Winter is the honest season. Stripped of busy ground cover, an obscuring understory and a thick canopy, winter keeps no secrets. Stone foundations from homesteads long abandoned lie exposed. Distant mountain peaks are revealed. Critters have nowhere to hide. It’s the perfect time to be in the woods. Especially if you head off the beaten path.
That’s the aim of our Winter Wild Hike Series. We’ll take you to six places you may have visited, but hike sections of them we’re pretty sure you haven’t seen. We typically start on trail, but don’t stay there long. We’ll spend most of each hike using abandoned roadbeds and game paths to discover the hidden secrets exposed by winter.
Number of hikes: 6
Length: Generally in the 5- to 8-mile range
When: Monthly (but with two in January), with four hikes on Saturdays and two on Sundays, starting at 10 a.m. See destinations below for dates.
Difficulty: Off-trail hiking is a whole different beast. Some of the hiking is on game trails and old road beds, some of it is good old-fashion timber-bashing. There may be downed trees to negotiate, there may be unbridged streams to cross, there may be the occasional rock scramble. Being up for a good challenge trumps being in great shape (though being in decent shape sure helps). It’s important to note that these are not aerobic hikes. We won’t rush you through the obstacles and we stay together as a group on these hikes. We allot anywhere from 3 to 6 hours per hike. Estimated hike times are listed for each hike, under “Destinations.”
Cost: $225 for the entire six-hike series, which includes a separate 3-hour map and compass class (see below).
Maximum number of participants: 10
What the fee includes:
- Zoom session the Monday before each hike
- Guided hike
- Trail guide for the hike, including map, route description, overview of the area and logistics of hiking the area
- Our GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods class, a three-hour course that begins with basic topographic map and compass skills, then a 2.5-hour field session to help you put those skills to use, and to help you relate compass readings and the map to the actual terrain around you. Included only if you have a subscription to all 6 hikes.
- Skills guide for water crossings (a common occurrence when exploring
- Custom map of the hike with detailed route description on hike day
Eno Wilderness, Eno River State Park, Durham. Saturday, November 21, 10 a.m. Objective: Eno Wilderness. 7-8 miles, mostly in the undeveloped 820-acre Eno Wilderness. We’ve done this hike in both of our first two Winter Wild Series. This time, we explore even farther into the westernmost reaches of the park. Estimated hike time: 3-4 hours.
Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury. Saturday December 22, 10 a.m. Objectives: Three off-trail peaks in the park, a plane crash site, the recently added Mill Creek grasslands. There’s some mild scrambling involved; save for the brief run out to Hanging Rock, we will have the woods to ourselves. 8 miles, nearly all off-trail. Estimated hike time: 5-6 hours.
Butner Game Lands, Falls Lake State Recreation Area, Creedmoor. Sunday, January 3, 10 a.m. Objective: Wetlands and waterfowl habitat on north side of Falls Lake. The 40,670-acre Butner game lands primarily on the north side of Falls Lake offers mellow hiking on old roadbeds that pass impoundments housing overwintering waterfowl. 6 miles. 3 hours.
Caswell Game Lands, near Yanceyville (about an hour northwest of the Triangle). Sunday, January 17, 10 a.m.18,000 acres of public land sits atop the Piedmont plateau in north central North Carolina, offering access to lands managed to protect wildlife. A bit more wild than Butner, but still relatively mellow. 6 miles. 3 hours.
Birkhead Mountain Wilderness, Uwharrie National Forest, Asheboro. Saturday, February 6. A bonafide designated wilderness area (class of 1984) sits on the northern edge of the Uwharries. Our trek plunges into the wilderness, including a visit to a long-abandoned gold mining operation and passage along ridge lines that, in winter, offer vistas of this ancient mountain range in the heart of the state. 8 miles. 4-5 hours.
Umstead State Park, Raleigh, Saturday, March 6, 10 a.m. Objectives: a mature beech grove, the park’s CCC camp, a short-lived Boy Scout camp, a homestead or two, and best of all, escape from the crowds that have discovered Umstead in the past year. We’ll also catch some troutlilies, spring beauties and other emerging signs of spring. 6-8 miles. 4 hours.