2017 First Day Hikes

2017 First Day HikesLace up your hiking boots and head outside on New Year’s Day for an organized hike in a local park.  Every state park in NC (city parks are catching on, too) organizes 2017 First Day Hikes to encourage fitness and reconnecting with nature in the new year. Last year we visited Murrells Inlet, SC for the first time, but this year we’re staying close to home and hope to discover something new (weather forecast at publication: a little chilly and dry)! 

List of organized First Day Hikes at parks and greenways within an hour of Raleigh:

  • Durant Nature Preserve – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 8305 Camp Durant Rd (north entrance); pre-registration is suggested but not required; prepare for natural surface walking; non stroller-friendly; event information
  • Walnut Creek Wetland Center – enjoy a family-friendly guided nature walk (at least 1 mile) followed by hot chocolate and discussions with staff about what you saw; 2-4pm; start location: 950 Peterson St; pre-registration is suggested but not required; wheelchair and stroller-friendly; event information
  • IMG_5058Falls Lake State Recreation Area – scavenger hunt with hike along Rolling View Track Trail (0.75 miles); start times at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm; pre-registration is required; prepare for natural surface walking; event information; my 2015 First Day Hike review
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – 2.7 mile hike of Blue Loop along New Hope Overlook trail; start location: New Hope Overlook by boat ramps; 9am start time; event information; my 2012 review of New Hope Overlook trail
  • img_4160Umstead State Park – 1.3 mile hike along Pott’s Branch Trail; start location: small parking lot by Pott’s Branch trailhead (Hwy 70/Glenwood Ave); 9am start time; event information; my 2014 review of Pott’s Branch Trail
  • Eno River State Park – options of 2 mile or 4 mile hikes; start location: Fews Ford Access; 2pm start time; arrive early as this is a popular event and parking can be hard to find; event information
  • Raven Rock State Park – 2.5 mile easy hike along Raven Rock Loop Trail to the park’s centerpiece, Raven Rock; start location: picnic shelter at Raven Rock Loop trailhead; 2pm start time; event information
  • Kerr Lake State Recreation Area – 1 mile nature hike; start location: park office (6254 Satterwhite Point Rd); 1:30pm start time; event information
  • First Walk Cary at Morris Branch Greenway – bring the family for a walk along Cary’s Morris Branch Greenway; parking location: 115 Allforth Pl and follow signs for walk start; 10am start time; stroller-friendly; event information 

If the above times or distances don’t work with your schedule, visit a park and explore on your own. Check out my list of previously reviewed trails in the area.

Summit Trail: Mount Jefferson State Natural Area

IMG_5612On the way home from our mountain trip in West Jefferson we decided to take advantage of the close proximity to Mount Jefferson and pay a visit.  Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is located just east of US 221 at 1481 Mt Jefferson State Park Rd in West Jefferson (elevation 3000ft).  It lies along the drainage divide between the north and south forks of the New River, which influenced the size and shape of the mountain. Mount Jefferson and its nearby peaks are remnants of a once lofty, mountainous region but weathering and erosion over millions of years wore away the softer, less resistant rocks. The more resistant rocks, amphibolite and metagraywacke of Mount Jefferson, were slower to erode.  The mountain received its name in 1952 in honor of Thomas Jefferson and his father, Peter, who owned land in the area and surveyed the nearby North Carolina-Virginia border in 1749.  In 1956 the mountain became an official state park.

The main access road up the mountain is easy to navigate and offers two beautiful overlooks.  The small parking lot at the top of the mountain provides quick, easy access to the mountain’s trails, large pavilion, and picnic tables.

IMG_5615We walked through the picnic area and followed the short Summit Trail (0.3 miles) up the mountain.  Although the website lists this trail as strenuous, we felt it was more on the moderate side.  Due to our haste planning half of us wore flip flops, but could easily walk the gravel trail.  The gravel path is wide and shady giving a cool mountain feel to the hike. Along the way we saw butterflies, rhododendrons, mountain laurel and red-starred flowers; though stop by the park office for official plant and animal checklists. We visited the bathrooms along the way, which were super convenient and an easy walk from the main path.  We passed access to the Kids TRACK trail, which is part of the longer Rhododendron Trail (1.1 miles).  Near the top we turned left to the Mount Jefferson summit, which has an elevation of 4683 feet.  I climbed out a little further to catch the beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Even though this is a smaller state park in size, it offers 5 moderate to strenuous hikes that are great for quick hikes with beginners or young families.  It would also be a great spot for a quick picnic if you’re out and about in West Jefferson or on the way home like we were.

