North Carolina has three distinct geographic zones: the Piedmont, where most of us live and spend our time exploring rolling hills and rocky creeks; the mountains, where we head for the challenge and beauty; and the coast/coastal plain. Most of us view the latter simply as something to endure driving to the beach. A big, open expanse of … well, we’re not really sure since we rarely stop.
We aim to change that. Instead of the coastal plain being an obligatory part of the journey, we’re making it the destination. We’ll explore a number of ecosystems — from pine savannah to Carolina bay — on this trip to Jones Lake State Park.
Jones Lake is one of the best remaining examples of a bay forest, nearly half a million oval depressions found throughout the Southeast. The woods are so named for their dominant trees, the sweet bays, loblolly bays, and red bays that rim these mysterious depressions. (Mysterious because it’s unclear how they came to be; a prominent theory holds that they’re the result of a massive meteor strikes millions of years ago.) Nearly all these bays once contained water; today, only a smattering still do; two of which, Jones and Salter lakes, are the focus of our visit.
On Saturday, we’ll explore both lakes on a 6-mile morning hike. Along the way we’ll hike the noted, dense bay forests as well as open pine savannah, the latter’s exposure making for ideal winter hiking on a sunny day. After lunch, we’ll cross into Turnbull State Educational Forest for a 4.5-mile hike through more bay forest and pine savannah.
On Sunday, we’ll pack up and head north to Bay Tree Lake Natural Area for a 5-mile hike through similar terrain.
If that sounds like a lot of hiking, keep in mind that there’s very little elevation difference in the coastal plain: elevation at our basecamp is about 70 feet, we probably won’t vary more than 10 feet from that the entire weekend.
Another advantage to a coastal plain visit: the night sky. It’s dark out here; in fact, one of the darkest spots along the East Coast. That makes for some great night sky viewing, especially under the quarter moon we will experience. Expect to see more stars than you’ve seen in a while, possibly even the Milky Way.
Expect a daytime high in the mid-50s, overnight lows in the 30s. Upon registering, we will provide a tip sheet for staying warm at night. Part of the trick: a good campfire, which we will have both nights.
Upon gathering at the trailhead to discuss each hike, and at any other time when we gather for discussion, we require hikers to wear a mask. We ask that you keep it handy on the trail in case we run into other hikers (there may be a handful, but not many). We also observe social distancing on the trail and in situations, such as the campfire, when we’re in close proximity.
What the trip includes:
- Camping for both Friday and Saturday nights
- Breakfast and lunch both Saturday and Sunday
- Guided hikes both Saturday and Sunday
- An eguide for the weekend, with details (including a map and route description) for each hike, as well as information about the area.
- Campfires with s’mores both nights
Not a camper?
Love the idea of winter hiking at the coast, but not so much the idea of winter camping? The Elizabethtown Inn is 9 minutes from Jones Lake State Park; check out their rooms here.
To keep our visit to Jones Lake an intimate experience, as well as for your safety, this trip is limited to 10 hikers.
We will hold a planning meeting for this trip via Zoom on Monday, Feb. 28 , at 6 p.m. We’ll go over logistics of the trip, give an overview of the hiking, and touch on any special gear requirements. We will also take a look at the weather forecast. An invitation will be mailed upon registration.