Recommended hikes: February 2012
The beauty of February hiking lies in the start landscapes of winter. This month’s recommendations capitalize on that feature.
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area: Hermit Trail, 2.2 miles (Hike No. 9, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). Not sure why, but this intriguing 2.2-mile out-and-back seems to scream winter hike. Perhaps because of its exposure, located as it is on a point dividing the ever-widening Cape Fear River with the vast Atlantic, both of which are visible through a sea of sea oats and cordgrass. Perhaps its because, two-thirds of the way out, you come across the dank bunker-home of the Fort Fisher Hermit. The hermit, Robert E. Harrill, called home the Workd War II concrete bunker home from 1956 until his mysterious death in 1972. The fact that someone lived in this cave for 16 years gives one an extra chill on an overcast February day. Extend your hike after returning to the trailhead by walking south along a remote stretch of beach.
White Pines Nature Preserve, eight miles south of Pittsboro, 3.5 miles (Hike No. 44, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). I’ve always thought of White Pines as a summer hike. Until, that is, I stopped by a couple weeks ago. I’ve cubbyholed it as a hot weather destination because its steep, north-facing slopes create a micro-climate where temperatures are often 10 degrees cooler than the surrounding countryside, a micro-climate that supports a healthy population of white pines, a tree normally happier in higher, cooler climes. Psychologically, the confluence of the Deep and Rocky rivers, which border the 276-acre Triangle Land Conservancy property, adds to the sense of cool. But White Pines also has a healthy population of mature southern hardwoods that tend to keep the understory to a minimum. The stark winter landscape underscores the bluffs that rise 100 feet above the water, underscoring its Appalachian Mountains feel. Three and a half miles of trail offer plenty to tread for exploring.
Uwharrie National Forest, Birkhead Wilderness, Asheboro, 7.4 miles (Hike No. 36, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina,” Trip No. 35, “Backpacking North Carolina.”) There’s a starkness to the Birkhead Wilderness, a 5,160-acre notch on the northern tip of the Uwharrie National Forest southeast of Asheboro, that makes it ideal for winter hiking. Although not a particularly mature forest, there’s a dearth of understory that makes for good, long sightlines in this portion of the ancient Uwharrie mountain range that’s a bit mellower elevationwise than to the south. A good, long hike for people who may not think they’re up for a good, long hike.
Elk Knob State Natural Area, Todd, 4 miles (Hike No. 90 “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). Like a good view mountain view without having to bust your hump to get it? The festively named Meat Camp Road takes you to near the summit of Elk Knob. There, you pick up a newly constructed 1.9-mile trail through a northern hardwood forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, American beech and yellow buckeye to the top, a barren rocky knob that tops out at 5,520 feet. There, you’ll enjoy stellar views, especially to the west, north and east. http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/elkn/main.php
Linville Gorge, East Rim, Linville Gorge Wilderness, Linville Falls. 14.1 miles (Trip No. 7, “Backpacking North Carolina”). The initial 1 1/2-mile climb up to Shortoff Mountain atop the south end of Linville Gorge will get your heart pumping, but after there’s five miles of ridgeline hiking that offers not only great views of the gorge nearly 2,000 feet below, but also ample opportunities for rock face scrambling. A most accessible hike for a generally inhospitable place.