Already, it is August — mid-August, to be accurate — and the days of summer are waning. If you’re not a friend of hot weather, this comes as good news. But if you like the heat and feel you haven’t taken full advantage of the season, this realization could bum you out. Don’t let it.
Labor Day weekend is still nearly four weeks off, which leaves plenty of time to get in an adventure unique to summer. Here are 10 suggestions:
- Hike a high mountain trail. It may still be summer at lower elevations, but atop 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, home to the highest hiking east of the Black Hills? Earlier today, while the Piedmont was simmering in 90-degree heat, the temperature atop Mitchell was a crisp 68.6 degrees (after dropping to an overnight low of 56.7). Hike the three-quarter-mile Balsam Nature Trail, hike the 4.3-mile Deep Gap Trail taking you over three 6,000-foot peaks.
2. Hike a high Piedmont trail. Don’t have time to drive to the mountains? Piedmont residents can hike a higher, and a little cooler, trail close to home at Pilot Mountain State Park (elevation 2,421 feet), Hanging Rock State Park (2,579 feet), or Crowders Mountain State Park (1,706 feet). Details at ncparks.gov.
3. Hike, then swim. One of our favorite summer hikes is the 4.7-mile Moore’s Knob Trail at Hanging Rock State Park north of the Triad. Hiked clockwise from the bathhouse there’s a long climb up a rocky spine through Virginia pine to the summit and great views to the south (Winston-Salem), west (Pilot Mountain and the Blue Ridge beyond), and north (Virginia’s George Washington and Jefferson National Forests). But it’s what awaits at the end of the hike: a refreshing 12-acre lake with a sand beach. A great carrot to motivate you through the heat.
4. Hike a mountain trail while it’s still accessible. We love the Shining Rock area: 18,500 acres of wilderness, more than twice that much surrounding non-wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest. The best way to access Shining Rock is via a mile-high section of Blue Ridge Parkway, a section of the parkway often closed by snow and ice come winter. It’s a great time to visit. More info here.
5. Explore Wilson Creek. We were at Wilson Creek this past weekend: it was everything you’d want in a summer adventure. Trails with multiple stream crossings (North Harper Creek Trail), trails with lots of pools to swim in (Hunt-fish Falls via Gragg Prong), trails that end in a waterfall (South Harper Creek Falls), trails with incredible views (Big Lost Cove Cliffs Trail). Tip: avoid Wilson Creek proper, which becomes overrun on a hot summer weekend.
6. Go car camping in the mountains. Warm days, cool nights, access to great hiking, rafting, mountain biking, fishing — you’ll find it all from your basecamp in a mountain campground that will likely close for the season soon. Check out some of our favorites here.
7. Hike a waterfall on the cusp of the coastal plain. One of the last things you’d expect to find in the flattest part of the state is a geologic feature associated with the state’s most mountainous sections. Yet there, on the north bank of the Cape Fear River at Raven Rock State Park is JumpingFish Falls, where Avents Creek makes a 5-foot drop, forms a pool, then drops another 3 feet before forming a second pool. Lots of rock, lots of cool water and rocks to dry on. Check it out here.
8. Follow the water to a piece of history. At Doughton Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, avoid the crowds along the ridge by starting at the base, from the Longbottom Road Access. Hike Grassy Gap Road for 1.5 miles, then pick up the Basin Creek Trail which follows its namesake creek for 3.6 miles to the Caudill Cabin, one of the few structures in the canyon to survive a devastating flood in 1918. Think about that as you walk about the one-room structure, and think about the fact that a family of 13 once shared the cabin. Check out the hike here.
9. Hike high, hike flat. Like the idea of a mountain hike but not so much the elevation change? Elevation isn’t an issue on the 5-mile trail circumnavigating the Pink Beds area of the Pisgah National Forest. Located in a rare Southern Appalachian bog, Pink Beds does a great job of avoiding the mush (well-placed boardwalks help), while taking a surprisingly flat route through an area that flirts with the 4,000-foot elevation mark. Learn more here.
10. Smell the mountains in the Piedmont. Sometimes one sense can fool another. Take the case of Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, where if you stop on the Eno River stretch of the Mountain Loop on a hot summer day, close your eyes and inhale deeply — you might swear you’re in the mountains. That’s because you’re inhaling the skunk aroma of galax, a ground cover rarely found outside the Southern Appalachians. It’s found here because the 30-foot, north-facing cliff wall sheltering it keeps the ground and air cool enough to support this fair-weather plant (mountain laurel and rhododendron, too). Learn more about Occoneechee Mountain here.
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GetHiking! Southeast Podcast
This week on the GetHiking! Southeast Podcast we talk Basecamp Backpacking, a trail reopening, waterfall repair and await an 82-year-old’s completion of the Appalachian Trail. Check it out here.