The holidays are upon us — and so, too, are our holiday visitors.
You’re eager to show your visiting friends and family why you love living in the region: the outdoor opportunities that make this such a wonderful place to explore. You also don’t want to alienate your guests — or worse, harm them! — by taking them on an outing beyond their capabilities. Fortunately, you can do the former while avoiding the latter with the 10 hikes below, hikes that offer considerable esthetic bang for minimal physical exertion.read more
Just as a retailer’s thoughts turn to Christmas once Halloween has passed, our thoughts turn to the coast once the fall color starts to fade here in the Piedmont. While I love a summer’s day at the beach, the coast — and coastal plain — are at their most alluring in late fall and winter. A week at a vacation beach house is swell over the summer, but a week at the coast in winter leaves memories that aren’t soon forgotten.read more
My senior year in high school I went to a new school. In football, we went 0-9, in basketball, 0-18. I always wondered how our cheerleaders could muster the enthusiasm, the optimism, to encourage us to push on.
I find myself in a similar situation, facing a rainy weekend, wondering how to encourage y’all to put on a happy face and head out the door for a weekend of adventure. So … well, grab your rain gear and let’s head out! Some options …read more
In October, we suggested that winter was a good time for taking long hikes at the coast. Fewer biting things flitting through the air, fewer slithering things making their way across the ground. Today, as we’re in the throes of a sustained cold weather hiking season, we return to the coast with suggestions for shorter walks.
Bay Trail, 4 miles
Hiking clockwise from the Visitor Center: On a particularly cold but sunny day you’ll love the first part of this loop around the lake as it passes through an exposed pine savannah, where lots of warming sunlight bounces off the forest’s sandy floor. By the time the trail reaches the midpoint and loops back, you’ll be warm enough not to mind that the sun has been blocked by a dense sea of bay trees and pond cypress.
This 420-acre preserve was spared in 1992 by The Nature Conservancy and the Town of Nags Head, thus saving one of the largest remaining maritime forests along the East Coast. A favorite way to explore the preserve and get a sense of its more than 550 plant species (including oaks more than 500 years old) and 50 known species of butterflies, is on the 3.75-mile Blueberry Ridge Trail.
How much eco-diversity can a person take on one 3-mile hike? Carolina Beach puts that question to the test, starting you off from the marina trailhead with a hike along the tidal marsh banks of the Cape Fear River, then through a coastal evergreen forest, a coastal fringe sandhills forest, a longleaf pine savannah and to the top of 60-foot-high Sugarloaf Dune, which is forested now but once proved an excellent spy tower for spotting Union ships sneaking into Wilmington.
It’s 2.2 miles roundtrip and it features an abandoned WW II bunker. Of course it’s abandoned, you say — the war ended more than 70 years ago. In fact, it’s only been abandoned since the early 1970s; before that, it was occupied for several years by the Fort Fisher Hermit, a recluse who took up residence in the bunker for more than a decade. And that’s just one reason to hike this trail. The other is at trail’s end: a sweeping view of where the Cape Fear River blends into the Atlantic Ocean amid the Zeke’s Island reserve.
Six miles, you fret, that might be a little long. Or it might not, for two reasons. One, this meandering trail navigates a swamp (the wetter sections are elevated by boardwalk), and nothing makes a hike zip by like the prospect of running into the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Truly, there’s something enchanting and weird about hiking along ponds carpeted in duckweed and harboring bald cypress and tupelo gum dripping with Spanish moss, and through a bevy of other aquatic plants Seussian in nature. So much to see, even in winter.
Hard to believe a popular trail in a popular state park can offer seclusion, but this one does, as it encompasses stretches of dense forest, marsh and swamp. And, because the trail is wide and generally smooth, you can pay attention to these great features along the way rather than having to watch where you step. Good for either a peppy aerobic jaunt or an easy saunter to take in nature.
You might think that an estuary where salt and fresh water combine to create a habitat rich in marine and plant life would be a paddler’s paradise, and it is. But with 30 miles of trail, it’s also a great place to explore on foot, to learn about the rich natural and cultural history (the park houses fossil beds and Colonial and Native American artifacts) and to experience the quiet of a coastal winter. The Taskinas Trail offers a good introduction.
The fan of short hikes will like this trail for the same reason the long hiker likes it: how far you go is up to you. Hike 30 minutes out from the refuge office, or from Jericho Lane, or Big Entry Ditch, then turn and hike back. This is hiking for the mind: long passages of quiet, flat trail with minimal distraction.
Winter is a great time for learning a new skill (map and compass), marveling over mother nature (learning her mountaintop secrets), or testing your intestinal fortitude (the Krispy Kreme Challenge).
One of the most popular courses we offer through our Get! programs is GetOriented!, a three-hour class that gets explorers comfortable with map and compass and thus, more comfortable exploring the outdoors, especially on their own. So far, however, we only offer the course in the Triangle and the Triad. So when we find a good opportunity to feel more comfortable in the woods that’s outside our current range, we’re only too happy to share it with you.
Thus, our recommendation of Saturday’s Compass Course at Jones Lake State Park in Elizabeth town. You’ll learn basic map and compass skills, then head out into the park’s compass course to test those skills. Compasses provided.
Logistics: Compass Course, Saturday, Feb. 4, 10 a.m., Jones Lake State Park, Elizabethtown. More info and sign up (it’s free, but space is limited), here.
Looking ahead: Island Nature Tour, Sunday, Feb. 19, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., Bald Head Island, Bald Head Island Conservancy. More into here.
We challenge ourselves in many ways: physically, mentally, emotionally, gastrointestinally. And sometimes, on rare occasion, we test ourselves in all four ways simultaneously.
Such is the case with the Krispy Kreme Challenge. As the promotional material for this iconic and wildly successful fundraiser benefitting the North Carolina Children’s Hospital (nearly $1.2 million has been raised over 11 years) succinctly puts it: “2400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour.” More specifically, run 2.5 miles from the Bell Tower at N.C. State to the Krispy Kreme on Peace Street, eat at down donuts, run back. Only those able to keep the dozen donuts onboard across the finish line are considered true “Challengers.”
Even if you don’t participate, it is a sight to behold (provided you don’t have a strong gag reflex).
Logistics: Krispy Kreme Challenge, Saturday, Feb. 4, 10 a.m., N.C. State University. $50. More info here.
Looking ahead: Eno River Sunday Hikes, every Sunday through spring, 2 p.m. Various locations throughout the Eno River Valley. Find a calendar here.
It’s a cold, winter day where you live, a light rain falls. You wonder: What’s the weather like atop one of our mountains? How much colder is it? Is it snowing? Is it windy? Do I have the gear to survive.
Find the answer to these questions of summit climate and more Saturday, when a ranger leads you to the summit of 4,683-foot Mount Jefferson to examine the N.C. Climate Office data collection tower. You that tower has some great weather tales to tell; let the ranger act as your interpreter.
Logistics: Mount Jefferson Climate Tower Hike, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2 p.m., Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, West Jefferson. More info here.
Looking ahead: Flight of the American Woodcock, Saturday, Feb. 25, 6 p.m., Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, West Jefferson. More info here.
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Those are our thoughts on the weekend. Find more options at the sources listed below.
Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.
Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of coastal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.
Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.
Comprehensive calendar including programs for the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.
North Carolina Coast Host
Comprehensive calendar for the entire coast that lets you search for events by day, by region, by county, by city or by event (based on key word).
This Week Magazine
Primary focus is the Crystal Coast (North Carolina’s coastal midsection).