It was about 10:30 on a Friday night, mid November, when we pulled out of the light rain and into the covered bank drive-thru in Canton, N.C. After a quick surveillance, with particular attention for the local constable, we decided the coast was clear: the five of us scrambled out of the SUV and quickly slipped into our rain gear. We wanted to be as prepared as possible when we hit the trailhead in a half hour or so to finally get our two-day backpack trip underway.
It’s been a toasty first week of October, but the forecast for the weekend calls for cooling and temperatures of a more seasonal nature. That said, some thoughts on how you can get out and enjoy an adventurous weekend.
- GetHiking! Triangle: 5 Miles on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail at Falls Lake, Durham. Saturday, 9 a.m. Record heat has kept fall color at bay, but it’s a good bet we’ll see some on this hike that includes ecosystems that tend to promote early color. One of the more remote stretches of the MST through the Triangle. Learn more and sign up here.
- Vade Mecum Trails Open, Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury. Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The first weekend of every month, this new section of Hanging Rock State Park opens its trails for hiking, taking you into remote parts of the Sauratown Range and past remnants of the area’s past as Camp Sertoma. Learn more here.
- Fall Hike Along Commissary Trail, Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville (sorta). 2 miles. Sunday, 10 a.m. A ranger-led hike on this trail just below the ridgeline of the Black Mountain Crest, the highest mountain range on the East Coast. Expect cold temperatures and good color at this elevation. Learn more here.
You can find more opportunities this weekend here:
- North Carolina State Parks have a variety of adventures planned for the weekend. Check those options here.
- North Carolina Environmental Education Centers has an extensive calendar of what’s happening at its affiliates; check it out here.
- You can also find more adventures right here, at GetGoingNC.com.
From our video, you can learn more about South Mountains State Park here, and if you were intrigued by the backpacking element, we have the following opportunities available this fall:
=&6=&Oct. 29, Nov. 3, Nov. 10.=&7=&
We’ve got a lot going on this fall, for hikers, campers and backpackers.
You love a mountain hike in the fall. What you don’t love is driving there and back in a day. Or paying leaf season rates for a motel. So don’t.
This fall, we’ve got four weekend camping/hiking trips planned to some of the best hiking in the mountains, and one late fall trip to some pretty cool hiking at the coast.
Not a camper, or at least haven’t become one yet? We’ve got a couple of trips that are perfect for you as well. Our weekend base camp trips fall into two categories:
- Experienced Camper. These weekends are geared to established campers, folks who have the gear and have the process and logistics — packing, setting up camp, cooking food — down. We arrange the campground and guide the hikes, we cook one meal, we provide a fun swag bag and you do the rest.
- Newbie Camper. These weekends are geared toward people new to camping, people who like the idea of camping, but don’t know where to start. Well, you start here, with us. We arrange the campground, cook the food, arrange activities. All you really need is a tent (and if you don’t have that, we have one of those, too, for an additional fee). Feel free to hang with us and learn the ropes, or kick back, relax and let us do the camp work.
What we love about these trips is that there’s time for both great hiking and relaxing. Arrive anytime after 4 p.m. on Friday, get established, settle in, relax. Saturday, we let you sleep in, hitting the trail between 9 and 9:30 a.m. Saturday’s hike is usually in the 10-mile range, a long day on the trail, but without pushing it. Sunday, we sleep in a little later and hike a little shorter, usually around 5 miles.
Here are our trips for fall, including whether it falls into the Basic or Premier category:
=&2=&, Sept. 21-23. Pampered Camper. Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia. Includes a hike to Mount Rogers, at 5,724 feet the highest point in Virginia, and an optional bike ride on the 17-mile Virginia Creeper Trail, nearly all of which is downhill. (If you’re not interested in the bike ride, a hike is planned in its place.) The Mount Rogers area is known for its vast meadows, rock outcrops, Rocky Mountain feel — and ponies.
=&3=&, Sept. 28-30. Practiced Camper. Pisgah National Forest and Montreat Wilderness. The Curtis Creek campground is in the oldest section of the Pisgah National Forest, dating back to 1913. On Saturday, we’ll summit 5,592-foot Graybeard Mountain in the adjoining Montreat Wilderness; Sunday, we’ll hike from the campground up the Hickory Branch Trail into some of the oldest old growth in the Pisgah.
=&4=&, Oct. 12-14. Pampered Camper. This trip gets a jump on fall color in the mountains by visiting two of the highest points in North Carolina’s northern mountains: 5,520-foot Elk Knob and 4,655-foot Mount Jefferson. Due largely to their high elevation and rich soils, both peaks offer a fall color experience more akin to that found in New England.
=&5=&, Oct. 19-21. Practiced Camper. From base camp at the Briar Bottom Group Campground at the base of Mount Mitchell, we’ll hike from camp up to the Green Knob Tower on Saturday, an 8-mile roundtrip that culminates with great views of the Black Mountains. Sunday, we drive to the highest point on the East Coast, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, for a hike on the Black Mountain Crest Trail. Includes a burrito dinner Saturday evening.
