September 2012 Trail Picks: Coast, Piedmont, Mountains
This month we offer a couple of new-to-the-channel hikes, which we discovered as part of our partnership with Great Outdoor Provision Co. As part of that partnership, we’ve identified five hikes in or near each of their seven markets — Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. Two — Boiling Springs Nature Preserve near Wilmington and the Greensboro watershed lakes trails — appear below. Check out the entire lineup of GOPC hikes here. They’re especially enticing as fall approaches and we don’t always have time for an escape to the mountains. This month we also offer a Piedmont classic, the 5.4-mile Sugarloaf Morrow Mountain assault and two in the high country: the road less traveled up to the Black Mountain Crest (via Colbert Ridge) and Price Lake. Enjoy the fall on your favorite trail.
Boiling Springs Nature Preserve, 1.5 miles. Details here. Swamplands are like popular vacation destinations in that you don’t want to visit them when everyone else is there. Which, in the case of the swamplands is less about your fellow two-flegged creatures, more about the four-, six- and eight-legged varieties. With wings. And pesky proboscis. Fortunately, as we enter fall that time is nigh. What we like most about this 6,942-acre property of The Nature Conservancy is that the 1.5-mile trail offers a great education into coastal swamplands, thanks to a brochure at the trailhead (or downloadable here) that lets you take a self-guided nature tour. And what better place to learn than here, where the Conservancy notes, “In an average natural area, there are 8 to 10 species of plants growing in one square meter, but in the wetlands of Boiling Spring Lakes there are several times that number.” Be especially vigilant for the federally endangered red cockaded woodpecker and assorted carnivorous plants.
Sugarloaf and Morrow Mountain Trails, Morrow Mountain State Park, 5.4 miles (Hike No. 35, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). Details here. Fall also means you can return to the challenging hikes near home. One such challenge: the 5.4-mile hike that bags two peaks at Morrow Mountain State Park. And yes, I say “bags two peaks” without reservation. Both the climb up 843-foot Sugarloaf and 906-foot Morrow Mountain are legitimate climbs. The first climb gains more than 350 feet in a relatively short distance, the second even more. And while the views are minimal from Sugarloaf, you’ll have numerous Kodak moments from the top of Morrow Mountain. You’ll also have company: your summit celebration is tempered slightly by the fact the peak is covered by a very large parking lot.
Greensboro watershed lakes, 42 miles total, short hikes of as little as a mile. Details here. Falls is a great time for hiking. Alas, it’s also a great time for several other activities, starting with watching college and pro football. Much as you’d like to hit the road for a day trip in the mountains, kickoff is at 1. What’s a sports fan to do? Hike closer to home. Triad residents have numerous good options around the three watershed lakes — Brandt, Townsend and Higgins — north of town. Forty-two miles of watershed hiking trails take you through a variety of environments. The 1.6-mile Palmetto Trail, for instance, features some interesting geology; the 3.6-mile Nat Greene Trail offers a smorgasbord of Piedmont ecology.
Black Mountains: Mount Mitchell, Colbert Ridge Approach, Mount Mitchell State Park, 8.5 miles (Trip No. 1 “Backpacking North Carolina”). Can’t believe we haven’t recommended a hike in the Black Mountains this year — and with the potential for cold, snowy weather approaching, don’t believe we should wait much longer. The beauty of this hike is that escapes the maddening crowds of Mount Mitchell State Park, yet embraces the 6,000-foot hiking that makes the Black Mountains special. From the trailhead off Colbert Ridge Road/SR 1158, the trail follows its namesake ridge 3.9 miles up to Deep Gap on the Black Mountain Crest. From there, go north and bag 6,203-foot White Star Mountain or south and rack up a string of six 6,000-foot peaks in as many miles. Note: this is some rugged hiking, both in terms of altitude gain and the fact that this trail gets wind battered near the top and can be a challenge to negotiate. Go prepared.
Price Lake, Blue Ridge Parkway, 2.7 miles (Hike No. 55, “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”). This hike remains a high-country favorite. For one, it’s easy and accessible for most folks, even the non-hikers in the crowd. Circumnavigating a lake, it’s relatively flat and the tread is good, for the most part. It’s scenic, with intimate passages along a rhododendron-lined lake as well panoramas, including a great peek at Grandfather Mountain. If the hike inspired, you can rent a canoe at the boat house and there’s ample opportunities to picnic. A nice diversion for a day behind the wheel on the Blue Ridge Parkway.