Ease back into hiking with these early season options

Bluff Mountain Trail, Doughton Park

Bluff Mountain Trail, Doughton Park

Has the warm weather of late roused you from your winter slumber? If you’re the type that tends to hibernate when the weather is cold, then stir when the growing sun and warmth coax those first spring wildflowers through, you’re likely looking for your first hike of the season.

We’ve got four suggestions for first-of-the-season hikes that we’re particularly fond of, one at the coast, two in the Piedmont, one in the mountains — or the cusp thereof, since the weather can still turn wintery (quickly wintry, in fact)  in the higher elevations.

Coast

Lake Waccamaw State Park, Lake Waccamaw. Lakeshore Trail, 5 miles. More info here.

This coastal plain trail takes in a little of everything on its journey from the Visitors Center along the shore of this Carolina Bay to the Waccamaw River. According to the park website, the trail “cuts through a pine forest, past one of the oldest stands of cypress trees in the area, under towering hickory trees, alongside grass beds in the lake that provide cover for a variety of fish species and beside sandy beaches perfect for picnicking or pausing to gaze across the lake.” Expect a variety of color. Learn more about the park — including where the heck it is and how to get there — at its website.

Winter chop on Lake Waccamaw, appreciated from the trail

Winter chop on Lake Waccamaw, appreciated from the trail

Piedmont

Uwharrie National Recreation Trail, Uwharrie National Forest, 40 miles, with shorter options. Details from Uwharrie guidebook author Don Childrey here.

Back in the 1970s, when the Uwharrie Trail was originally blazed, it covered 50 miles and was a popular backpack destination for regional scout troops. Fittingly, it was those very troops who helped build the trail. Parts of the trail later fell into disrepair; the useable part of the trail dropped by half. But the Uwharrie Trail is on the rebound: Early this month a new 4-mile run opened linking the 20-mile Uwharrie National Recreation Trail to the south with a trail network in the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Area, creating 40 miles of continuous trail. The growing trail provides access through the Uwharrie National Forest, site of an ancient mountain chain where peaks once climbed to 20,000 feet but today fall short of 1,000. Quick climbs through this Southern Appalachian hardwood forest are greeted not with peaks but rounded ridgelines featuring chunks of exposed granite. Lower passages are often along several creeks that penetrate this mid-state national forest. Three roads cross the trail, making for shorter, shuttled options.

Greensboro watershed lakes, 42 miles total, short hikes of as little as a mile. Details here.

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. Convenience to Triad residents and the variety of options make this a perfect spot to launch your 2017 hiking season.

Uwharrie Mountains, looking southwest from Little Long Mountain

Uwharrie Mountains, looking southwest from Little Long Mountain

Mountains

 

Doughton Park, Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone. Details on hiking trails here.

With 30 miles of trail, Doughton Park offers the most hiking of any spot along the 476-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. If the weather’s good, the parkway isn’t closed, the tendency is to drive to the top and hike the 7.5-mile Bluff Mountain Trail, with it’s minimal elevation gain and passage through high mountain meadows. Parkway closed, as happens with even a light dusting of snow? Start from the Longbottom Road access at Basin Creek and you have five options: To the north, Cedar Ridge Trail takes you up to the Parkway near the Brinegar Cabin, where you can catch the Bluff Mountain Trail south. To the south, Flat Rock Ridge Trail traces another ridgeline up to the Parkway, where you’ll take Bluff Mountain Trail north through Doughton Park. Straight takes you up Grassy Gap Trail to a primitive campground where three options await. The 2-plus-mile Bluff Mountain Primitive Trail takes you straight up the escarpment to Doughton while the southern veering Grassy Gap Trail, following old roadbed, is the most mellow way to reach the ridge. Or, take the Basin Creek Trail up a narrow canyon where falls seem to trip over themselves for your attention. The trail ends at the one-room Caudill cabin, where a determined couple raised 13 kids more than a century ago.