Fall color paints the Piedmont


We rode at Umstead Tuesday morning and noticed nothing different. We rode Thursday morning and couldn’t help but notice the difference.

Fall had finally begun gracing the Piedmont with its festive palette.

Poplars were suddenly popping yellow, sourwoods were flashing crimson, red maples were glowing red. Real color, the first of the season. And who knows how long it will last.

Which is why we encourage you to get out this weekend and take in the color while you can. Incentive, too, is the fact that daytime temperatures throughout the Piedmont are forecast to crest around 70s under sunny skies. Enough blah blah. Six thoughts on where to check out the color this weekend:

1. Triangle: Mountains-to-Sea Trail/Falls Lake Trail, 60 miles. Is there a better way to check out fall than on a 60-mile-long hiking trail that hugs a shoreline most of the way?  From the Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve in Durham County to the Falls Lake dam in Wake County it’s possible to hike non-stop on the Moutains-to-Sea Trail. If that’s more than you have time

Falls Lake offers colorful lakeside encounters.

for this weekend, worry not: the trail is broken down into 24 day-hikeable sections ranging from less than a mile to 5.4 miles in length. The Falls Lake MST ducks in and out of coves along the lake, briefly brushing backyards in spots, and escaping civilization entirely in others. Learn more about the trail here.

2. Morganton: South Mountains State Park, 11.8-mile loop. I was reminded of South Mountains State Park as a great place for a quiet fall getaway when I overheard one hiker trying to explain to another where the park is. After several aborted attempts, he finally said, “It’s near Morganton. Sorta.” One of the beauties of South Mountains is its vague location, sorta near Morganton (in fact, South Mountains State Park is about 16 miles south of Morganton on backroads), keeps the masses away. That leaves lots of solitude for you on the 40 miles of trail that penetrate this 18,000-acre playground. A favorite loop is the 11.8-mile counterclockwise traverse of

Great views can be had from the ridgeline at South Mountains State Park.

Raven Rock, HQ, Possum, Horseridge, Lower CCC, Fox, Jacob Branch and Upper Falls trails. A nice, long dayhike or an overnighter. Helpful info here.

3. Charlotte/Triad: Sugarloaf and Morrow Mountain Trails, Morrow Mountain State Park, 5.4 miles. This 5.4-mile hike bags two peaks at Morrow Mountain State Park. And yes, I say “bags two peaks” without reservation. Both the climb up 843-foot Sugarloaf and 906-foot Morrow Mountain are legitimate climbs. The first climb gains more than 350 feet in a relatively short distance, the second even more. And while the views are minimal from Sugarloaf, you’ll have numerous Kodak moments from the top of Morrow Mountain. You’ll also have company: your summit celebration is tempered slightly by the fact the peak is covered by a very large parking lot. Details here.

4. Greensboro: watershed lakes, 42 miles (short hikes of as little as a mile). Triad residents have numerous good options around the three watershed lakes — Brandt, Townsend and Higgins — north of town. Forty-two miles of watershed hiking trails take you through a variety of environments. The 1.6-mile Palmetto Trail, for instance, features some interesting geology; the 3.6-mile Nat Greene Trail offers a smorgasbord of Piedmont ecology. Details here.

42 miles of trail make their way around Greensboro's watershed lakes.

5. Roanoke Rapids/northeast: Medoc Mountain State Park, Discovery/Stream/Summit loops, 6 miles. You aren’t the only one in North Carolina with hiking on his/her mind come the cool, colorful days of October, which brings up the one downside to hitting the trail this month — with the exception of Medoc Mountain, which sits happily off the beaten track in Halifax County. Ten miles of trail meander through the park, which sits on the eastern fringe of the Piedmont; this recommended 6-mile trek takes you through a good portion of it, including a climb up Medoc’s 325-foot summit and a stroll through what was once the first wine operation in the country. More info here.

A Morrow Mountain fall (photo courtesy N.C. Division of State Parks)

6. Triad: Sauratown Trail, linking Pilot Mountain with Hanging Rock north of the Triad, 35 miles. A total of 35 miles make up this trail network that was designed primarily with equestrians in mind, but the actual link between the Tories Den portion of Hanging Rock State Park and the Surry Line parking area of Pilot Mountain is 21.7 miles, making for a nice, long day hike, if you choose. The advantage to Sauratown is that it takes in some of the same scenery as Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain (though, granted, without the aerie vistas), but with a fraction of the people. Plan your trip through the helpful Sauratown Trails Association website.

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