Trip recommendations: April 2011

Every month I recommend at three hikes and one backpack trip from throughout North Carolina. Recommendations are based on their seasonal appeal. Additional information in "100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina" and "Backpacking North Carolina," as well as by clicking on the provided linkgs.

Coast

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve, Hike No. 1 in “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina.”
Looking for an excuse to hit the Outer Banks early in the season? After dipping your toe in the water at Kitty Hawk and realizing swimable water is still a good month and a half off, head across NC 12 to the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. This 1,400-acre effort by local interests and The Nature Conservancy includes a maratime deciduous forest, maritime swamp forest, maritime shrub forest and interdunal ponds. This diverse landscape is home to more than 300 species of plants, 50 species of birds and a various reptiles and amphibians who will be out and reveling in the warming weather. Best of all, five miles of trail explore the preserve. Act now before the pesky bug population kicks into full annoying throttle.

Piedmont

Raven Rock State Park, Hike No. 32 "100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina," Trip No. 40 "Backpacking North Carolina"; Umstead State Park, Hike No. 10 in “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”; Hanging Rock State Park, Hike No.  38 "100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina." With the spring wildflower display in full bloom, your favorite forests are likely to be packed. But with a little helpful direction you can still escape the maddening crowds. At Raven Rock State Park, the majority of visitors hit the shorter trails downstream from the Visitors Center, which lead to flashy Raven Rock, a stellar bluff overlooking the Cape Fear River. Head upstream on the 5.5-mile Campbell Creek Trail and you’ll experience the best of this park, where Piedmont begins to give way to coastal plain, with the least of its visitors. At Umstead State Park in Raleigh, the 7.2-mile Sycamore Trail takes you to the interior of the park and, progressively, away from the crowds. And at Hanging Rock State Park, where the pilgrimage is to the top of Hanging Rock for unique Piedmont panoramas, take the 4.2-mile Moores Wall loop for similar views minus the commentary.

Mountains

Panthertown Valley, Trip No. 28 in “Backpacking North Carolina," Hike No. 100 in "100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina." Here’s a destination for both day hikers and avid backpackers: Panthertown Valley. The trailhead is less than six miles off U.S. 64 just east of Cashiers (meaning it’s easy to get to), there’s great camping a mile in (meaning it’s an easy backpack in) and despite being just 6,700 acres, this national forest property has miles of trail that take you to just about every inch of it, from its 13 waterfalls to its mature stand of white pines to its exposed granite domes ideal for dozing on a warm spring day. Warning: don’t attempt Panthertown without a map: One or two trails are marked (sorta); otherwise, without a map you’ll be quickly lost. Backcountry guide Burt Kornegay's “A Guide’s Guide to Panthertown Valley, Bonus Defeat, and Big Pisgah” is an essential companion.