Trip recommendations for July 2011
Don’t let a little summer heat keep you from hiking this month. You can beat it by climbing high into the southern Appalachians (Carver’s Gap on the Appalachian Trail, Elk Knob State Natural Area); by either topping out in the Piedmont (Pilot Mountain) or hiking near water (Falls Lake); and at the coast by taking the best summer hike of all — on the beach next to the cooling — and calming — Atlantic.
A friend mentioned he was heading to the coast: Where’s a good place to hike in the summer? he wanted to know. I thought for a second: “The beach!” It’s hard to beat beach hiking in July. Go early and you score the best shells. Go mid-day and your barefoot hike becomes interspersed with cooling dips in the Atlantic. Go in the evening and you’ve got the sunset. Again, hard to beat despite the heat.
Pilot Mountain State Park: Ledge Spring and Jomeokee Traila (Hike No. 47, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). If you live in the Triad or Triangle especially and are hankering for an elevated hike but don’t have time for a long drive, head to Pilot Mountain. From the lot atop Pilot, head down the 2-mile Ledge Spring Trail, which descends about 800 vertical feet before looping back around to the top. You won’t notice the climb so much, though, because it’s on trail beneath a cliff face that offers some of the best rock climbing in the Piedmont. Great views, too, to the Blue Ridge escarpment to the west. Lots of opportunities for rock basking on a sunny summer’s day. Back on top, finish with a victory lap on the 0.8-mile Jomeokee Trail, which encircles Pilot’s protruding pinnacle.
Falls Lake: Mountains-to-Sea Trail (Trip No. 38, “Backpacking North Carolina”). I could recommend the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake every month of the year, in part because it’s so long — 60 miles. In part, too, because there’s something for every season. Come summer, for instance, I like the stretches that belly up to the lake. Stretches such as the 2.4-mile Section 7, which runs from the Barton Creek Boat Ramp off Six Forks Road to NC 98. Not only does this trail maintain contact with the lake, at one point it dips down to a secluded beach where you can shed your hiking shoes (but probably not much more; it’s not that secluded) and wade in. Very scenic stretch, overall, ducking in and out of coves.
Carver’s Gap (Hike No. 81, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”, Trip No. 23, “Backpacking North Carolina”). My friends Alan, Lois and Grace just got back from backpacking this stretch: I was relentless in pumping Alan for details (Describe the cloud formations when you were on Little Hump Mountain! Wair! Wait until I close my eyes!) As I may have mentioned a time or two, this 14-mile hike is probably my favorite in the state (technically, it shares space with Tennessee). Starting from Carver’s Gap, you’re atop Round Bald within a third of a mile, Jane Bald within a half mile and Grassy Ridge Bald within a mile. From there, it’s a rollercoaster of stellar scenery on this stretch of the Appalachian Trail. If you do one mountain hike this summer, make this one it.
Elk Knob State Natural Area (Hike No. 90 “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). There’s not a lot of public land in the North Carolina mountains north of Boone, which makes the experience atop Elk Knob that much more special. One of the newer additions to the North Carolina State Parks system, Elk Knob is capped by a northern hardwood forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, American beech and yellow buckeye — though the top itself is barren, offering great views. An emerging trail system takes you to the top, though the last 200 yards or so is accomplished on an old gravel road that pretty much climbs straight up the mountain.
Favorite summer hike?
Got a hike or backpack trip you especially like to take in the summer? Tell me about it.