OK, with fall peaking around us, you aren’t the only one thinking about taking a hike. People who in their entire lives have never thought about taking a hike are likely looking at the forecast — sunny and cool — and thinking, “Hmm, I should think about taking a hike.” And that means the usual suspects — the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains, Shining Rock — will be crawling with occasional hikers.
You don’t have to be one of them. There are plenty of off-the-well-trod path destinations that offer great hiking and scenery. Here are three, representing North Carolina’s three different geographic zones, plucked from the first statewide hiking guide I happened to pluck from the shelf, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina” (The Mountaineers Books).
Pink Beds Valley, Davidson River area, Pisgah National Forest. This surprisingly flat (for the mountains, over 5 miles there’s only a total elevation gain of 208 feet), occasionally wet trail takes you through a rare southern Appalachian bog. You’ll hike through mountain laurel, rhododendron and hardwoods on this hike, the wetter portions of which are forded by boardwalks. Despite it’s length, its lack of elevation makes this a friendly hike for the not-so-frequent hiker. And, it’s easy to get to: the trailhead is located just off U.S. 276 11.5 miles north of U.S. 64 near Brevard.
Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, Southern Pines. I was at Weymouth Woods two weeks ago, on a 65-degree, cloudless Sunday perfect for hiking — and I saw three people in as many hours. Hiking counterclockwise from the visitors center, do the Bowers Bog/Lighter Stump/Pine Island/Holly Road/Gum Swamp/Pine Barrens loop and you’ll take in not only the 900-acre preserve’s classic long leaf pine savannah, you’ll also explore a dense, low-lying wetland that stands. The stark contrast helps explain why the land was preserved; here, you’ll find more than half of the 1,000 species of flora and fauna identified to date in the Sandhills region. And, again, it’s easy to get to, located on the eastern outskirts of Southern Pines, located an hour and a quarter south of the Triangle on U.S. 1.
Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, Newton Grove. Because it’s not-so-easy to get to, Cliffs of the Neuse is an especially good fall bet. It’s also a good opportunity to explore two of the state’s geographic regions for the price (admission is free, actually) of one. There’s plenty of Piedmont here, but you’ll also find one of the westernmost populations of Spanish-moss-draped cypress in the state. Plus, great views from the 90-foot cliff overlooking the Neuse.
Get out. Enjoy.