Hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake
Hiking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake

May: it’s a transition month for hiking in North Carolina’s Piedmont. It’s warm, but not yet summer warm. The humidity has yet to find its summer setting, spiders have yet to web passage across the trail. You can hike comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt, maintain a bouncy pace.

But that is about to change.

Sure, there are Piedmont hikes that are great in summer. Moore’s Knob and Hanging Rock at Hanging Rock State Park always seem to catch a breeze and the sultriest of days. Swimming holes along the Eno (Bobbitt and Sennett holes, the Eno Quarry) make it a good summer season destination. They, however, are the exception. Many of our other favorite hikes are about to go dormant for the summer season.

By our reckoning, you’ve got three weeks, maybe a month, to do the following five hikes before they become hike-friendly again in mid-September. We’ve covered the basics of why these trails deserve a visit soon, then refer you to where to find details on making a visit. There’s no reason to go into summer with hiker’s regret. Pay a visit soon, enjoy.

1. Company Mill Trail
Umstead State Park, Raleigh
6 miles

Cooling off in Umstead's Crabtree Creek
Cooling off in Umstead’s Crabtree Creek

The most popular trail at Umstead becomes a ghost trail come July. Sure, you’ll get some trail runners who hit the path before the park officially opens at 8 a.m. and a night hiker or two after closing. But during regular business hours it’s as if someone put up a quarantine sign. This lollipop loop starts with a mile-long hike over three ridges down to Crabtree Creek. Cross Crabtree and the loop begins: we like to go left, following the creek upstream (rhododendron and mountain laurel may still be in bloom on the far bank), then the trail heads inland for a peaceful climb through maturing forest. After hitting water again at Sycamore Creek in the park’s core, the return is through more largely hardwood forest. A convenient and popular hike.

More info here. LINK TO ONLINE GUIDE

2. Sugarloaf and Morrow Mountain trails
Morrow Mountain State Park, Albemarle
5.4 miles

Morrow Mountain
Morrow Mountain

You’d think a park on the fringe of central North Carolina’s Uwharrie Mountains might catch a summer break or two in the form of waterfalls (or at least a creek) or vistas featuring circulating air. Both Sugarloaf Mountain and Morrow Mountain are tree covered and stuffy on a summer’s day; add the … glow worked up exerting on the climb up and you’ve got a sweaty, slightly grumpy, summiter. Ah, but in more temperate times the top of Sugarloaf is a green delight (with a nice view of Lake Tillery if you work for it) followed by a descent through thick mountain laurel; the climb up Morrow Mountain rewarded with views to the south from this nearly 1,000-foot perch. Morrow Mountain: bag it before it’s hot.

More info here. LINK TO WEBSITE

3. Greensboro Watershed Lakes Trails
Lakes Bryant, Townsend, Higgens
42 miles (with numerous options in the 3- to 5-mile range)

Piedmont Trail, Greensboro
Piedmont Trail, Greensboro

Water, water everywhere — and yet it’s still parching to hike here in the summer. You might expect a breeze off these three lakes, with a combined 2,600 acres of water. But what makes the lakes so attractive right now — the lush, green woods rimming the shore — acts as effective sentinels, blocking even the slightest breath of wind from reaching the trail. In fact, the adjacent water only seems to increase the humidity, making for exceptionally steamy hiking. A favorite trail going into summer: Laurel Bluff, a 3.5-mile (one way) trail that takes in some of the most exceptional hardwoods along the lake and explores a scenic wetland as well.

More info here

4. Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake
Durham, Wake Counties
60 miles

Again with the teasing water. This 12,410-acre reservoir runs forever (28 miles, if you’re a stickler for accuracy), yet offers little in the way of summertime relief. In fact, for whatever reason it’s more of a liability: the summertime thunderstorms that track through the Triangle seem intent on passing over Falls Lake. A shame, because there’s lots of good scenery along this stretch of the MST, scenery that currently has the look of summer, but at springtime temperatures. A favorite stretch: Day-Hike Section K, as the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail ncmst.org call it, the 7 miles from NC 50 west to NC 98. It’s as remote as the MST gets along Falls Lake, with no developments elbowing their way onto the trail and plenty of Falls Lake’s pre-reservoir past to take in.

More info here.

5. Birkhead Wilderness Area
Uwharrie National Forest, Asheboro
12.3 miles


The first 2 miles of this hike, from the Tot Hill Trailhead, has some of the best elevation gain around — which makes for a pleasant challenge now, a sweaty slog in a month or so. Climb through some of the rockier sections of the Uwharries, then achieve a ridgeline and a gradual descent through hardwoods. The trail encounters two creeks along the way — Hannah’s Creek and Robbins Branch, which typically run dry in summer, only adding to hot-weather loathing. The more mature patches of forest along the way seem even more majestic after a spring rain, adding to the route’s season allure.

More info:Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide,” by Don Childrey (Earthbound Sports)