Summer arrives and our thoughts turn to hiking in the mountains. Until now, the weather, by and large, has been decent for hiking in the piedmont. Come Memorial Day, however, the steamy reality of summer settles in; for many, the prospect of a 90/90 (heat/humidity) day moves hiking to the bottom of their recreational to-do list. Or makes them re-think their options. So we turn to the mountains, which offer two forms of relief.
Take the winter off from backpacking?
Not when you live in part of the country where you can experience a rare coastal forest escape, hike on the country’s most iconic trail, and explore a high country oasis all while enjoying the cold embrace of the season, minus the threat. Sure, it can get cold and there can be snow. But not to the extent you need extreme weather gear to survive. Rather, winter here offers a stark beauty that can be enjoyed in solitude. And if you really don’t like the “cold,” but can tolerate cool, winter backpacking at the coast offers an experience you can’t have any other time of year.
The notion of beginning a new year with a brisk walk goes back ages, but the modern concept of First Day Hikes is relatively new, dating back only to 1992 when a Massachusetts State Park held the first First Day Hike. With the lure of hot soup, the hike drew 380 hikers. Massachusetts State Parks began offering similar First Day Hikes throughout Massachusetts in 2008, and the concept went national in 2012 thanks to America’s State Parks, which represents State Parks nationwide. More than 400 hikes were held across the US that first year. Last year, more than 55,000 people welcomed 2022 with a First Day Hike.
Something about cool, fall weather makes you want to hike farther. Now that that weather has finally arrived, we’ve got some of those longer trails we think you might like. Here are 11, including nine in the Piedmont and two along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. (We’ll talk long trails at the coast in coming weeks, once the weather turns from cool to cold.)
Wondering when your favorite seasonal campground or roadside attraction in the National Parks will reopen? We have some dates:
Blue Ridge Parkway
- Price Park Campground at MP 297: April 2-Oct. 31
- Linville Falls at MP 314: April 2-Oct. 31
- Crabtree Falls at MP 339: May 28-Oct. 31
- Mount Pisgah at MP 408.8: May 28-Oct. 31
- Moses Cone Manor House at MP 294: April 15
- Linville Falls at MP 316: April 30.
- N. Museum of Minerals at MP 330: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through April.
- Craggy Gardens at MP 364.5: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. starting April 17.
- Waterrock Knob at MP 451: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. starting April 17.
Shenandoah National Park
- March 25: Lewis Mountain Campground (mile 57.5)
- March 26: Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2)
- May 5: Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.2), Loft Mountain Campground (mile 79.5), and Dundo Group Campground (mile 83.7)
- Picnic Grounds will open on the following schedule:
- March 25: Lewis Mountain Picnic Grounds (mile 57.5)
- March 26: Big Meadows Picnic Grounds (mile 51.2)
- Open year round: Dickey Ridge Picnic Grounds (mile 4.7), Elkwallow Picnic Grounds (mile 24.1), Pinnacles Picnic Grounds (mile 36.7), South River Picnic Grounds (mile 62.8), and Dundo Picnic Grounds (mile 83.7)
- Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6 Skyline Drive): open Fridays through Tuesdays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays), No indoor exhibits or films.
- Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51 Skyline Drive)
- Open 7 days a week, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., No indoor exhibits or films.
The restaurants, lodges, and associated facilities operated by the park concessioner, Delaware North, open as follows: