Recommended hikes: June 2012
Summer and its accompanying heat and humidity often drives hikers indoors — or at least to higher elevations. Such a sad thing to sacrifice an entire season on the trail, simply because you don’t know where to go and how to best savor the experience. June’s hikes all address the issue of heat and the best ways to tame it.
Bear Island/Hammocks Beach State Park, 2.7-mile paddle, hiking varies (Trip No. 43, “Backpacking North Carolina”). I reserve this hike for summer because it requires a boat! Ideally, you bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent one nearby, and take the 2.7-mile paddle trail from the mainland over to Bear Island. There, beach your boat and explore this 3 1/2-mile long, 892-acre barrier island. Hike a ways, meander down to the Atlantic, take a dip. Repeat. There’s a picnic shelter and bathhouse in the middle of the island; the farther you get from it, the farther you get from your fellow man. And if you don’t like the idea of paddling over, catch the ferry that runs every hour or half hour, depending upon the day of the week. Paddle. Hike. Swim. That’s a summer’s day well spent.
Moore’s Wall (4.2 miles) and Hanging Rock (1.6 miles) trails, Hanging Rock State Park (Hikes No. 38 and 39, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). Sticking with the summer-on-water theme, we head to Hanging Rock State Park. If you’re up for a short hike, take the 1.6-mile trail from the Visitors Center up to Hanging Rock. This is a progression hike: Starts on asphalt, quickly changes to mellow trail, evolves to more challenging trail and winds up with a scramble to the top of the rock, where you’ll find great views to the north, south and west. If you want more hike with less people, do the 4.2-mile Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. From the bathhouse and hiking counterclockwise, the trail starts mellow, then enjoys a sturdy rise up Moore’s Wall (total elevation gain: 1,073 feet). Moore’s Knob offers some of the best 360-degree views in the state, period. End both hikes with a most refreshing dip in the park’s 12-acre lake, which has a nice beach to boot.
Lake Trail, Jones Lake State Park, 3 miles (Hike No. 42, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). I must say the water never feels better than after a 3-mile hike on a summer’s day in the coastal plain. Hiking counterclockwise, the trail begins in an exposed pine savannah, and ends in more of a coastal swamp-type landscape. Then, the cool, tannic waters of Jones Lake, a Carolina bay that bottoms out at a depth of 12 feet — like your neighborhood swimming pool. Than tannic water is especially curious to swim in; a much more cosy experience than your typical lake swim.
Shuckstack/Lost Cove/Lakeshore Loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 11.6 miles (Trip No. 21 “Backpacking North Carolina”) June says Smokies to me, and one of my favorite Smokies adventures is this loop that starts near Fontana Dam and follows the Appalachian Trail up for 3.7 miles. It’s a steady climb, never grueling and the pay off — if you dare — is a climb up the rickety fire tower atop 4,020-foot Shuckstack Mountain. Here, at Sassafras Gap, you depart the AT on Lost Cove Trail, which explores what feels like one of the loneliest spots in the Smokies. Before long, you’re on the Lakeshore Trail, which you might think, it being along a lake shore and all, would be flat. And you would be wrong: There’s plenty of up and down on your return to the trailhead.
Harper Creek/North Harper Creek Loop, Wilson Creek Area, 13.6 miles, less for an out-and-back (Trip No. 9, “Backpacking North Carolina”). Here is a classic warm-weather water hike. This is a popular hike — at least the first mile and a half is. That’s where the trail encounters Harper Creek Falls, which plunges 65 feet into one of the sweetest pools around. No wonder most people get off here. But continue on and you’ll be in and out of Harper Creek and North Harper Creek more often than not. More good pools on the way up. You can make this a loop by taking the North Harper Creek Shortcut up to FR 464 and, subsequently, Yellow Buck Trail, or simply return the way you came. A Keen hike on a hot summer’s day.