In our five-part Winter Wild monthly adventure series, we go off trail to explore some of the wildest places in the region. Our January hike will be to the Butner Game Lands, more than 40,000 acres of wetlands and bottomland woods on the north side of Falls Lake.
It’s a common challenge over the holidays: you have family and friends visiting from afar — now, what are you going to do with them?
Take them on an adventure! Or, rather, let us help you take them on an adventure!
We’ve got several outdoor adventures this holiday season that are ideal for getting everyone out of the house and showing off the region’s great outdoor attributes!
Every Thursday until the world reopens, we’re going to share with YouTube videos of the outdoor world. Each week will have a different focus. This week’s: The places our GetBackpacking! program hopes to visit this year.
OK, so maybe we can’t hike some of the places we want. But somebody has, and odds are they’ve posted a video about it on YouTube. They may not be the real thing, but they do provide voyeuristic escape, a bit of humor (both intentional and otherwise), and they can inspire your planning for trips in the hopefully not-too-distant future. And the videos cover just about every trail you can imagine.
For instance, this coming weekend our GetBackpacking! group was supposed to head up to Roan Mountain for a 14-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. Ah, Carvers Gap to US 19E in the spring: perhaps the most scenic stretch of trail in the Southeast in the most inspiring season of the year.
In lieu of an actual visit, we’ll start with revisiting one of our trips from last year, with this short recap on our GetGoingNC! YouTube Channel.
Then, we can get a different perspective on the trail by tagging along with HikingFreak on his trip there last September. And to help envision a longer version of the hike, we can go with
Zpacks on his 50-mile trip on the AT in 2017, which included this stretch.
Some other regional options:
Shining Rock Wilderness
We had to postpone our trip at the end of this month to Shining Rock. In the meantime, check out these videos, including the channel, title, duration, date and a one- or two-sentence description.
=&1=&,” 22:15, January 2019. Captures the essence of wilderness exploration by starting out on the wrong trail. Watch here.
=&2=&,” 9:26, May 2017. A solo loop including Art Leob Trail, Chestnut Bald, Silvermine Bald, Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, Shining Rock, Sams Knob. Watch here.
=&3=&, 59:51, July 2018. Includes Shining Rock’s wacky neighbor, the Middle Prong Wilderness. Five days, four night solo trip. Watch here.
Where you can’t hike
Initially, visitor centers, restrooms, camping and cabins were closed. Now, many trails are being closed as well.
=&0=&. The entire park, with two small exceptions, closed March 24, and will remain closed at least through April 6.
=&1=&. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which oversees the 2,193-mile trail, asks that hikers, whether they’re planning a day hike or a thru hike, avoid the AT. They explain why here. Further, the Cherokee, Nantahala, Pisgah, George Washington and Jefferson national forests have shut down AT access points in their jurisdictions.
=&2=&. The park is yielding to locally imposed restrictions; in general, it appears most of the access points are closed. Learn the latest on what is and isn’t open
Sunday, we expanded our horizons for safe-distance recreation: we took a paddle trip.
We’ve been walking, walking, walking our neighborhood for the past little bit (check out our Morning Walk with Joe on Facebook Live every morning at 7:30). But Sunday, the weather was grand — sunny, with temperatures in the mid-80s — and it seemed that time on the water would be restorative. And a safe and responsible way to get out.
It was, and it was.
Some of the most peaceful times I’ve known have been on the water. You’re paddling a lake on a summer’s day, you pull up in a shaded cove, put the paddle down, flop your legs up onto the boat deck, close your eyes. A light breeze, the water gently lapping your bow, that feeling of warmth that flirts with but doesn’t achieve sweaty heat. Your mind drifts in a variety of directions, none of them, in my experience, disturbing. It’s one of nature’s best avenues of escape.
It was safe and responsible as well. We put in at the Eno River boat access off Red Mill Road in Durham. We love this spot because you can paddle upstream or down. Paddle downstream and shortly you meet the Flat River on your north and the confused beginnings of Falls Lake. Though the lake appears well defined on a map, it’s actually a morass of small islands intertwined with tight passages through choking vegetation giving way to small pocket lakes. Scenic, but remember to take a map and compass (or have Google Maps at the ready).
Upstream is how I usually go. Up the Eno, under Red Mill Road, past a couple of collecting points, to the Little River and it’s journey from the north, to Old Oxford Highway and Penny’s Bend, where progress is typically thwarted by the first of several rock gardens that mark Eno’s transition from backed up flatwater to spritely and mischievous creek. We paddled just past Red Mill Road, hung out in an eddy for a while, then slowly let the current helps us back to the boat ramp. It was just the relief we needed.
