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!
Don’t you love it when it rains during the week and the sun comes out for the weekend? The remnants of Sally leave the state Friday afternoon, clearing the way for cool temperatures — highs only in the mid-60s, overnight lows in the upper 40s — and sunny skies. It’s a weekend when you’ll definitely want to be outside. Trouble is, so will everyone else.
Today, we repeat some of our strategies for avoiding crowded trails. Pretty simple, maybe obvious, but they work.
- Hike Where the Horses Do. In this post from yesterday, we tout the virtues of hiking trails developed with horses in mind — but open to hikers as well. North Carolina State Parks, for instance, have 118 miles of horse trails in 11 parks, while hundreds of additional miles of equestrian trail can be found in the state’s four national forests. Read that post here.
- Hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The state’s best known trail also, curiously, offers your best bet for a quiet ramble. We offer tips on how to identify some of the statewide trail’s less trod treat, in a post you may read here.
- Finding the right time and place. A few tips in this post about the best time of day to hike and how to find trails that may not be as populated.
- Hike in the rain. Perhaps your best bet at solitude is to hike Saturday, in the rain. Unless there’s also thunder and lightening in the forecast, we’re big fans of hiking in a light to moderate rain. It’s a much different experience, and one in which you’re unlikely to encounter any fellow hikers. Read that post here.
And to help you find a trail, here’s a list of websites for the region’s biggest land managers, where you can find current trail information.
Shenandoah National Park
Face it: you miss your coworkers. Sure, Bob in the next cube could drive you nuts with his frequent “Got a minute?”s. The chronic tongue-clucker near the copy machine, the dude
overmedicating on Creed Aventus, the fantasy football guys, the never knowing when Ms. Dithers might drop by “just to say hello.”
Yeah, it could drive you nuts. But boy, do you miss it.
One of the things we’ve learned over the past six months is how much we miss people, even the people we thought we could never miss. Getting together via Zoom is nice, but it isn’t the same as being together.
Staying safe outdoors
The weekend forecast: it’s another good one, another guaranteed to have the new converts to hiking flooding the trails and, in some cases, causing our state parks to restrict access. The solution: hike where they ain’t.
Here are five shorter hikes that are less well-known, less apt to be crowded this fine September weekend. We provide a brief description, then a link to where you can find more info on hiking it yourself.
1. Sycamore Trail: Bike & Bridle Access
Umstead State Park
Seriously!? The most popular state park in the North Carolina system? Maybe, but not the bike & bridle trailhead access off the Glenwood Avenue side of the park. Pass the Visitor Center, take the first left, the next right, then then next left and you’re deep inside the park in a gravel lot that offers access to a 4.5-mile lollipop loop of the Sycamore Trail.
Check out our guide for the hike here.
2. Knight Brown Nature Preserve
Piedmont Land Conservancy
Stokesdale (north of Greensboro)
Drop into a valley forged by Belews Creek and explore massive stands of beech, cascades, and the creek itself on three interconnected trails that total 3.3 miles. You start on the south rim and ascend two additional rims, but the scenic action here is mostly in a valley that shines regardless of season.
3. Duke Forest: Korstian Division Gate 25
The 7,000-acre Duke Forest, with parcels in three western Triangle counties, is ripe with hiking opportunities that fly largely under the radar. From Gate 25 on Whitfield Road, a fire road leads to single track that explores cascades along New Hope Creek, the bluffs above the creek, and mature hardwood forest. About a 3-mile hike.
4. Seven Mile Creek Natural Area
Located southwest of Hillsborough, this 360-acre preserve offers about 2 miles of hiking on trail that’s as foot-friendly as any around: it’s wide, it’s smooth, there are no heart-breaking climbs. The highlight: the area’s namesake creek, a smaller version of the river it feeds into about a mile downstream, the Eno.
Read our blog about Seven Mile Creek here.
5. Confluence Natural Area
Eno River Association
The “confluence” of the name is the spot where the east and west branches of the Eno River merge, a point located on the southwestern tip of this 200-acre preserve, host to meadows, mature hardwood forests and the Eno’s origins. Initially open only on weekends, the Eno River Association has opened the natural area for exploring daily. The video above offers a tour.
