So you read our post last week about launching your hiking career — if you didn’t, hit pause and go here, then come back — and were intrigued. You’ve let the idea percolate, you’ve checked the weather forecast for the weekend and thought, “Dang! It’s the perfect weekend to start hiking,” and have moved on to the next question in the process:
Where should I go?
Picking the right trail for your first outing is crucial. Your starter hike should be:

  • Not too long. If you walk five miles on the local greenway, do not expect those five miles to translate to five miles on a hiking trail. Hiking trails have more ups and downs as well as tree roots and rocks to negotiate. Look for a first hike in the 3- to 4-mile range, and expect it to take longer.
  • Easy to follow. You’ll be surprised how many secondary trails criss-cross the typical marked trail: game trails, trails worn by nearby landowners to reach the main trail and trails worn by fishermen to their favorite holes, to name a few. You want a trail that’s well-marked with blazes. Blazes are uniform marks — for example, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail uses a white circle, the Appalachian Trail a white rectangle — painted on trees or rocks to help you stay the course. North Carolina’s State Parks do a good job of blazing their trails; their parks are a good place to start.
  • Good tread. That is, a good trail surface. Natural surface trails are subject to a variety of erosive forces, including rain and hikers. Newer trails are better designed to handle these forces. If possible, check with rangers or park officials and get their recommendations.
  • Not too hilly. Again, you’re just starting out: the fewer challenges the better.

With these factors in mind, we’ve come up with five top trails for beginners in the Piedmont. We provide a quick description and location, followed by a link to where you can find more detailed information and directions.


1. Loblolly/Reedy Creek/Reedy Creek loop trail
Umstead State Park, Raleigh
4.2 miles (loop)
Yes, it’s a tad longer than we suggested above for your first hike, but it’s worth the extra two-tenths of a mile. From Umstead’s Harrison Avenue access off I-40, head out on the Loblolly Trail. Advantage one: It begins with a long, gradual downhill to get you warmed up. Advantage two: the trail is nearly all new, about half is new since May, much of the remainder was redone about three years ago. At the 2.3-mile mark, go left on the Reedy Creek bike and bridle trail — a wide, smooth surface of finely crushed gravel — for a mile-long downhill, go left again on the Reedy Creek Lake bike and bridle trail for a mile-long climb back to the trailhead.
More info and directions, here.


2. Piedmont Trail
Lake Brandt, Greensboro
2.75 miles (one way)
More than 40 miles of trail rim the Greensboro watershed lakes of Brandt, Townsend and Higgins, but the Piedmont is especially good for beginners. For one, it’s easy to find, with the trailhead (and parking) just off Strawberry Road. Two, it’s flat, somehow finding a stretch of lake with no coves. Three, it’s well marked with few distraction trails to lead you astray. And it’s a scenic walk, starting in a forest and field draped in kudzu, then losing itself in a bottomland forest, with frequent breaks offering peeks at the lake. An especially nice option going into fall, when the color along the lake is especially good (typically coming on in mid-October).
More info and directions, here.


3. Ledge Spring Trail
Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinacle (north of Winston-Salem)
2.4 miles (loop)
This trail will make you stop and appreciate why all the fuss about hiking. Begin on the Ledge Spring Trail at the top of Pilot Mountain (where there’s ample parking) with a long descent. The trail veers left and follows the bace of a cliff face that’s home to some of the best rock climbing in the region: expect lengthy distractions as you stop to watch climbers ascend the likes of Three Bears, Little Amphitheater, Pool Hall and other popular routes. Also distracting: the views to the valley floor below and the Blue Ridge mountains to the west (and on especially clear days, the George Washington National Forest to the north, in Virginia). Return to the top and take the 0.8-mile Jomeokee loop, which circles the park’s trademark Big Pinnacle.
More info and directions, here.


4. Hill Trail
Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, Charlotte
2.7 miles (one way)
Charlotte’s network of nature preserves offers great wilderness escapes without leaving town. At Latta Plantation, located along Mountain Island Lake, the 16 miles of trail offer an abundance of options; one of our favorites is the Hill Trail, which runs the length of the park, from south to north. One of its key features is the Piedmont prairie it visits along the way. Years ago, before the European invasion, this was how a surprising amount of the region looked: vast plains of grass and wildflowers where bison once roamed. If you’re not up for the whole 5.4-mile (out-and-back enchilada), loop back on the 1.4-mile Split Rock Trail for a roughly 3-mile hike.
More info and directions, here.


5. Buckquarter Creek/Holden Mill figure 8 loop
Eno River State Park / Fews Ford Access, Orange County
4.1 miles
The beginner beauty of this hike is that you hike three quarters of a mile on the Buckquarter Creek Trail and if you decide you’re not quite ready for 4.1 miles, you can hike back on the remaining three-quarters of a mile on this 1.5-mile loop. Cross Buckquarter Creek, though, and continue on the 2.6-mile Holden Mill Trail and you’ll be treated to more of the same, which is to say passage along the rocky Eno River (including one small stretch requiring mild scrambling) and climbing along a ridgeline, which, going into fall, offers great views of the color cascading down to the river.
More info and directions, here.

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Concerned about starting out on your own? Our GetHiking! program is the ideal opportunity for beginners, in large part because our hikes are lead from the back: you’ll never get dropped and you’ll have the attention of an experienced hike leader who can help take the mystery out of hiking. For more information and sign up for a hike, check out  the GetHiking! program in your neighborhood: GetHiking! Charlotte, GetHiking! Triad, GetHiking! Triangle.