I was contemplating a backpack trip in the Black Mountains, and step 1, in general but especially in these pandemic times, was to make sure the route I was considering was open.
I was marginally surprised, only because so many of the trails that had been closed in the Pisgah National Forest in April have since reopened. But not, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the Black Mountain Crest Trail from Cattail Peak north to the trail’s northern terminus, at Bolens Creek. The specific reason for the closure wasn’t given, simply for “public health and safety.”
I mention the latter because trails do close for reasons other than a virus run amuck. The Crest Trail has, in the past, been closed at Deep Gap due to bear activity. I’m guessing the rugged nature of the Black Mountain Crest trail, which runs 12 miles, from Mount Mitchell to Bolens Creek, and the difficulty of extracting injured hikers at a time when emergency medical services are already taxed, is likely the reason.
Now more than ever it’s important to check ahead, before heading out. The result could be avoiding a disappointing closed sign after driving two hours to the trailhead. It could also yield some surprising new opportunities.Two examples.
Eno River State Park, Durham. Two of five access areas in Eno River State Park remain closed, Cabelands and Pleasant Green. The reason: both have trails that serve the Eno Quarry, a popular swimming hole — and thus, gathering spot — in summer. The park website makes clear that even parking near this access points isn’t allowed: “You may not park on the road shoulder, block gates, or impede traffic and walk into the park from these accesses. Your vehicle will be subject to citation and or towing.” It’s also clear that swimming in the quarry is prohibited. But the trails, apparently, remain open. So if you’re looking for a long hike in solitude, you can park at the Pump Station Access and hike upstream along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, all the way to Pleasant Green, a distance of more than 6 miles (12 out-and-back).
Morrow Mountain State Park, Albemarle. Amid the various what’s open/what’s not notices on the park website, we found this buried midway through: “The road to the scenic overlook will remain CLOSED to all motor vehicle traffic.” The “scenic overlook” is the top of 936-foot Morrow Mountain, where the mountain-top parking area is typically jammed with folks who drove to the top for a peak peek. You can now earn that summit, a quiet summit, by taking a portion of the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail and the Morrow Mountain Trail, about a 7-mile or so roundtrip.
Checking the individual State Park website beforehand can enlighten you in other helpful ways:
- No vacancy. If a park’s had problems with overcrowding, there will likely be a note indicating that it will close if capacity is reached. Some even offer tips on when to best avoid the crowds: Hanging Rock advises visitors to avoid the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.
- Trails close for other reasons. Trails can close for reasons besides overcrowding. At Eno River, the Pea Creek Trail is closed because “recent storms” have “undercut steps, put deep holes into the trail, and significantly damaged the trail,” while at Pilot Mountain, “Portions of Ledge Spring Trail and top rope climbing adjacent to the summit parking lot will be closed at times through early July due to construction at the overlook.”
- Other restrictions may apply. At Crowders Mountain, “Rock climbing and bouldering will open by registration only.” And at Jordan Lake, campers used to slack check in and check out times are advised: “Due to changes to our operating procedures, strict implementation of the 3pm check out and 4pm check in times associated with campsites will begin on June 19, 2020.”
The adventure-lover in us loves spontaneity. But even with the most basic of adventures, some planning is required. And right now, that planning starts with simply making sure the place you want to explore is open.
Here are the websites for some of the biggest land managers in the region, where you can find out the latest on trails in their jurisdiction.
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- North Carolina State Parks
- North Carolina National Forests (Croatan, Pisgah, Nantahala, Uwharrie)
- Shenandoah National Park
- Virginia National Forests (George Washington and Jefferson)
- Virginia State Parks