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: quick, easy access to hiking trails from the parking lot, easier hikes for beginners and families, beautiful views of mountains from Mt Jefferson summit, picnic spots are plentiful

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Pilot Mountain State Park: Ivy Bluffs Trail

Ivy Bluffs trail in Pilot Mountain State ParkOn day 2 of our Pilot Mountain State Park adventures, we headed to the Ivy Bluffs section of the park to check out the sites along the Yadkin River.  The Ivy Bluffs access point is located along the southern part of the Yadkin River in Yadkin County (northern side of river is in Surry County) off Shoals Rd at coordinates 36.25315, -80.50842.  This section is about 20 miles from the main mountain but offers some gorgeous views of the Yadkin River.

We arrived early on a cold Saturday morning and had the trail to ourselves.  There is a looped parking lot with a helpful map of the river/trail near the trailhead.  We started on the 1.3 mile moderate Ivy Bluffs trail, which began on a steady 1/4 mile decline down to the river level.  Along the way we saw gorgeous views of the wide, but fast-flowing Yadkin River through the barren trees from the bluffs.  The cliffs were high but nowhere as dramatic as the ones around Jomeokee Trail. When the trail flattened out near the river we passed a canoe put-in and large camping area complete with picnic tables and designated camping spots.  We continued on the trail, which parallels the river for 1/2 mile and circles back around near the large camping area.  Before looping around we stopped near a sandy spot by the water for a short picnic break.  After we got going again, we spotted several animal footprints and checked out the rocks and moss along the backside of the looped trail.

IMG_4189This trail is about 1.3 miles in total length and is marked as being moderate.  The only moderate part of the hike was heading up the bluffs on the way back.  The parts along the river were flat and quiet, the only sounds coming from the river and wee ones.  In the future when the kids are much bigger I’d love to explore this area further by canoe and camping!

Thumbs up: gorgeous views of river, great trail for hiking with kids, future canoeing/camping opportunities

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Pilot Mountain State Park: Jomeokee Trail

pilot mountain state parkTwo months ago our family headed west to Dobson, NC to visit old neighbors and friends whose son was having a first birthday.  Wanting to extend the trip so we could explore more of the Yadkin Valley area, we made it a three-day trip so we could visit Pilot Mountain State Park, the nearby towns, and vineyards.  Having passed Pilot Mountain dozens of times via US-52 on our way to Blacksburg, VA we had always wanted to explore this area.

We tried our luck with Airbnb and rented Stony Knoll Vineyards Wine Lodge from the Coe family, a really interesting pre-Civil War log cabin that was renovated in 2007 with all the modern necessities.  The cabin sits across the street from Stony Knoll Vineyards, also owned by the Coe family.  The cabin, which has been in the Coe family ever since 1896, was the perfect blend of rustic and coziness for our family. It’s a two-story cabin with a king-size bedroom and loft with twin bed upstairs; full bath, double bed, TV/sitting area and fully-equipped kitchen on the first floor.

Big PinnacleAfter a restful sleep on Thursday night we got up early and headed for Pilot Mountain State Park.  We made a beginner’s mistake by going to the Bean Shoals Access of Pilot Mountain and after a 20 minute detour we found the main entrance to the park (1792 Pilot Knob Park Road) and winded our way up the 2 mile curvy, paved road past the visitor center to the parking lot at the summit.  Pilot Mountain has a uniquely shaped mountaintop, Big Pinnacle, with bare rocks on the steep sides and vegetation covering the top.  This mountain is part of the ancient Sauratown Mountains. Big Pinnacle served as a landmark for Indians and pioneer settlers back in the days.