Read our blog on the Confluence Natural Area here.
Labor Day weekend arrived with morning temperatures in the low 50s rising only into the upper 70s, making for the perfect kickoff of fall. That kickoff was reflected by the number of folks who flocked to our state parks, causing many of them to begin restricting access before 11 a.m.
With social distancing remaining a necessity and likely remaining one for the foreseeable future, look for this crowding of our parks to not only continue, but grow as temperatures drop, the air dries, and color sweeps through the forest.
What’s a solace-seeking hiker to do?
Avoid the trails most traveled in favor of the spots that are just as nice, but not as well known. Spots such as:
Kings Mountain (near Charlotte)
Trail: 7+ miles
Being so close to Charlotte, it’s no surprise that Crowders Mountain is loved to death. But that lovin’ is mostly at the Sparrow Springs Access and at the Linwood Road Access. The Cinderella access at Crowders Mountain: the Boulders Access near the South Carolina line. Here, you can pick up the Ridgeline Trail and hike 5.5 miles north to The Pinnacle, or head south into South Carolina and miles of hiking at Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park. And if it’s a particularly nice weekend and the Boulders Access is crammed, N.C. State Parks offers you a backup plan.
Learn more here
Grassy Gap/Basin Creek trails
Trail: 4.8 miles (one way)
Talk about being loved to death! The Blue Ridge Parkway must be the Southeast’s most sought-after date come autumn and the fall color show. Fortunately, Doughton Park has 30 miles of trail, including a 4.8-mile stretch that runs from the base of the escarpment up Basin Creek to the Caudill Cabin. The Grassy Gap portion is relatively flat, making for a nice warmup; Basin Creek adds elevation, but along a rocky, tumbling creek that is more likely to take your breath away than the hike itself.
Learn more here.
Tory’s Den Trail
Trail: 2.4 miles (one way)
If you’ve never been to Hanging Rock State Park and the 1.3-mile trail to the top of its namesake knob, here’s a visual: picture an anthill and its residents in an endless line heading up and back. From the Tory’s Den Access off Tory’s Den Road, however, you may see an equestrian or two along the way, but no ants. If you’re itchin’ for a view when you reach the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail, head north on that trail for a little more than a mile to the outlook atop Moore’s Knob.
Learn more here.
Trail: 4 miles
Keep this one tucked in your back pocket for that first fall day when the temperature isn’t likely to get out of the 50s and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. On such days, the popular state parks will have to close before they open; you, on the other hand, will be enjoying a brisk walk around Jones Lake on a trail that goes through pine savannah and dense coastal woods as it circles this rare Carolina bay. Total elevation gain? Maybe 2 feet.
Learn more here.
Trail: 10 miles of hiking trail, another 20 miles of multi-use
Despite the fact it’s just an hour and a half drive from the Triangle, Medoc Mountain continues to fly under the local hiking radar. Why? Beats us. The 10 miles of hiking trail offer a mix of hiking along a Piedmont stream, summiting 300-foot Medoc Mountain, exploring the first vineyard in the country (or what’s left of it). Plus, if you don’t mind sharing, another 20 miles of equestrian and mountain biking trail will give you the long aerobic workout you seek on a 60-degree day. Scenery and solitude, rarely found in the same place but you’ll find it here.
Learn more here.
Shinleaf Recreation Area, Wake Forest
3 miles (one way)
The statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail spends 60 miles along Falls Lake north of Raleigh, with 18 access points. One of the most accessible sections of the trail is at the Shinleaf Recreation Area, where you can hike east or west. We favor hiking east, through a carpet of running cedar, beneath a mature hardwood canopy and in and out of the coves along the lake’s south shore. This is a rolling section of trail: you’ll find numerous climbs, none long or steep, that provide enough variety to keep your attention. Hike to NC 98, then return the way you came.
Learn more here.
When I stepped out the front door early Sunday morning I was immediately struck by an odd thought: Do I need a coat?