Where did the summer go?
Easy there, adventurous friends. We may be down to the last month before Labor Day and the ceremonial end to summer, and perhaps you haven’t gotten out as much as you’d intended — so far. But there’s plenty of time left to get in an adventure or two, plenty of time to let you earn a good tale to regale guests with at your Labor Day cookout.
Plenty of time left to Save Your Summer.
Over the next several days, we’re going to tell you about some last-minute adventures that are easy to pull off yet yield a high AQ (Adventure Quotient). We’ll cover the four main adventure groups: Paddling, Backpacking, Camping and Hiking. Mix and match, or stick with your favorite. We’re confident you’ll find at least one adventure you can pull off before it really is too late.
We start today with hiking.
Shining Rock area
Pisgah National Forest
Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 420.2
Face it, part of what makes for a good adventure is having the social media fodder to make the folks back home take note. Nowhere can you compile a more impressive photo and video arsenal than in the mile-high Shining Rock area. You start high (5,840 feet, at the Black Balsam Access) you stay high (topping out atop 6,214-foot Black Balsam), and thanks to a couple of devastating forest fires dating back nearly a century, you hike largely through open meadows and heath balds, with little visual obstruction. Stay on the Ivestor Gap Trail for flat hiking hiking into the Shining Rock Wilderness, switch to the Art Loeb Trail for a peak experience. It’s a little over 8 miles to Shining Rock and back.
More info here.
Black Mountain Crest Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park/Pisgah National Forest
You really, really wanted to go somewhere different this summer: out West, perhaps. Or north, to the Adirondacks or the White Mountains. But time just didn’t allow. Time is less of an issue exploring the Black Mountains, the highest range east of South Dakota’s Black Hills and our own slice of Canadian woodland. With nine peaks over 6,000 feet — including 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell — the Black Mountain Crest Trail spends about half of its 13 miles in the clouds. Daytime highs in the summer are generally in the 60s; if you hit the trail early (park gates open at 8 a.m.) you might find yourself starting out in a fleece. The 3.5-mile hike out to Cattail Peak will give you six 6,000-foot peaks — and, with the return, will take you most of the day, in part because of the challenging terrain, in part because of the abundant views.
More info here.
Northern Blue Ridge Parkway Section
Grandfather Mountain to Stone Mountain
Spending time on any section of our 1,150-mile statewide trail will earn you hiking cache, whether it’s dropping down from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or climbing Jockey’s Ridge at the coast. We chose this 88-mile stretch because it’s a mountain stretch convenient to the population centers of Charlotte, the Triad and the Triangle, because it can be divided in to 14 day-hike sections ranging in length from 3.7 to 10 miles, and, frankly, because it’s drop-dead gorgeous. You’ve got rugged (the 7.9-mile stretch beneath Grandfather Mountain from Beacon Heights to the Boone Fork Parking Area), you’ve got open meadows (Doughton Park), you’ve got water (Holloway Mountain Road to Trout Lake). In short, you’ve got everything you look for in mountain hiking.
More info here.
Uwharrie Trail: Section 3
Uwharrie National Forest
Jumping-off Rock Trailhead
You’ve been meaning to sneak off for a quick day trip to the mountains, but you haven’t even had time to do that. Hey, life happens. So instead of you going to the mountains, how about the mountains coming to you? That happens in the Uwharrie National Forest, a 51,000-acre sylvan sanctuary situated in the heart of the Piedmont (hence, its nickname: North Carolina’s Central Park). The forest is home to the 40-mile Uwharrie National Recreation Trail, which runs the forest from north to south. You’ll get a particularly Appalachian feel hiking Section 3, a 6.2-mile stretch from the Jumping-off Rock Trailhead north to Pisgah Covered Bridge Road. Two key features: 1,030-foot King Mountain, the highest point on the trail, and Little Long Mountain, topped by an open meadow and offering one of the few vistas in the Uwharries.
More info: “Uwharrie Lakes Region Trail Guide: Second Edition” (2014), by Don Childrey.
Umstead/Crowders Mountain/Hanging Rock state parks
Raleigh, Charlotte, the Triad
OK, OK, you don’t even have time to drive to the Uwharries. If you live in the Triangle, Charlotte or the Triad you can find a face-saving hike in your backyard. In the Triangle, the 6-mile Company Mill Trail at Umstead State Park is a rolling hike that seems to always have a fall-like feel. At Crowders Mountain west of Charlotte, take either the 2-mile Pinnacle Trail to a great overlook to the west, or lose yourself on the 6.2-mile Ridgeline Trail, which meanders into South Carolina. Meanwhile, at Hanging Rock you’ve got elevation and views (the 4.2-mile Moore’s Knob Trail, the 1.3-mile Hanging Rock Trail) and waterfalls (0.3-mile Upper Cascades Trail, 3.6-mile Indian Creek Trail). No time? You can squeeze in one of these.
More info: click for Umstead State Park, Crowders Mountain State Park, Hanging Rock State Park.