The parking lot area has several overlooks for catching beautiful views of the valleys below and Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  It was a super chilly yet sunny morning so we quickly made our way to the trailhead by following the path behind the bathrooms.

Rocks on Big PinnacleJomeokee Trail is a short 0.8 mile looped hike around the base of big pinnacle sitting at 2400 ft elevation.  To the Saura Indians, the earliest known inhabitants of the area, the mountain was known as Jomeokee, the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.” We headed around the trail counterclockwise, climbing up and down rock steps.  There was little up and down terrain on the trail, but the cliff views were impressive to say the least.  The trail can get rather narrow and offers some really up close views of the 200 ft Big Pinnacle.  After making it about halfway around the base, our crew decided to call it a success and head back, given the cliff views were getting a little too hairy and too close for comfort (there are no railings).

So, we walked back down the main path passing the trailhead to Ledge Spring (1.8 miles, strenuous trail) and Little Pinnacle Overlook (0.1 miles, easy trail).  We took the easy, short 0.1 mile walk to the Little Pinnacle Overlook so we could get another great view of Big Pinnacle across the way.  Amazed at the massiveness of Big Pinnacle and the valley below, we took in the sights a few minutes more and then sat on a bench near the kid-friendly TRACK trail for lunch.

The kid-friendly TRACK trail follows the moderate 0.3 mile Sassafras Trail along a fire-based ecosystem with great views of Big Pinnacle.  It leads to an overlook inhabited at the time by hungry-looking vultures that we avoided!  We saw deer and lots of different vegetation along the way.  TRACK trail is part of the Kids in Parks initiative that was started in 2008 as a way to encourage families to get outdoors and explore.  This regional network of trails has proved so successful it’s expanded to 7 states and DC and includes more than just hiking trails.

After a day of hiking we visited the nearby town of Elkin, NC where we walked around the busy main street area and had a delicious dinner and craft beers at 222 Public House.

Stay tuned for my next post highlighting a different section of Pilot Mountain State Park!

More Resources

  • Pilot Mountain State Park map
  • History of Pilot Mountain State Park
  • Kids in Parks network of family-friendly adventures

Thumbs up: beautiful views, family-friendly trails, access to overlooks, having public bathrooms at top of mountain, well marked trails and maps

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Take a Child Outside Week: Sept 24-30, 2015

IMG_8271
Seeing a turtle along the Wee Walkers Nature Hike

Cooler temps and lower humidity means that Fall is on it’s way and it couldn’t be a better time to participate in Take a Child Outside Week (TACO), held September 24-30, 2015. Take a Child Outside Week is an national initiative through the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with partner organizations throughout the country.  The program emphasizes outdoor nature activities with children to increase their awareness and appreciation of the environment.  Here are several outdoor activities at local parks to highlight this program:

City of Raleigh Parks – has several organized events throughout different parks where you can learn about the native animals and plants in our area, enjoy a family campout, hike a nature trail, feast on s’mores and a story around the campfire, and many more events; several events are FREE or have small fees; to see the complete list visit the City of Raleigh’s TACO website; as a hint, the Wee Walkers program at Durant Nature Preserve Park is a great organized nature hike for young ones

Wake County Parks – their list of TACO organized events includes nature hikes, a twilight bike ride, nature play day, junior meteorology experiments, tree and spider identification activities and a storytelling festival; several events are FREE or have small fees; to learn more check out the events on Wake County Parks TACO website

JC Raulston Arboretum – join the plant experts at the Arboretum for a variety of nature crafts, scavenger hunts; several events are FREE or have small fees; learn more about the TACO events at JC Raulston Arboretum calendar

IMG_5355
Eno River State Park

NC Museum of History – although not a specific TACO event, join the museum’s garden staff for Saturday’s in the Garden, an informal tour of the History of the Harvest exhibit along Bicentennial Plaza; FREE; Saturday, Sept. 26 from 1:30-2:30pm; for more info visit event details 

Prairie Ridge Ecostation – listen to a story and take a nature hike, explore the nature play area (bring bug spray), discover the nature garden, or explore the nature trails; for more ideas, visit the Prairie Ridge Ecostation website

