, July 29 at noon. More info here.
D’ja ever wonder about the weather on top of a mountain? About the highest wind gusts ever recorded? Lowest temperature? Most snow?
Likewise, who hasn’t wondered how they record that information? Saturday is your chance to have these questions answered at Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. Setting out from the picnic area, you’ll make the short clime to MJ’s 4,683-foot summit, home to a North Carolina Climate Office data collection tower, where the mountain will reveal her climatological secrets during the Mount Jefferson’s Climate Tower program.
Logistics: Mount Jefferson’s Climate Tower, Saturday, July 8, 2 p.m., Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, West Jefferson. More info here.
Show dad how much he means to you by taking him into the great outdoors.
So many mysteries contained in Merchants Millpond, the nearly 200-year-old, 760-acre water assemblage that spreads throughout the State Park bearing its name. Is it a pond or a swamp (sure seems like the latter)? What are those weird, prehistoric fish you occasionally see near the surface? Are there alligators?
These questions and more answered Saturday afternoon on a 2-hour guided canoe trip on the pond. Canoe, paddle, pfd and guide provided free; you bring the sunscreen and questions.
Logistics: Canoe the Pond, Saturday, June 17, 1 p.m., Merchants Millpond State Park, Gatesville. More info and sign up — it’s free, but there are a limited number of canoes — by going here.
Looking ahead: Black Bears of Pettigrew State Park, Saturday, July 1, Pettigrew State Park, Columbia. More info here.
Wondering what to get Dad for his big day, Father’s Day, which is Sunday? You know what he’d love, don’t you?
A big ‘ol hike!
For instance, the Father’s Day Jomeokee Hike at Pilot Mountain State Park. It’s the perfect hike for darn near any dad: it’s a mellow distance — just under a mile — and he’ll learn all sorts of facts that he can pepper his conversations with for years to come. Facts like where the trail got its name, how the Pilot Mountain pinnacle got its distinctive shape, why birds of prey are always circling overhead.
Logistics: Father’s Day Jomeokee Hike at Pilot Mountain State Park, Sunday, June 18, 10 a.m., Pilot Mountain State Park. More info here.
Looking ahead: Basic Orienteering, Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve, Saturday, July 16, Southern Pines. More info here.
You do the Sunday morning Father’s Day hike at Pilot Mountain and Dad emerges really jazzed about the outdoors. His sense of adventure kindled, suggest that you drive the hour and a half to New River State Park for the 2 p.m. paddle trip on the New River. You needn’t have paddling experience; you’ll get basic canoe instruction at the start. Then, enjoy a couple hours on this mellow mountain river.
Logistics: Guided Canoe Trip, Sunday, June 18, 2 p.m., New River State Park/US 221 Access. Free, but boats are limited; call 336.982.2587 to reserve a spot.
Looking ahead: Night Hike, Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, Friday, July 7, West Jefferson. More info here.
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Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.
Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.
Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of coastal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.
Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.
Comprehensive calendar including programs for the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.
North Carolina Coast Host
Comprehensive calendar for the entire coast that lets you search for events by day, by region, by county, by city or by event (based on key word).
This Week Magazine
Primary focus is the Crystal Coast (North Carolina’s coastal midsection).
Blue Ridge Outdoors
Searchable calendar lets you extend your reach to events throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeast (or you can just limit it to North Carolina). Also lets you search a boatload of categories, ranging from Hiking, Mountain Biking and Climbing to Trail Running, Triathlon and Road Walking.