The question isn’t if you’ll be taking your first hike of 2024 on Monday, but where.
Taking a brisk hike to welcome the new year is a long-standing tradition. It became formalized a few years back when American State Parks challenged state parks across the country to hold First Day events. Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a state park in the U.S. that doesn’t hold a First Day Hike. That’s especially true in North Carolina and Virginia, where 113 First Day events are planned in state parks; some parks are even celebrating with two or three events.
We won’t provide a complete rundown of options; you can find a list of First Day Hikes here for North Carolina, here for Virginia. We will, however, give you a quick sense of the types of events planned.
While most of the state’s 53 hikes are straightforward, ranger-led nature hikes, some have a twist.
First Day Bingo. At Pilot Mountain State Park north of Winston-Salem you can swing by the the Visitor Center, pick up a bingo card, then take a self-guided hike to record what you find. Details here.
First Day Scavenger Hike. There’s a similar theme at William B. Umstead State Park in Raleigh, where you can tale a self-guided hike on the trail of your choice, tick off items from a list provided, get a sticker. Details here.
Go long or short. At Fort Macon State Park you have the option of two ranger-led hikes: at 9 a.m. you can take either a 0.75-mile stroll on the Yarrow’s Loop Trail and the beach inlet, or check out the 3.2-mile Elliot Coues Trail. Details here.
Go high. Mount Mitchell State Park, the highest state park in the East, is banking on Mother Nature to keep the roads open for three hikes it has planned: a 6-mile hike around the park at 9 a.m. (details here), a family-friendly hike on the 1-mile Balsam Nature Trail at 10 a.m. (details here), and a challenging 2.6-mile hike to Mount Craig and back at 11 a.m. (details here).
Two states, three parks. Looking for a bit of novelty in your hike? Crowders Mountain State Park and its neighbor across the state line, South Carolina’s Kings Mountain State Park, host a 5.6-mile hike on the Ridgeline Trail joining the parks (and Kings Mountain National Military Park to boot). Details here.
Hike an island. Hammocks Beach State Park offers a rare opportunity to hike Bear Island in winter, rare because the ferry, which doesn’t normally run in winter, will be fired up to shuttle hikers across the Intercostal Waterway. Details here.
Find all North Carolina First Day events here.
Virginia has 60 First Day events planned at its 42 state parks, and they aren’t planning to wait around for the new year to get underway. At Natural Tunnel State Park hikers can hike in the New Year with a 1-mile hike beginning at 11 p.m. on Dec. 31. The 1-mile hike is on birding and wildlife trails. Details here.
At Sky Meadows State Park they’ll wait until sunup for their First Day Hike, reflecting the practice of certain cultures by welcoming the new year at dawn. Gates open at 5:30 a.m., hikes are scheduled past 1 p.m. Details here.
One of the coolest parks in the state, False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, is holding a Bay to Beach hike, taking in Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Two miles, but some of it is in soft sand. Details here.
The First Day of hiking in Virginia State Parks ends where it began, at Natural Tunnel with a hike to Lovers’ Leap. That hike begins at 3 p.m. Details here.
Find all Virginia First Day hikes here.
As for us …
We plan to attend the First Day hike at Mayo River State Park, where the long-awaited Fox Trail will finally open. Details here.
Exploring a new trail. Hard to imagine a better way to welcome the new year!