Eno River State Park – take a walk with a ranger to search for salamanders and amphibians, go canoeing, learn about Occoneechee Mountain’s geologic wonders; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “Eno River”

William Umstead Park – learn about insects and butterflies, discover animals native to the park, watch the Amphibian movie, take a short (0.6mile) nature photo hike, go fresh water fishing on Big Lake; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “William Umstead Park”

Falls Lake State Park – go on a spider safari complete with campfire story and s’mores, take your child fishing; for more details visit the NC Parks TACO website and select “Falls Lake State Park”

NC Art Museum – visit the Museum Park to explore the Park Art including a new “Park Pictures” exhibit; my personal fave is hiking the unpaved trail to discover the Cloud Chamber (aka Hobbit House) exhibit

NC Environmental Education – listen to nature stories, go on hikes, visit with native animals and more; check out the NC Environmental Educations’s complete list of TACO events in the Greater Raleigh area and beyond

If you can’t make it to any of these organized events, check out TACO’s list of suggested activities and head to the nearest park or greenway and just explore!

Eno River State Park – Cox Mountain Trail

IMG_5361This summer we explored Eno River State Park in Durham over Memorial Day weekend.  Despite a 40 minute drive and a lot of preschooler crying when we first arrived because there was no playground in sight, we enjoyed the short hike across the swaying footbridge and to the river.

Eno River State Park has several different access areas and we chose the Few Fords access area at 6101 Cole Mill Rd so we could be close to the river and explore an old cabin.  After a short drive through the park the road dead ended into a circular parking lot with nearby restrooms and several picnic areas.  We ate a quick lunch in the shaded picnic area, admired the large pavilion (great for group picnics), and set off on the Cox Mountain Trail towards the river.  The first 1/4 mile of the hike was a rather steep descent, but it was mostly graded with steps for an easier hike.  With two little ones in tow, I held Ashley’s hand most of the way to prevent her from tripping over roots or steps while Claire enjoyed the scenery from sitting high in the backpack.

IMG_5355After we reached the bank of the river, we followed the trail over a narrow suspension footbridge that seemed like a much, much less dramatic version of the foot bridge Indiana Jones crossed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  It’s less than a 15ft drop to the river, but with large openings in the sides of the bridge I walked Ashley slowly across the bridge, trying to reiterate the importance of no jumping on the bridge.

After we crossed the bridge we turned left and continued along the trail and passed shallow swimming holes and small sandy “beach” areas where several families and dogs were enjoying the bank of the river.  We continued on until we came to the wilderness cabin.  There was a strange bikini photo shoot going on the deck of the cabin so we explored the inside rooms where the girls ran around and examined the window openings and log walls.  After leaving the log cabin, we walked to the nearby gazebo and made it a short while longer on Cox Mountain Trail before turning around.  Even though the whole loop is 3.75 miles and connects to more trails, we only made it about 3/4mile in before turning around.

IMG_5383On our hike back we stopped in one of the several swimming holes to splash around a bit, promising to bring the girls back again soon with bathing suits in tow.  Other than over 25 miles of hiking, Eno River State Park offers fishing, camping, canoeing, educational programs, the annual Eno River Festival and more.

Thumbs up: river access with kid-friendly swimming holes and shallow flowing water, fun swinging bridge, shady picnic areas

Thumbs down: nothing to report

More Resources

First Day Hike 2015 – Falls Lake Rolling View

IMG_5058On New Year’s Day 2015 we visited the Rolling View section of Falls Lake State Park to participate in the NC State Parks First Day Hike.  The First Day Hikes are organized hikes designed to encourage folks and little ones to get exercise and explore nature in the great outdoors.  We decided on the Rolling View hike because there were several scheduled on the hour, leading me to believe the hike would be a short one – perfect for a restless toddler in a backpack.  After a 35 minute drive northwest to the Rolling View entrance of Falls Lake in Durham, we followed the main road to the back of the park before turning left into the large parking lot.  This part of the park is also where the recreational swimming area, playground, and picnic shelter 12 are located.

