5 Fall Blue Ridge Hikes: Great Color, No Crowds

If you get the urge to check out fall color in the next couple of weekends, a bit of advice:

Don’t go where the leaf peeping experts say to go.

Their advice gravitates to the easily accessible go-to color hotspots, mostly along the easily accessed Blue Ridge Parkway: Graveyard Fields, Rough Ridge, Price Lake … . Sure, photos taken within the past few days scream chamber-of-commerce-certified color, but they’re screaming it to the tens of thousands of others looking for a quick autumn fix. A fix that can be had without venturing too far from the car. With a classic fall forecast for this weekend, expect those hotspots to be just that in more ways than one. read more

Holiday Adventures with Visiting Family and friends

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!  read more

The virtue of the short hike

Morning light at Seven Mile Creek

It was a cloudless 50-degree late fall day, a day that was intended only for being outdoors. We dream of days like this, days when every minute of sunlight — and there were 607 and change on this particular day — should be spent outside. Alas, I was bushed: low biorhythms, iron-poor blood, ennui? I didn’t know and it didn’t matter, because I barely had 60 minutes in me., let alone 600. And if I could only get in a couple miles on a day meant for 10, what was the point. Which brings me to the point.

Too often we get the idea that if we can’t hike long, well, why hike at all? Hiking has become defined by distance. The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail — those are the trails with cache. The longer the sexier, sexier still when you throw speed into the mix. (If you haven’t noticed, during the pandemic in particular, the hiking community has become FKT obsessed. In fact, until this year, I’m guessing most hikers didn’t even know that FKT stands for Fastest Known Time.) Even our own statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail is victim to this longer-is-better fixation. Rather than focus on the hundreds of short sections that can be bit off in 2- to  5-mile stretches, the emphasis is on thru-hiking — on a trail that’s really only about two-thirds through. (As a sign this mindset might be changing, however, the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail this year published “Great Day Hikes on North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail,” featuring 40 MST day hikes statewide.)

Nothing against long hikes, but how many of us have time to hike them? And, as I learned last week when the mind was willing but the body weak, sometimes not even long day hikes are an option — for a variety of reasons.

On a hike Sunday at Little River Regional Park I overheard one hiker tell another of a friend she tried to recruit to the group.

“She asked, ‘How far do you hike?’ and when I told her we do around 6 miles she looked at me like I was crazy.” 

The virtues

Whether that look was due to the distance itself or the perceived time it might require to complete a 6-mile hike was unclear. But it doesn’t really matter. The point: never overlook the virtue of hiking short. A few virtues of the short hike:

=&0=&. Especially over the holidays and especially this year, a short hike is a great way to expose the outdoor world you love to the uninitiated. Take ‘em on a 5-mile hike and they may never want to hike again — or have anything to do with you. But given them a whiff of a short trail, especially a short trail suited to the novice (few hills, limited rocks and tree roots, plus good scenery), could be the conversion tool you’ve been looking for. 

=&1=&. Why decide now that you want to be healthier, but wait more than a month until New Year’s Day? If you’re like many and have four days off over Thanksgiving, take a short hike on all four days and you’ll be on well your way to a more active lifestyle long before Jan. 1.

=&2=&. Non-hikers associate hiking with losing weight. Established hikers associate it with keeping their s—tuff together. That’s especially important during the holiday season. Free up an hour for trail time and it will be so much easier to handle whatever the holidays toss your way. 

=&3=&. This is more for established hikers who are pressed for time and feel they don’t have time for a hike. You can find an hour here or there. Take what you can get and hike. Even a 2-mile hike can help get you through the holidays.

=&4=&. As I discovered on my one-hour “consolation” hike last week, I may not have emerged energized enough to run a marathon, but man was my outlook improved. I returned to the office, got a couple hours of work done, and felt like I’d salvaged the day.

Five short hikes — and why we like them

Below are five of my favorite short hikes and why. Stay tuned afterward for details on how you, too, can hike these hikes.

=&5=&, Orange County. The preserve has less than two miles of trail, all of which are immaculately kept and accessible: if you can walk, you can hike here. In fact, if you can’t hike, there’s an Americans with Disabilities Act trail. Passes through a mature hardwood forest and it’s less than 0.4 miles to the creek. Learn more here. 
=&6=&

GetOut! A Warm Weekend Demands a Secret Escape

It was cold this week, but it will be welcomingly warm this weekend, so promises the forecast. And that could spell trouble in a world where people are increasingly inclined to head outdoors to try and escape the pandemic. 

