10 Hikes for Holiday Visitors

The holidays are upon us — and so, too, are our holiday visitors. 

You’re eager to show your visiting friends and family why you love living in the region: the outdoor opportunities that make this such a wonderful place to explore. You also don’t want to alienate your guests — or worse, harm them! — by taking them on an outing beyond their capabilities. Fortunately, you can do the former while avoiding the latter with the 10 hikes below, hikes that offer considerable esthetic bang for minimal physical exertion. 

We give a short description of why these hikes are suitable for the non-adventurous in your life, then provide a link for additional information.

Coast, coastal plain

Basin Trail at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (photo: NC State Parks)

The Basin Trail

2.2 miles (out and back)

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Kure Beach

Spending time at the coast this holiday season? This hike, just outside Wilmington, starts at the Atlantic Ocean and makes its way through open marsh (the soggier parts are on elevated boardwalk) to The Basin on the sound side. At the midpoint, visit an old World War II munitions bunker that was later home, for more than a decade, to the Fort Fisher Hermit.

More info here.

Bay Trail

4 miles

Jones Lake State Park, Elizabethtown

Need to get your beloved visitors out of the house for the day? Send them to Jones Lake southeast of Fayetteville for a 4-mile meander around a regional oddity: a Carolina bay. No one is quite sure how these shallow, oval-shaped bays originated (the result of a meteor shower is the best bet), but there were once a half million of them along the East Coast. The hike around this surviving bay is half pine savanna, half swampy bay forest, all flat.

More info here.

Charlotte area

The Boulders Access

0.5 miles

Crowders Mountain State Park, Kings Mountain

Lure your hiking-recalcitrant crew to The Boulders with the promise of seeing the boulders just a short hike from the car. Then, when they’re smitten, suggest hiking just a little farther, a little farther, a little farther on the Ridgeline Trail, which will take you either south into South Carolina or north for about six miles to the main part of Crowders Mountain State Park.

More info here.


The Peaks Loop

1/2 mile

Horton Grove Nature Preserve, Bahama

This half-mile trail is especially alluring in late fall, with the mature beech forest casting a brilliant yellow glow over a carpet of copper leaves. Ridgeline and valley hiking, with a short drop in, a short climb out on well-groomed trail. Want more? Tack on the 0.8-mile Holman Loop through a recovering Piedmont prairie.

More info here. 

Seven Mile Creek Natural Area

Morning light at Seven Mile Creek

2 miles

Orange County southwest of Hillsborough

You’ll find some of the foot-friendliest trail around on this ramble through mature upland woods and down to Seven Mile Creek, a spritely creek that, shortly, feeds into the Eno River. The preserve’s difficult-to-find trailhead all but insures you’ll avoid holiday crowds.

More info here.

Pump Station Trail

The rocky Eno is at its scenic best south of the Cabe Lands access.

1.5 miles

Pump Station Access, Eno River State Park, Durham

An especially good hike for kids — closely supervised kids — because it takes in the ruins of the old Durham waterworks. Brick foundations, an old dam, and other remnants of the long-abandoned water plant make for great kid exploring. The trail includes a stretch along a particularly rocky run of the Eno.

More info here.

De hart Botanical Garden

up to 4 miles


A short hike in gets you to a waterfall, a bamboo garden and a lake with a rock outcrop perfect for hanging out on. Venture farther and you’ll find another waterfall and one of the oldest white oak trees in the region. Something is always in bloom at this 92-acre preserve off U.S. 401 between Raleigh and Louisburg.

More info here.


Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area

2.5 miles

Snow Camp

Live in the Triad or Triangle and don’t have time to visit the mountains? How about the mountains in our midst, the Cane Creek Mountains south of Burlington? You’ll get an Appalachian-type experience on this 2.5-mile loop that traverses surprisingly rocky terrain before topping out just below 1,000 feet. A bit more of a physical investment, but the payoff is worth it.

More info here. 

Horne Creek Trail

fast hikes
Hiking the Bean Shoals area of Pilot Mountain

2.5 miles

Bean Shoals Access, Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle

The main parking area atop Pilot Mountain gets so crowded on weekends that hikers are now shuttled from the base to the summit. Avoid Pilot’s plenty by heading to the Bean Shoals Access and hiking this flatter stretch of trail that includes intimate Horne Creek and the expansive Yadkiin River.

More info here.

Little Long Mountain

Sunday, atop Little Long Mountain

1.6 miles (out and back) 

Uwharrie National Forest, Asheboro

From the Joe Moffitt Trailhead it’s a 0.8-mile hike up the north side of the 922-foot mountain (you’ll pass a spring midway, on your left) to the best on-trail view in the Uwharrie range. From the summit meadow you have a 240-degree view from the east to the south to the west; early risers can catch sunrise, night-owls sunset and the rest of us an expansive view of this relict central North Carolina mountain range.

More info here.

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