IMG_5080Once the families gathered at the trail head, the park rangers explained more about the short .75 mile hike and gave each child a scavenger hunt brochure of things to look for along the way.  Ashley was a little too young for the scavenger hunt, but the older kids had a great time.  They also explained the Kids in Parks Track Trail initiative that several parks are doing throughout the country as a way to encourage kids to experience the outdoors through a network of family-friendly adventures; this trail happens to be one of those adventures!

IMG_5074In the past our hiking experiences with our kids have mostly been self-guided with very basic objectives: 1) survive (Grandfather Mtn Profile Trail & Calloway Peak were the ultimate test), 2) limit the crying (adults included), and 3) have fun (no brainer, that’s why we do it)!  With the Rolling View hike being a guided tour by a park ranger, I wasn’t sure if Ashley was too young to feel engaged, but the park rangers were amazing at interacting with all the kids.  They kept the hike going while pointing out really neat nature things on/off the trail, answering questions, prompting the kids with questions, and giving some history about the park.  We definitely experienced things in nature we wouldn’t have had we been on the hike by ourselves; we saw animal footprints in the puddles and streams, learned about the importance of controlled burns, discovered deer bones, gained appreciation of decaying stumps as a food source, and so much more!

After our short .75 mile hike, which took less than an hour (of which Claire screamed most the way) we headed to the nearby playground.  The playground is designed for those ages 5-12 and has several climbing ladders, swings, a tire swing, and bridge.  It is very close to the swimming recreation area, bathhouse, and picnic tables, making this a great spot for warmer weather.  The recent rains caused the lake water levels to come very to the playground so after our short playtime we headed home for some much needed grub.

Check out the Kids in Parks Track Trail website – the search and filter features make it easy to find outdoor adventures close to home!

Additional Resources:

Thumbs up: friendly and knowledgeable park rangers, guided hike, nature experiences for kids

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Falls Lake Hike Day Hike A: Raven Ridge Rd towards Dam

img_4946Every New Year’s Day, NC hosts First Day Hikes all over their state parks to promote a healthy start to the year. Even though the organized First Day Hikes didn’t exactly work with our kiddo schedules we drove up for a short hike of our own near Falls Lake.

Falls Lake is a state recreation area just 10 miles north of Raleigh with 7 individual parks, a 12,000-acre lake and 26,000 acres of woodlands.  For our hike, we chose one of the southeastern fingers to explore.  The portion of the trail we hiked is from Day Hike A (from Shinleaf Rec Area to Falls Lake Dam) of the Mountains to Sea Trail.  Mark Edelstein provides a very detailed description of the hiking trails through Falls Lake, which I used to help navigate the area.  We hiked a portion of this trail heading west to east.

img_4947To find the gravel pull-off parking area (noted at the 3.5mi mark in Section 1) we drove north on Falls of Neuse Rd and turned left on Raven Ridge Rd and parked along the side of the road shortly after passing Annie Wilkerson Nature Park.  After getting everyone strapped in their gear, we set off by following the small sign pointing east towards Falls Lake Dam, which is 3.5 miles away.

This is a very moderate hike with small hills and a fairly wide trail throughout.  It is a heavily wooded area, giving a lot of shade to the trail.  Most of this section also closely follows much of the lake, so there are several lake inhabitants and small waterfalls to discover along the way (great for puddle stomping during summer time).  We also passed a trail entrance into Annie Louise Wilkerson Nature Park, which happened to be closed for the New Year holiday, but would be fun to incorporate into a short hike.

We only hiked about 2.4 total miles that day and didn’t make it to Falls Lake Dam, but I’m looking forward to starting at the dam and heading west on our next hike through Falls Lake.

Resources:

  • list of day hikes through Falls Lake as compiled by the Mountains to Sea Trail campaign
  • Detailed hiking descriptions from Falls Lake Dam to Raven Ridge Rd
  • Falls Lake map (although not detailed enough for hiking trails)

Thumbs up: views along stream, clear hiking signage along trail, great shade

Thumbs down: planning a hike in Falls Lake using NC Parks online resources (use the Mountains to Sea Trail site instead)