I’m suddenly compelled to do 5 hikes by year’s end. Check that, 5 hikes by the end of New Year’s Day, because one of the hikes I know I’ll do on New Year’s Day, to kick off 2023 and North Carolina’s Year of the Trail.
The reason for this sudden compulsion? Probably the fact that December can be so busy it’s easy to not hike. And that’s trouble, because this is precisely when you need to get out and hike — to deal with the stress of the season.
To ensure that the five hikes are doable, I’m observing two ground rules: the hikes, with one exception, are no more than an hour’s drive, and none are more than 5 miles in length. Some can be done in about an hour (including the drive), none should take more than three hours total. Four are to places I haven’t hiked in a while, the fifth is new terrain altogether.
I’ll start with the hike I know I’ll be doing New Year’s Day.
Rendezvous Mountain State Park
Trail: 3.75-mile Amadahy Waterfalls Trail
It’s been more than 20 years since I hiked Rendezvous Mountain, and back then it was called Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest. But the memory of this 1,800-acre tract clinging to the Blue Ridge escarpment is strong: one side a forest decimated by a vicious wind storm years ago, the other a mature hardwood forest with trail following Purlear Creek to the Amdahl Waterfalls. This is my First Day Hike destination, which will be a 1-mile hike at 2 p.m. I’ll likely stick around and hike more. A 2-hour drive, but hey’ it’s New Year’s Day.
Learn more here
Mayo River State Park
Trail: 1.7-mile Mayo Mountain Loop Trail
The hike is close, about a 20-minute drive, and while I hiked this trail last month, I haven’t hiked the new trail connecting to it. In part, that’s because it’s being built and, technically, not open. But I’ve spied it through the trees from the loop trail, and, unlike love, which The Supremes told us you can’t hurry, I believe you can hurry a new trail — by hiking it. And who doesn’t like a good adventure? I can almost get this one done over lunch.
Learn more here
Hanging Rock State Park
Trail: Mountains-to-Sea (future), 5 miles (roughly)
Speaking of trails that aren’t quite open, this stretch that goes over Hanging Rock’s Three Sisters is, perhaps, my favorite “off trail” hike in the state. From a park access on the east end of the town of Danbury, at the end of Sheep Rock Road, the sometimes hard-to-follow trail climbs for more than two miles, to the second Sister, before offering much in terms of vertical relief. For the most part, the trail follows old roadbed (though you need to keep a close eye to stay with it). It’s the one place at Hanging Rock you probably won’t encounter a soul.
Learn more about Hanging Rock State Park here
White Oak Mountain Wildlife Management Area
Trail: Not sure
White Oak Mountain rises nearly 400 feet above the surrounding piedmont of southern Virginia, a curious geologic protrusion that begs to be explored. Though it’s a Wildlife Management Area and its prime recreational focus is hunting (wear blaze orange, refrain from the antler dance), a series of gravel roads explores this plateau north of Danville. It’s taunted me since moving the North Carolina town of Eden; from the top of a nearby game land I can see White Oak 30 miles distant. No idea what’s there; all the more reason to make the 50-minute drive.
Learn more here
Night Hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Trail: Falls Lake, Day-Hike Section P (3-mile stretch)
I’ve spent a good 10 years leading night hikes and promoting the concept — yet it’s been about 9 months since I’ve strapped on a headlamp and plunged down the trail. I vow to make that happen this month. This stretch is a favorite because the trailhead is at the Hickory Hill Boat Ramp, where post hike there’s a grand view of the night sky. The hike itself is pretty swell, too.
Learn more here.