The boat ramp, both putting in and taking out, was busy with a mix of paddlers and folks fishing from power boats. It was also one of the most socially distanced places I’ve recreated during the pandemic. People were patient about not overcrowding the boat ramp, either to put in or take out. People were also good not to dillydally at the ramp: do your business, move on. And why lose patience, anyway? We were all just glad to be out in a world familiar to us that hadn’t changed. A world we hope remains open.
Where to, how to
A few quick things if you’re interested in getting out on the water during this time of Social Distancing.
=&0=& boat ramps. So far, the only COVID-19-related closures have been to restroom facilities; the boat ramps remain open (unless they’d been closed for unrelated reasons). Find the location of the WRC’s more than 200 boat access points here. You can also find a list of accesses closed for other reasons at this same site.
=&1=&. It takes a little more digging to find out what boat access points remain open. As of Sunday, March 29, 25 state parks had completely closed. Some parks, with boat access, remain open. Merchants Millpond, for instance, still appears to allow access to the 760-acre millpond. You’ll need your own boat, though: the canoe rentals are closed. Jordan Lake in the Triangle area has four boat access areas open: Ebenezer Church, Seaforth, New Hope and Robeson Creek. Check the NC Parks website, here, for the latest.
=&2=&. Again, it’s a mixed bag. Parks across the state have been required to close their main facilities: rec centers, restrooms, pools, boat houses. In some cases (Durham, for instance), they’ve also closed boat access points. In others, there’s still access, but with modifications. In High Point, for instance, you can still put in your own boat on Oak Hollow Lake and High Point City Lake, with the launch fee paid over the phone. Again, call to check the status of your local launch before heading out.
=&3=& The folks at paddling.com have come up with their guidelines for safe paddling in the age of Social Distancing. Check ‘em out here. And for more on the benefits of paddling, check out this article from Paddling Magazine.
Need a boat?
Unfortunately, if being on the water sounds good but you don’t have a boat, well, that’s a challenge right now. Usually around this time you start to see boat rentals popping up, at lakes and through outfitters. That’s not happening. Your options for buying a boat are also limited. One option: a big box that sells groceries — and that also sells other stuff, like recreational gear. Your choices will be limited — to one, likely — but it will likely be an entry-level boat. Our friends at Great Outdoor Provision Co. can also help you out. They stock an array of kayaks, from fishing kayaks to sit-on-tops to the kind of recreational kayak you’re likely looking for. Learn more about their recreational kayaks here, their canoes and kayaks in general here. And while they are currently closed, they will have gear available on their online store starting Friday. Look for news on their web site here.
Usually on Fridays, our GetOut! feature highlights the guided hikes and other outdoor outings for the weekend. But, these being unusual times, there are no guided hikes or other organized outdoor outings. Instead, this week we encourage you to get out and explore your own neighborhood.
A week ago, trails were open. The outdoors were seen as the last open sanctuary to escape The Virus. Then, over the weekend, many of the more popular trail venues drew crowds that made staying 6 or 10 feet apart from one another near impossible. Sunday evening, North Carolina announced that four of its State Parks were closing, two recreation areas were restricting access. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which had already closed certain areas, followed suit, announcing that the park was shutting down, trails included. The number of North Carolina State Parks that are completely closed has since grown to 15 (see the list below).
Clouding the picture further: While North Carolina has yet to enact a statewide Shelter in Place order, several counties (including Durham, Mecklenburg and, starting Thursday, Wake) have. Basically, that means that aside from essential travel, you need to stay home.
The one bright spot in many of these orders: exercise is considered essential. You can walk out your front door and explore — again, practicing social distancing — to your heart’s content. (If you are in a jurisdiction with a Shelter in Place order, check first to make sure getting out to exercise is OK.)
You might be surprised by just how much there is to see in your own backyard. Some thoughts on the matter from someone who grew up exploring their backyard:
=&0=&. You may be doing this for a while, so it’s good to know what your future options are. Is there an easement that looks intriguing? A street you’ve never explored because it’s not on your usual route? A small wooded area that’s something of a mystery?
=&1=&. Approach these neighborhood adventures as you would a renounced explorer probing terra incognito for the first time. Are you being stalked by a wily tabby? Intrigued by the mounds of dark material that seemingly appeared in a neighbor’s yard overnight? (So it’s just mulch: Have some fun with it.)
=&2=& It needn’t be a strictly written journal. The great explorers often doodled along the way (some did it themselves, some had designated doodlers). So you can’t draw; that makes it all the more fun. And entertaining to others as you share later on.
=&3=&. We’d love to have you report on your journeys and what you’ve found on our