Explore the wilds of your own backyard

Now, the outdoor world begins to shrink. 

A week ago, trails were open. The outdoors were seen as the last open sanctuary to escape The Virus. Then, over the weekend, many of the more popular trail venues drew crowds that made staying 6 or 10 feet apart from one another near impossible. Sunday evening, North Carolina announced that four of its State Parks were closing, two recreation areas were restricting access. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which had already closed certain areas, followed suit, announcing that the park was shutting down, trails included. The number of North Carolina State Parks that are completely closed has since grown to 15 (see the list below).

Clouding the picture further: While North Carolina has yet to enact a statewide Shelter in Place order, several counties (including Durham, Mecklenburg and, starting Thursday, Wake) have. Basically, that means that aside from essential travel, you need to stay home. 

The one bright spot in many of these orders: exercise is considered essential. You can walk out your front door and explore — again, practicing social distancing — to your heart’s content. (If you are in a jurisdiction with a Shelter in Place order, check first to make sure getting out to exercise is OK.)

You might be surprised by just how much there is to see in your own backyard. Some thoughts on the matter from someone who grew up exploring their backyard:

  • Use your first neighborhood expedition four scouting. You may be doing this for a while, so it’s good to know what your future options are. Is there an easement that looks intriguing? A street you’ve never explored because it’s not on your usual route? A small wooded area that’s something of a mystery?
  • Keep a journal I. Approach these neighborhood adventures as you would a renounced explorer probing terra incognito for the first time. Are you being stalked by a wily tabby? Intrigued by the  mounds of dark material that seemingly appeared in a neighbor’s yard overnight? (So it’s just mulch: Have some fun with it.)
  • Keep a journal, II. It needn’t be a strictly written journal. The great explorers often doodled along the way (some did it themselves, some had designated doodlers). So you can’t draw; that makes it all the more fun. And entertaining to others as you share later on.
  • Share your adventures. We’d love to have you report on your journeys and what you’ve found on our Facebook page. You may inspire others (or at least amuse them).
  • Pick a hike theme. Spring is advancing: perhaps you dedicate a neighborhood hike to seeking signs of the season. 
  • Pick something in advance to search for. Wow to spot a particular thing on a given hike. A plots hound, a clothes line, a Big Wheel. 

This might work, you think. But I feel I still need to get out beyond the confines of my neighborhood. 

Again, we think you’ll be surprised by what you’ll find in your own backyard. But if you do feel the need to branch out — and with gas at $1.89 a gallon, it’s hard to quash the thought — and it’s still allowed, we like the American Hiking Society’s 50-mile-limit suggestion, which you can read more about below. 

To get a better feel for exploring your own backyard, we’ve been doing just that with our new Morning Walk with Joe feature on Facebook Live. I share 10 to 15 minutes of my morning walk in and around Hillsborough. One morning I might be walking along the Eno River, one morning I might explore a historic district, one morning I might be searching for wildflowers or hiking a state park, one morning I might report on the interesting things the neighbors are up to — all of which I can do out my backdoor.

You have options. Make the most of them.


 North Carolina State Parks. Keep up with the latest N.C. State Park closures here. Meanwhile, these are the parks closed as of noon Wednesday, March:

  • Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park (Eagle Rock and Rumbling Bald accesses are open)
  • Crowders Mountain State Park
  • Fort Fisher State Recreation Area
  • Fort Macon State Park
  • Gorges State Park
  • Hanging Rock State Park
  • Jockey’s Ridge State Park (open to residents of Dare County only)
  • Lake James State Park
  • Lake Waccamaw State Park
  • Morrow Mountain State Park
  • Mount Mitchell State Park
  • Pilot Mountain State Park
  • Raven Rock State Park
  • South Mountains State Park
  • Stone Mountain State Park

Keep updated here.

Virginia State Parks. Remain open, including camping and cabins. Visitor centers are closed. Keep updated here. 

National Park Service. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed. Visitor centers and restrooms are closed along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Keep updated here.

Appalachian Trail. Appalachian Trail Conservancy President & CEO Sandra Marra is strongly discouraging hikers on the AT for hikes of any length. Keep updated here.

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