Hikes You Can Do: Jones Lake State Park

Initially, I planned to do these Hikes You Can Do through Thanksgiving. But since I’ve been pushing hiking and walking as a good way to stay fit and sane over the holidays, I’ve decided to extend them through year’s end. So what’s a Hike You Can Do? It’s not a long hike (though we may throw in a recommendation for going long), it’s not a strenuous hike (though there could be a hill-climb option as well). This week, the 4-mile loop trail at Jones Lake State Park.

Jones Lake State Park

Distance: 4.0 miles.
Type of route: Loop.
Getting there: From I-95 in Fayetteville, drive east on NC 53 for 29 miles; go left onto NC 242. Go another 4 miles; The park entrance is on the left. Here’s a map.
Map: A trail map is available at the Visitor Center, at the trailhead.
Highlights: Walk through a bay forest and a longleaf pine forest, all around a Carolina Bay.
Why it’s easy and what you’ll see: According to “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina,” the trail has a total elevation gain of 3 feet (it all happens within a 10-foot stretch on the lake’s north side, where the trail encounters an old irrigation ditch). Part of the trail — through the the longleaf pine forest (some interloper pines and understory turkey oaks as well) — is on a sandy forest service road, part — a narrower, packed gravel trail — goes through a dense bay forest rich with sweet, loblolly and red bays. And there’s a cypress swamp rimming 224-acre Jones Lake, a curiosity in itself. Jones Lake is one of a half million such elliptically shaped lakes peppering the southeastern U.S. It’s unclear how the lakes, which all have a similar appearance, came to be. Speculation suggests they’re the result of everything from the combined forces of underground springs, wind and wave action, to a meteor shower millions of years ago that pockmarked the region with shallow divots that subsequently filled with water. The water tends to be highly acidic and has a dark hue thanks to decomposing plant matter on the lake floor. The acidity tends to limit the plant nutrients in the lake, thus, unlike many other lakes on the coastal plain, it’s not a hangout for migrating birds this time of year. Regardless, the surrounding plant life offers plenty of visual relief during your walk.
Be forewarned: Wind crossing the cool lake can cause a chill, even on an otherwise warm winter day. Dress appropriately.
More info: Call the park office at 910.588.4550, or visit the park Web site.

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