From Kure Beach to Blowing Rock and back, wander along these lesser-known North Carolina trails this fall.
‘Tis the season’ to hike the North Carolina trails. Crisp clean air, autumn foliage and cooler temperatures that make nature all the more enjoyable for walks through fields, forests and marshes.
Cardinal & Pine wants you to be prepared before you venture out into the wilderness. Here’s what to know before you go:
- Pack supplies. Although most everyone can hike, a few items will make the experience more enjoyable, says Bill Bartee, owner of Jesse Brown’s Outdoors, an independent outfitter based in Charlotte. “What you need are a day pack, comfortable and supportive footwear, appropriate clothing, water and snacks,” he says.
- Know your limits. Choose a trail based on your group’s level of experience and abilities. Check out the difficulty and length of the trail. Is the trail out and back or is it a loop? “Match your physical skill to the hike you’re taking on,” Bartee explains. “The biggest mistake I’ve seen is as the days become shorter, people misjudge their time for a hike. They misgauge the amount of daylight they have to hike.”
- Share your plan. Some of the places you go will be remote and may not have GPS or cell service available. Bring a paper map or download the map onto your phone (make sure you’ve got a rechargeable battery with you) and let a friend or family member know where you’re headed.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Stay on the paths designated for trails and heed warnings about loose and slippery rocks and fall risks. “If something looks or feels out of place return to a safety point,” says Lawanda Wells, a Greensboro-resident and the NC ambassador for Outdoorsy Black Women, a social network for Black women interested in outdoor activities. “Keep headphone volumes at a low setting so you can hear nearby wildlife or other hikers.”
- Leave no trace. Pack out whatever you bring in and don’t disturb wildlife or plantlife. “Plan your hike by researching the busy times and only go during a low-use time,” Wells says. “Prepare ahead of time by researching the trail and weather conditions. It’s also important to know the rules and regulations for that area and follow them accordingly.”
We’ve searched North Carolina’s coastal, mountain and piedmont regions for trails – many are off the beaten path.
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area’s Basin Trail, a 2.2 out-and-back easy trail, traverses the salt marsh and ends at an observation deck with views of Zeke’s Island, Cape Fear River and a World War II bunker. The Cape Fear Kite Festival is Nov. 5 and 6 featuring kites of all shapes, sizes and styles flying over the beach. 1000 Loggerhead Road, Kure Beach
Bass Lake *
Moses Cone Memorial Park offers a 0.9 mile unpaved loop around Bass Lake. 1 Bass Lake Drive, Blowing Rock
Boone’s Cave Park
The park is on the banks of the Yadkin River and was named for a cave on the property. It’s rumored Daniel Boone slept in the cave while exploring the area as a teenager. Seven and a half miles of easy, moderate and advanced trails are within the 100-acre park. 3552 Boone’s Cave Road, Lexington
Meander through meadows, farmland and a young pine forest and cross the creek on a swinging bridge for a 4-mile out-and-back hike. There’s a definite photo opp with the “End of Trail” sign. Near 7911 Malibu Road, Mount Pleasant
Cedar Point Tideland Trail *
Stroll through tidal salt marshes and hardwood and pine forests on packed sand and boardwalks. Loops are 1.3 and 0.6 miles of easy trails. Look for ducks, fiddler crabs, osprey and raccoon tracks. Forest Route 153A, Swansboro
Deep Creek Waterfall Loop Trail
Three waterfalls – Juney Whank Falls, Tom Branch Falls and Indian Creek Falls – may be seen from this 2.5-mile loop. Deep Creek Road, Bryson City
Faith Rock Trail
Walk across the Deep River on a footbridge to a 0.8 mile loop or access other trails for a longer hike. Look for Faith Rock: Its history dates back to the American Revolution and one Loyalist’s quest for revenge. The trail connects to Deep River State Trail with more than 3 miles to explore in Randolph County. 1306 Andrew Hunter Road, Franklinville
Find your stride on more than 20 miles of trail through woods, under a covered bridge and around Lake James. 126 NC Hwy. 126, Morganton
Take this easy paved and boardwalk path through mixed Loblolly and Shortleaf Pine forest. White-tailed deer and the American Beaver make their home along the stream. 1631 Pleasant Plains Road, Matthews
Grassy Gap Creek Trail
Pick one of two trailheads for a 4-mile out-and-back trail. It’s a rugged woodland trail that follows the creek. Hawthorne Road or Pine Ridge Road, Beech Mountain
Hidden Rocks Loop
An almost 1-mile loop trail offers views of rock outcrops, exposed bedrock or other geologic formations at Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve Park. This 157-acre outdoor retreat along the southern shores of Falls Lake State Recreation Area connects to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for the more adventurous hikers. 5229 Awls Haven Drive, Raleigh
Hikers may be intrigued by the history and folklore attached to “Road to Nowhere.” Travel through a mile-long tunnel and choose from various trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The longest and most strenuous is the Lakeshore Trail. It spans 33.5 miles, from the Road to Nowhere tunnel, through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to the Fontana Dam. The Goldmine Loop Trail is an easy-to-moderate 3 miles. POB 509, Lakeview Drive E., Bryson City
Ghost hunters and history buffs will be interested in finding the ruins of the Lost Cove community. Parts of the school, church, grist mill and some homes remain. It’s a 6.5 miles round trip with views of the Nolichucky River Gorge and its sheer rock cliff. For a deeper dive, read Christy Smith’s book about the settlement. National Forest State Road 278, Burnsville
Moss Creek Segment *
This 2.6-mile out-and-back trail offers paved paths and boardwalks through forests and neighborhoods. It’s part of the 14-mile Hector H. Henry II Greenway in Cabarrus County. Stop at the pond overlook for views of wildlife. 1215 Moss Farm Street, NW, Concord
*These trails may work for some wheelchair users because of the packed dirt and paved or boardwalk paths. Check out the website and call ahead for more details.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the distance of the trail at Moss Creek Segment. We apologize for the error.