We live less than a half mile from Occoneechee State Natural Area in Hillsborough, and I either hike or run there a couple times a week. Though I generally like to mix things up on trail I do regularly — hiking clockwise one time, counterclockwise the next — I have the same routine at Occoneechee: I enter from the neighborhood entrance off Eno Mountain Road, then take the Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail, Overlook Trail and Chestnut Trail back to the Loop Trail, which brings me around the west side of the mountain to the Eno River for the hike’s highlight: a 75-yard stretch beneath a north-facing cliff that is perpetually green. Green with holly and ferns, which are common in these parts, but also with mountain laurel, with rhododendron, and even a narrow carpet of galax. For this brief stretch the trail leaves the Piedmont for the Southern Appalachians.
We look to trails for escape. My Occoneechee route is the Tardis of Triangle Trails. It’s also the focus of a ranger-led hike Saturday at 2 p.m. From the park’s main lot, armed with water and closed-toe shoes, the group will head out on a mile-and-a-half hike in search of Evergreens at Occoneechee. Learn more about the hike and about how to register, here.
So what else is going on this second weekend of December?
Winter Bird Walk, Sunday, 3 p.m., Weymouth Woods State Natural Area, Southern Pines. One of our favorite places to hike in winter (yes, technically winter doesn’t start until a week from Sunday, but have you stepped outside lately?), is Weymouth Woods State Natural Area. Even on a cold winter day the sun penetrates this expanse of longleaf pines — one of the largest collections of longleaf pines remaining — warming the soul and igniting the smell of pine. The terrain and location also make it a prime winter bird watching site. This program piggybacks on Audubon’s 120th Christmas Bird Count bird count occurring at the park, meaning there will be plenty of qualified birders on hand to help identify what you’re seeing. Learn more here.
Hike with a Ranger at Mayo River State Park, Saturday, 1 p.m., Mayo River State Park: Hickory Creek Access, Stoneville. Maybe you know someone who’s looking to be more active in 2020, but hasn’t quite figured out how to make that happen. This hike on an old farm road would make for a great way to float hiking as an option: it’s on an old road, which generally means more foot-friendly travel, and it’s less than a mile long. Just long enough to get the heart rate up and stoke an appreciation for hiking, not so long that it seems like work — or worse, a workout. Learn more here.
GetHiking! this weekend
What are our GetHiking! groups in North Carolina and Virginia up to this weekend? Plenty, thanks for asking …
GetBackpacking! Weekend Quick Escape: Birkhead Mountain Wilderness, Uwharrie NF, Friday, December 13, 5 p.m. – Sunday, December 15, 12 p.m., 3091 Tot Hill Farm Rd., Asheboro. Moderate. 15 miles. Hike highlights: Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Loop, views from ridge line. Learn more here.
GetHiking! Charlottesville: Thornton River Circuit, Sunday, December 15, 8 a.m., 4105 Lewis and Clark Dr., Charlottesville. Strenuous. 10.5 miles. Hike highlights: Elkwallow Wayside, Appalachian Trail, Piney Ridge Trail, Fork Mountain Trail, Thornton Hollow Trail, Thornton River Trail, multiple stream crossings, Thornton River Falls. Learn more here.
GetHiking! Charlottesville: Appalachian Trail – Rockfish Gap to Paul Wolfe Shelter, Sunday, December 15, 10 a.m., 415 Ray C Hunt Dr., Charlottesville. Moderately Strenuous. 9 miles. Hike highlights: This section of the AT is primarily along a ridgeline. And with the trees stripped of their leaves, we should be treated to several nice views of the Rockfish Valley. Learn more here.
GetHiking! Winter Wild: New Adventure in the Places You Most Love to Hike, Saturday, December 21, 10 a.m., Lower Haw River State Natural Area, Pittsboro. Moderate. 6-8 miles. Hike highlights: East bak of the Haw River between Bynum and Jordan Lake. Learn more here.
Live the video
This week’s video takes us on the Company Mill Trail at Umstead State Park in Raleigh. It’s the park’s most popular trail, in part because it has options: Hike down to Crabtree Creek and back for a 2-mile roundtrip hike, continue on and do the abbreviated Company Mill Loop (cutting short across the Reedy Creek Bike & Bridle Trail) for about 5 miles, or do the entire loop of just under 6 miles. Learn more about exploring Umstead here.
More Weekend Options
Looking for more options for weekend adventure? Check out our GetOut! Find An Adventure resource page here.