=&6=&, Nov. 2-4. Basic. What better way to close out the fall hiking season than with a trip to the coast. Base camp for the weekend is the National Park Service Campground at Oregon Inlet. From there, we’ll head a short distance up the coast and hike 5 miles through maritime forest at Nags Head Woods Preserve. Sunday, we’ll visit some of the oldest and biggest trees in the state on a 5-mile hike at Pettigrew State Park. Learn more and sign up here.
To learn more about the camping weekends mentioned and to sign up, click the appropriate trip.
Since its launch in 2014, GetBackpacking!’s Intro to Backpacking program has minted more than 200 backpackers. With all those backpackers, we eventually had to offer more advanced skills classes and trips. So, if you’re already a backpacker, if you want to be a backpacker — even if you just think you want to be a backpacker, we’ve got something for you this fall.
=&16=&, September, October sessions. Our comprehensive learn-to-backpack program includes a two-hour session on gear and how to pack a backpack; a six-hour session at Morrow Mountain State Park where we go over everything from finding and setting up camp, to cooking, to hanging food, to breaking down camp; and, finally, a weekend graduation trip to South Mountains State Park. Learn more and sign up here.
=&0=&. Do not look at a 10-mile hike as a crash diet, or crash you will. Just last week, one of our hikers suddenly went weak. Turns out that, in addition to a few other conspiring factors, she’d eaten only a fig bar for breakfast and had only a 16-ounce water bottle for a 5-mile hike in 85-degree heat. Calories are key to getting you down (and up) the trail. And we’re not talking HoHos and Ding Dongs, but the nutrient-rich calories found in whole grains, fruits, and nuts. Have a good breakfast, then pack up a lunch and healthy snacks.
=&1=&. In lower temperatures, when we might not sweat as much, we might think we don’t need as much hydration. Not true! Not drinking water is the fastest, surest way to stall your engine, even on a cool fall day. Some more modest hikers might be averse to drinking water because they don’t want to pee in the woods. But, you should embrace the idea that you’ll be ducking behind a tree once or twice a hike. It’s biology, people.
=&2=&On June 28, the sun set at Umstead State Park in Raleigh at just past 8:30 p.m.; by the end of August, there was sunlight in the park past 8 p.m. Today, less than a month later, the sun sets at 7:04 p.m., and we’ll lose more than a minute of sunlight a day. The sunset creep sneaks up on you. Before determining a start time, check sunset, figure out your estimated hike time, build in some cushion, then set your start time. And pack a headlamp, just in case.
=&3=&. This weekend, our GetHiking! Classic Escapes crew is visiting Mount Mitchell. In preparing our trip guide, I checked the weather and discovered that fleece should be on our packing list: the temperature will barely top 50. This time of year, it can reach 80 degrees one day, then only 55 the next. Checking the forecast before heading out is especially important this time of year.
=&4=&On fall weekends, several state parks post a similar advisory: expect a wait for parking — if you can even get in the gate. (Crowders Mountain State Park is even planning to shuttle hikers from nearby Gastonia.) If you really want to visit a more popular park, check out lesser-known access points to avoid the more crowded parking areas (links below). To ensure that you get to see the color you’re stalking, check out websites where groups monitor fall color (links below).
Stay well and enjoy your autumn hikes.
=&0=&: 5 Food Tips for Hiking and Camping from EatRight.org cover the basics. Click here. WildBackpacker offers a more in-depth look into nutrition, here.
=&6=&=&7=&If you’re curious about why hydrating is so important, WebMD answers most of your questions in The Quest for Hydration
=&9=&: Find sunrise and sunset times near you, here.
=&10=&. To check on lesser-used access in North Carolina State Parks, go here, for Virginia State Parks, go here.
=&3=&. You probably have your favorite site for checking the forecast (we prefer
Monday — never an easy time for the outdoors enthusiast. After a weekend of adventure, returning to the humdrum work-a-day world can make one melancholy. To help ease the transition, every Monday we feature a 90 Second Escape — essentially, a 90-second video or slide show of a place you’d probably rather be: a trail, a park, a greenway, a lake … anywhere as long as it’s not under a fluorescent bulb.
Today’s 90-Second Escape: Fade to Winter
We can’t recall a recent example of a fall that so vigorously refused to cede to winter. Technically, the calendar says fall has nearly another month (until Dec. 21) of tenure. But in reality, winter typically starts moving in in early November, bringing a box or two here and there, and has full housekeeping set up by Thanksgiving. Not so much this year.
Tuesday, on a short ramble at Umstead State Park in Raleigh, we saw signs that Autumn may finally be fixing to move on. The air was crisper, throwing in a distinctive bite. The light was at a noticeable angle, cutting through the forest, and the leaves on the forest floor finally out-numbered those in the canopy. You may still have a hint of fall on your Thanksgiving weekend outings, but winter will certainly let you know it’s taking up residence.
Here’s a preview …
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