So instead of making specific recommendations on where to go this warm late-fall weekend, we are instead going to pass along some advice from our book, “Explore Your Neighborhood: A Guide to Discovering the World Immediately Around You.” Specifically, advice on how to find and take an adventure out your front door, one that may not even involve getting in your car!

  • Begin with a distance you’re comfortable traveling, either walking from your front door or within a short drive (my comfort zone: 10 miles). To determine distances: 
    • Call up Google Maps
    • In the menu bar, click on “Your Places” 
    • Click on “Maps” 
    • Click on “Create Map.” You’ll get a map of the U.S.: keep double clicking on “North Carolina” until you get down to your neighborhood. Then use the distance tool — ruler icon — to determine crow-fly distances from where you live. 
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  • GetOut! Enjoy a post-Etta frolic along a frisky creek

    So, we’ve had how many feet of rain from the remnants of Etta?

    The good news is that Etta is supposed to vacate the area before dawn breaks on Friday. The other good news: by the time the weekend rolls around — a weekend forecast to have sunny skies and seasonal temperatures — most local waterways will still be showing some spunk from the storm. Thus, our three hike recommendations for the weekend are all trails where water makes the adventure all the more adventurous. 

    Before we get to the hikes, a reminder that we have guides to all three. Find details on on how to procure them at the bottom of this blog.

  • Sycamore Trail (loop portion), Umstead State Park, Raleigh. 4.4 miles. We like to avoid the big crowds at Umstead by starting at the bike and bridle trailhead on the Glenwood Avenue side of the park. From there, pick up the the Sycamore Trail’s loop portion, a mile-and-a-half of which is along Sycamore Creek, the super hero of Piedmont Creeks. In dry times, its personality is likewise: a little flow here and there, some standing water. But when the skies empty the creek throws off its wan water-ways and impersonates a raging Appalachian whitewater creek. Probably the best water walk in the region.
  • Duke Forest, Korstian Division: Gate 25, Durham. 3.2 miles. The show stopper here is New Hope Creek, about 0.8 miles in. The trail parallels New Hope Creek for about three-quarters-of-a-mile, providing access to some of the best waterfall impersonations in the Triangle. A couple of boulders above the creek give especially good access to the action.
  • Little River Regional Park, Rougemont. 4.5 miles, with a 3.5-mile option. Hike either the North River Loop (1.2 miles) or South River Loop (1.4 miles) in summer and you’ll likely wonder how the Little River manages to maintain its “river” status. Ah, but after a rain, the north end of the North Loop in particular is mesmerizing as the current makes its way through several rocky channels. 
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    There’s never been a better time to be outdoors

    Cold
    These GetHiking! hikers embrace the cold along the Eno River in 2018.

    If ever there was a winter to get over your dislike of the cold, this is it. 

    Without dwelling, cold weather historically drives people indoors, and, this year, indoors is where you have a significantly greater chance of contracting the coronavirus. The advance of fall is already seeing a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in North Carolina and nationwide. In response, on Tuesday North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper dialed back the cap on indoor group gatherings to 10 people. Staying indoors is trouble, especially if you like people.

    Thus, it’s more important than it has been since the pandemic began in March to:

    1. Wear a mask in public
    2. Stay at least 6 feet from people outside your bubble
    3. Spend time outside

    The first two are in your court: pretty simple requirements that involve no hardship or sacrifice. As for No. 3 — spend as much time as possible outdoors — that’s where we can help.

    Yesterday, we announced our most aggressive lineup of winter programs ever. We’ve got weekly hikes for experienced hikers, we’ve got weekly hikes for novices who don’t know why there’s a tree with a splotch of paint every hundred feet or so on the trail. We’ve got hikes in the daylight, we have hikes in the dark. We have hikes where there’s no trail, we have hikes where you didn’t know there were trails (the coastal plain). And we have more overnight trips than in any winter past.

    If you’re willing to learn to deal with the cold — another focus of our winter programs — then we can assure a plethora of outdoor options over the next four months.

    Here’s a quick rundown:

    GetHiking! Winter Series for the Aspiring Hiker

    Dec. 13 through Feb. 28

    Every Sunday afternoon at 1 we hike a local trail, starting with a 1.5-mile hike and building to 4 miles to help the aspiring hiker evolve into a competent, confident hiker. The hikes are at a mellow pace, and we start with less-challenging terrain and build to intermediate-level trails. Learn more and sign up

    here read more

    Explore the outdoors, discover yourself.